Nokia 8 Review

Introduction:

So after giving the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus a fair trial but finding it wasn’t for me I decided that in lieu of the Pixel 2 coming to New Zealand that the next best thing for me is a Nokia 8 from Spark (they’re the exclusive partner in New Zealand for Nokia). For some background as to why I left my iPhone 6s Plus and decided that Android would be my future home here is the link to the Samsung Galaxy S8 review where in the introduction I laid out the context in which the decision was being made ( link ). In this review I will also talk about how dealt with losing some of the niceties that one gets used to when being in an all Apple ecosystem and how one can address that when retaining a Mac but moving to the Android world.

The reasoning for moving from Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus to a Nokia 8 is actually pretty straightforward – I prefer vanilla Android. At the time of purchase of the S8 the Nokia range were not available in New Zealand so I decided to settle for the consolation prize rather than holding off – typical impatient me but I’m now back with what I am comfortable using. I also find that with a more vanilla Android like what Nokia has provided you tend to find that you won’t suffer from vendor specifics that get introduced as the OEM is customising Android as I’ll explain later in this review.

Hardware:

The hardware design is basic and straightforward – it won’t set the world alight in terms of earth shattering design but it is functional and I think that is probably more important in terms of longevity than wanting to have the latest cutting edge trend. The device feels in the hand is light and yet it feels substantial in terms of quality like what one expects from a Nokia branded phones. It is something that I really liked about the Lumia 920 was the fact that even for a plastic phone it felt solid with the only let down being the operating system running on an otherwise fine piece of hardware. Regarding whether the Nokia 8 is slippery or not – it is a bit of a non-issue for me as I always have a cover on my phones (wallet style with my EFTPOS/credit cards in there) but holding it in the store and carrying it around inside I found it ok – it isn’t ‘grippy’ by any stretch of the imagination but isn’t slippery either.

When it comes to the ports that are available, Nokia make use of the USB-C 3.1 connector and unlike other handset vendors they have kept with the much desired 3.5mm headphone jack. Side note regarding the removal of the headjack, for me the issue with the iPhone was the fact that it made people dependent on a proprietary connector (lightning) where Apple themselves become the gatekeepers and toll collectors as to whether third parties can make accessories for the phone such as earphones. Compare that scenario in the Android world where the move to standardise on USB-C meaning any Tom, Dick or Harry can create USB-C accessories without the overhead of dealing with a single vendor trying to take their cut thus the possibilities of accessories at various price points is possible when embracing the USB-C connector and sticking with open standards (which is the reason i think Apple might not have gotten as much flack had they decided to fully standardise on USB-C for all iOS devices and got rid of the 3.5mm jack at the same time – it would have marked an end of proprietary connectors and a new era of open innovation).

Software:

The one thing that attracted me to moving over to Nokia was the vanilla Android experience – the goodness of Android without the bloat and needless tweaking (what I consider needless) of Android resulting in long delays in security updates coming out or upgrades. The Pixel 2 and Nexus range also provided that but unfortunately Google hasn’t any interest in bringing the Pixel 2 to New Zealand so for those of us who recoil at the horror that is Samsung’s handy work, the option that is available is the Nokia line up. Personally I would sooner have vanilla android that might not be as feature rich as the competitors and instead the money that would have otherwise been spent on those tweaks to be put into ensuring updates and upgrades are delivered in a timely manner.

When it comes to updating after I set up the phone I was disappointed that when I ran the system update it claimed that it was already up to date even though the ‘Android security patch level’ was still dated July 2017. I had some to and fro from Nokia and Spark but neither of them were able to help me with Nokia claiming that “well, it must be all up to date then” (I pointed out that simply isn’t the case given how updates have been released globally for said phone) and the person from Spark was entirely clueless on what is going on. In the end I fiddled around with ‘Opera VPN’ and set it to the United States (after removing my SIM card and doing a complete factory reset with the only network connection being to my wifi router) and it found those updates that Nokia claimed didn’t exist (my phone is all up to date – ‘Android security patch level October 2017’). Long story short – I’ve made contact with Spark (since they’re the retailer and the people who have been working with Nokia to bring it into New Zealand thus they’re the only ones who can do something about it) because it is clear that the server that is serving up the updates is checking the IP address of where in the world one is located and it is refusing to serve up updates however outside of New Zealand those updates are being served up like clock work.

