The Nokia N96: Face the Task

If you buy a Nokia N96 you only have yourself to blame.

Before we go on, please note – if you are new to this site – understand that Nokias are my thing.

Resident expert if you will.

This is my opinion and I give it freely to you, the lovely readers of Mobile Industry Review.

So, in advance – thanks for reading…

If you’re not new to the site, if you’re a regular reader in fact – you’ll know that Whatley Wednesday has been on a bit of a hiatus of late – my creative output instead being poured into The MIR Show.

This has changed.

The Nokia N96 has frustrated me so much that I really had no choice but to put e-pen to e-paper and express my thoughts…

So again, in advance – thanks for reading…

Now, to business:

This is not a review. Don’t expect in-depth looks at the camera abilities – like they matter these days?
This is more of a public service announcement.

Some of you may have already seen the online marketing around the Nokia N96. ‘Face the task‘ is the name of the game and trials like geo-tagging photos, uploading videos, consuming media etc… are the challenges laid out before you.

Never before has a Nokia campaign been so completely on the money.


Using the Nokia N96 has to be THE MOST challenging experience of my entire life. Forget The Crystal Maze. Cast aside the Krypton Factor. If you want a true test of mental strength and stamina then I urge you to go out and purchase this handset at once.

Yes. It’s actually that bad.

You guys know me right?

You know how much of a Nokia fiend I really am right? I currently rock an N95 and an E71 as my two main handsets with various others just kicking around as spares.

Last month I even went to Finland to present to them my thoughts on Social Media.

Of Nokia – You could say: I am a fan.

So when I say to you that the Nokia N96 is quite possibly the worst attempt at a handset ever to come out of Helsinki you know that they really, really must’ve done something wrong.
Well yeah, they did.

They made the N96.

This device is not new to me. It was first announced way back in February this year at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Yes, that’s right – a full 8 months ago. EIGHT MONTHS.

In EIGHT MONTHS I reckon you could probably get fairly proficient in a new language, such as French, Spanish or even C++… EIGHT MONTHS is also the gestation period of a deer.

That’s right, NEW LIFE CAN BE MADE in the time that this phone has taken to finally hit our shelves. You’d THINK that Nokia would’ve done something in that time about addressing some of the issues that plague this debacle of a handset…

But no.

Instead, in that time we’ve seen the N85 and N79 announced, (both of which are sufficiently sexier than the N96), Nokia’s first touch-screen device the 5800 (aka ‘the Tube’) was finally revealed and on top of that – we’ve also seen the launch of possibly one their best ergonomically designed devices yet, the E71.

But this is not some massive Nokia love in. Not by any stretch. Oh no. Also, in this time we’ve seen the launch of the iPhone 3G and also the recently announced built by geeks, for geeks – the T-Mobile G-1.

It is worth noting at this point that Nokia are not a reactive corporation. No Sirree Bob.

But you’d think after the poor reception that the N96 received in Barcelona, (Christ, I was more excited about the Nokia 6220 – which, for the record, I’d recommend over the N96 any day), they would’ve given the thing an overhaul of some kind. The N95 8GB for instance is just enough of a re-mix on the N95-1 to warrant an upgrade. The N96, while not strictly the N95’s successor, learnt nothing from this lesson.

Since Barcelona I’ve had my hands on this device a number of times – once at a WOM World meet up, where the Product Manager for the N78 (lovely chap named Tim) turned up with a couple on him, I distinctly remember remarking at the time that the screen was lovely and may play a large part in any purchasing decision I might make…

And then again at a Future of Mobile dinner earlier this year (where I recorded and uploaded the following Global Race comparison video).

So far, SO unimpressed.

Regular viewers of the MIR Show will recall a few weeks back when I dialled in to video call my segment over the phone I mentioned that I was indeed waiting for an N96 to arrive from those kind folk at WOM.

Well, late last week, it arrived.

I opened it Friday afternoon, filled it with Whatley Goodness (i.e.: My apps of choice, MP3s, bookmarks etc) and then charged it overnight… Saturday morning I thought I’d take it out for a test drive and upon turning it on I was greeted by a glorious screen.
The N96 does well here. You can’t help but gaze at the amazing Technicolor Loveliness
The first thing I did when I popped my SIM card in? Checked the firmware. V10. Hmm.

