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Nokia 5220

I finally got my first mobile phone!

Specifications

The full specs are available on the Nokia website. Here are the things that made me want it:

Accessories

Wishlist

Experience

The good

The not so good

As a music player

The XpressMusic phones are Nokia's answer to Sony-Ericsson's Walkman phones. They're meant to be good at playing music.

So how does this work in practice? Fairly well, but not great. The quality sounds good and it has a regular 3.5 mm headphone jack on the top. The music buttons on the side are somewhat useful. What makes them not so useful is that they're locked when the keypad is locked. Perhaps this could have been made configurable?

Now that I have an 8GB memory card I‘m finding that the Nokia software simply isn’t made for handling lots of content. Firstly, the phone has to scan all of the media files on the memory card on startup or any time a change has been made. Added a podcast or two? It now has to spend a good several minutes rescanning nearly two thousand files. Would it have been so hard to record file modification timestamps to avoid scanning files it already knows about? Or are timestamps (and possibly time zones) not a reliable indicator of change on FAT filesystems and/or Windows? What about just file sizes?

Then once it has scanned all of your music files, there's the job of navigating your collection. The software does allow you to navigate by artists, albums, and genres. But with nearly two thousand music files, I have 74 artists and well over 100 albums. Those are some long lists to go down when it only shows seven on the screen at the time and there's no fast way to move through them. The music player should have split the list up alphabetically or allow some sort of search.

As a video player

The 5220 can also play video. The 3GPP group has set the standard at 176×144 (QCIF), 15 frames per second. The camera can record video at this resolution, in h.263+/AMR, and of course play it back. But it can do a little more.

I recently found a web page (Watching movies on your phone) with instructions on using FFmpeg to re-encode a video for a mobile phone. I was successful and started experimenting. I had seen ‘h.264’ mentioned in some of the specifications for my phone but was sceptical. I have a good deal of experience using MPEG-4 AVC (a.k.a h.264) to re-encode DVD's and digital TV recordings. In ‘high’ profile and all of the options turned on it can give very good quality at rather low bitrates. But that's for playback on a decently-modern PC; a mobile phone has a lot less processing power at its disposal. It doesn't even support the ‘main’ profile, only ‘baseline’. So that means no B-frames, no CABAC entropy coding and Trellis quantizer, no custom quantization matrices, and some of the DCT sizes aren't available. These features make a big impact in the quality and/or bandwidth of encoded video, but also take a lot of processing power.

So what can it do?

Video:

Audio:

The result is a .3gp file using about 100kb/s bandwidth with good quality. With the higher resolution I can read the subtitles of the Azumanga Daioh fan subs, something that was not possible at the lower QCIF resolution.

I‘m not sure whether I’ll use this capability much, but it's good to know I can do it, and how. It was also fun to play around with for a few nights.

Data transfer

Being a ‘music’ phone, there are often times when you need to transfer a lot of data onto the memory card in the phone. There are several ways to do so:

Bluetooth

I've bought a (very small!) USB Bluetooth dongle. Unfortunately, it turned out to be less useful than I had planned.

The OpenOBEX project has support for OBEX FTP and includes a simple client - obexftp. I can use it to transfer (“push”) files onto the memory card in the phone. I had previously used the daemon (obexftpd) along with BlueFTP to pull files across, but it did not include the files in the music/video database. The “push” method with obexftp does.

USB

The slow USB 1.1 interface is a pretty big WTF for such a new phone. USB 2.0 has been around since 2000! In general I've found it quite unstable and try to limit my use of it to short sessions.

It would appear the main part of the phone can't access the card at the same time as the USB mass-storage interface, which would explain the problem with my wallpaper photos. I have since moved my wallpapers onto the built-in phone memory and no longer have this problem.

The phone also implements MTP, called “printing & media” in the settings menu. I have tried using libMTP, but there's some issue (waiting on a time-out?) and it is very slow. The gPhoto project includes another PTP/MTP implementation, and the gtkam frontend was able to upload media files without the long waits of libmtp. I may experiment further with the CLI gphoto2 program.

One advantage of using MTP is that the files are automatically entered into the music/video database. Using the mass-storage interface results in a complete re-scan of the memory card.

Card reader

I bought an 8G MicroSDHC card from Sandisk that came with a small USB card reader.

Instability and corruption

This phone was never overly stable. Doing otherwise ordinary things would occasionally result in a automatic reboot. It wasn't common, but neither was it rare. It was mostly random. One or two Java apps could also cause a reboot in a somewhat repeatable fashion. It was annoying but I put up with it.

Then on 21st August 2010 something went quite wrong. Andrew sent me an SMS about going out to a pub. The phone beeped and I hit the centre button to view the message, but there it hung. I held down the red hangup button to power it off and back one again, but it would again hang if I tried to open my SMS inbox. Over the following days and weeks I tried restoring from a previous backup (without making a new one first, losing a bunch of saved messages) and updating to a new version of the system software. I even did a full reset back to “factory settings”. Nothing seemed to completely fix it.

I‘ve since had one or two repeats of the original problem where an SMS hangs the phone. But the main problem now is that I can’t add Java apps to the shortcut bar on the “active standby” screen. Whenever I try to select apps to include, I'm shown an empty list with no “soft” keys to navigate back out. This has made finding and running apps very slow as I navigate through the directory structure and find the intended file. This is especially slow in my “GPS” directory where I have several multi-megabyte “GPSmid” apps.

Parting thoughts

Something has obviously become corrupted in my phone, either the software or data/configuration, and nothing seems to be able to restore or replace it. It sucks that the software (Series 40) is closed and I'm unable to get in to have a look at anything.

I feel that Nokia has pushed this embedded software beyond what it can reasonably handle. I‘m amazed to see them still using it in new phones, even ones with touch screens! For a long time I expected my next phone to be another Nokia, running the Symbian OS. I was interested to see Nokia open-source it and create the Symbian Foundation. But Android has grown steadily, now starting to eclipse even Apple’s iPhone. I was reluctant at first, but I've now decided that my next phone will run Android.

As for Nokia, well they'd better pull their finger out and do something with this “MeeGo” Linux software they‘re co-developing with Intel. But they’d better do it fast. Or I guess they could always start using Android too.

Update: In late 2010 the Nokia board got rid of their CEO and took a while finding a new one. They appointed an ex-Microsoft executive to the position. Unsurprisingly they‘ve just announced a deal with MS to make WP7 devices. They’ve pulled out of the Meego partnership with Intel, pretty much killed Symbian, and the future of QT is a little iffy.

Oh well. Bye bye, Nokia! I'm getting a Motorola Milestone!

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