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Why Symbian Sucks and Why It Wont Stop Sucking Anytime Soon

In light of Symbian-Guru shutting its doors, and Symbian Screenshot0003falling behind Android in market share, I thought I should add my two cents about Symbian.  I own a Nokia N97 which I got about a year ago.  My critique of Symbian will be focused primarily on my experience with the N97 since I do not own any other Symbian powered devices.  My intention is not to bash Nokia or Symbian, but rather to point out areas that need improvement.  Nokia has done many things right with the N97.  For example, the resistive screen is very responsive and the best I’ve used.  The TFT screen works great in direct sunlight and the camera records in nHD resolution for a great viewing experience on the phone.

However, the N97 has be plagued by a ridiculous amount of problems and issues from day one.  I’ve seen multiple complaints about performance and transitions.  Nokia’s ads show the device very smoothly and with very nice transition effects.  In reality the OS is anything but smooth, with noticeable lag when scrolling or launching applications; even auto screen rotation suffers from lag! The transitions amount to nothing more than the screen fading off and back on when you rotate the screen, yet somehow this pathetic excuse for a transition causes the system to run at a snail’s pace.  I should note that Nokia has fixed most of the lag with it’s firmware updates.  This is not to say that the OS is completely smooth now, but it is vastly superior to what I had to deal with in v10…

That brings me to firmware updates, Nokia has released several updates since the launch of the N97.  Most of which were bug fixes.  Bug fixes in each release were minor and address a small number of bugs in each version.  This would not be a problem if Nokia released updates in a timely fashion, but they don’t.  So not only are users stuck waiting for updates, once they finally do arrive they always manage to disappoint.

As for bugs, off the top of my head I can think of:

  • Screen coming back on immediately after locking, although still locked
  • Ringtone rings the default tone at random times instead of the assigned ringtone(fixed in v22)
  • Multiple system process crashes(reduced but not eliminated with v22)
  • Memory leaks are present even when only using official Nokia applications
  • Phone refuses to unlock, this is especially annoying when trying to pick up a call
  • Phone fails to answer the call(even when phone is unlocked)
  • Web browser crashes when loading large pages
  • Browser has multiple window support but no way to enable it other than by clicking a popup link, and no way to switch back other than to close the new window
  • Camera doesn’t always start when lens cover is opened
  • Camera app crashes on occasion

This is just unacceptable.  I understand if I had installed a poorly written program and it caused problems, but I get memory leaks just using Nokia apps and not the Betas.  After a few hours of use and closing all the apps I lose about 10MB of ram from when I booted the phone up.  Why is it doing that?  Symbian phones are notorious for not having enough RAM as it is(my N97 has a measly 128MB of RAM).  I don’t want to watch it slowly disappear on it’s own Nokia!

Screenshot0005Bugs aside, lets assume Symbian ran as it should on my N97.  I still a have ton of other complaints.  Lets start with the GUI.  In landscape mode the soft buttons take up 20% of my screen real estate, 20%!  And most of the time only 2 of the 5 button slots are used.  Such a waste of space.  Symbian allows you to have gridded icons or a list format for the menu.  All pop-ups are in lists.  The problem is that selecting items from a list is awkward and unintuitive.  It’s completely different from selecting icons.  In lists you must highlight the item once to select it and then once more to launch it.  I assume this was done to prevent accidentally clicking apps when you tried to scroll, and I give Nokia credit for trying to come up with something innovating.  The problem is the implementation is all wrong.  Lists cannot be avoided in Symbian so anyone with a gridded menu will have to learn both styles as the double click feature (if you can call it  that) is not present in the gridded mode.  Screenshot0007To add insult to injury, when any list opens the top item is always selected, so when you click it once it launches the program.  This is confusing because all other selections require two clicks but the top app only requires one.  I see the logic in this, as the top program is a lready highlighted so no need to do it again, but this adds confusion when there should be uniform simplicity.  Even simple things like an onscreen QWERTY keyboard in landscape more are omitted.  It’s not like it would be difficult for Nokia to implement, my friend’s 5530 XpressMusic phone has it so all they have to do is port it over.  But no, I’m forced to open my keyboard and type on it or use a numeric keypad; when i just want to be lazy, and poke at the screen.

Additional issues I had with Symbian:


  • The main screen supports only one homescreen(swiping only shows wallpaper) which is disappointing.
  • No support for playing H.264 videos higher than VGA res
  • Homescreen widgets were not useful except for the official Nokia ones

Hardware-wise, Symbian phones tend to all be underpowered Screenshot0006compared to their Android, WinMo and Apple counterparts.  Android and WinMo all have phones with 1Ghz Snapdragon CPUs and 512MB of RAM; while my N97 hums along at 434Mhz with only 128MB of RAM.  Symbian might not need all that extra power, but the apps do.  If I run anything in the background(even Nokia Email App) the system slows down and a lot of RAM is used.  Nokia needs to account for this and make phones with more RAM.  Even the new Symbian^3 powered N8 only has 256MB.  Come on Nokia…your new flagship might have twice the RAM of my crappy N97 but it’s still only half of what the HTC EVO has.  The yet to be released N8 is also equipped with a 680Mhz processor when 1Ghz has become the new norm for high-end devices.  Forget about being obsolete when it’s launched, it was obsolete when they announced it!

The Future of Symbian, is Symbian^3.  After watching the demos, I can only say that I was underwhelmed by what Symbian^3 has to offer.  To me Symbian^3 is what S60v5 should’ve been.  They didn’t add anything fancy, exciting, or new.  There was little to no innovation on Nokia’s part, at all.  All they did was make the OS usable.  Symbian^3 can actually multitask and can really use transitions without grinding to a halt.  The soft buttons have shrunk(but not enough in my opinion) and the GUI has been made to function more intuitively.  The problem is that Nokia has finally managed to get Symbian to work properly, not wonderfully.  Symbian is far from spectacular, and it’s definitely not a show stopper.  After Microsoft’s announcement of Windows Phone 7 and Google’s revamp of Android with Froyo this year, Symbian^3 looks and feels more like something 2009.  I think Nokia realizes this as they have announced that they will no longer release N-Series phones with Symbian.  So what does this mean for Symbian? It means that Symbian is effectively dead.  Symbian^3 will be nothing more than a place holder for Nokia low-end devices while MeeGo takes center stage.  Nokia isn’t going to give it the focus it needs to grow.  Nokia barely gave S60v5 any attention when it was it’s crown jewel, now that it’s pushed to the back-burner I seriously doubt anything new will come of it.  Unless Symbian^4 presents spectacular changes to the Symbian OS, Symbian’s role will be reduced to making MeeGo users feel relieved that they don’t have a Symbian device.