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in portrait mode; instead you get a numeric keypad with T9 predictive text input, making it look and feel truly outdated.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!

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Tags Symbian FoundationsymbianNokia N8Symbian smartphonessmartphonesNokia N-Seriesn97Nokia

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Ross Catanzariti

Ross Catanzariti

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