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Review GSM/UMTS-smartphone Sony Ericsson P990. Part II or UIQ 3.0 by the example of Ð990
Sony Ericsson P990 will be the first device run by Symbian 9.1 with UIQ 3.0 on the market. As a pioneer in this field, it is doomed to become a model for describing UIQ 3.0’s capabilities. Now let’s consider the main features of the system, its new graphical shell, and the changes in implementation or, to be more exact, the settings for standard applications in the P990. Everything told below is applicable to the majority of smartphones using UIQ 3.0 and equipped with a touchscreen. In some point I will specially stress the differences of the P990.
UIQ 3.0 in short. The reason why the new version of UIQ appeared is a necessity of creating various devices based on the same platform. Such devices can be controlled by keys, only by a touchscreen (minimum of buttons), or by both keys and a touchscreen simultaneously. You see, three various types of devices are described – they differ in characteristics and functional capabilities. The goal of the UIQ 3 is to allow developers creating such devices in a standard media, spending the minimum efforts and time. Essentially, the UIQ is a set of standards describing the way the device interacts with the user, which is some kind of an interface. Any maker can build devices he needs following it, add own unique traits (both hardware, for instance, a camera, and software, like expanding functionality of standard applications).
Besides the interface, the UIQ sets the minimal hardware requirements for a smartphone, in particular, the screen resolution, RAM, CPU clock rate. A great number of interfaces (do not confuse with a user interface), for instance, concerning memory cards, it allows integrating various types of memory.
In user’s eyes, the UIQ is a new graphical shell, which shows capabilities of the device better, has some principal differences from the previous versions, and also is completely different to platform 60 devices. That would be interesting to compare the capabilities of Series 60 smartphones with the ones for the UIQ 3.0; however, it is impossible within this material (it would get endless then). Besides the appearance, the UIQ describes the main applications and their work on a device. We can surely claim the UIQ forms 90 percents of the end-product, and remained 10 percents are added by the manufacturer (as a rule, these are slight improvements of the standard interface, own themes, headbands and extra utilities).
The switch from the UIQ 2.1 to the 3 version can be compared with changing Windows 3.11 for Windows 95. The potential put into Windows 95 is developed even today, we see a qualitative improvement of this very product (experts on desktop OS can object to me now, note I do not mean the program code, but a direction in ergonomics, appearance, and design).
Operator Configuration Package (OCP) is the strength of the UIQ 3.0. This allows changing the product interface beyond recognition, for instance, to correspond with the needs of some operator. Till today none of the smartphones on the market possessed with such a plain instrument for this accurate tuning. The maximum of possible changes consisted of an operator’s logo changed, another colour, maybe design, but the same interface and software filling. And a short list of UIQ 3.0’s setting available for change can fill an A4 page. And this let us suppose that special operator’s versions will soon come up. I won’t be surprised to see an operator version of the P990. And now the date of such an announcement if unknown, since the UIQ 3.0 is the thing that needs development still. All the troubles and delays of the device concern it.
Before passing to the story about the UIQ, I’d like to note it is optimized for work with 16-bit images (65K colours, High Color). The manufacturer can select another colour depth, for instance, 18, 24 or even 32 bits (this gives 16 million colours; here 24 bits are given to the colour and 8 to transparency). Everything rests not only on software, but a hardware part (a selected display).
The announced 262K colours in the P990 are true only in some applications; in the whole the interface is drawn for 65K. At the same time wee see some slight fall of the productivity (now it is visually observed, however, by the commercial launch the smartphone will be optimized) similarly to Nokia smartphones with great colour depth (remember less productivity of Nokia 6680 as compared with Nokia 6630). Now the UIQ 3.0 is rather row, and namely it concerns performance in non-standard modes and switching between them, for instance, when turning the camera interface on.
Work in open and close modes (with a flip and without it)
Unlike the previous P-series models the visible region of the P990 forms 90 percents of its height. This allowed realizing work with all applications in this mode, and not with a limited number. With a flip on, not all the views for some applications are available (a good example is organizer, the whole monthly calendar is seen, but not a list of events below). At the same time, all the preinstalled applications and functions are comfortably shown on the P990’s display. A giant leap of the interface is a capability to access any application fast not opening the flip. Fast call icons help in this, and also they are assigned to horizontal deviations of the navi button. In this mode you can’t change preset applications for fast launch. In contrast to the P910 and other similar models, the JogDial is only responsible for volume control in the standby mode. Due to the reorientation carried out, now the keypad is used more, and namely navigation keys. As for me, in some way the device lost individuality and got closer to the UIQ 3.0 specification. Though, it was not a trouble at all for the developers to reserve the 5D JogDial and add functionality of the P900/P910. However, this disadvantage will be significant for those who used P-series smartphones before; they will have to leave off the gained jerks. This new organization shouldn’t influence new users negatively, and Sony Ericsson mainly targets this model at them.
