back to article Living with a 41-megapixel 808 PureView: Symbian's heroic last stand

Last year Nokia released to the world a mobile phone that is still unique. It's a smartphone with a 41-megapixel camera sensor, scooping up more detail than some professional DSLRs: it's the 808 PureView. When I say "released", that’s a little misleading. This showpiece won the Best New Phone gong at last year’s Mobile World …

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JDX
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Theory why it's Symbian only

Nokia cannot afford a high-profile flop, putting something new and buggy into Lumia. So they put it on a 'dead' platform where nobody expects much from the OS, and which gets little interest outside professionally interested people. Develop the thing on Symbian, iron out issues and make improvements to UI, etc... then integrate the polished, real-world-tested, version in a way most people will think is a 1.0 product.

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Re: Theory why it's Symbian only

At the time it was released they claimed it was the result of five years' work. I suspect it's Symbian based because they had control all the way up the stack, from hardware to low-level drivers (it has some special video processor as well) and the OS and application stack. Imagine trying to do that R&D work with Microsoft who were struggling to get a basic/stable Windows Phone 7 out the door.

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Re: Theory why it's Symbian only

How easy do you think it is porting the stuff from Symbian to Windows Phone? What you suggest would only make sense if Nokia had more control of the OS which is where you need some of the tweaks to make this work. Is Microsoft about to embrace QT for the GUI like Symbian has?

The market continues to accept products with impressive value propositions despite eventual shortcomings. By failing either to continue to provide Symbian phones or Windows phones with comparable functionality Nokia has traded a very hard-won technological advantage for the hope of market share which has yet to materialise. Its rivals have jumped in which is why Samsung is trading on the Galaxy phone brand with cameras.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Theory why it's Symbian only

> Nokia cannot afford a high-profile flop [...]

Then why do they keep on releasing WP devices?

(Sorry, couldn't stop myself ;-)

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Re: Theory why it's Symbian only

I saw a comment on here from someone claiming to have worked on the Pureview project. He said that Windows Phone simply couldn't handle the huge data throughput to the processor. So they had to go for a cut-down version on WP8. It sounds believable, as MS wouldn't have had it in mind when doing their design, but I've obviously go no way of knowing.

However, surely you could easily bolt the system on to any phone. You simply put enough processing power into the camera that it doesn't need the external OS for anything, and just hands over the finished pictures. Then it's just a case of writing a camera driver for the phone OS. Obviously that would be less efficient. I don't know whether you'd then end up having to re-write all the code, or whether you'd run/emulate Symbian on the camera. It might end-up cheaper to have an expensive chip running cut-down Symbian than to re-do the Pureview software. Hardware's forever getting cheaper, good coders aren't.

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Re: Theory why it's Symbian only

He said that Windows Phone simply couldn't handle the huge data throughput to the processor.

Shortly after the first I-Phone was released I was chatting to a friend who worked for Nokia in Finland. While I personally was not very impressed with the I-Phone at the time (remember it only had widgets) he rightly tipped it to be a real threat for Nokia. He also said that Nokia were struggling to get their camera functions to be as fast as Sony Ericsson. This would have been about 2008 which would coincide with the timeframe. You almost definitely want to avoid passing media through the CPU because it will be the bottleneck. You must be able to offload the work to a GPU and you need the OS' support to do that. This is presumably what Samsung has managed with the S4 which can merge the video from both cameras in real time.

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Re: Theory why it's Symbian only

Maybe badly phrased by me.

I didn't mean Windows Phone is technically incapable of doing it, rather that Nokia was experienced with Symbian, had all the developers in-house and could build the low-level PureView infrastructure themselves. Coordinating such a technically complex project with a new partner would've been very painful. Hopefully by now they have a much tighter working relationship with the Windows Phone 8 team.

The latter would, of course, also have to be OEM neutral in the facilities they supply in the platform. More the pity that it's taking so long for PureView to find its feet post Symbian :(

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Re: Theory why it's Symbian only

Nokia couldn't afford Eflop, he is why Symbian sales went off a cliff - that infamous burning platform email when Symbian sales at the time were actually increasing (sales were up though market share was down as more competition entered the market - market share at the time of the email was markedly higher than current iOS market share).

Microsoft does not allow Symbian the flexibility to do a repeat of the amazing camera on a windows phone. They've scrapped their linux (even the later incarnation of a cut down android platform), they now have a S40 developed in China but losing profitability slowly and an out of the box Microsoft offering that the market doesn't seem to have taken to. It is possible Microsoft may yet get it right, but they have been at it for years - since mid 1990's - and have still failed.

