Next Stop: The Red Planet?


Read these as well:-

Given the state of the country as at now, you can safely say that when we celebrate the year 2020, this country would not have achieved the status of a “developed country”. So Dr M’s Vision 2020 will remain a vision and will not become a reality, at least in 2020.

For one, religion had taken precedent in key areas of the country and have caused a mismatch of priorities. Instead of us busy with human resource development and preparing the country for a “developed” status, we are busy on which law to use and how holy or religious one must be. And I saw this in play when I went to a shopping complex one fine day and decided to drop by a bookstore as my son wanted to buy a science book. We walked around and realised that there was more books on religion than on science and mathematics. I was hardly surprised – there were more people at the religion book section than at the science & mathematics book section.

Vision 2020 is also doomed to be nothing but fancy slogan because we still place high importance on racial based policies (we still calling ourselves as Malay, Chinese, Indian, etc instead of Malaysian) and on cheap politics. But come year 2020, all is not all lost though. Year 2020 would mark the start of activities that would eventually place humans on the planet Mars by year 2026.

Imagine a human colony on another planet and we don’t have to look another 100 – 200 years for that. We will see that in the next 10 years and it is very exciting news indeed. The company that is taking the exploration one step ahead is Mars One – is a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands that has put forward plans to land the first humans on Mars and establish a permanent human colony there by 2027.

NA_384397_MADD_mars

(It may not look much now but imagine a lot more people on the surface and with high end technology which allows them to come back to the Earth and back to Mars again? Image source: Mars One)

It may sound far fetching at first and Mars One have been on the receiving end of many as nothing but a scam. Some even question the USD6 billion budget of sending humans to Mars but remember India sent its spacecraft to Mars for mere USD73 million. But think of the feasibility. Think of the possibility.

Mars One lists out the mission feasibility of a human colony in Mars in the following manner:-

Permanent settlement

The Mars One crews consist of people that want to settle on Mars. Absence of a return mission reduces the mission infrastructure radically. No return vehicle, return propellant or the systems to produce the propellant locally are required. Permanent settlement also reduces the required technology development; vehicles that can take off from Mars and return to Earth are currently unavailable and untested. Since the vehicle returning to Earth and the accompanying systems are mission critical for a return mission, they will also require backups adding to the infrastructure that needs to be delivered to Mars. More importantly, to attain a somewhat acceptable risk level, the return mission would need to be tested in a complete unmanned return trip before the first crew even departs the Earth. Even after a full test of the return system is successfully performed, the risk for a crew that will ride the first return rocket would be very high: 126 rockets launched from Earth since 1990 failed to deliver their payloads in the correct orbit.

Permanent settlement also solved the challenge of the astronauts entering into Earth’s atmosphere after having spent about two years in reduced or zero gravity environments.

Use of In-Situ resources

Mars has resources that can be used for a sustainable settlement. Water is present in the soil and can be made available to the settlement for hygiene, drinking, and farming. It is also the source of oxygen generated through electrolysis. Nitrogen and Argon in the Martian atmosphere can be mined to be the inert part of the atmosphere inside the habitat. Martian soil will cover the outpost to block cosmic radiation. Carbon dioxide can be taken from the atmosphere if the plants take in more than the humans expel.
The systems to mine water from the soil and to mine Nitrogen, Argon, and Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere have never been tested in space. Mars is however not space because there is gravity and a thin atmosphere. Additionally, the processes are all more than 100 years old. The water can be collected from the soil by breaking up the soil with a drill and harvesting the resulting debris. Argon and Nitrogen can be collected from the atmosphere by removing the Carbon dioxide through a phase change.

Solar panels

The Sun is a reliable, robust, and plentiful energy source. Using solar panels is the best choice for Mars One since it takes away the requirement to develop and launch a nuclear reactor, thereby saving time and money while avoiding the risks and concerns of the use of a nuclear power source.
Thin film solar (photovoltaic) panels will power the Mars One settlement. These are less efficient than those more commonly used in aerospace, but have the advantage of being extremely light, and are thus easily transportable. The first settlement will install approximately 3000 square meters of power generating surface area.