Another peculiarity I found with Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus was that I was unable to get it working with Handsfree 2 from Tunabelly Software yet I never had an issue using it with HTC or Nexus devices in the past which led me to wonder whether Samsung had done something to break compatibility as they tweaked around with Android. Funny enough one of the first things I did was setting up Handsfree 2 on my computer again and everything worked perfectly with the Nokia 8 – no noise and garbel coming (instead of hearing the actual call) through when making a phone call which re-enforces my hypothesis that Samsung has buggered something up in Android.

When it comes to synchronisation with the Nokia 8 there are limited options unfortunately since Apple doesn’t support MTP natively (makes sense since they don’t make any products that use the MTP standard) so one has to resort to ‘Android File Transfer’ which unfortunately is older than god himself and Google hasn’t been bothered to update it in the years they’ve been making it available. The net result of that neglect has been the libmtp that it is dependent on is so bug riddled that you’ll see random errors come up with no clue as to what is actually causing them – files not copying for no reason giving other than the application itself giving up. Btw, Samsung is no better with their Samsung Switch software which bundles the same out of date Android transfer application in with their own application thus getting the joy of it having it die half way through a transfer of several thousand songs. If you think that is bad – you then get the joy of manually managing your music by dragging and dropping – what a nightmare.

So rather than dealing with that nightmare I bought a copy of SyncMate 7 and because Nokia didn’t bugger around with the internals of Android we end up getting a functional MTP implementation on the Android side (try using Samsung Galaxy S8 with non-Samsung MTP synchronisation clients and brace yourself for the frustration that’ll arise in you as you try to get it working) thus one can setup SyncMate 7 without having to go into developer mode and enable debugging on the USB port. When setting up SyncMate you click on the plus symbol, click on MTP, then select all the options. To ensure that your music your music comes up so that you can synchronise as well as keep track on what is on the phone vs. on the computer remember to tick the following:

Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 1.59.11 AM

Which will export an XML based file so then SyncMate 7 picks it up, imports it and it is a matter of doing what you used to do in iTunes – ticking off the music you want on your phone then clicking sync. One thing you’ll notice is that when you click on the artist’s name rather than the album that the albums in the box above it are automatically chosen – something iTunes didn’t do which was strange. For those wondering – no errors occurred because the libmtp version that SyncMate uses is 1.1.13 which is around 5 years newer than what is included in Android File Transfer/Samsung Switch is – in other words, a lot of the bugs in the older version had been fixed.

Conclusion:

As noted before, it is important to keep in mind that this review is written from the perspective of a Mac user so when you consider buying a Nokia 8 vs the well trodden path of buying an iPhone. With that in mind it is important to take into account two things you’ll also need to purchase if you want to make the experience as seamless as possible: SyncMate (with lifetime upgrades) and Handsfree 2 which adds another NZ$100 to the cost of the phone (the phone being NZ$999). Handsfree 2 will give you the same experience you had before when you could answer calls and send text messages from your desktop (although that tends to be a secondary feature in my life since most people I know have standardised on WhatsApp) like you could with the iPhone. The second piece of software, SyncMate 7, which is a replacement for the synchronisation of iTunes which is reliable (when compared to the Android File Transfer that I tried using), able to import ones iTunes library and keep track of what is on the phone vs. what is on the computer as to keep everything in check.

One thing to keep in mind that with a vanilla Android like what Nokia provides it is a double edged sword – yes it is clean, simply and lacking in bloat but the sort of sophisticated features such as an audio equalizer, a sophisticated camera application etc. but if you’re someone like me who doesn’t want all that stuff ten the Nokia 8 is a great replacement for an iPhone if you’re finding that the latest release is little eye watering in the price department or wanting to get an experience close to it but without the price tag. Would I recommend it? yes, I would without a doubt – if you want a smartphone that allows you to do what you want without the software getting in the way then the Nokia 8 is a great option.