The sad thing is that Symbian actually is a good platform in a number of ways, slightly quirky in some as it was developed a very long time ago by Psion software - a British company - as 'Epoc32'. The S60 UI mess wasn't Symbian, it was entirely Nokias own creation. There was a touch screen version - way back in the '90's there were touch only, keyboard only and a combination UI's designed and built. UIQ - Sony Ericsson - made a decent touch screen only variation - long long long long before apple or google did anything at all.

Apple and Google have both done decent enough jobs, they learned what was and wasn't working in a mature market and did that. The Symbian devices were cutting edge, they were the original smartphones, but for a little more get up and go in the management at both Symbian and Nokia the UI could have been fixed many years ago. As usual though the management became too bogged down in their own importance, in having engineers filling in timesheets, project managers explaining why over Christmas the timesheets showed they didn't have enough people on the project (doh - people didn't work on Christmas - as I explained every single year I worked for Symbian). The product managers spent too much time drinking wine with Nokia and not enough time working out what needed doing. The whole thing stagnated with it taking months to do stupid unnecessary things and no time at all being left to do the obvious. Its a shame, under different management things could have been so much better.

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Re: Theory why it's Symbian only

Pretty much what was done for Symbian. The pictures don't go through the OS and the processing is done on the graphics chip. But you have to have an architecture that allows that and windows doesn't.

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And why are Samsung setting up a Finnish R&D centre?

Probably to hire the expertise of any ex-Nokia employees who had a hand in this (or the N8 or 9 for that matter.)

The whole NoWin fiasco is a demonstration of how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The N8 was (and still is, to a reasonable extent) a very popular phone. The 808 could easily have carried this on. All the N8 was lacking was polish on the OS.

The N8 is a fantastic phone, and there is nothing that temps me to replace it yet (other than this phone) maybe Samsung will come up with something by the time it is knackered.

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Re: And why are Samsung setting up a Finnish R&D centre?

The problem is that Symbian just isn't well suited to a UI which demands fast and fluid updates. Add to that multiple departments inside of Nokia all pulling in different directions over the platform and tools. Whatever Elop did he wasn't going to get a polished, competitive version of Symbian in time to compete with iOS and Android.

You can argue over the decision to go to Windows Phone, but dumping Symbian was a forgone conclusion.

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Re: And why are Samsung setting up a Finnish R&D centre?

Jess,

All the N8 was lacking was polish on the OS.

But the problem with your argument is that Nokia had already had years of putting out Symbian phones. Even now, Belle is apparently a massive improvement, but still lacks polish. Now admittedly you could put a lot of that down to the fact they were dumping Symbian as it was being finished.

But at some point Nokia needed to get an OS that wasn't nearly-but-not-quite. So your comment:

The whole NoWin fiasco is a demonstration of how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Is wishful thinking at best. Nokia have some amazing engineers, and have made some brilliant stuff. And they've had stuff half-finished on their drawing board for a decade that other companies would kill for. But in most cases they've failed to settle on one thing and damned well get it completed and out to market. From what I've read that's down to management. But there was no victory. You can claim there would have been, with just one more Symbian or Meego or Hanrattan or whatever updated. But frankly, I don't believe you. The evidence is very much against you. Clearly Elop and the board took the same attitude. They decided it was easier to buy in an OS from MS (even despite their mixed record in mobile) because they didn't trust themselves to sort out their own management processes. Something shown by the fact they hired an outsider to sort them out, and not an internal candidate. I wonder if that's because it was easier to abandon all projects and go outside, than for all the other competing factions at board level to surrender, and let one of their many OS projects win?

It's a crying shame - and a huge waste of engineering talent.

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Re: And why are Samsung setting up a Finnish R&D centre?

But by Elop's time, Nokia had done this - Symbian^1 around 2008-2009 was as good as Android imo even on the UI (each have their advantages and disadvantages), and Symbian^3 and onwards are reportedly a lot better still. My Nokia 5800 only feels slow compared to my Android phone because the latter has much newer hardware (and even then, is starting to get sluggish in places...)

Symbian switched to using Qt as the UI, which is a great toolkit.

Not that I'm saying there weren't reasons for dropping Symbian, it had become an old OS - personally I'm open-minded about the WP decision, but I can see that a lot of the critics would have been happier if they'd gone with Meego :)

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Mushroom

Re: And why are Samsung setting up a Finnish R&D centre?

Debatable of your definition of old, Android is based on Linux which is based on Unix.

