With Nokia’s first Symbian^3 handset on the visible horizon (approx 6 weeks to go) a hot topic right now is the possibility of upgrading the Nokia N8’s Symbian^3 to Symbian^4. It’s worth noting that as always, Nokia will support the N8 with free software updates that could bring new features and added functionality like it has with their other handsets. Damien Dinning has already mentioned the possibility of continuous autofocus during video recording AFTER the sales release handsets, i.e. future firmware updates. The N8’s web browser will also finally get a facelift and this will arrive outside of a firmware update.
Symbian’s blurb on S^3
The second open version of the Symbian platform. It extends Symbian^2 in many ways, including graphics support for advanced layering and effects, full HDMI support for a great television playback experience and improving data performance – ideal for streaming high definition audio and video.
On the application front, it doesn’t matter too much as both are Qt compatible. Apps made with Qt for Symbian^4 would work for Symbian^3 (as well as MeeGo devices)
On the experience side, the Nokia N8 has a reworked S^1 with a lot of the annoyances ironed out that should never have been there in the first place (e.g. now all Single tap) and should be much more streamlined than the abysmal S^1. Though the UI may be very familiar, the UX is something vastly improved. And there’s still much enhancement and tweaking to go as Nokia has delayed the N8 to ensure that the experience will be fluid and pleasing, having learnt from the mistakes with the N97 in released half baked goods. With that, we could assume that the majority of consumers and target audience for the Nokia N8 will be happy.
Some consumers however (those used to high end) are looking not just for the latest and greatest, but longevity. 6 months down the line, will you still be as happy with the N8 as you were the first time? Love for my N97 died after 3 months, although love for N900 is still on going. That however is coupled by the more touched focus, powerful Maemo 5 and the awesome hardware inside that was keeping up with the times. Now this opens up another side topic as to whether the N8 has sufficient hardware (CPU/GPU/RAM) for the next 6 months (were it released in weeks after announcement, we could be more certain).
CPU/GPU/RAM – limiting factors?
On the CPU: the ARM 11 core is underclocked to 680MHz. The default is apparently 750MHz which could be safely overclocked to 850MHz. Now we could argue that for S^3, CPU numbers isn’t all that important (and less so, comparison of CPU hardware with other devices on other platforms as Symbian is extremely optimized to run on less demanding hardware – hence democratization of the smartphone with MeeGo to push the hardware hungry devices.).
On the GPU: it’s suspected that the N8 has a class leading Broadcom BCM2727 GPU, which at the time was shown to pull in more triangles than any other competing phone. This is important for Symbian^3 as it is a GPU accelerated UI, relying more on the GPU than the CPU.
RAM: 256MB. For multitasking, will this be enough? The N900 is a multitasking beast and that has “only” 256MB (though there is +768MB virtual RAM and is on Maemo). Some could argue again that Symbian is more flexible in coping on less RAM. Very early videos has shown the N8 running 15 apps simultaneously with no speed decrease. But what happens when more RAM hungry apps come out?
N8 and S^3 already looking good in videos
The myriad of video demoes are promising, with N8 running quickly and smoothly; but actual long use and with the final build is needed to generate a valid opinion on what consumers will eventually experience (as opposed to an extremely early proto and scathing it like you just bought it off the shelf)
The question is will the N8’s current hardware support Symbian^4? If it can, why can’t we have Symbian^4? These upgrades are often paralleled with iPhone and Android’s support of software updates on their older devices (though iOS4 is not supported for original iPhone and some features are missing on 3G, with even iOS3 already proving taxing for both).
Even if it doesn’t properly support S^4 to bring the same experience, should users still have the option to upgrade? It is after all, barely going to be 1 year apart when the first S^4 handset is available (and hardly 6 months if we only count from N8 release date and not announcement).
And if it doesn’t support S^4 should this be a deal breaker?
For the majority of N8s intended audience who most likely don’t even perform firmware updates – then no. For those wanting longevity through app support, then no. For those wanting the N8 for other reasons, i.e. the killer multimedia functions, an actually fantastic 12mp camera (proof in pictures and still to improve. Plus with xenon flash and 28mm wide angle!), 720p video with stereo recording, 5.1 surround sound with dolby digital, HDMI out to 720p, great 3D gaming, not to forget the lifetime free sat nav all at 370EUR minus subsidies/tax, then no.
Perhaps for those wanting that “new experience”, then yes. Maybe then, it should even be MeeGo your eyes should be set on. Or even some other non Nokia related OS.
Symbian’s blurb on S^4
Symbian^4 is expected in 2010. It will feature Direct UI – a complete makeover of the touch UI, Qt as the primary runtime and the majority of SHAI in place, making hardware adaptation easier than ever before.