On February 7, 2011, Nokia released Belle, the latest version of its Symbian operating system.
Like many others, I had been eagerly waiting for the Nokia Belle update since late last year. So when it finally arrived, I upgraded my Nokia N8 to Belle on the first day itself.
This is my review of Nokia Belle after two weeks of using it.
How to upgrade:
To upgrade to Belle, you need to connect your phone via USB cable to a PC/laptop with Nokia Suite 3.3 or later installed.
NOTE: You cannot upgrade OTA directly from the phone because Belle, being a major update, requires a full backup of the phone’s data to be taken first, in case something goes wrong during the installation.
Once connected, launch Nokia Suite and search for software updates. If eligible, you will be presented with the Nokia Belle update notification as shown below. Click on “Install” to start the update process.
The installer will proceed to download the Belle firmware (~250 MB). Before installing, it will take a full backup of the phone’s data (pictures, contacts, messages, etc.). After the installation is complete, the data will be restored from backup.
- Modern looks: The Belle update gives Nokia’s Symbian ^3 phones a modern smartphone look, in line with phones running Android and iOS. Text-based navigation has been completely replaced by icons, and Belle adds a drag-down Notification bar that provides a single-swipe access to the phone’s connectivity options (mobile data, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) and displays notifications and activity alerts.
You can configure up to six home screens on Belle. Shortcuts and widgets can now be easily added, removed and dragged around the home screen. There is support for resizable widgets too.
Nokia has redesigned most core applications on Belle, such as the Messaging application, Gallery, Camera, Nokia Web Browser, Music Player, Calendar and even the Dialer. It has also redesigned some of the ancillary applications such as Nokia Store Client, Nokia Maps, etc.
- Better usability: Belle also brings much-needed improvements to the general phone usability. The QWERTY keypad is now much more convenient to use, with keys better spaced out and easier to type. The Notification bar makes it easy to view notifications of new messages, missed calls, etc. and turn connectivity options on and off. The Dialer menu has also been redesigned to make the number keys bigger and easier to type, by moving the “Call” button to the bottom.
- Speed: Nokia has really managed to extract every bit of processing power from its Symbian phones with Nokia Belle, thanks in part to the significant improvements to memory management which optimizes performance on the 256 MB RAM that Symbian ^3 hardware comes with.
My N8 runs much faster and smoother after the upgrade to Belle. Transitions are smoother and near-instantaneous, apps run quickly and the phone rarely gives an impression of being slow. But keeping the phone’s specs in mind, a “Theme effects” option that enables many more visual effects is turned off on the N8 by default. And rightly so – enabling it visibly slows down the phone.
- Less apps: A lot of apps that were available for older Symbian versions are not compatible with Belle yet. So for the moment, one has to live with this reduced choice of apps on Belle. The problem is not just with third-party apps.
Even some of Nokia’s apps, such as the latest version of Nokia Social Networking Client, don’t support Belle yet!
- New Messaging app confusing: The Messaging application on Belle has been redesigned to show messages as conversations upfront. Although a folder-based view is still available, there is no option to set that as a default view anymore, like in Anna.
But the worst part is that Messaging now shows all SMSes from all folders together, even those that are just in Sent Items and not part of an Inbox conversation. This is really confusing.
And clearly this has not been a well-thought out change, because exiting from Messaging after viewing a SMS that has just arrived requires a series of clicks, as it goes backwards from folder-based view to the conversation view before closing.
- New camera UI is intrusive: The new Camera application UI on Belle has a rather intrusive taskbar at the bottom, which cannot be hidden. As a result, that part of the screen is permanently obscured, whether you are clicking a picture or viewing it afterwards. This is not pleasant at all.
Compared to this fancy new camera UI, I preferred the old Anna camera UI which provided single-tap access to all features but was not intrusive. I would strongly urge Nokia to move back to a transparent UI, given that the camera is the USP of the N8.
- Still no “recently used” tab in Contacts: It is very frustrating to scroll down and choose contacts everytime when sending a message. One wishes there was a “recently used numbers” tab in the Contacts menu for quick access to frequently messaged numbers.
- Proximity sensor issue persists: The N8′s proximity sensor does not work as it is intended to. Almost every time I make or receive a call, I end up opening homescreen apps or dragging down the Notification bar because of my cheek touching the screen. This is an annoying problem that’s been present since the Anna days, and hasn’t been fixed yet.
- Application settings lost after upgrade: This is a real shocker. Although there is no loss of data after the upgrade, since the installer takes a full backup of the phone’s data beforehand, all application settings are lost after upgrading. Details such as WLANs configured, Nokia Maps settings, DRM licenses of music files, etc. are all lost and have to be reconfigured or re-downloaded! The shocking part is that there is no warning of this at any stage, nor does the installer ask you to back up or note down this data.
- Poor design of status bar: The new Belle status bar, although an improvement over the legacy Symbian status bar, is sadly a dull monochrome bar that looks plain in comparison with the rest of the UI.
It has no colors for the battery level, which makes it difficult to determine how much battery power is left. Secondly, the time display does not have an AM/PM indicator. Thirdly, it looks too thin compared to the bottom taskbar.
But most importantly, the right-most network strength bar is thinner than the other bars, which looks very poor from a design standpoint. This is clearly visible on close inspection.
Oddly though, the Nokia Store Client seems to have its own “fake” status bar, and that shows the network bars correcly (all are of equal thickness)! So when you open Nokia Store Client, you can make out a slight shift of the battery icon towards the right and a thickening of the right-most network strength bar.
- Taskbar taps often not recognized: Taps on the taskbar (particularly on the “Back” arrow) often go unrecognized, especially if the OS is busy processing stuff. You need to tap multiple times or tap hard to get it to register.
- Poorer picture quality: If indeed true, this is very disappointing for a phone whose USP is its camera. It has been reported by some users that the N8 camera no longer clicks as sharp pictures as it used to, after the Belle update. After having clicked a couple of pictures in varying light conditions, I have to say I feel the same too. The pictures don’t seem as well-focused, sharp or as crisp as they used to be in Anna. I’d love to hear an official statement on this, and if possible from Damian Dinning (Nokia’s camera guru) too.