Out of the box Belle seems more complete, Android still seems to be missing things (e.g. file manager, 'office' utilities, connection management, not even able to import .ics files received by e-mail or bluetooth into the calendar). Belle's app menu is more complete than most launchers supplied with the phone and isn't as fiddly as third party launchers. Even on Jelly Bean you can't choose the theme via a system-wide setting, that's down to the individual apps which have Holo Dark or Holo Light compiled in.

Of course that can be fixed with apps... my phone came with five on-line shops which does seem like overkill but four of those turned out to be rubbish. Unfortunately one of the four can't be removed.

While it might be possible to hastily fix Symbian to work with higher resolution screens and bang out a mobile, Symbian is still dead unfortunately, it doesn't have the app support that people expect. This is not a technical problem, it was entirely down to the burning platform memo.

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Jah

Re: And why are Samsung setting up a Finnish R&D centre?

Correct - failure was a management issues. The mangers did not have a clear vision. They started wiith a great portfolio including the original Series 90 platform. This could have been Nokia's iPhone in 2005/6, but they killed it.

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Re: And why are Samsung setting up a Finnish R&D centre?

"Whatever Elop did he wasn't going to get a polished, competitive version of Symbian in time to compete with iOS and Android."

Yet... The company formerly known as RIM held up high and did exactly what Nokia didn't do! Keep believing in their own native OS's. They took the best real-time OS from a fellow Canadian company mixed it with the best tech of their own and turned it into a jewel! Their new BB were released many years AFTER the N9 and 808!

Nokia had 2 assets. Meego/Harmatan which took rave reviews even from the known anti-Nokia crowd and the only native European real-time OS which had proven it's reliability time and again. Which even defeated the mighty Windows Mobile!

What happened afterwards is a badly written and worse directed horror movie! One man single handedly drove thousands of employees into poverty, turned factories into wastelands and ruined Europe's only telecom giant in LESS then one year! He is the WORST CEO in the history so far! Even Sinclair's catastrophes (C5 anyone?) are small fish compared to this!

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One theory about why it is taking Nokia so long to get the technology into windows phone is that microsoft had an absolute strangehold over windows phone 7 specification and Nokia weren't allowed to use it. Starting to see some of it in Windows Phone 8 but a phone with the lens of the 920 with the sensor from the 808 would be hugely impressive.

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The best camera is the one you have is not always true. I use to have a bridge camera I used at holiday or at parties. People where intimidated by it at when people let me take their picture they were awkward or stressed looking. When I used my phone I got a much more natural and relaxed looking people in them. Even though the quality of the image was much poorer, the photos were better.

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Anonymous Coward

Well, I never thought I'd say this about Accenture :-)

But it sounds like their former Nokia employees are doing a good job under their new management. Perhaps good enough to be a backstop in the event Nokia's WinPho strategy blows up in Elop's face? The camera is superb, and I hope they refine this and put it on a modern smartphone.

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Love the thing

Bought mine last year, after your review of it being used in Stromboli, coincidentally as i was also going to stromboli and couldn't be arsed lugging about the big old DSLR.

Performed admirably, and has ever since. Imagine my surprise to get more updates over the air yesterday, they just keep on tweaking.

iTouch does for the mobile apps, though Nexus 7 has taken over there big-time.

I'd rather have an excellent phone & camera, than an ok phone/camera/app-thing.

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Re: Love the thing

I still keep thinking I'd like to dump my smartphone. Give me a 7" tablet and a dumb phone that can give it a WiFi hotspot. Which could work equally well with something like this, so I can dump my cheapy camera, and if it's got enough memory (or SD card slot) also my mp3 player.

I'm still not happy with the compromises in any smartphone I've used. I'm sure one day they'll all do phone, email, sat-nav, internet, camera and music player well with enough battery to cope with multiple uses. But that still looks to be some time away, so I'm still carrying several bits of kit.

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Re: Love the thing

I've had my 808 for about a year - from when it was first released and I've also been amazed at the frequent updates it has received, better than lot of "modern" OS equipped phones.

I want an excellent camera on my phone. I find that I can do without most of the apps that other people can't seem to live without. I just need a robust phone and a camera which is available to me all the time. Just this past week I video'd a birthday party with the 808. Despite recording in challenging lighting and next to 1000W speakers, the results were excellent. I know that any other smartphone would have had massive audio distortion and dark images, but the 808s results were fantastic.

