February 7, 2008

Know Thy Time Using SmartClock

How often do you wish you could be notified of the time, only to find yourself in a difficult situation? You could be caught up at work or busy driving your car or reading an important news story in the paper or just too lazy to look at your alarm clock. It can happen to the best of us. This is where SmartClock factors in. As the name suggests, SmartClock is an intelligent talking clock that can read out the current time without ever requiring a keypress, using your S60 3rd Edition phone's built-in text to speech-engine. It can do this via two unique ways:
  • Whenever it is brought into the foreground
  • After the user has specified a time delay
The best part is that SmartClock, apart from being completely free, is fully configurable and doesn't require any extra keypresses to work.

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Once you have SmartClock up and running, whenever you wish to know the current time, simply switch to the SmartClock window and it will read out the time for you automatically. It's as simple as that.

On the other hand, if your phone is a bit out of reach (say, on a bedside table) and yet you wish to know the time after every half hour or so, just specify a delay (in seconds), and SmartClock will continue updating you with the time without fail, after the delay you have specified earlier. Valid values for the delay can include anything -- from as little as 10 seconds to an entire day! Further details are provided in the Help section of SmartClock.

Compatibility:

Compatible with all S60 3rd Edition phones, including Nokia 3250, Nokia 5500 Sport, Nokia 5700, Nokia 6120 Classic, Nokia E61i, Nokia N73, Nokia N80, Nokia N81, Nokia N81 8GB, Nokia N82, Nokia N95, Nokia N95 8GB etc

Download Links:

P.S All the required files are provided below. There is a separate file with detailed instructions included in the download.

- Note that you need to install Python first to your device's Phone Memory. If you already have Python installed to Phone Memory, skip this step and install SmartClock.

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January 29, 2008

Update: The N73 SMS Reader!

Ever since the first version of the N73 SMS Reader was rolled out a few weeks ago, I've received several requests for additional features, the most interesting one being the ability to read out any existing text message from the inbox or from sent messages. This updated release of the SMS Reader addresses that issue and introduces many new features too.



If you haven't already tried out the previous version or wish to read more about it, have a look at my original post here.



Overview:



The N73 SMS Reader is a convenient and innovative text-to-speech message reader and inbox backup solution for your smartphone. It enables you to take full control of your text messages using simple joystick navigation and reads out all messages for you without letting you strain your eyes to read from the phone screen.



You can also make backup copies of all your messages using the N73 SMS Reader. If you happen to accidentally delete an important SMS, or your SMS database becomes corrupted, you can then rely on the backup copy that the program has created for you.



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Key Features:

  • Reads out existing text messages straight from the inbox or even from sent items whenever requested
  • Reads out new text messages either at user request or immediately when they arrive
  • Activity Icon for alerting the user whenever the program works in the background
  • Simple and Intuitive controls
  • Message Preview Option for displaying the last received message without actually opening it
  • Inbox Backup tool for exporting all messages to file

Compatibility:

This program is designed for S60 3rd Edition phones. It has been tested on Nokia 3250, N71, N73, N80, N91, N93, N95 and N95 8GB currently but will work with ALL devices.

Instructions:

Please follow the instructions in the exact order listed as the program might not work otherwise.
  • This program uses the latest version of Python for S60. Remove any older versions before proceeding.
  • Install the Python for S60 application (PythonForS60_1_4_2_3rdEd.sis) to phone memory.
  • Install the script shell (PythonScriptShell_1_4_2_3rdEd.sis) to phone memory.
  • Sign the N73 SMS Reader (N73_SMS_Reader_v1_5_UNSIGNED.sis).
  • Send it to your phone and install it.

Download Links:


P.S All the required files are provided below.


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January 17, 2008

Introducing the N73 SMS Reader

Free App Friday may be over, but not here at the S60 Weblog. Disgruntled with the lack of a Text-to-speech message reader on the N73, I decided to work on my own simple, no-frills message reader. The merits of such an application are plenty. Not only is it a convenient way to access your messages by having them read out aloud with minimal fuss, but it is also something that can be of tremendous use especially while on the move -- you could be driving, jogging etc. Moreover, this is a concept that is yet to make inroads and so, is quite fascinating to say the least!

