Its not surprising for hardware and device makers to come up with PC support software for their products to complement the usual drivers. Some manufacturers use plugins for existing products to tie in their products while a few go on as far as setting up separate software divisions dedicated for making quality software products. Nokia falls in the later category, which has built up a huge reputation as a quality software vendor thanks to its PC Suite for Microsoft Windows.
While PC Suite had long filled the purpose of the desktop management software of choice for all Nokia devices over the years, it didn’t support the trend of a connected service like the latest suite of Ovi services. This is where the Ovi Suite comes in, which is the next logical evolution of the PC Suite.
This article originally started as a review of the current version of Ovi Suite, but there were a couple of features of the application that weren’t as impressive as the their PC Suite counterparts. So instead I decided to give the Nokia Ovi Suite 2.0 a try, which is available as a free download from the Nokia Beta Labs. Since it still isn’t the final build of the software, I’d keep this article as a preview of what’s to come and highlight the major sections of the application suite.
The Interface: Love at first sight
Lets get one thing straight first, I’m not easily impressed with anything. In fact I’ve hardly come across anything which is perfect in my opinion. Same is the case with Ovi Suite 2.0, its not perfect but its light years ahead of what other manufacturers have to offer. In fact its far more elegant and fun to use compared to the previous version. And it is still in Beta, so there is still lots of room for improvement.
From the installer and the the configuration wizard to the application suite itself, the interface is beautifully designed with some nice visual effects. The installation is straight forward and its pretty easy to set up devices and automatic synchronization. The thing I liked most about Ovi is that instead of dividing functionality among several applications like the PC Suite, it integrates them into one solution. So you won’t have to fire different apps for say like syncing contacts and photos.
The main section of the Home Screen is divided into four panels for Contacts, Messages, Photos and Music. The sidebar has links for logging in to your Ovi account as well as shortcuts to Ovi Store and Help. The bottom shows the current active device along with its status and sync progress.
Hovering over one of the four sync panels start a 3D slide show which looks really cool. The Contacts panel shows recent contacts along with their photos. The Messages panel shows recent messages as text bubbles along with the photo of the contact. Photos panel and the Music panel shows recent albums and tracks etc. Clicking on any one of them brings up the full application.
The Contacts view is inspired by Microsoft Outlook - and that is a good thing because that layout is proven success. The main screen is divided into three columns starting from contact Categories and Groups on the left, the contact List in the middle, and contact details on the right. The Groups and Categories are subdivided into two sections if a device is connected to the computer. The top section displays contacts on the PC and the bottom displays all the contacts in your phone.
Adding and removing contacts is a pretty straight forward procedure and the best part is that the deleted contacts aren’t permanently lost, instead they’re moved to a Deleted Contacts category, so you can easily restore them if you need them later. You can search for and filter contacts via a handy search bar below which is really quick. You can look up a contact by their name or by their primary contact information (Email Address or Phone Number). I would really love to see this feature expand into a more detailed search, like filtering by companies and websites etc.
The contact details panel on the right gives you all the information about the contact including all the contact numbers, addresses, photo and the like. You can edit the information by hitting the edit button above, and add or remove details for the contact which automatically gets synchronized with your device.
The Photos section is lot different from the Nokia Photos application. Its more simple and responsive, plus it doesn’t require a separate application. Of course we loose a couple of features like the Timeline and the ability to view geo-tagged photos on a map, but then again most people don’t really want those features when they just want a quick sync and backup before leaving for a road trip. And for those who still want it, they can download Nokia Photos separately on their computers.
The Photos are categorized by albums on the left hand side, and a thumbnail view on the main section. You can change the default viewing options to show one photo at a time, which is the same as double clicking on the thumbnail. You can add and edit photo albums though they are only compatible with Nokia devices and not with other software like Windows Live Photo Gallery. I couldn’t get any videos to show up either even though there is a default album for Latest Photos and Videos and the previous versions of Ovi Suite supported video sync.
There is also an option to share photos online with Ovi Shared Photo Albums, though you can’t upload them to other services like Flickr and Facebook even though the Share Online application on the devices support them.
Messaging section allows you to sync your messages between different devices and the Ovi Suite. But that’s not all, the application actually has a very neat feature which allows you to create smart messaging groups based on different criteria including dates, message status, types, sent or received from etc. You can combine these rules to create really powerful filters for quick message lookups – something I often need because I do a lot of texting.
The center panel shows messages either sorted chronologically, or by contact which gives you a nice threaded view. But perhaps the most pleasing feature is the Conversation view which shows you message conversations with a contact as text bubbles arranged chronologically. Its really easy to keep track of an ongoing conversation, something which should also be built into the devices. Nokia Conversation application does that, but its slow and still in beta.
You can also send and receive messages straight from your computer when a device is attached and the experience is a lot more pleasing than the previous versions of Ovi or the PC Suite. The only issue I encountered with the Messaging feature was that sync was slow – but I’m sure it would be fixed by the final release of the software.
The Music manager is also a very simple interface compared to Nokia Music, which of course is the official client for Ovi Music. The only purpose of this client is to sync music you already have on your PC to your Phone and back. It has a really simple interface, with all your playlists to the left, the Album/Artist list in the middle, and track information to the right.
It actually loads all information from Windows Media Player, and since Nokia officially supports syncing music with the default player in Windows, this whole music manager thing is kind of redundant. I would recommend you sync your device with your primary library manager, like Windows Media Player or Nokia Music, but make sure you don’t use both of them at the same time. You can easily make a mess out of your collection that way.
On a side note, I don’t recommend iTunes to anyone for music library management because it really screws up things a lot. You’re much better off with using Windows Media Player 11 or 12 thanks to its Home Media streaming and DLNA capabilities which are also compatible with latest Nokia devices.
The software updates feature had me fooled for a while. I thought it would support all the applications on Series 60 3rd Edition devices but what it actually does is only monitor a few key applications like the Ovi Suite itself, your device’s firmware and a few applications like Maps which are installed on your device. It would be awesome if Nokia opens up this framework for third party developers so we have a unified system for software and application updates.
There are a couple of other features in the Ovi Suite which aren’t visible by default but add a lot of value for the user. They include Application Installer which allows you to install applications on your devices and Bookmark Sync which can sync your device bookmarks with your PC’s web browser. It supports all the major browsers including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari.
Some other features which I wasn’t able to test on my system were Calendar, Tasks and Notes Sync which require Microsoft Outlook 2003 or Microsoft Outlook 2007 installed. I’m running the Microsoft Outlook 2010 Beta and Nokia Ovi Suite doesn’t recognize that yet. I also wasn’t able to test the Maps feature of Ovi Suite because I had uninstalled the Maps application from my device due to some memory issues. I’ll cover all these when I’ll do a full review of the suite once it is finalized and released to the public.
The Ovi Suite is a powerful manager and synchronization application for your Nokia devices. The simplistic and elegant interface along with the ability to sync everything with the Ovi Service in the cloud are amazing features. Though there are still a few key areas which need to be worked on to make the experience smoother and rich. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this product because it has replaced the PC Suite on my desktop for good.
If you’re interested in trying out the beta of Nokia Ovi Suite 2.0 then just hop over to the Nokia Beta Labs and download a copy. Note that you’ll need a Nokai/Ovi account but don’t fret it is free and you should get it anyways.