Coupled with the best sat nav on a phone on the market, the two main criteria I seek (excellent camera and sat nav) are on one device. I wouldn't swap it for anything else at the moment.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Love the thing

Had mine about 9 months now and love it despite its quirks. It's take the best pics of any camera I've ever had and belle is actually pretty fluid when some duff app isn't hogging all the memory. I use Nokia drive almost every day on my bike and can confirm after last couple of weeks it's actually pretty water resistant.

If Apple made the Jesus phone, then the 808 has got to be Lucifer's mobe. Here's a cool demonstration of the 808 in creative mode (scroll down the page):

http://pureviewclub.com/2013/14068

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Re: Love the thing

I love mine too. But I would have loved a few more settings especially spot- and center-weighted metering. Cranking up EV doesn't always cut it.

My SGSIII does have adjustable metering. Though EV is only upto +2 or -2 while the 808 does a massive +4 and -4!

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Joke

Man I thought you were going to review the Roland 808 drum machine...

...and praise it's contribution to Hip-Hop and Acid House beats and Oldskool Jungle basslines!

Disappointed!!!!!!

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Superb!

Fantastic article, thank you! I have loved my 808 since January and I have taken some really amazing photos with it - like you say - photos I would've never have taken as I was carrying around a mediocre smartphone camera. A really great read, cheers. :^)

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symbian vs windows phone

I've just moved from a Symbian phone (Nokia C7) to a Lumia 920. It's quickly obvious that Windows Phone is a really young OS, compared to the feature rich and "mature" Symbian, There are so many little features that are missing from WP8.

I also really miss the Situations app, I hope the developers port it across to WP soon (I think they committed to doing so).

Nokia Drive is excellent, but the current Nokia HERE Drive+ Beta just doesn't have the features, surprising as it looked to be a cosmetic makeover.

I get the feeling that Nokia either aren't investing as much effort into putting in the features into WP, to give the Lumia phones an advantage over other WP devices, or MS are restricting them too much. A Shame.

P.s. enjoyed reading this review, thanks.

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Re: symbian vs windows phone

" It's quickly obvious that Windows Phone is a really young OS, compared to the feature rich and "mature" Symbian, There are so many little features that are missing from WP8."

Heh, you're putting it quite lightly. I do wonder what exactly is the relationship between Nokia and MS though. So far (ever since WP7 came out) it seems that Microsoft is merely using Nokia's name and assets and lets them do their Nokia progs ("here", etc).

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Re: symbian vs windows phone

I just read on AAS that Win8 doesn't even have Sleeping Screen, as in no clock on the screen at all times.

One of those little things i could not live without now.

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Re: symbian vs windows phone

Strangely enough winphone is NOT a young OS.

I was working on it at Microsoft in the '90's and it had been going strong for many years before that. It used wince underneath with the windows mobile just really being applications on top. I also worked on epoc32 and later symbian (the same thing). Epoc32 was built from the ground up to work on battery devices - to have high performance, long battery life, safe applications (no trampling out of the end of strings etc) and be safe when the battery dies unexpectedly. Largely speaking it achieved these things well.

The typical symbian phone comes stuffed with goodies that you have to buy for iphone, android or windows.

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Re: symbian vs windows phone

@Dave 15,

Yep, true, WinPhone is based on WinCE. I guess I really meant the re-boot of Windows Mobile into Windows Phone with v 7.5 and now v8.

The typical symbian phone comes stuffed with goodies that you have to buy for iphone, android or windows.

I think the problem here is that the eco-system hasn't developed for Apps on Win Phone, there's lots of pretty poor apps out there. :(

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Wifi hotspot

Can you use one of these for a wifi hotspot?

I have a nexus 7 for all the app stuff so if I could use the 808's data that would make it very tempting..

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Re: Wifi hotspot

Haven't used it in years, but this used to work really well: http://www.joiku.com

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Re: Wifi hotspot

A free version of Joikuspot comes with it (the only limitation of free is that your spot is open, can't password protect it), works fine in a pinch, i paid £3 for it while it was on offer to get the full one.

Its 3.5G is blisteringly fast, and works in places i've seen people round me get zero signal.

Yeah my Nexus 7 has replaced the iThing for general app use. The 808 has all the phone-type apps i need, and usually free, like Checklist, Train Timetable, Sportstracker, Tweetian, Dropbox, etc.

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Re: Wifi hotspot

Prime.

Thanks for the info guys!

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Stop

Re: Wifi hotspot

Sorry to rain on your parade, but chances are it won't work for your setup.

Symbian can only create ad-hoc wi-f networks, and Android (at least, up to the version 4.0.3 that my tablet sports) doesn't support ad-hoc networks, it can only connect to infrastructure-mode ones.

