(Any new updates to smartphone firmware with new features, themes and UI is always welcomed. Image Nokia )
I managed to update my N8 to the latest Nokia firmware – Nokia Belle yesterday but to do that, one needs the latest Nokia Suite (FOTA – firmware update over the air was not possible).
The update was about 287MB plus (some reported 311MB) and it was smooth – no major hiccups noted. However one must remember – as usual, some of the previous settings and applications will be wiped out when the phone ports over to the new firmware. You need to reinstall and maintain them again even though the update backups messages and contact details before it installs and restores them back once done (the usual full backup/wipe/restore cycle).
With the Nokia Belle update, some of the prominent changes are that there are now six home screens with live widgets in different sizes and a drop-down menu for notifications.
All About Symbian reports:-
- A major reworking of the user interface, with an emphasis on ease of use, updated design language and flatter navigation hierarchy. Specific items are detailed below.
- Better use [a new memory management scheme] of the 256MB of RAM in all Symbian^3/Anna devices. In practice, this will mean no occasional ‘Memory full’ errors and (hopefully) foolproof execution of even the largest ‘HD’ games. Applications which are running will, on the whole, stay running, whatever else you startup. Overall performance is better, in terms of UI responsiveness and multitasking.
- Qt 4.7.4 is baked in from day one, meaning far fewer installation problems for Qt apps and faster (and more silent) installs in general.
- Full NFC functionality (on the Nokia C7, at least, which has the necessary chip!), including tap and share (share images, videos and contacts), tap and pair (pair Bluetooth accessories through a simple tap), tap and access (read tags to find information) and tap to play (unlock new levels on NFC-enabled games).
- Improvements in screen real estate, with a slimmer top status bar and optional (in some apps) bottom toolbar, meaning that all phones will have a larger useful display area.
- Home screen widgets will now come in up to five different sizes (1×1, 2×1, 4×1, 2×2, 4×4) and allow a greater degree of interactivity. In addition to dragging widgets around a home screen in ‘Edit’ mode, you can now also drag from one home screen to another. Widget re-positioning when moving from portrait to landscape mode remains intelligent, with some tweaks for the new variety in widget sizes.
- New drop-down menu, Android-style, to access notifications, connectivity toggles (including a welcome one for ‘Mobile data’, which previously required an involved trip into ‘Settings’) and system status information from most places in the UI.
- The Symbian home screen system now supports up to six pages (previously the limit was three for most phones and five for the smaller-screened E6).
- A rewritten application launcher with default ‘flat’ structure, i.e. all applications are presented in one big scrolling grid of icons, though as I explained here, it’s easy enough to make new folders, including one called ‘trash’ (or similar), somewhere to put all the apps you don’t think you’ll ever need – this significantly reduces the amount of vertical scrolling needed. There’s an option to switch the icons to alphabetic order, or to quick match/search the list, but happily, your original order is also remembered so that you can switch back at any time. Newly installed applications are now marked with a red asterisk until they’ve been opened for the first time.
- An application can be ‘added to the home screen’ from the main app menu, by long-pressing its icon.
- The bottom softkeys and (optional) bottom toolbar are replaced with a single toolbar comprising up to four icons (Back/Exit, Custom 1, Custom 2, and Menu). This, for most applications, in theory, gives the UI a flatter hierarchy, with less use of menus and with more direct interaction.
- Improvements to the lock screen, which will now have information about missed calls, messages and emails. The lock screen also now supports a transparency effect, showing the underlying home screen wallpaper.
- Update to Web, with numerous optimisations and easy access to multiple windows through a permanent toolbar icon. Like desktop browsers, Web keeps track of your ‘Most visited pages’ and this can be set as your ‘homepage’ if needed. A long press and drag on web page text now pop up a ‘Copy’ option, for copying text to the system clipboard.
- Update to Music Player, with a ‘floating tracklist’ in the album art ‘cover flow’ view.
- Updates to several other Symbian stalwart applications. The calendar gets an overall facelift and Notes now brings up a white (and AMOLED-unfriendly…) editing screen.
- Update to Camera, showing the new, streamlined UI that featured in the Beta Labs N8 Camera update. Although functionality is the same, far fewer taps are needed to get to the majority of settings and functions. Note also that the ‘Close-up’ mode for the N8 video capture (i.e. with continuous auto-focus) is also included, so no need to install that as well.
Yes, Nokia Belle has 6 home screens – wow but what’s the point? Even under Symbian Anna, I only used 1 home screen (out of the available 3), so having an additional 3 under Belle does not make a big difference. I still need only 1 home screen but under Belle, it now allows me to add widgets to the home screen, so it makes more sense to have more home screens – it is easy to navigate with a touch of the finger.
And one of the best things that Belle update brings is the pull-down menu for notifications from any home screen. It is easier to block unwanted data connection and switch on Wi-Fi with an easy Wi-Fi widget. It is easier to manage the mobile data connection (which was a pain in the past – mobile data running without notice). Now I can completely block it and need not worry about the unnecessary high mobile internet charges.
The clock now sports a more Android alike design and fonts are smaller and more efficient – meaning less scrolling now. I am not sure if this is part of the Belle tweak but I found photos takes now in N8 clearer and sharper. Still playing around with the changes and widgets but one thing I am missing now is the ability to open running applications and closing them with the press of a button. That feature seems missing from Belle – you need to navigate through the apps menu and find the one that is running and manually close. There should be an easier way to do this in Belle.
The new Belle firmware update supposes to bring in business apps from Microsoft, including Exchange ActiveSync, Sharepoint, OneNote, PowerPoint Broadcaster and Lync but I have not checked on these yet (FAQ states that it will be available in the next few weeks). Under previous firmware Anna, one glaring flaw that I noticed was the shorter duration of battery – a minor update later seemed to have addressed this. Under Belle, I hope power management remains efficient but that needs some closing monitoring for the next few days.
For now, I am quite satisfied with Belle – it addressed some of the shortcomings in Anna and somehow brings N8 in par with some of the latest smartphones in the market. Of course, with any major update of any firmware, things are not so perfect – there are users reports on the net that may warrant Nokia to release further tweaks to Belle (and I hope this get done soon). In the meantime, check out Belle FAQ for some clarifications on Belle update.
P.s. the revamped Nokia Tune in Belle – aka Nokia Tune Dubstep Edition is damn cool!