Why Nokia's Symbian OS sucks

Nokia's Symbian OS may be the world's most popular mobile operating system, but it is clearly lagging behind the competition from Apple, Google and even Microsoft.

Text entry

Nokia was slow to the touchscreen party and this is evident even in its latest high-end smartphones. The N8 has no on-screen QWERTY keyboard in portrait mode; instead you get a numeric keypad with T9 predictive text input, making it look and feel truly outdated. Of course, you do get a full QWERTY keyboard when you rotate the phone to landscape mode, but almost all of Nokia's competitors offer a basic QWERTY keyboard when the phone is held in portrait mode — there is no reason why Nokia shouldn't also include this functionality.

People may point to the fact that all on-screen keyboards have their downsides. However, the iPhone's keyboard is renowned for its great text correction and the Android keyboard is steadily improving. The on-screen keyboard on Windows Phone 7 devices is simply excellent for a debut offering. Symbian is again clearly lagging behind the competition when it comes to text entry.

It is a pain in the proverbial to update

Like other software, most operating systems are improved over time come in the form of updates. Apple added the much requested copy-and-paste feature in an iOS update, while the latest version of Android 2.2 (Froyo) adds improved speed, native Internet tethering, full Adobe Flash support and an improved mobile Web browser. Symbian also gets updates, but unlike Apple (which uses iTunes) and Android (which is often updated over-the-air) the delivery of these updates is a complete mess. Just as an example, if you own a Nokia phone try to update your software here. Feel free to let us know about your experience — we are willing to bet it won't be a positive one.

Sure, both iPhone and Android updates are far from perfect — there are reports of the latest iOS updates crippling older iPhone 3G handsets (not to mention the fact that iTunes leaves a sour taste in the mouth for many people, especially those with PCs). Android updates can take way too long thanks to a sea of red tape involving manufacturers' "UI skins" (such as HTC's Sense UI) and carriers taking their own sweet time to push updates out to handsets. But both of these update methods are far easier than Symbian's.

Nokia's N97 smartphone delivered a wealth of features, but fell behind the competition when it came to usability.

Web browsing

Have you ever used the Web browser on Nokia's N97 mini? Browse through a few sites, and then do the same on an iPhone 4, an HTC Desire or a Samsung Galaxy S. Spot any differences? Not only are Nokia's competitors faster, but they render pages better, scrolling feels natural and effortless, it is easy to tap on Web links, and tabbed browsing is generally painless. Sure, they aren't perfect — the iPhone's lack of Flash support is well documented, and the Android browser hasn't always been snappy (the 2.2 Froyo update promises a much faster browsing experience). Regardless, both are streets ahead of Symbian.

To be fair, Symbian^3 on the Nokia N8 does remedy some of these issues and offers a much better browsing experience. Multitouch is present and pinching to zoom is fairly smooth, while pages are rendered better than with previous versions of the platform. But page loading times are noticeably slower than the competition. Based on what we've seen thus far, Symbian^3 merely plays catch up rather than streaking ahead of the competition.

Symbian will continue to hold a large market share in the years to come, but mainly due to Nokia's mid-range feature phones, rather than flagship models like the N-Series handsets. Nokia has even admitted that the N8 will be the last N-Series smartphone to run Symbian — future N-Series devices will be powered by MeeGo, a platform that merges Intel's Moblin and Nokia's Maemo OS. What does it say when Nokia is ditching Symbian on its flagship smartphones?

Do you think Symbian sucks? Let us know in the comments below!

Tags Symbian FoundationsymbianNokian97Nokia N-SeriessmartphonesSymbian smartphonesNokia N8

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Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

Good Gear Guide

20 Comments

Arif

1

As a symbian user. I find IOS and android and blackberry to be clunky and troublesome to use with many limitations everywhere. Unable to send/receive bluetooth between other users, contact sending issues. And 3 years + without an update in the Apple UI, isn't it getting old too? Time for a revamp? Oh wait, they might change an icon and call it 'revolutionary' change.