Existing technology

No new major developments or inventions are needed to make the mission plan a reality. Established suppliers can build each stage of Mars One mission plan. While most of the components required are not immediately available with the exact specifications, there is no need for radical modifications to the current component designs.

Every effort was made to design the mission with as little complexity as possible. The choice to send permanent settlers removes the need for a heavy lift launch vehicle, which does not currently exist. Permanent settlement makes the landing module small enough to land with current technology. A pressurized rover will not be sent to Mars until large enough rockets exists. No water recycling in the transit habitat will be present because the trip to Mars takes only 210 days. Instead, all required water is stored in tanks that also function as radiation shielding. Storage of waste that is not easily recycled is available in the settlement until more technology is available.

(Source)

And just look at the number of people who shown interest in the Mars One project:-

Mars One applicants come from over 140 countries; the largest numbers are from the United States (24%), India (10%), China (6%), Brazil (5%), Great Britain (4%), Canada (4%), Russia (4%), Mexico (4%), Philippines (2%), Spain (2%), Colombia (2%), Argentina (2%), Australia (1%), France (1%), Turkey (1%), Chile (1%), Ukraine (1%), Peru (1%), Germany (1%), Italy (1%) and Poland (1%).

(Source)

The first 3 nations are well known for their eagerness and competition in space exploration. Out of the three, US and India already have rovers and space crafts orbiting Mars. And I am pretty sure the Chinese will do so soon as well although these guys are busy exploring the moon (hmmm, they know something we don’t?). And Malaysia is involved in Mars One in 2 areas – our own Angkasawan, Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor is an ambassador for Mars One and three brave explorers from Malaysia including a woman.

SPACE: India Mars mission

(It’s only cost USD70 million to launch a space craft to the Red Planet. Trim down the money spent on wars, religion conflict and corruption and you can send hundreds of the space craft to many part of the solar system. Image source: engtechmag.wordpress.com)

Mars One is an one way trip as there is no way (presently) to bring the space explorer back. The environment is harsh and there is no guarantee, despite the mission feasibility, that the colony will succeed, especially when the next human civilization is million kilometers away (230,000,000 km to be exact) and in case of emergency, one cannot simply dial up 999 and ask for help. Rescue mission if it is to be done, will take months to prepare and execute and by then, any rescue mission would have been redundant.

Mars One itself can go bankrupt and may not be able to bring the next set of explorers to add to the colony. Anything can happen. After all, it took a lot of research, time, risk and money to send man to the moon, so what more another planet and that too for one way trip. But there are good reasons to make this trio to Mars, namely:-

To give our kids new Hope, careers and Dreams — beyond merely surviving in a world of growing terrorism, more “police state” responses, with increasing resource and energy scarcity ultimately leading to endless global wars

By finally opening up unlimited solar system resources — be it exotic fuels, new planetary minerals or endless solar energy – dramatically alter the “have not” competition between the First and Third Worlds here on Earth … the ultimate source of increasing global terrorism

By greatly accelerating these radical technologies — from “black” energy systems and propulsion to autonomous robotics, from desktop “super computers” to their ultra-broad band communications (essential to conducting “routine operations” on the Moon and Beyond) – dramatically accelerate overall national and global productivity, with startling increases in GNP and GWP

By federally subsidizing the creation of a whole new generation of consumer industries — through pioneering a literal “Second age of Space” — dramatically increase the historical “return on investment” from past NASA spending … from 23 to one to more than 100-to-one; thus, for every billion dollars invested in this New Space Program, over a hundred billion will return to the national and world economy

By finally providing accessible new sources of raw materials and energy “off planet,” processed in lunar and orbital industrial facilities, naturally reverse over a century of planetary degradation and pollution … including global warming

By accelerating fundamental solar system exploration with human beings, return equally fundamental, radical scientific information – ranging from comparative planetary data which will assist preservation of the Earth’s environment through new space installations, to answers to the origin of the human race itself

(Source)

Yes, money and human resource is important but aren’t we been busy wasting them on wars, corruption and wastage as well. Save up on those and you will plenty for the science exploration, I am sure.