Both modes allow the menu shown either as lists or as a set of icons. The icons are well drawn and impress pleasantly. So, you can select the view you like.
With the flip off or removed completely, the interface appears in all its beauty and uses the screen capabilities for 100%. Let’s stop on several key points typical of the P990.
Activity Menu appeared in the menu like on the analogy of Sony Ericsson K750i. This is typical only of the P990 and uses the same idea as a Today screen in Windows-smartphones. And a similar application on a Symbian device was first introduced by Nokia in its Nokia 6680 (and by the way, the name Active Standby calls up with Activity Menu).
By default in open mode, the screen shows Activity Menu, the first bookmark shows date and time, missed call list in a window on top (if there are no such, you see an empty window), below you can find the number of unread messages, organizer entries, and to-do list entries as well. The menu bar provides help on this work mode, and an icon for tuning this mode is nearby. Icons for fast launch are moved to the right, they call such functions as creating a message, organizer and to-do list entries. It’s funny, but the first bookmark is called Today, that is an obvious and straight analogy with Windows-devices.
The second bookmark is used for tags assignable to almost any standard function. And similarly to the K750, you can’t bind a tag to a file or an application, since that can make problems, as the developers considered. For instance, you remove the card with a file a tag links to, and the smartphone will have to alert a mistake. And thus a possibility of such mistakes is constrained primordially.
The settings allow specifying which panel will be shown by default, that can be Today or your tags.
Status bar. The UIQ 3.0’s peculiarity is the status bar is shown in all standard applications and menu. It represents a part of the display and shows icons corresponding with the events or work modes on. This is where an envelope signifying a new message is shown (besides a pop-up alert, if it is possible in the current application), and Bluetooth activity (due to the constant presence of the bar, the developers refused a separate light indicator responsible for Bluetooth by way of a light diode like in the P900/P910). There number of variants described in the UIQ 3.0 and corresponding icons is not great; however, they cover all the main events. Here is the list of icons shown available through UIQ:
The left corner of the status bar shows an up arrow, it allows a pop-up menu. As a rule, it shows the launch of standard applications. They are hidden behind the New entry, and then you can select a call, message, contact, meeting, task, note, sound record. This is a comfortable way to launch a necessary application by two stylus touches. Also here you can see time, adjust sound for all events (both volume and select a melody). Finally, this very menu contains all the connections, which are launched in one touch, and this is undoubtedly a plus (now you do not need to call the control panel and launch Bluetooth and IrDA from there).
Task manager. Two arrows directed towards each other are shown in a status bar to the right; this is a task manager icon. Using old UIQ versions, previous models really lacked such a capability, now you can call a list of last run applications and run them again from here. The device uses preemptive multitasking.
Menu of the current application. Each application has its own context menu, which is called by tipping the top part of the screen with a stylus or a corresponding button on the QWERTY-keypad. Everything is standard here, and really nothing special can be told about this menu.
Text input and representation. The P990 provides all possible ways to input text for today. Among them are hand input recognition, entering with a usual number keypad with the flip closed, the integrated QWERTY-keypad, and finally, virtual screen keypad. Now a user can select the way to enter text to his/her liking. All the means are described many times, and on our site as well. If you are interested in their work, you can read the review of Sony Ericsson P900.
An important innovation of the P990 is its T9 input; this renewed version allows not just entering words from the flip or integrated keypad, but offers own variants of words to enter by the first letters. Motorola’s products have used a similar system for several years, and it proved its best. And obviously, Sony Ericsson P990 will become the first device with a new version of T9 offering comparable functionality.
Pleasant trifles really gladden, the device will automatically replace lower case letters with upper case in the beginning of the sentence. However, you can switch this mode off. A similar function is provided in Nokia’s phones, but there it can’t be off.
In each standard application, which allows working with text, you are allowed to change font-size; by default you have middle size. Reducing the size, you won’t get it too small, it still is well-read, and the screen will then feature two more lines. And the same concerns bigger size. You expect it greater increase, but the font will naturally be read better, however, I found no principal difference from the standard size.
And further let us discuss standard applications.
Contacts. The name list organization is rather customary, you see names, and a line with the first number set by default for a selected contact. The list doesn’t show contact entries from a SIM/USIM-card, but you can work with them through the phonebook menu, copy them both to the internal memory and to the card. However, you will hardly need to keep contacts on the SIM/USIM-card, since you can create an archive with all contacts on an external memory card. And also consider the fact the structure of entries is broken if storing on the SIM/USIM.
Search in the phonebook is carried out by the first letter or several ones (a top bar is a fully functional search field). Bilingual entries are sorted in a standard manner – first all English entries, then in another language. So, you’d better keep the entries in the same language for more comfortable search.