We can look at it in a simple way - function and UI. Apple started with UI with 20% functionality. Nokia started with 100 functionality with 20% UI. Apple is playing catchup in terms of functionality, Nokia is playing catchup on the UI.

We'll wait for the next 'revolution'. Bluetooth items sending? 3g video calls? new antenna design? external memory card? camera button?

Richard Bloor

2

I also think your comments about OS update are way off - my N8 and N97 before that both offer OTT updates and when size makes that impractical they just plug-into Ovi Suite and updated quite easily.
Most of the other points are down to personal preference - for example I use that rather 'useless' ITU keyboard in preference to the QUERTY - for us of the phone generation it much faster - and can be done single handedly.
I notice you don't mention battery life - I kinda appreciated having a phone I don't need to plug-in every few hours to keep it going. My N8 stretches to 3 days of normal use and you have to get really heavy (calls, videos, lots of browsing) to get anywhere near draining it in a day.
Funny how even the things you use to illustrate an advantage of other OSs over Symbian on page 1 (multi vendor support) becomes a disadvantage on page 2 (slow Android updates because of multi-vendor support).
All mobile OSs are a compromise - I personally prefer the compromises Symbian has taken to those of Apple and Android.

frogiss117

3

I don't think so. I am one of the normal smartphone users and don't take interest on updating my phone OS. If it is necessary, I'll buy high grade one again.
I'm only interesting on user interface and comfortability, and more useful apps on my phone. Of cause, I don't like game apps or media players because my phone is for communication with others or internet, not like MP4 or joysticks.
So I like smartphones with more useful communication apps store, They are appstore and android market this time.
Now I am using iPhone and Nexus one, I don't want to have symbian phone. I am finding iFMW app for symbian for my friends who are using Nokia phone, not for me.

Ritwick

4

Being a Nokia 5800 XM -Symbian S60 V5 user i feel that symbian OS is good enough and it never sucks.
Though symbian is facing tough competition from android and iphone OS , i feel nokia is doing a good job of maintaining its support of good services like OVI and great handsets and its new smartphones. And its not ugly , its rather pretty with nice customizations that are sometimes not possible on other OS.

Third party apps are a boon for us symbian users and developers as we advanced to mediocre users get lots of choice for apps from ovi store or getjar,mobile9 etc.

Therefore i like s60 symbian as it helps me feel like a real smartphone user.

Queppa

5

People, its a phone. You call people on it.
If you want to spend time on the internet or playing games and silly apps on a phone, then buy a psp or an ipad.
with a phone, you call people, and send messages. With a bonus of taking some pictures or filming something.
It makes calls and has some extra stuff thats usefull.
Who cares if the OS sucks.
Every version of windows and the apple OS have bugs and problems with them, so why would the phone world be any different?
If it does what its supposed to do (which iphones don't), then you can't go wrong.

Spiff

6

I agree with most of these aspects on Symbian (I am currently using a Nokia E72). However, it still provides a lot more functionality out-of-the box than Android (granted, you can install tons of apps for Android).

I did own a Galaxy S 16GB but returned it after 3 weeks due to the miserable GPS performance (no fix would... fix it) and the lag issues. It lags a lot and having to mess around with lagfixes won't suit all buyers.

Overall my Symbian proved to be a lot more reliable, despite not having the outstanding screen or the good web-experience that the Galaxy S provides.

Not ba

John

7

While the attractiveness of IOs4 and Android is certainly a factor, it's success over Symbian is largely due to capability and usability. Symbian is incredibly difficult to use in comparison.

Nokia and Symbian have always looked good on paper but could never deliver the reliability and user experience that the iPhone delivers.

My Nokia feature phones have always been fantastic but their smartphones are without a doubt the most frustrating devices I have ever used.

Yoshi richards

8

You guys are like tne grandpa who is afraid of learning the internet. Android and I os kill symbian. Ask sony and samsung how they feel.

Your outdated software and phones have maybe 5 years left. Till it goes to the dogs.