After all that glowing praise you’d think that I was going to keep it but that being said I have returned the phone to Spark because Nokia wasn’t allowing for updates to be delivered to phones located in New Zealand. Yes, I could pull out my SIM card, completely clear the phone, install OperaVPN to do updates but could you imagine doing that every single time I wanted to update? I talked to Nokia with their online chat service and I kept being ignored or kept getting the same song/dance about ‘updates being rolled out’ but they never actually addressed the fact that, yes they roll out, but they didn’t address why I didn’t receive the September or August updates which should be instantaneous given that we’re well past those months and the rollout should have been completed by the end of that month. I went to the Spark store in Queensgate, talked to the store manager and showed him the messages from Nokia plus the messages from Spark and he gave me a refund along with apologising regarding the whole experience. In the end I got a great impression of Spark but got a horrible impression of Nokia – if you’re going to enter into the phone market then you’ve gotta get it done right and not the situation of half baked buck passing support structures that avoid addressing problems when reported.

A good week…things will hopefully get better

Things have quietened down with Apple over the last few weeks with the release of the 5th public beta for tvOS 10.2.1 but further public betas of macOS 10.12.4 and iOS 10.3.2 haven’t come yet which makes me wonder whether Apple is going to be releasing it within the next week or two. There are rumours that there will be a refresh with the Mac line up very soon so it’ll be interesting to see what happens especially with the launch of Kaby Lake CPU’s but personally I’m more excited about Cannon Lake which will be a die shrink to 10nm or even Ice Lake which has the rumoured new architecture ( link ) that’ll be delivered in 2019 which is when Ice Lake will be released and rumoured to having a new architecture which would then be followed by an optimisation. The rumour has it that with the new architecture that legacy parts of the ISA will be removed which date back 40+ years in favour of having 32bit ‘compatibility’ provided when in ‘long mode’ (the mode the CPU is referred to when the underlying operating system is running in 64bit mode).

It’ll be interesting to see what happens at the Microsoft Build conference from 10-12 May 2017 which has a lot of speculation about what will be announced – maybe some big announcements relating to Project Centennial and big software vendors getting onboard in the wake of the Windows 10 S announcement. It was interesting to note that Microsoft’s Alex Kipman opined that the smartphone was ‘dead’ and that ‘people haven’t realised it yet’ so does that mark a future direction of the mythical Surface Phone or is it sour grapes by Microsoft for failing to ever get their phone operating system off the ground? Maybe we’ll see hints at Build but that kind opinion held by Alex Kipman is at odds with what Microsoft’s other departments are concluding and that is to not fight the inevitable and jump on the Android train by reselling Samsung Galaxy 8 and 8+ devices with Microsoft software pre-loaded to get customers pointed to Microsoft’s own services instead of trying to do the impossible of getting people to give Windows 10 Mobile a chance. Tomorrow I’ll be working on the second episode of my podcast where I’ll focus on 5 subjects but I’ll try to keep it below 30 minutes for the sake of the listeners sanity but on a good side it has allowed me to collate some interesting titbits. 

Over the next 10 day it looks like the coldest it’ll get will be 7 degrees celsius although that is based on Wellington temperatures where as living out in the Hutt Valley the temperature can be around 2-3 degrees colder in many cases. Tonight hasn’t been too bad – it is around 16 degrees celsius so I didn’t need to put on the heater to keep warm which helps the old bank account. I’m having a look through the part time job section so hopefully with some extra hours – Monday/Tuesday or Wednesday then more available during the university holidays I can moderate out the earning cycle. Although it isn’t the most ideal solution and I’d prefer a more stable full time job, it is better than the current situation particularly when one considers that the university closes down for over a month and during that time I need employment to allow me to keep paying the bills.

Chilly outside but ok inside

One of the first things I remember doing when moving into the place I am now as to check the insulation – no use throwing good money after bad if the net result is a cold house because the heat is escaping to heat half the neighbourhood. I’ve got the dehumidifier going and to he honest the amount of electricity used is actually fairly small with the benefit of having a dryer house being a warmer house plus I dry my clothes inside so it avoids a build up of moisture in the air which leads to that yucky damp smell. Hopefully I can hold off from having to turn on the heater until maybe the first of July at the earliest because god knows I can’t afford to have high electricity bills at the moment although I might be able to get some assistance where possible.

Something interesting I came across is Samsung selling directly to the public so if you want to bypass having to sign up for an interest free deal with an open plan or a plan with a phone, you can order ( link ) and get it delivered by 28 April. I’ve had a look into it and I’d be lying to myself if I said that I wasn’t tempted but I’d sooner hold off and sleep on it. The other part of the equation will be setting up a new domain name that I’ll use strictly for email that will be detached from my WordPress webite. Once I have set up my new domain setup I’ll then set up Google Apps and for the aliases I am currently using I’ll use the aliases/mail redirect facility in WordPress. To recreate the same experience it’ll involve moving over to Chrome and buying a copy of HandsFree 2.6.1 so I can send SMS messages and answer the phone from my Mac. The big question after all that is whether I want to go through all that drama or whether I’m too lazy and at this stage although I’m sucked in by the new I am also rather lazy and can’t be bothered going through the drama to get there.