Many of us, including myself are from the generation that grew with science fiction movies like Star Wars and Star Trek. Still remember ” to boldly go where no man has gone before”? It is in our nature to explore and find new worlds and the more we explore, the more we will push the boundaries of technology, science and human endeavor. And there is the prospect of rich natural resources that could be mined for humans (there was even plan to start a mining colony in the moon).

For those reasons alone, Mars One mission should succeed.

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Rendezvous with a Comet


Here’s one reason why religion should never drive a country’s future.

Religions, yes it is important to ensure we have some sense of humanity & morality (if you must) but what should drive us to the future must be high grade technology, space exploration, open minded and a great sense of adventure.

Watch this and be amazed!

And the making of…

This post is for my son who’s ambition is to be a great scientist!

NVIDIA’s Tegra K1


nvidia-car-tegra-k1

(So much computing in just one car – well, it is not a dream anymore. The focus must be on technology and know-how and not an in-fight on who owes the name of God and everyone getting so tense on issues that will not elevate the nation with the rest of the developed countries. Image source: http://phandroid.com)

The world is certainly moving on a pace that we have not seen in the past as evidenced by this Wall Street Journal report:-

NVIDIA‘s new Tegra(R) K1 mobile processor will help self-driving cars advance from the realm of research into the mass market with its automotive-grade version of the same GPU that powers the world’s 10 most energy-efficient supercomputers.

Tegra K1 features a quad-core CPU and a 192-core GPU using the NVIDIA Kepler(TM) architecture, the basis for NVIDIA’s range of powerful GPUs — including the processors that are used in the top 10 systems featured in the latest Green500 list of the world’s most energy-efficient supercomputers.

Tegra K1 will drive camera-based, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) — such as pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and street sign recognition — and can also monitor driver alertness via a dashboard-mounted camera.

“To process the steady deluge of sensor and camera data required by a self-driving car, NVIDIA is bringing highly energy-efficient supercomputer technology inside the vehicle,” said Taner Ozcelik, vice president and general manager of the Automotive business at NVIDIA. “Tegra K1 solves this by providing 10 times the computing power of previous mobile processors without consuming additional energy.”

The Tegra K1 is also the first mobile processor to support CUDA(R) — the parallel computing platform at the heart of modern computer vision. In its automotive-grade form, this super chip is hardened to withstand a wider range of temperatures and withstand harsher operating conditions.

In addition to computer vision, the Tegra K1 processor excels at creating razor-sharp, photo-real 3D graphics. Using NVIDIA’s Material Definition Language — which simulates how light reflects and refracts off of actual materials — digital instrument clusters and infotainment systems can be customized with a wide range of virtual materials, from copper, titanium and brushed aluminum, to stitched leather and carbon fiber.

Libraries of photo-realistic rendered material provide a nearly limitless range of customizable digital cockpit configurations. These allow drivers to configure their gauges, controls and dials to suit their unique tastes.

(Source)

No doubt, as many past milestones in the computing world, it will be only matter of time before even this too would be surpassed by even more powerful and intelligent processes. And in the meantime, right here in Malaysia, we have this still lurking on the front pages:-

Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir will not be dragged into a fight with Malay rights group Perkasa, who had accused her of seeking cheap publicity by supporting the Christians in the Allah controversy. Marina, who is the daughter of Perkasa patron Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, had refused to comment when she was asked about Perkasa’s criticisms against her. “I don’t want to comment about Perkasa. They talk so much rubbish,” she said after attending the first National Unity Consultative Council meeting in Kuala Lumpur today.

(Source)

Whilst we have been looking at the wrong issues when the world is flying on a totally different orbit, not all is lost with citizens like Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir (who’s father is the patron of Perkasa) coming out and say that some people in this country talk so much rubbish. That is correct indeed – something that was further reinforced by this and unfortunately we still have a bit more way to go before we can gain back our sanity on what is more crucial for the nation.

Nokia N8 Firmware Update Part 4


Update 1 : It took some time but it is finally here! As at 25.09.2012

Back to the original post

(Nokia Belle Refresh updates comes in 2 mode – OTA or Nokia Suite. Nokia Suite update comes in a bigger file size. and Image source: http://worldofphones.net)

It has been almost 20 months since I got hold on Nokia’s 2010-2011 flagship smartphone – the Nokia N8 and over that 20 months, the smartphone have undergone 3 major firmware updates – the last update early this year (Nokia Belle) was major and that brought it somehow closer to other current smartphone in the market.