It is a well-known fact that Nokia have already 'blessed' phones like the 5500, 5700, 6120c with a Text-to-speech (TTS) tool complete with different voices, while strangely ignoring the majority of Nseries devices. What is quite absurd is that this is a concept that was perfected around two years ago with the release of SilentComm's commercial TWT SMSReader -- for devices ranging from the Nokia 7650 to the 6600, 6630 and N70. And yet, here we are...

Anyway, the only message reader ever to be released for the likes of the N73, N80, N95 etc was Mobicrac's SMSTalk, which, unfortunately, left a LOT to be desired -- mainly because it could only read 3 words at a time, as ridiculous as that seems.

Ofcourse, that was a purely commercial venture, but one that was inspiring nevertheless. Another feature that I wanted my message reader to have was the ability of saving or backing up all text messages to a separate file. I borrowed this idea from David Siorpaes' SMSDump for the Nokia 6600, 6630 and N70 -- a handy, albeit commercial, utility that was capable of 'dumping' all text messages from the inbox to a text file. Incase your database of text messages got corrupted, you could always rely on the backup created by SMSDump.

After much scouring on the Internet for a message reader, I was finally able to find an app, called TTSMS, created by bugb in Python for S60. Sadly, that didn't work -- but since it was written in Python, it provided enough motivation ;)

Enter the N73 SMS Reader

The N73 SMS Reader (or TTSMS Reader) is a no-frills app that sits in the background and is activated automatically whenever a new message arrives. It requires Python for S60 to run. Upon installing, you will have a new icon labelled 'TTSMS' in the Applications folder of your S60 3rd Edition device.

Key Features:

  • Reads new text messages either at user request or immediately when they arrive
  • Simple and Intuitive controls
  • Message Preview Option for displaying the last received message without actually opening it
  • Inbox Backup tool for exporting all messages to file
  • Compatibility with ALL S60 3rd Edition Devices (N73, N80, N95 and more)
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Special Notes:

Whenever a new message arrives, by default the user is presented a list of three options:

  • To read the new message
  • To preview or display it
  • To ignore it

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Upon pressing the Read message option, the TTSMS Reader uses Python's Text-to-speech function to read the message out aloud. There is also a Replay Message feature that automatically kicks in whenever a message has been read, prompting the user for further action.

The Preview message option shows the first few lines of the sms content as well as the sender's number in a pop-up window.

Tip: Note that not only is 'previewing' the message quicker and less cumbersome, but it also gives the user a convenient alibi of 'forgetting' to read a potentially unwanted message as previewing does not notify the system that a new message has already been read.

The Ignore message option works by sending the program back to the Standby or Home Screen.

With Auto Read set to ON, whenever a new message arrives, the TTSMS Reader uses Python's Text-to-speech function to read the message out aloud automatically without requiring any user intervention whatsoever. The user is also prompted with an option to replay the message once it is finished reading.

Other Options:

The Export Inbox as TXT... option saves ALL the messages from the inbox to a text file compatible with Microsoft Word, WordPad etc.

Tip: Once activated, it normally takes about 20 seconds (depending on the size of your inbox) for the program to save all messages. It also displays the total number of messages saved as well as their location on the Phone Memory.

The Minimize and Minimize all options are something I picked up from the Microsoft Windows environment. The former simply minimizes the current window i.e. of the TTSMS Reader whilst the latter minimizes all windows in use and sends the user directly to the Standby Screen.

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Known Issues:

- The TTSMS Reader does not install any extra voice packages to the phone. Instead, it utilizes the device's built-in TTS capabilities. So, be wary of the accent (German, perhaps?) as it may not be able to pronounce accurately.

- While actual words are language-independent, numbers will be pronounced a digit at a time, depending on the language set in the phone.

- Once a message has been flagged as old, it can no longer be read. However, I'm working on a solution for dealing with this :)

- Incase of an unknown number, the program will read out the entire number.

Download Links:

P.S All the required files are provided below.

- Note that you need to install Python first to your device's Phone Memory. If you already have Python installed to Phone Memory, skip this step.

- The TTSMS Reader must be SIGNED before installation.

DOWNLOAD NOW

DOWNLOAD NOW (Mirror)

You may receive an 'Update Error' while installing in some cases. To rectify that, download this file instead. Otherwise, use the links given above.