AT33

9

Whoever puts Symbian 3 ahead of iOS is obviously too stupid to use a great open OS. The N8 does 10 times more things out of the box than the iPhone could ever do and Android is just a bad copy of iOS. The interface of Symbian will improve, it does need a few new icons and better layout but the OS itself is rock solid, and the 3 personal home screens are all you'll ever need if you setup your phone right.

Symbian is still king in the smartphone business, i'm sure you have figured that one out.

Mark

10

I generally go by who uses the best English as to who is right. In this topic the pro Nokia people write in clear, well structured language. The anti Nokia brigade... err... less so.

Which brings me to the conclusion that people who use Symbian are just smarter than those who use iOS or Android.

QED.

Jim Hughes

11

Nokia late to the touchscreen game?

Check your facts, the Nokia 7710 (with a Symbian OS) came out in 2004, and even then it was ahead of the first iPhone in much of its functionality. Even this wasn't Nokia's first touchscreen phone, but it still is arguably an iPhone 1 competitor.

If the Symbian OS sucks so much, why does it still outsell iOS and Android day in, day out? Last figures I saw were something like Symbian 300k devices per day, iOS 270k, Android 200k.

Ross Catanzariti

Staff

12

Hi all,

Thanks for all the comments. Welcome all feedback.

A few points:

- Richard Bloor: Not sure where you are from but in Australia no N97/N8 updates are provided OTA. This may be the case in other countries (dependent on carrier), but in Australia updates need to be downloaded via Nokia's website/PC suite and this has generally been a painful experience.

- Queppa: In this day and age a phone is much more than just a phone, hence the term smartphone. Phones are now regularly used for not just calls and text, but e-mailing, web browsing, connected apps and all of these things are easier to use on competing platforms.

- Jim Hughes: As I mentioned in the article, Symbian only outsells iOS and Android because of low-mid range S40 devices, not high end smartphones.

I also agree with the first comment that all mobile OS's have negative points, I just personally believe that Symbian has far more compromises (mainly in usability and UI) than the competitors.

Thanks.

Richard Bloor

13

Hi Ross,

I'm based in New Zealand . As such my N8 is unsupported locally - but still offers OTT software updates (as does the N97 and N97 mini plus most other recent Symbian phones). Have you tried running the "Software Update" (N97) or "SW Update" (N8) apps on the phone? Or just connecting via Ovi Suite? The link you provided is to download Ovi Suite, which most users (with PCs, there is a Mac version too) will want so they can add maps, sync contacts etc. Take another look, its a really simple straightforward process.

"Symbian only outsells iOS and Android because of low-mid range S40 devices" - what? Series 40 devices are not Symbian, they are Series 40 an entirely different OS - Symbian outsells iOS and Andorid on smartphone numbers.

Here it is worth remembering that Symbian is capable of supporting low end smartphones far better than iOS or Android, which is part of the reasons it will continue to outsell the competitors. Symbian needs less memory, less processor power, and less battery power.

While Symbian can fix the UI, its infinitely harder for iOS and Android to fix their resource requirements. As Larry page said in response to concerns about Android device battery life, get "a bigger battery". The rest of us might say - you should have used Symbian.

stripesmeow

14

Hi all,

I have always resisted all things Apple until my employer gave me an Iphone as my work phone. I've got to say that the Iphone just works. I've had many Nokias and a couple of sony p900s and the Iphone useability leaves them for dead. Testament to this is the fact that my ludite wife can just pick up the iPhone and use it while she's always asking me for help on how to use her Nokia. I'm not at the point where I'm going to trade in my various PCs for Apples but as far as phones go I believe Apple have nailed it with the iPhone (despite not being able to turn off the vibrate on the default alarm clock!!). Sure the iPhone has weaknesses but I think that as an overall package it wins hands down.

Richard Bloor

15

Hi Ross,

I can see the typo :-)

While I personally like Symbian (could you guess?) both for it underlying OS technology and (dare I say it) UI, competition is a good thing and will ensure better smartphones, whether Symbian, Android, or whatever. However, while Android will also garner lower end market share Symbian should be able to stay ahead with even lower end market share. (I notice that many reviews of the lower end Androids have not been that flattering.)