In the same duration of time, my Nokia N8 has power problems that had to be fixed twice this year (perhaps this is not the right gadget to play HD games – it is putting a lot of strain on the power related components). And when Nokia decided to ditch their battle-hardened Symbian OS for newbie Windows Phone OS last year, we did not really anticipate further upgrades to Symbian^3 OS that powered my Nokia N8 (I was anticipating a change to Android phone instead) but then they did – with Nokia Belle update which most thought would be the last major update before Nokia moves on to Windows Phone on a larger scale (even with Accenture still handling the development & support for Symbian).

And now it seems N8 is going to get another firmware update codenamed “Nokia Belle Refresh” which I think which will close some of the gaps and bugs in the earlier Nokia Belle update (this I think would be the last OS update for Symbian powered devices before Nokia focus it’s full attention on Windows Phone powered phones).

The Nokia Belle Refresh change log from My Nokia Blog:-

  • Nokia Belle 111.040.1511
  • Browser updated to 8.3 – Full HTML5 support, Offline services
  • Nokia Maps Suite 3.09 – Use voice search for Maps & Drive, See photos on Map, Multipoint routing, Explore nearby places from Homescreen, Public transportation integrated with line information & departure times
  • Nokia Social updated to 1.5 – Automatic linking to Facebook and Twitter, New Homescreen widgets, Improved performance, Renewed app layout
  • N8 Specific imaging apps – Bi Screen, Colorize IT, PlayTo, Gallery Widget (photo wall)
  • QT4.8
  • Ovi services renamed to Nokia services
  • Improved Music Player – Refreshed “Now Playing” view, Lists are tabbed for easy access, and are swiped between
    new Artist view, Play & Pause from pull down status bar (Status only, not toggles)
  • New Widgets – Clock, analogue big, Clock, Mechanic, Clock, Text, Calendar, Agenda view, RSS Widget, Bookmark, Contact individual (social upgrades), Contact, group (group support upgrade), Music player – Medium, Weather now, Weather forecast, My location, Social widget, Facebook, Summary, Facebook, Twitter, Mobile Data Counter, Search, Email – New arrival, Gallery, Notes, Email – Detailed, Toggles (2G/3g, Offline, silent, BT, Cellular)

And apparently the update also includes a fix for flash video support (something that has irritated me for sometime now – flv files simply does not play well on N8). The update also has an all new web browser which seemed promising (but then again with the excellent Opera Mobile around, I am not sure whether this new browser will make any difference).

The existing Nokia Belle to be fair, has been impressive todate – it handles most of the multi-tasks well with a free (even with N8’s heavily watered down processing power) and well updated Ovi Maps which can be downloaded for free and without the need for any mobile data on the go and improved GUI wise, it can stand it’s own against Android powered phone. Nokia N8 already had a good design to start with (with anodised aluminium monocoque case, Gorilla Glass, AMOLED screen and yes, the 12MP camera with Carl Zeiss lens) and with Nokia Belle update, it just got better. But somehow, somewhere something was lacking with Symbian which may explains the move to Windows Phone (it’s app store was not the issue).

Tech2 reports:-

Symbian was definitely a powerful platform on its own. With the advent of other operating systems, it did lose a lot of steam, but it’s still chugging on with these updates.

One of the main problems was the limited app store, but besides that, the interface, the media and everything else was pretty promising. Symbian wasn’t too optimised though, and it did face a similar fate as Samsung’s Bada operating system.

As compared to frontrunners Google and Apple, it didn’t really impress that much and Nokia itself started looking at Windows Phone as its future premier operating system.

This latest firmware is yet to be rolled out in Malaysia so let’s keep the fingers crossed and hope that my ageing Nokia N8 does not go too outdated by the time new iPhone 5 comes out. Nokia N8 is still a damn good phone.