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Re: Wifi hotspot

Just be aware that a Nexus 7 will not be able to use the joikuspot since Android does not support the WiFi mode. Unlike iOS and symbian.

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Unhappy

"BBC’s iPlayer arrived on Symbian first"

Couldn't swear to it, but I have a distinct memory of them doing it for the iPhone first, despite it being just an over-hyped feature phone (at the time), and the ubiquity of Nokia and Symbian (at the time). Or maybe it was downloading that iPhone got first; something really annoyed me anyway.

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Re: "BBC’s iPlayer arrived on Symbian first"

I'm pretty sure that the Symbian iPlayer app shipped preinstalled on the n96 supported downloading in around 2006, and most of them after that did while the windows media DRM was in use.

Haven't used a Symbian in a couple of years so I don't know the current situation.

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Re: "BBC’s iPlayer arrived on Symbian first"

iplayer on iphones was in 2011

I was using it on a nokia in 2010

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Happy

Re: "BBC’s iPlayer arrived on Symbian first"

I was using it in 2008/9 on Nokia 5800Xpress. Downloading was the killer app for me, sitting on trains, planes etc catching up on TV which has only recently been available on iPhone etc. was first on N96

Still able to download on my N8 though streaming has gone but never used it much anyway.

Though mostly do that on my iPad now

Still don't know what to replace N8 with! Waiting to see what the summers PureView on Windows will be..... May get an 808 before that

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Re: "BBC’s iPlayer arrived on Symbian first"

Yes you can still download programs on iPlayer for symbian which is more than you can do on Android currently.....

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Other significant selling points:

- Removable battery: you can either replace a clapped-out one or upgrade to an enormous Mugen replacement that will last you several days away from mains power.

- SD card so you're not going to run out of storage. You also used to be able to install apps to SD card on Symbian but I don't know if this is still the case.

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Re: Other significant selling points:

It is.

Whack a 32 or 64gig card in there and it becomes a handy portable media player too, thanks to the HDMI out.

Plays everything i've threw at it, even dodgy newsgroup mkv's, without issue.

Just found a similar feature, a guy who's used it for the past year:

http://www.allaboutsymbian.com/features/item/17544_Ow_Kah_Leongs_Nokia_808_PureVi.php

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h3
Bronze badge

When he starts going on about apps - Symbian has some great apps. (As does palm os) however I have no interest whatsoever in any of the examples he lists.

I think those old app designs where as soon as you open the app you get everything straight away on one screen are far more useful than the modern type.

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Gimp

Why don't you just...

Slow browsing? Opera, please...

On an unrelated note, am I the only one who misses hardware keyboards or at least physical 4-way arrows and an "enter"? Buttons that can be used while the device is in pocket? Etc? Oh well...

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Crepuscular

Good word - had to Google it though.

Crepuscular - pertaining to, or resembling twilight; dim; indistinct.

Always new that reading theRegister was an education.

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Broadcom GPU

The smooth zooming wasn't done by Nokia or Accenture engineers but by the guy sitting over the desk from me at Broadcom (Cambridge), who supplied the GPU. In fact the majority of camera software work was done here, including the video stabilisation (that was a pain!) although there were some Accenture contractors involved, a couple in software work, the rest in testing.

As for why Pureview is still not yet on the Windows - AFAIK there are still no Windows compatible GPU's that can handle the sensor. I've heard rumours of some interesting camera tech from Nokia/Toshiba (the Pureview 41MP sensor was developed by Toshiba) on the horizon, but still nothing has appeared.

As to the phone itself, I have one, and the biggest problem is the very erratic wireless. The latest update fixed it for a while, but after a few days, stopped connecting to my home router and has never recovered. Works fine in other places, and the router works fine with every other devices I've ever tried to connect. Most odd. Battery life is great, and it's a solid bit of kit compared with the S.Korea devices I now work on!

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Re: Broadcom GPU

As the author of an app that does large downloads, that wireless bug is a thorn in my side. It's only on some devices, and only with some WLANs. My wife's N8 on carrier software doesn't exhibit it; mine, on UK Generic software, does. Go figure.

That alone is an indication of why it wasn't possible for Nokia to continue with Symbian. Some design decisions, perhaps taken nearly a decade ago, have made the codebase so complex that qualification and bugfixing became an endless nightmare.

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Re: Broadcom GPU

Its a hardware fault, apparently, a dodgy batch of capacitors made it onto the board.

The latest updates fix it in some cases, but some people need to send the phone in to get the bad cap replaced.

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