I was fairly sure that there was a more recent update, so I checked – Yup, there is. V11 available for download.

Fantastic. Straight out of the box and already it needs an update. The good news is the N96 (along with the N78) supports OTA updates, powered by the awesome people at Red Bend (we met them at the Symbian Smartphone show and they deserve their own write up, Ben? Dan?), and the firmware downloaded and installed perfectly.

Good work Red Bend.

Bad form Nokia – this phone has been out less than a month! How many consumers are going to know about this option without PUSH updates?!

Christ! You’ve SEEN ‘Walking with Normobs’ right? There are STILL people out there with N95s on VERSION TEN FIRMWARE which shouldn’t have ever seen the light of day! BUGGY?! MUCH?!

…and breathe Whatley…

Let’s move on…

Now, the more cognizant amongst you may remember that just 11mths ago I reviewed the Nokia N81 8GB for Mobile Industry Review. If you recall – I wasn’t a fan of that handset.
The look and feel was poor and plastic, the industrial design suffered from poorly placed buttons and the newly implemented ‘key-lock’ switch kept getting stuck.
Take a look at the N81 8GB.

Nokia N81 8GB

Now scroll back up and take a look at the N96.
Spot the similarities?

I can happily report that ALL of the problems I reported on the N81 8GB BACK IN NOVEMBER 2007 are ALL present in the ‘new’ N96.


The thing about the buttons – If I place my thumb over the right side of the top keypad, I can cover six, (count ’em) buttons. Six of them.

This is not really so much of a problem on the N95 8GB for instance where the buttons are raised and you can feel the difference between each one without really having to look at what you’re doing but on this handset – the N96 – the keys are flat next to each other, or ‘flush’ as I believe the design is notionally referred to as.

This is NOT GOOD.

Let’s go back to the N81 criticisms for the second of my main bug bears:

“The ‘c’ button is right next to the ‘play/pause’ music button. AARGH! Sorry. I say ‘right next to’ I mean ‘may as well be the same button@.

That’s right – a negative button right next to a positive button. By pushing the button that I want to stop doing something I accidentally push the button that starts doing something.

In this instance Kate Nash starts blaring out at me whenever I try and correct a misspelt SMS!”

Same. Here… and although my music tastes have changed somewhat since this time last year, the result was the same – it happened again.

Again and again and again… Through the the ONE DAY OF TESTING that I gave to this shoddy piece of workmanship I actually lost count of the amount of times I hit ‘pause/play’ when trying to hit ‘c’.

Oh yes, that’s right: ‘One day of testing…’ – I challenge ANYONE to try and use the N96 for a longer period than this without feeling ANY frustrations whatsoever.

Seriously – this has to be the worse handset I have ever had the misfortune to have in my possession.

Parking the buttons to one side for a moment, I mentioned just now that I tested the handset for a day.

This is not strictly true. I actually tested this handset from 8am through to 1pm where upon the ridiculously short, iPhone 3G-esque battery life gave up on me.

Why the short life span?

Well, Nokia – in their infinite wisdom – having learnt their lesson with the low power levels of the BL-5F battery in the N95-1 (giving it a much needed upgrade to the BL-6F in the N95 8GB), have decided to throw this innovation completely out of the window have seen it fit to equip the N96 with the very same BL-5F from the N95-1 stating ‘power saving software upgrades’ as the reason for this apparent downgrade.

One morning of relatively hardcore use – Music Player, Browser, Mobbler etc… and whoof.. Battery, dead.

“Steaming pile of rubbishness” doesn’t quite cut it really. This phone is abysmal.

Dreadful even.

So what, if anything has the phone got going for it?

Er… BBC iPlayer? Woo!

Had that on my N95 for a fortnight now… nothing new here. 16GB of onboard memory with an expandable option for a MicroSD card? That’s pretty cool. I could do with more memory…

However, WHAT IS THE POINT of carrying around (up to) 32GBs of MP3s if the battery won’t last the day?!

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

…oh and it has a kick-stand on the back too, so you can have a better view of that ominous ‘battery low’ sign when you’re attempting to use the phone for anything more than 5hrs at a time…

You may or not know that I am an active micro-blogger – both on Jaiku and on Twitter, and since Saturday I have vented my ‘distaste’ shall we say, for this device.