For a name you can keep unlimited amount of phone numbers, and the first entered becomes a default number. You can add extra numbers to the ones represented by the standard view through the menu. Using horizontal scrolling, you can view separate numbers, and extra information is shown just here (for instance, e-mail address and so on).
In contrast to the standard UIQ 3.0 realization, the Sony Ericsson’s developers created four bookmarks for the contact editing mode instead of three. The first one allows entering information about the phone numbers, selecting a category or, if you like, a group. The peculiarity is one name can refer to several groups simultaneously (useful for working in groups, group messages). The second bookmark serves for entering data on a birthday, position in the company, position name, home address (several fields), and work address. And the third bookmark is just a plain text note bound to the contact. The fourth bookmark contains voice tags (assigned to phone numbers), allows selecting a personal call signal (if a group melody is already assigned, it is replaced with a personal one at incoming call, since the latter one has higher priority). As we can see a bookmark with a text note is not standard.
While viewing an entry, you can start writing a message to a selected number with one pressure (in a pop-up window you will be asked to select of SMS and MMS), if you select e-mail address, then integrated mail client starts. Dealing with the phone got easier due to fast dial distributed between three buttons (left, right, central).
The IM-client is integrated into Contacts; from here you can view the interlocutor’s condition and switch to a necessary application (that is not standard for UIQ). And in fact, third party developers still have much to do; the interface is very flexible, full access to Contacts is organized via corresponding APIs. Compared with the UIQ 2.1, this version shows potential capabilities for creation, and I think many additions to the standard phonebook will appear in short time.
Using an integrated contact manager, you can send selected entries (categories) to other devices via IrDA or Bluetooth. The smartphone supports vCard 2.1 standard, and allows receiving entries from other phones as well. Unfortunately, we still observe some problems with sending contacts to some phones, and namely Sony Ericsson K750. When sending all the contacts together, their phone numbers can be mixed and reassigned to other names. However, we experienced no problems when synchronizing with PC or PDA. If you send only one entry, fields will correlate right. And to transfer your data to usual phones, you will have to use MS Outlook as intermediate.
Using a fully functional realization of SyncML (with a new name of OMA DataSync), you will be able to synchronize data with any device compatible with the standard (a PC, a PDA or a phone).
You can apply various graphical transformations to the photos assigned to contacts in the phonebook. They include tile and stretch. This will allow you to show the picture qualitatively in various modes. Also an integrated camera helps taking photos while creating an entry. And the photos are stored in the internal memory then.
The phonebook is realized qualitatively and will satisfy even the most demanding user. Due to almost maximal integration with installed applications, the smartphone is very comfortable. You won’t feel troubles when scrolling a list with one hand and the phone closed, selecting a number from the view mode and dialing it. It seems no differences from the previous models appeared, if only the JogDial is slightly deepened.
With the flip closed you can call search in the phonebook by pressing and holding number keys, and by the way, you can search by several letters. About 9 numbers for fast call can be set additionally; a name and a photo (if assigned) are shown on the display for them. To dial you have to select the digit (then a user’s name assigned to the button appears) and press a call button. Switching between such modes as dialing a number (by number keys) and fast call is carried out by one touch of a corresponding icon in the standby mode (full-screen mode).
Messages. Due to the new version of the UIQ, the Messages item was really reorganized. Now the one folder Incoming is used for all messages, excluding e-mail. That also concerns files received via IrDA and Bluetooth (all formats are supported, even unreadable for the device). Then you can save the received file into any of other folders, you have full access to the file system (certainly, not to system folders). To please a user, the developers allowed creating own folders and sorting messages in them. When you enter the Message menu, you see the main folder by default, using horizontal scrolling, it is possible to switch the folders, and pressing OK you select the folder and view messages.
All e-mail accounts are displayed in the root of the Message item under the Incoming folder. Having three of them, you will see them all in the course you entered them into the device.
The type of each message is specified in the Incoming folder (SMS, MMS, Beam), and you see a corresponding icon.
Practically from any phone menu where a phone number is present, you can create a message. Select a message type (SMS/MMS) and start writing. In fact, EMS stands behind the name SMS here. Now a user doesn’t decide which type of a message to select, he just enters the body and the system considers whether that is SMS (only text input). If you select not only smiles, but melodies, pictures, format text (I do not mean Zoom), then a message automatically turns into EMS. No surprises are prepared here, the standard is fully supported.
Concatenated messages are shown as one in the general list, and while entering the number of messages is shown in a standard manner (for instance, 1/2). I would like to stress that a renewed version of T9 picks entered words and offers their endings, which eases life much (similarly to Motorola’s realization). One more advantage is the phone remembers whole messages (they are stored in dynamical memory, I stress this is not Drafts). If you start entering a word present in the previous message, you are instantly provided with all other words of that message, you will only have to either select it or keep on entering. The first different word, and the rest of the massage prompted disappears. That is ideal to store messages temporarily if you do not want to keep them in Drafts. Automatic change of the case is rather significant. The first letter of the sentence is always in upper case, and the function can be turned off. You can forbid transforming text smiles into their graphical view for usual messages.