Next Change: Ubuntu 12.04


UPDATE 3: You can download the Ubuntu 12.04 Manual from here

UPDATE 2: 9th May 2012 – Thanks to the Ubuntu community, I managed to fix the postgresql 8.2 error using command “sudo touch /usr/share/postgresql/8.2/tsearch_data” and removed the postgresql without any errors. Then I started to upgrade again (not using the Update Manager which still showed errors but using Terminal command) and this time, upgrade was rather smooth (perhaps thanks to the stable internet connection). The upgrade to 12.04 LTS was finally done after almost two hours. The review of the 12.04 will be done later if I have time.

UPDATE 1: 27th April 2012 – the upgrade from 11.10 to 12.04 LTS had hiccups when the upgrade package download connection was disconnected half way (due to my internet connection) – the same did not happen when I upgraded from 11.04 to 11.10. When I retried the upgrade, the update failed to work. After a few tinkering, I found the source of the problem – postgresql 8.2 was corrupted and need to be removed. Easier said than done, the removal failed as follows:-

Reading package lists… Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information… Done
The following packages were automatically installed and are no longer required:
libmagick++3 amsn-data libemeraldengine0 perlmagick inkscape tcl-tls
Use ‘apt-get autoremove’ to remove them.
The following packages will be REMOVED:
postgresql-8.2*
0 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 1 to remove and 660 not upgraded.
After this operation, 12.4 MB disk space will be freed.
Do you want to continue [Y/n]? Y
(Reading database … 269406 files and directories currently installed.)
Removing postgresql-8.2 …
find: `/usr/share/postgresql/8.2/tsearch_data’: No such file or directory
dpkg: error processing postgresql-8.2 (–purge):
subprocess installed pre-removal script returned error exit status 1
update-rc.d: warning: postgresql-8.2 stop runlevel arguments (0 1 6) do not match LSB Default-Stop values (S 0 1 6)
Errors were encountered while processing:

Back to the original post

Read these first:-

(The next generation of Ubuntu with a more sophisticated dashboard – a far cry from the dull, simple version 6.10 that I installed back in 2006. Image source: http://www.webupd8.org)

Mark the launch date – 26th April 2012. This is the date when Ubuntu will be releasing their latest OS – version 12.04 codenamed “Precise Pangolin”. I have been using Ubuntu 11.04 for sometime now (suppose to upgrade to 11.10 a long time go but my OS update was screwed due to a silly mistake of mine – somehow I have “un-ticked” the upgrade source server).

And of the things that I am looking forward to in 12.04 is the possible inclusion of HUD. OMG!Ubuntu reports “HUD – Heads UP Display – uses an intelligent search-based approach to finding and accessing menu items you need. It’s smart too; HUD is capable of remembering what items you use most often and prioritizing them in the results. The goal is to make finding menu items faster, in turn speeding up your workflow”.

(HUD in action hopefully in the upcoming Ubuntu 12.04 and never misjudge the ease of using keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys instead of using the usual mouse clicks. As I have experienced, it can very, very fast and very convenient)

In addition this, Tech Drive-In further reports about “10 New Features Added to Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin” which includes the following changes:-

  • Unity Dash’s default home screen has changed. Now, it shows ‘Recent Apps’ first, ‘Recent Files’ next and lastly, your most recent Downloads.
  • Home menu quicklist is a really useful addition
  • Apart from the usual three Unity lenses (Applications, Files and Music), there is now an additional Video lense too. It lets you select and play videos from a variety of sources ranging from your local collection to YouTube Movies, BBC iPlayer and TED Talks to name a few.
  • HUD is now an integral part of Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin. HUD have not yet replaced menus in applications though. So no need to panic.
  • Size of launcher icons can now be changed directly changed from ‘Wallpapers’ menu. No need to install CCSM just to do that anymore. As you can also see, there is now an option to change the default Ubuntu 12.04 theme from the same window. Useful additions and nicely done too.
  • This is perhaps the biggest visible change to new Unity. Launcher won’t be in the ‘dodge windows‘ state anymore (by default) and instead will be ‘always visible’. Dodge windows is not even an option anymore. It is completely removed.
  • Initiating Alt + Tab shows you just the open windows in the current desktop and not from all the desktops like it used to be
  • The decision was taken during the last Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS). Rhythmbox has just replaced Banshee in Ubuntu 12.04. Note taking application, Tomboy, has also been removed. Canonical seems serious about completely removing Mono from Ubuntu.