Free mobile advice is my thing – and I love helping people with their purchasing decisions. The N96 is no exception to this rule – I have already sent out four emails to various online folk telling them excatly why this is not the device for them and I will give you, dear readers, the same advice I gave them:

If you’re looking for an upgrade to your current handset and you’re giving serious thought to the N96. Go, get one.


Because when you take it back to the shop complaining of just how hideously unusable this appalling excuse for a mobile phone is, you’ll want to be damn sure you’re able to exchange it.

I’d recommend a Nokia N95 8GB. Better battery life, better design, infinitely more stable software and above all, it’s NOT the N96.

However, if you already have an N95 8GB. Nice one. Good work.

It’s what I use and even though I am well into my upgrade period, it is not going anywhere.

As I said at the start of this post:

“Buy a Nokia N96 and you only have yourself to blame.” – and I mean every.. single.. word.

Here endeth the lesson.

MIR: An Open Letter to Vodafone UK

James Whatley writes, this week, with an impassioned open letter to Vodafone. Write to your MP. Call your local radio station. Send letters to Arun!

– – –

(Not another mobile web rant, promise.)

Dear Vodafone,

Let’s get one thing out in the open before we start:

I love you.

There. I said it.

It’s out in the open for the entire world to see.

You and I have been together now for over ten years and although there have been a few ups and downs along the way, somehow we have always managed to pull through.

Red, what can I say? The years have been great.

I still regret the affair I had with Orange back in the 90s and I know that my foolish dalliance with 3 is best forgotten. I was weak. Led astray by promises of ‘revolutionary’ handsets and blinded by their multitude of minutes. Ultimately I was betrayed by my own greed. They just weren’t you Red.

After all these shortfalls, you were there for me, waiting to take me back with open arms whenever things went wrong.

I am a card carrying member…

Fwd: Whatley on Wednesday - An open letter to Vodafone

… of your love parade and I am proud to say that I recommend you and your network to anyone looking to change providers, (and often to those that aren’t). Everything from the fantastic customer service to the virtually non-existent drop-call rate, Vodafone you put a smile on my face by never letting me down.

But as the years have gone by (and my monthly spend has slowly gone up) I have felt, lately, a strange detachment forming betwixt you and I.

Thing is, there is some shall we say, room for improvement.

When you rolled out 3.5G? Brilliant! Amazing in fact! But at £2.35per meg you and I both knew that something had to give… and it did! You went and released your own little data bundle… And at the same price as T-Mobile’s too! What a fantastic move… But no, you had to spoil my fun by going and capping it at 120mb. C’mon… You know can do better than that!

Signal strength is second to none. I cannot count the amount of times I’ve been out and about with friends and being the only Vodafone subscriber of the group has meant I was the only one in the with a signal.

However when it comes to your Tariffs, you may have great coverage but it seems that this comes at a price too. You’re, dare I say it, high maintenance.

Admittedly you’ve tried to wean me off my old school 3000mins per month tariff for ages now but you have nothing that comes anywhere near it currently. 1800mins for £75?! Shocking. You’re good but you’re not that good Red.
I’m not budging. Yeah ‘Stop the Clock‘ – is pretty cool but can I have Vodafone Passport?

“Not on such an old tariff Mr Whatley.”


Voda, you know I feel about you. Take me on my word: You need to catch up! You could be left behind! 3, who were once the laughing stock of the UK operator market, now have one of the sexiest offerings around with their X-Series.

See, o2 got the iPhone, (you did well to avoid that), and you went and got the N95 8GB for an exclusive amount of time. Excellent choice. But why did you have to cripple it with your own firmware?
It’s like three steps forward and two steps back sometimes, really.

Hopefully, when the iPhone v2 comes along you’ll be right there waiting to grab it and pass it onto to your loyal followers. Hell, if YOU get the next version of the iPhone, I might even get one.
Now there’s a statement.

Can you imagine? With you Voda and your super HSDPA (3.5G) and solid CS, network etc…

It would be killer.

But hey – that’s the future – let’s talk about now.

Let’s move onto the one thing that gets me the most… and I’m sorry to bring this up… (I mention it every time we speak) the ONE bugbear I have with you? The teeny tiny thing that I just cannot stand?!


Tell me, Red, why do you not offer ANY MMS bundles?

None. Nada. Zip. Absolutely, positively ZERO. NOT. A. THING.

