The first impression Belle Refresh left me was a big disappointment. And in some aspects it is. This is supposed to be the last big update for the N8 generation so I was expecting more. And by more I mean more FP2 features. But it didn’t happen. Now that I got over that initial WTF moment it’s time to take a look under the hood to see what are the performance improvements that arrives with this new update.
First of all let’s tackle the browser. Updated to version 8.3 the browser brings some subtle but worth noting user interface updates. Besides the back and forward buttons we have the windows and a favorites buttons that make your life a bit easier when navigating the web. The favorites button opens up a three tabs panel with most visited, bookmarks and history. It’s good thing that all bookmarks and favorites are in the same place. The usual web browser menu, a reminiscence of S60v5, is now gone and you can do basically the same operations as before from the context menu.
Another improvement, and this is a big one, is the browser rendering speed. It’s a big improvement over the old version with zooming in and out being now way smoother than before. You can even zoom in and out as the page loads and it works pretty well. Unlike before when you used to get lots of lag even after the page was fully loaded, now you won’t see anymore if those lags. So, the updated browser gets a big thumbs up. If you compare this version to the S60v5, you can’t tell the current one is an evolution of that old version.
Between all the clock widgets that were included in this update, there are others that were really needed and welcomed by us all. The first is the Data Counter widget that comes with a small app too and tells you how much mobile data you’ve consumed. You just need to set your monthly limit and the day your limit gets reset. You can also choose to disable the mobile data when the limit is hit to avoid extra costs.
The second much needed widget is Mail,New arrival. This one can replace the big old half homescreen mail widget with a shortcut that shows you a badge notification when you have new mail. I would have liked to see the new mail notification in the system pull-down area and on the lockscreen, just like the notifications for new messages and missed calls. It’s not very ergonomic to unlock you phone whenever you want to check if you have new mail.
The third widget that is worth mentioning is the Contacts widget that can now show a group on the homescreen and not just your favorite contacts. In the old Belle if you would have added the Contacts, favorites to your homescreen three times, you would have got the same contacts in all widgets. Now, if you define 3 different groups you can have three different widgets, one for each group. A big improvement over the old approach.
Also, worth mentioning are the toggle widgets fro 3G, Mobile Data, Offline mode and Silent mode.
Belle Refresh also includes the latest QT version, 4.8. The new version seems to have boosted the speed of the apps written in this language. Apps seem to scroll smoother and the touch input has been optimized for swiping gestures. Without needing to update the existing apps they run smoother and accidental scrolling when you intended to swipe happens a lot less now.
But the Belle Refresh update didn’t just improve things, it also broke some apps. That was expected from third party apps that had compatibility issues, but I wasn’t expecting that to happen to the Microsoft Office suite. The new update rendered OneNote useless. Synchronization was gone and I wasn’t able to login to my account again for one simple reason: I could not type in my username and password. When I touched the input fields the keyboard did not pop up. Maybe a hard reset will fix it, but at the moment I am don’t want to lose all my user data because of this issue. Maybe Microsoft will issue an update, but it’s unbelievable that Nokia’s new best buddy didn’t do it’s homework to properly test the office suite with the latest Belle update.
Even though not all expectations were met with this new update, it’s clearly an improvement over the original Belle, but I hope this is not the end of the line as far as updates are concerned for the first generation of Symbian^3 devices.