I’ve given the new WordPress 2.3 application a try and it is still a horrible train wreck – when I try to right click on words to bring up the spellcheck (after enabling it and then quitting/relaunching the application, the whole application freezes and I’m forced to force quit the application) not to mention how hugely inefficient it is when compared to a native solution like MarsEdit that can operate offline. Something I love about native applications is the fact that one isn’t dealing with the fickle nature of a Internet connection not to mention ‘web based technologies’ that start to become increasingly inefficient as the application becomes more complex – the WordPress application and Visual Studio for Mac being two examples of that general rule of thumb in action. 

Another day at home relaxing…remembering my childhood

Sitting at home watching the full MASH series – always great, even with a re-run, to have a good laugh and be reminded of when I was growing up as a kid where mum would put it on television to MASH at 6:00pm and we’d eat fish ’n chips on Friday like a picnic in front of the television. It is funny how I am reminded of when my old man told me not to get too hung up on the idea of wanting to grow up because I think he wanted me to real that once you get there you look back at your younger years having not cherished that freedom one has when one is young. I was a kid of the 1980’s and life was pretty simple and the most I had to contend with was deciding whether I would wear the brown or blue corduroys at school and whether mum had made up some fruit and custard to take to school for lunch. Oh what a much simpler time – I can see why many look back at the ‘good old days’ with nostalgia considering what the world has become and how life was so much simpler without the complexity, the familiarity of life not moving at a frantic pace and lack of disconnectedness that one can easily feel about the world today.

A lot of buzz since the pre-orders for the Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+ got started at 9:00am on 20th April (promised delivery being at 28th April) with a large number of reviewers showering praise on the device although there are concerns. One of the big concerns is the inclusion of Bixby but it is not only currently limited to US English and Korean it appears that Samsung has disabled the ability to remap the Bixby launch button. Yes, I understand that they want to get as many people using the Bixby service as possible given the amount they have invested into the technology but at the same time if it isn’t ready in a particular market, say New Zealand, then who is gaining by behaving like a douchbag in the mean time? It seems rather petty to punish a customer with reduced functionality all for the sake of preserving your brand but ultimately frustrating the customer resulting a bad taste being left in the customers mouth as a result.

I’m going to be waiting this one out – although there is the temptation there I am more interested in seeing what Apple has to offer especially if it means the rumours come true. The rumours so far have talked about something similar to what Samsung has released but the interesting part will be what will come in iOS 11 because iOS at this point is pretty feature complete and mature which leaves very few avenues to make massive leaps forward – maybe that is why there are rumours of AR are becoming more frequent? What ever the case maybe, I am so invested in the Apple ecosystem it would take something drastic to get me to leave the platform any time soon.

Enjoying the holidays…lots of fun in the world of Apple

Television seems to be pretty dead these days so I’ve decided go to back to watching MASH from start to finish – sometimes the classics are the best when one is in dire need of some entertainment. I wish that these episodes were available to purchase online – it amazes me how these old episodes are made available given that I’m sure there are many out there who would be more than happy to pay to get access to these shows.

When it comes to how my day was – went down the road for a quick meal at the local sushi place and had a look around at the store where I had a look at the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge ‘Special Edition’ – each time I’m not convinced that the hassle of moving is worth it in the end which makes me wonder how many are in my position in terms of iPhone users and whether Samsung is aiming their products to win over iPhone users or are they hoping that a growing market and them getting more of that growth for themselves.

Side note though, with the Samsung S8 and DeX it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the whole Windows 10 vision – ok, they’ve scaled back Windows 10 Mobile to a niche where your phone is like a mini-computer and now that Samsung has done something similar with the bonus of a huge selection of software then where does Windows 10 fit in all of that? What does it say about the larger UWP vision that Microsoft has put forward especially now that it appears that the UWP of Microsoft Office is now on the back burner? Then there is the larger issue that if DeX ends up getting back ported back into Android then could you imagine the eventual creeping of Android into the laptop market then desktop then workstation? More frameworks being added to fill in the gaps such as a full on OpenGL stack combined with Vulkan which will make it a strong competitor to Windows when you consider the large software portfolio that is available to anyone interest in using Android as their main operating system of choice.