Videos, sound clips, pictures… all charged 35p-50p a go. It drives me nuts about you. WHY OH WHY OH WHY?!

You offer one of the latest and best phones (the aforementioned 5MP beauty from Nokia) and you don’t offer ANY MMS bundles to support it?!!!!!?!!!

You say that the requirement isn’t there, that the advent of picture messaging has not been the success that the networks thought it would be…
Well, if you charge for every single MMS sent and don’t allow anyone to add anything to their monthly tariffs then what on earth do you expect?!

You gladly give me video call minutes (which I actually use from time to time) every month as part of my tariff, but not video messaging?! Insane.

It’s been like this since September 1st 2006 Vodafone and I’ve let it go month on month on month… This has got to stop!

Voda, I love you, and I think that you love me.
Try this, do it for the sake of us…

Make MMS free for a month.

Yes. That’s right. FREE. Like you did with Mobile TV, (albeit that was for three months), try it. SEE the uptake.

Look after your customers.
Love them.
Save them money.

And above all, save ME money. Help me love you more.

Yours hopefully,

James Whatley

Think of the Children

Welcome to 2008 folks and good luck to you in the year ahead.

whatley stork

I don’t know about you but, for some reason, 2008 seems to hold an awful lot of potential for me. There’s a definite air of excitement about the immediate future as we, as an industry… nay, as a race! …continue to carve out this new digital/mobile revolution.

I would argue that in this ever-changing landscape it is so easy to forget exactly how far we’ve come in these few short years…

But what I want to talk about now however, is not where we’ve been… but where we are going, and what lies ahead for those that will take up the reigns in the future.

So take a moment, indulge me if you will, and think of the children.

MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and of course their mobile counter-parts, are all tools that we take for granted…

‘Upload that, tag me in this… Add me, add me, ADD ME!’

Our entire lives are now, slowly but surely, online… and will remain so should we so wish, forever.

(Apocalyptic terminator-esque wars withstanding)

Our kin will be able to find and see everything… Family trees (post early 21st century) will be easier to seek out…

Finding out who Mummy used to date before she met Daddy will be there, right there, in the depths of your Mum’s mini-feed!

So, what of our children?

Growing up and having such easy access to their parent’s loves, lives, histories, past relationships, photos, activities…

It kinda puts the whole ‘Hey Ma! What did you do in the war?!’ question on its head. More like: ‘Hey Ma, why didn’t you keep a blog?’

Home videos, once the luxury of a rich relative, are now ubiquitous with the advent of the camera phone: I mean; a phone without a camera? An absurd thought… You’ve all got them. I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have a camera on their phone, (by all means, let me know if you are one of these people!).

Of whom of you there that have children already, how many of them have mobile phones? What would you say is the acceptable age of getting ‘my first phone’?

(There’s got to be a Fisher Price toy in there somewhere)

Will our children be on Facebook? Doubtful say some – ‘Surely facebook won’t be cool enough and the kids of tomorrow will be using the next big thing’ is something that has been said to me before. Well – irrespective of your POV on that question…

Some parents are already setting up new blog accounts for their newborns. They’re chronicling everything from the first photo in the womb to little one’s first steps and first words.

How will our children cope with this new way of keeping personal history?

Answer: They just WILL.

Having never known any different…

However, one does wonder, in the years to come when the newborns of the late noughties find their way into school, will a new elite group be the rage in the playground? The Facebook Kids — whose parents embraced this new digital wave completely, and used it to track the entirety of their youngling’s lives to date…

And when the time comes, will these ‘Blog-Babies’ be given the logins to their blog like some twisted digital version of the keys to their first car? Or the first $100 from their lifelong trust fund? Of course, but only when they come of age, so to speak.

Could the parents become precious over this personal history?

‘My child ruined/deleted his blog’ is a Jerry Springer/Jeremy Kyle show waiting to happen…

So why am I talking about this here? Where’s the mobile angle?

These digital worlds are converging. We all know it. We can all see it. I’d say you’re all intelligent people; people with something to say.

So tell me dear reader, I know this is a lot to think over, but I am genuinely interested…

What are your thoughts?

For me the adventure is amazing, but it’s the destination which holds such interest.