Currently, this app has been tested on the N73 ME and the N95 only. However, it should work on other devices too without a glitch. Comments are always welcome!

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January 10, 2008

N95 8GB & N73 ME Firmware Updates Available!

Here's something you don't see very often -- Nokia's been really stepping on the gas in releasing newer firmware updates for their phones lately. A new year's resolution, perhaps? For example, just a couple of days ago, they made available version 15.0.015 of the flagship N95 8GB's firmware. To top that off, they released version 4.0750.31.2.1 of the N73 Music Edition's (ME) firmware some days later. Talk about being on a roll.

According to initial reports, the latest set of updates to hit both these phones is more of a speed boost than anything else -- nonetheless, a very welcome addition indeed, given how lethargic the S60 platform can be.

Let's talk about the N95 8GB first. News is that the newer firmware substantially improves the speed of accessing the device's colossal 8GB of flash memory. Apart from that, several under-the-hood changes have been made that have resulted in a faster and thankfully, more responsive, Gallery & Search as well as stability improvements for the Browser as well as WLAN. Plus, they've also thrown in Flashlite 3 and even made night-mode improvements to the Camera. Amazing, isn't it? The N95 8GB, after all these improvements, might just be the device everyone's looking for. If you haven't updated your device software yet, you definitely should.

Anyway, since I don't have a spare one lying around (it's already on my wishlist), I'll just continue with my ramblings on the N73 ME's latest firmware.

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Just like the N95 8GB's latest firmware, v4.0750.31.2.1 for the N73 ME fixes a myriad of issues that have plagued the device for quite some time now. More importantly, it makes the phone much, much faster.

Although I haven't taken any pictures yet for verification, according to reports, Nokia seem to have made night-mode improvements to the Camera here, too. This, if true, is something that was much-needed. Although the N73 ME has a top-of-the-line (though not exactly cutting-edge) 3.2 Megapixel camera that performs exceptionally well in most cases, night-mode shots aren't its speciality by a long shot. The main reason, ofcourse, being the blue-haze or bluish-tint problem that is evident on pictures taken under night-mode. On the other hand, day-time shots are perfect and easily comparable to typical point-and-shoots.

Moving on, perhaps one of the most notable changes is in the overall menu navigation speed. Make no mistake, Nokia have absolutely done a brilliant job here. Not only is the phone much snappier now, slowdowns and memory-leaks have completely disappeared too!

To verify, I timed how long it took for various elements (e.g Menu, Contacts etc) to load before and after the firmware upgrade under identical conditions. Results are as shown below.

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The column on the right (in bold) lists the times for the latest firmware, whereas the one on the left are for its predecessor. You can immediately spot the differences. The latest firmware, undoubtedly, has made the phone much faster and overall navigation a breeze. Moreover, note that the Camera starting times are virtually unchanged in both cases.

Another area where there's been a substantial improvement is in the amount of available memory for use. With typical use, previously the amount of free RAM available for apps used to hover around 10-11MB. Remarkably, that figure has shot upto 12.5-13MB with the upgrade. What's interesting is the fact that Symbian-Freak is reporting the implementation of Demand Paging with this new firmware, which only goes to confirm the much-improved memory handling capabilities. Note that this isn't the same as the memory available to the user after startup. Think of this as under load conditions :)

All in all, I honestly think that if you own an N73 ME and haven't updated yet, you should definitely get this upgrade without any hesitation whatsoever. It's available free of charge via the Nokia Software Updater. Click here to get it.

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December 26, 2007

Get There Faster With AppQLaunch!

Let's face it: the Symbian OS, despite all the major overhauls that it has received over the years, is still horribly laggy. Sure, that might not be the case for newer phones (fingers crossed), but the bulk of S60 phones released by Nokia in the past few years all bear this striking resemblance.

For instance, how many times have you wished to run an app that's not present on the Active Standby (or Today Screen) instantly, only to find yourself pressing the Menu button and staring at the phone screen as the feeble processor quietly churns to process your request?