Then again this has always been my ‘conspiracy theory’ regarding the direction that Nadella would like to take the company where the focus is on the middleware, cloud and servers with Android/Chrome taking the low to middle and the Mac taking the middle to high end with enterprise pretty much by the short and curls until there is a move away from the legacy win32 applications that many rely on. On the issue of legacy, it is interesting to see how new businesses are more likely to be using Google Apps and other non-Microsoft technology than more established businesses which have to taken into account legacy capabilities meaning we might find Microsoft in the same sort of situation that SUN and then later Oracle find/found themselves in where they’re maintaining the status quo but little or no growth other than moving customers from one kind of service to another, from one kind of product to another kind of product.

I’m personally looking forward to WWDC 2017 with the announcement of macOS 10.13 and APFS coming to the Mac platform which signs off on the last part of MacOS 9 to finally be replaced with something better, modern and plain well ‘not sucking’ as many have complained about for years. So as one of the last pieces of the old operating system is replaced it’ll be interesting to see what is opened up in terms of improvements going forward particularly how Apple will deal with fusion drives which, I suspect, is going to be the more difficult aspect of dealing with when compared to the iOS world which is a base flat partition structure.

Oh Samsung you tempter

I’m firmly in the Mac camp but even I have to admit that Samsung has really lifted their game they are becoming very tempting especially now that they’ve replaced Kies with Switch which is a lot less buggy and troublesome on the Mac platform. The other part of the Google ecosystem has been the necessity (as far as I’m concerned) of running Chrome to get the full cloud experience of having bookmarks and passwords synchronised with all devices. There is the rumour that Samsung is going to announce it at a special event on 29/03/2017 with an expected release date being a month later so it’ll be interesting to see which countries get it first.

The other one to keep an eye out for is HTC which is making a slow and steady comeback as they slim down their product line rather than having dozens of variations and permutations of the same product because some special snowflake at random carrier wants a special phone just for them with a ‘tramp stamp’ on the back of the phone. The Pixel XL, if I ever was going to move to the Android platform, would be the go to phone primarily because it’ll have the same level of support in terms of software updates and upgrades that I would experience with iPhone.

At this point I’m really spoilt by how well Apple takes care of its customers especially when it comes to the integration between macOS, iOS, tvOS and iCloud although if I ever went the Android route I’d probably sign up for a domain and sign up for Google Apps but too bad it doesn’t support aliases as with the case of iCloud email. Basically it comes down to swings, roundabouts and what one wish to use ones computer for and whether the flexibility of Android is worth the extra leg work. I always keep my mind open to alternatives when I looking at upgrading – what the competition has to offer and whether it is sufficient enough to make me convert away from the iPhone.

The AppStore isn’t a monopoly: Your analysis is bad and you should feel bad

Reading this article it appears that we’re now in the midst of yet another ‘only in America’ moment when god help us we have some oxygen thief taking it upon themselves to launch a frivolous law suit ( link ). I’ll lay down a few points:

    1. There is already choice in the form of competing platforms – if you’re not happy with the limitation/restriction or what ever other aspect of the iOS platform then you’re more than welcome to buy an Android, Blackberry or Windows 10 Mobile device. There might be some validity if there was no choice – but there is choice.
    2. If side loading was such an import feature that people were clambering for then there is nothing stopping people from buying an Android device (or derivative device such as the Amazon Fire) to do just that.
    3. You can already side load applications as long as you’ve got the source code or the code in some sort of intermediate state (aka someone compiled it into bitcode) given that you can side load without needing to have a developers subscription.

The way I see it, imagine going to a restaurant but you want to use your own sauce at the restaurant but the restaurant owner says that you can only use the sauce the is available at the restaurant itself. Is that restaurant behaving in a monopolistic way when there are numerous other restaurants out there that may allow you to bring your own sauce? Heck, they might even allow you to bring your own alcohol too! It seems that there is a cottage industry in the United States of people who go around suing whilst masquerading as ‘sticking up for consumer rights’ when in reality it is about a few lawyers trying to make their name known.