MIR: Whatley on Wednesday: Vodafone’s MusicStation


I woke up on Monday morning with the intention of writing this week’s Whatley on Wednesday piece about firmware and firmware upgrades.
Recently a fellow Mobile Geek of London was exclaiming to me that “Nokia Rule for doing this [latest release of their firmware – V20]”

I disagreed. The idea is great, but the application and execution leaves a lot to be desired.

We argued… and then decided it didn’t matter and discussed something else, (like whose round it was next). I left the pub with every intention to write this argument up (or at least my side of it) and post it right here for your reading (dis)pleasure. Delete where applicable.

That was until, just as I was leaving the house, I heard the latest single from UK indie group Scouting for Girls, ‘Elvis ain’t dead’. And, as with every song that you hear just before you leave the house in the morning, it became stuck in my head.

By the time I made it to the train station I had hummed the bloody thing to death and had decided that I needed this track NOW.

So I thought I’d make the most of NOW and jump onto Vodafone’s new Music Station service.

Awesome, not only will I get the track I want but I’ll also make notes throughout and then I can write it up as a review the service for SMS Text News. Score!

This – rather oddly – all happened before Monday’s Unlimited Drinks and also before yesterdays Omnifone stories that Ewan ran… Hmm… Telepathy’s working then.
But alas, Vodafone were not going to make it easy for me.

I arrived at the Vodafone Live! music page and I’m asked to download and install the Music Station Application (I had no idea it was an app?!).


Not a problem, I thought, I’ve done this before. I wonder how good their user education/hand holding is. To their merit, it’s not too bad at all. I think any average normob could find their way through this process. Well. Right up until they hit this point:


Rubbish. I tried again: Same problem.

This is becoming annoying. I turn the phone off, turn it back on again, try again and…. STILL the same problem!

I hit 191 on my phone and call customer service. After a little explaining I eventually get passed through to the technical dept…

‘Hello Mr Whatley, what error do you have?’

‘It says here: “Certificate error, contact the application vendor”.’

‘Is there an error code?’

‘No, it’s a certificate error… No number. I have a screenshot that I can email over if that helps?’

‘Er…(small amount of confusion at this point on my keenness to help maybe?) No sorry. We’re not actually allowed to give out our email addresses.’


‘Can I call you back on a different line?’

So I say yes, and they do. And lo and behold I’m requested to repeat the process (obviously my word isn’t good enough) and guess what? Same error.

THEN I was asked to do something, and I must state that VF UK have NEVER EVER asked me to check this in the history of being a VF customer, they asked me to check my firmware!

To the layman – this is the software version that your phone is running. Same thing on every Nokia, got an N95? Try it now. *#0000# – anything below V20 means you really should think about upgrading.
(Benefits here.)

Anyway – ‘Sam’ (I think that was her name) informs me that my current firmware, (V20, obviously) is the problem as “the Music Station is only compatible with Vodafone branded firmware versions 10b and 10c”.

Let’s just pause and take that it in for a moment.

That’s right. Vodafone’s flagship ‘Hero’ service, The MUSIC STATION, the big one they’re pushing this Christmas does not work with the latest Nokia N95 firmware.

‘Sorry Mr Whatley, you’re going to have to go back to version 10.’

‘That is not going to happen.’

Thinking on this now, a few hours after the event, when I originally got the handset from Vodafone it was running V11. I didn’t even know VF had V10. On top of that – I didn’t know you could go backwards with firmware either! That’s a new one on me.

VFUK suck for not making sure their leading application is compatible with the latest Nokia firmware.

So I’m sorry folks – no MusicStation review from me today. I do have a MusicStation handset but alas the generic Nokia firmware that I’m running is not compatible with the service.


EDIT: I met Terence Eden of Vodafone at the Unlimited Drinks on Monday. He explained to me that the Vodafone MusicStation is only compatible with Vodafone’s own firmware. He also assured me that the MusicStation does work above V10 as he has seen it working on (Voda’s own variants of) V11 and V12.

Terence’s defence was that I should not have changed my firmware from VF’s to Nokia’s Generic.

Thinking on this now – that’s not a bad argument – anyone who knows me knows how much I like to hack… ahem… augment my phones so I can the optimum functionality out of them.
Well. It’s not a bad argument when you consider someone who might not buy their handset directly from Vodafone. Whose firmware is already generic upon purchase, what about them?

Next week: That rant on firmware and firmware upgrades, (the one I wanted to write this week).