A message can be sent to numerous addresses, you only select them at sending from the contact list, to do this you mark the names or select separate numbers of the contact. Also mass mailing is available for users’ groups. When answering a message you select between SMS and MMS messages (the list forbids answering with e-mail).
Creating MMS. It’s nice there are several bookmarks, and you can select time out between the pages, create own templates. There is a capability to attach own sketch made by hand on the touchscreen (Scribble) besides standard files (graphics, video, photos, music and so on). Everything is standard here, and when sending you have a selection of contacts similar to SMS. By request you can ask not for a plain delivery report, but a confirmation that your MMS was read.
All types of messages (including e-mail) allow search by a text fragment, the result window shows search results and allows fast switch to a certain message. We failed finding a restriction for a message size; they will probably be applied by an operator, or a maker depending on the country (default settings, which allow changing).
The smartphone understands MMS, e-mail client, GPRS and Internet settings received over the air (OTA). Such settings are stored in corresponding sections.
E-mail client. Several mail clients are supported, and by the way, the UIQ can work with almost all represented today standards (however, the standard realization doesn’t contain Push Email, but it is possible using a corresponding API). Here are all the standards supported by the OS:
Mail client settings are very plain, particularly, you specify if it loads the whole message or only its heading (or will read messages not heavier than some KB). Now you can set the maximum possible number of messages in the Incoming folder, when this number is achieved, messages are not uploaded any longer. You can inquiry the mail box in a time lag.
By default the UIQ uses character set Latin 1. However, the P990 uses Unicode thus becoming international. Also developers can add own character sets, and Sony Ericsson will apply local ones for various markets (1251 is included).
Fully supported attachments can be downloaded and then saved into the phone’s memory or a memory card. If the type of the attachment is known to the smartphone, you can open it (and a corresponding icon of the type will be assigned). Size restrictions are absent as such, however we noticed that the device interrupted loading 2MB (but that may be a problem of a local provider).
VPN support is preliminarily integrated into the P990, which allows using it to access corporate mail boxed (a great advantage of the device).
And now the main thing about the mail client. Any connection (including WLAN) supporting data transmission can be used to download messages.
Organizer. Now besides a typical monthly view and a list of events for a day, a weekly view appeared. Then a week is represented as two columns with days and each cell contains current events. This view is very comfortable and allows estimating the week load. If you have more than five events for a day, they are not shown all.
When the flip is closed and you view the calendar in a monthly view, only a table with the month is shown. Opening the flip, you see the first three events for a selected day (by default the current day) and can switch to any event quickly. In a closed mode you will have to press OK to view the events for a day. That is quite logical and separates work modes.
A monthly calendar indicates days with entries assigned using corresponding marks to the right of the number. Four types of events are supposed totally – appointments, reminders, anniversaries, all-day event. They may be repetitive and have special alert signals.
The organizer supports vCalendar version 1.0, and also you can work in groups using an iCalendar standard. In practice, that is a capability to ask for an appointment using the mail client. Your vis-a-vis can refuse or accept the meeting. If the answer is positive, the message received will be automatically added to the organizer, and a corresponding entry appears in the calendar. Before the answer is received, you can view the condition of your inquiry.
Now this function seems exotic, however, in half a year it may be demanded in small developers’ groups, among companies where the P990 is standard, or it will get compatible with iCalendar on other devices. This realization is pleasant and really expands the capabilities of the organizer.
We really like a peculiar function, which allows reserve copying organizer entries to the external memory card and their following restoration to the phone’s memory (if necessary). The previous versions of the UIQ lacked this capability, and the question was solved by third party programs (often rather bad).
You can send calendar entries to other devices using IrDA and Bluetooth, which is a standard function. Certainly, reception is also supported, and after you view such messages they are transferred to the calendar at once. Fully realized SyncML (a new name of OMA DataSync) allows synchronizing data with any device compatible with the type (either a PC, a PDA or a phone).
To-do list. You can exchange organizer entries and to-do list ones. Similarly to the organizer, you can create a reserve copy of the to-do list on the external memory card. It is possible to create unlimited number of categories to sort entered tasks by. You can set the priority from 1 to 3 (low, normal, high), limit time for a task; set a signal (that is lo your liking – any signal is possible).
You can sort entries by categories, a list of completed tasks (they may be hidden), by expiry date and priority. SyncML is supported, and synchronization with MS Outlook is correct. Using IrDA or Bluetooth, you can send entries to any device. Such entries can be sent in a message body as well.
The next part will tell about the rest standard applications and their peculiarities. Some interesting facts and discoveries are waiting for us. Do not miss the review!
Published 17 October 2005
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