Those who have not used Linux before, the new release of Ubuntu may be uneventful. But installing free, open source Ubuntu as my secondary OS (having Ubuntu and Windows in dual boot) was probably one of the smartest I did when I upgraded to a 64 bit machine a couple years ago (I was curious and wanted to brush up on Linux as well).

This is because when I was abroad for an assignment last year and when my Windows crashed unexpectedly (due to a registry screw up – what else?), all I needed to do was to fire up my Ubuntu and was still able to connect to the Internet to check my emails using Firefox,  chat with my colleagues using Pidgin & Skype, open documents & spreadsheets using the free Libre Office and use OpenProj for project management, etc – well you get my drift. What I am trying to say here is that with Windows crashing down (and the only way to fix the crashed Windows was to reinstall Windows all over again – duh), it did not mean the end of story for me.

Linux are not like those days when you have to run most of the apps using line command in Terminals (you still do sometimes but it is not difficult once you get hold of the usual convention) and where a simple update of packages was a nightmare. But now, thanks to user friendly GUIs, software center with well-stocked apps and well organized update manager, it is in par and in some cases superior to Windows 7. You also don’t have to worry about firewalls and anti-virus in Ubuntu and best part is, it is also free and can run along with your Windows without much fuss.

I have moved from 10.10 to 11.04 (which introduced Unity user interface which combines search and dock functions in one) and finally to 11.10 (which refreshed the login screen with LightDM and tweaked the Unity to be more streamline. It felt lighter too), I can’t wait to move to 12.04 next week.

Nokia N8 Firmware Update Part 3


(Countdown – 315 days to “doomsday”)

Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here

(Any new updates to smart phone firmware with new features, themes and UI is always welcomed. Image source)

This probably will be the “last” Symbian^3 OS update before Nokia goes all out on Windows Phone 7

I managed to update my N8 to the latest Nokia firmware – Nokia Belle yesterday but to do that, one needs the latest Nokia Suite (FOTA – firmware update over the air was not possible).

The update was about 287MB plus (some reported 311MB) and it was smooth – no major hiccups noted. However one must remember – as usual, some of the previous settings and applications will be wiped out when the phone ports over to the new firmware. You need to reinstall and maintain them again even though the update backups messages and contact details before it installs and restores them back once done (the usual full backup/wipe/restore cycle).

With Nokia Belle update, the some of the prominent changes is that there are now six home screens with live widgets in different sizes and a drop down menu for notifications.