The harsh reality is that this has been the case for so many years now. Fairly recent phones like the N73, N80, N93 etc all go down on their knees (albeit for a few seconds only) whenever you try to open folders from the Menu. Sad as it is, I'd like to think of it as a plague that is endemic to Symbian OS phones. Anyway, here are some other noteworthy observations on my part:

Arbitrary Observations

  • One of the areas where Nokia needs to work on is incorporating more items in the Active Standby screen. The current arrangement of 6 or 7 apps is insufficient and sets a limit that tends to be very annoying, as the user constantly needs to assess the best possible combination of favourite applications for him or herself by weighing the practicality of one against another. Bumping that to 12 apps (or two lines worth of apps) doesn't sound like a bad choice.


  • The Menu app needs some serious tweaking and memory optimization as no one likes to wait for an eternity while opening folders and the like. Currently, delays of upto 3 or 4 seconds aren't uncommon, even on the flagship Nseries devices.


  • Another area that has been sadly neglected for so long now has to be Menu organization. The current setup is very, very clunky and antiquated. I still can't imagine why someone would want a whole plethora of diversified apps, from Bluetooth to Themes to Profiles to the File Manager, all in one place?!! Check the Tools folder if you don't believe me. There really needs to be a logical arranegment of items. Period.


Anyway, that's enough pitiful lamenting on my part.

Presenting AppQLaunch

Moving on, one of the greatest attributes of S60 phones has to be the profound flexibility that the Symbian OS offers. Don't like the way the lethargic menu behaves? Why, simply create something that does the job better. And that, folks, is precisely what Yohanes Nugroho has done for the Symbian community.

AppQLaunch has to be one of the most revolutionary apps of its time. Although it aims to be a simple complement for the Menu app, but it does way more than that. Infact, I have become so dependent on it that it has actually replaced my usage of the Menu altogether. It functions in an extraordinarily simple way. Once installed, all that needs to be done on the user's part is to type the first few letters of the name of the app that is to be run.

Wish to use Bluetooth? Using AppQLaunch, just type in "b" and immediately you'll be presented with a list of apps that start with the letter. I've found that running apps in this way is typically much faster than the painful navigation offered by the Menu.

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All in all, a great app. I'd recommend you to install it to Phone Memory. It's very small indeed, weighing in at about 17KB and can safely be run in the background at all times. Furthermore, be sure to set it to function as one of your softkeys -- the Right Softkey is set to respond faster than the Left Softkey by default, so you can set it that way. To make the relevant changes, simply go to Tools > Settings > Standby Mode. Tap "Right Selection Key" and set it to AppQLaunch.

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Now, whenever you're in a hurry, remember that you'll always get there faster with AppQLaunch. Talk about a cheesy closing line, heh.

To download it for your S60 3rd edition device, click here to visit the author's site for the free download or get it directly from The Series 60 Weblog by clicking here.

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December 25, 2007

Learning Python The Easy Way

Hello everyone! You may probably have heard about Python for the Nokia S60 platform. One of the most exciting features of this programming language is that it provides access to several unique smartphone functions, including the camera, calendar, audio as well as telephony amongst other things. This is partly why it has become so popular over time.

Some days ago I stumbled upon an excellent book related to Python for S60 devices. It's called "Mobile Python" and is written by J├╝rgen Scheible and Ville Tuulos.

Furthermore, for those of you interested, there's an amazing repository of Python code available online for free right over here. This is something that you must check out. There are over 100 examples to try out...from making a simple app that can record audio to making a message reader to taking pictures with your phone camera. The possibilities are endless!

One of the best ways of learning the basics of a language is by going through code examples step by step. That is where Python is so friendly and non-fussy. In case you falter, you'll eventually learn how to correct the mistake just by studying the code. Anyway, if you've come this far, just try this:
  • Grab a text editor (notepad will do just fine) and paste the code (try any of the examples above)
  • Rename the file to *.py and send it to your phone's memory card (e:\Python)
  • Install the Python for S60 application (PythonForS60_1_4_0_3rdEd.sis) on your phone
  • Install the script shell (PythonScriptShell_1_4_0_3rdEd.sis)
  • Next, run Python from your phone and click "Run Script" to execute the code that you've just sent
P.S If you don't already have Python installed, click here to get it for your S60 3rd Edition phone.

I hope you see how easy it is to make your own programs using Python. The code examples given above are enough to get one started. Anyway, happy python-ing!

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