"Well received" is obviously debatable, the view of the consumer (as reflected in market share and volume) is clearly not in step with the feedback through the mass and technical press. Question is which one actually matters?

Regarding MeeGo, remember MeeGo and Symbian^4 will both be using the Orbit UI, so from a UI perspective the differences will be minimal. They will also run the same Qt and web apps (we are waiting to see if MeeGo on smartphones offers Java). The difference will be the market segment address and the device price. If you have not seen it, the white paper "Our Software Strategy" (bit.ly/9EQafK) is well with a read to see how Symbian and MeeGo will coexist..

robby

16

I have a device which basically runs IOS (ipod touch 1g) and a Symbian device (5800). From my opinion the Symbian OS is the most convoluted, poorly designed, unstable, pile of heaping OS ever concocted. I was excited about the specs and used my phone for a few weeks until the strain of that overbearing OS came to fruit. Everything takes longer to accomplish in Symbian.

I am actually an engineering student. As a project in a design course we were asked to talk about a very poorly designed product (based on usability). I highlighted the 5800 and got an A (seriously). The professor had never used Symbian and was completely blown away by how convoluted the user experience was. Symbian will be taught in future course on how not to design a UI.

Needless to say I call with my 5800 and do everything else with my touch.

Duphii

17

Yoshi Richards wrote: "You guys are like tne grandpa who is afraid of learning the internet. Android and I os kill symbian. Ask sony and samsung how they feel.
Your outdated software and phones have maybe 5 years left. Till it goes to the dogs."

All I can do is laugh at that. I hear people all the time talking about the "cool" things that android and iPhones do that I have been doing with my Nokia long before those platforms came out. My wife just recently bought an Android phone and it still can't do video with Fring like I have been doing with my e71 for 2 years; crashes every time. I have used just about every platform that there is and I every time I use them, the first words out of my mouth are "Symbian is so much better".

Yeah, Android and iPhones look cool and I guess if all you care about is looks, then go for it. As for me, performance is key and Symbian far out performs other smart phones by a long shot.

Sorry Yoshi, I'll take the "outdated" phones that actually work best, over some slick new piece of garbage. But I understand where you're coming from; most people now wouldn't know high performance from a certain orifice in the lower portion of their body

real phone user

18

the (older) s60 5th edition devices can do every think a iphone or android phone can do and they have been around for atleast 10 years. i my self have been using a nokia n8 and it cleary out performs the other types of phones and there software. the iphone was the first phone to come out aimed at teens and the use of face book and dodgy apps like love calculator. then android followed suit. but symbian doesnt. if you actually do a test of the 3 you would find that symbian, in any form, is better then the rest. symbian 3 is a little behind in the looks and animations, but what you can do with it makes it a lot quicker and easier, and the t9 in portrat mode is perfect you can not type quicker with a qwerty keyboard and if you tried your spelling would be unreadable. so dont winge if you have never used it and your just swapping a computer for a phone and they only have a large version of a simple qwerty keyboard.

Kee it simple stupid

19

To summarise,
Symbian no matter what is gay, and it will be outdated anyhow sooner or later.
That's why symbian SUCKS ok?

anonymous

20

Sorry guys, but Symbian isn't what it used to be. Nokia makes fantastic hardware, but Symbian...
Okay, so Symbian has a lot of fantastic features and can do a lot of great things, right? Yeah, but what good are all those features if you can't get to them easily or use them well? Symbian needed to be rewritten or ditched entirely, and Nokia chose to ditch it. Sure, they chose Windows Phone 7 instead of something more powerful like MeeGo or Android, but I think they did the right thing. Windows Phone 7 is already rewritten, already new and fresh, and already gorgeous, and now, Nokia's only hope. With Nokia pressuring Microsoft to make a phone os that will really sell like Symbian once did,I think Windows Phone 7 will eventually evolve into Windows Phone 8 with features making it equal to Symbian, but more user friendly. I'm sad to see Symbian go, and I think it's a pretty cool operating system, but it needed to be rewritten, and Nokia couldn't do that. I think Nokia may have made the right choice, no matter how risky.

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