All About Symbian reports:-

  • A major reworking of the user interface, with an emphasis on ease of use, updated design language and flatter navigation hierarchy. Specific items are detailed below.
  • Better use [a new memory management scheme] of the 256MB of RAM in all Symbian^3/Anna devices. In practice this will mean no occasional ‘Memory full’ errors and (hopefully) foolproof execution of even the largest ‘HD’ games. Applications which are running will, on the whole, stay running, whatever else you start up. Overall performance is better, in terms of UI responsiveness and multitasking.
  • Qt 4.7.4 is baked in from day one, meaning far fewer installation problems for Qt apps and faster (and more silent) installs in general.
  • Full NFC functionality (on the Nokia C7, at least, which has the necessary chip!), including: tap and share (share images, videos and contacts), tap and pair (pair Bluetooth accessories through a simple tap), tap and access (read tags to find information) and tap to play (unlock new levels on NFC-enabled games).
  • Improvements in screen real estate, with slimmer top status bar and optional (in some apps) bottom toolbar, meaning that all phones will have a larger useful display area.
  • Home screen widgets will now come in up to five different sizes (1×1, 2×1, 4×1, 2×2, 4×4) and allow a greater degree of interactivity. In addition to dragging widgets around a home screen in ‘Edit’ mode, you can now also drag from one home screen to another. Widget re-positioning when moving from portrait to landscape mode remains intelligent, with some tweaks for the new variety in widget sizes.
  • New drop-down menu, Android style, to access notifications, connectivity toggles (including a welcome one for ‘Mobile data’, which previously required an involved trip into ‘Settings’) and system status information from most places in the UI.
  • The Symbian home screen system now supports up to six pages (previously the limit was three for most phones and five for the smaller-screened E6).
  • A rewritten application launcher with default ‘flat’ structure, i.e. all applications are presented in one big scrolling grid of icons, though as I explained here, it’s easy enough to make new folders, including one called ‘trash’ (or similar), somewhere to put all the apps you don’t think you’ll even need – this significantly reduces the amount of vertical scrolling needed. There’s an option to switch the icons to alphabetic order, or to quick match/search the list, but happily your original order is also remembered so that you can switch back at any time. Newly installed applications are now marked with a red asterisk until they’ve been opened for the first time.
  • An application can be ‘added to the home screen’ from the main app menu, by long pressing its icon.
  • The bottom softkeys and (optional) bottom toolbar are replaced with a single toolbar comprising up to four icons (Back/Exit, Custom 1, Custom 2, and Menu). This, for most applications, in theory, gives the UI a flatter hierarchy, with less use of menus and with more direct interaction.
  • Improvements to the lock screen, which will now have information about missed calls, messages and emails. The lock screen also now supports a transparency effect, showing the underlying home screen wallpaper.
  • Update to Web, with numerous optimisations and easy access to multiple windows through a permanent toolbar icon. Like desktop browsers, Web keeps track of your ‘Most visited pages’ and this can be set as your ‘homepage’ if needed. A long press and drag on web page text now pops up a ‘Copy’ option, for copying text to the system clipboard.
  • Update to Music Player, with a ‘floating track list’ in the album art ‘cover flow’ view.
  • Updates to several other Symbian stalwart applications. Calendar gets an overall facelift and Notes now brings up a white (and AMOLED-unfriendly…) editing screen.
  • Update to Camera, showing the new, streamlined UI that featured in the Beta Labs N8 Camera update. Although functionality is the same, far fewer taps are needed to get to the majority of settings and functions. Note also that the ‘Close-up’ mode for the N8 video capture (i.e. with continuous auto-focus) is also included, so no need to install that as well.

Yes, Nokia Belle has 6 home screens – wow but what’s the point? Even under Symbian Anna, I only used 1 home screen (out of the available 3), so having an additional 3 under Belle does not make a big difference. I still need only 1 home screen but under Belle, it now allows me to add widgets to home screen, so it makes more sense to have more home screens – it is easy to navigate with a touch of the finger.

And one of the best things that Belle update brings is the pull down menu for notifications from any home screen. It is easier to block unwanted data connection and switch on Wi-Fi with an easy Wi-Fi widget. It is easier to manage the mobile data connection (which was a pain in the past – mobile data running without notice). Now I can completely block it and need not worry about the unnecessary high mobile internet charges.

The clock is now sports a more Android alike design and fonts are smaller and more efficient – meaning less scrolling now. I am not sure if this is part of the Belle tweak but I found photos takes now in N8 clearer and sharper. Still playing around with the changes and widgets but one thing I am missing now is the ability to open running applications and closing them with press of a button. That feature seems missing from Belle – you need to navigate through apps menu and find the one that is running and manually close. There should be an easier way to do this in Belle.

The new Belle firmware update suppose to bring in business apps from Microsoft, including Exchange ActiveSync, Sharepoint, OneNote, PowerPoint Broadcaster and Lync but I have not checked on these yet (FAQ states that it will be available in the next few weeks). Under previous firmware Anna, one glaring flaw that I noticed was the shorter duration of battery – a minor update later seemed to have addressed this. Under Belle, I hope power management remains efficient but that needs some closing monitoring for the next few days.

For now, I am quite satisfied with Belle – it addressed some of the shortcomings in Anna and somehow brings N8 in par with some of the latest smart phones in the market. Of course, with any major update of any firmware, things are not so perfect – there are users reports on the net that may warrant Nokia to release further tweaks to Belle (and I hope this get done soon). In the meantime, checkout Belle FAQ for some clarifications on Belle update.

P.s. the revamped Nokia Tune in Belle – aka Nokia Tune Dubstep Edition is damn cool!

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