Nokia Carmenu review

May 5, 2010 by | Comments
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Notice: there are some updates to the present post beginning from here please read through

Introduction

I have recently written an article about Nokia Maps 3 woes, it looks nothing happened since then; let’s hope the guys at Nokia will improve quickly the dude: I have bought a license and wish to have the software usable.

In the meanwhile I’ve made a gift to my car with the Nokia Car Kit CK-300!

I won’t be discussing the whole package here, I’d rather focus on it’s software application Carmenu and it’s current big limits, hoping someone at Nokia will read.
[toc]
Carmenu tested version is 2.6 on a Nokia N96 with fw 30.033; car unit firmware v. 1.4.

Basically this phone applet integrates some phone functionality (phone call, phonebook, music player & Maps with the car audio system.

While the idea is great, the software product is quite poor: I believe it MUST be largely improved. Read on.

Problems & bugs – part 1

Load time - although the Carmenu software is launched automatically at phone startup (you can easily see Carmenu logo flashing for a few sec), once the phone is paired with the car unit, it takes 15 seconds to get responsive. That’s really too much for everyone, snails included.

Connectivity - Pairing with the phone seems a bit buggy: a few times I had to restart/reset Bluetooth on the phone!

User interface – Let’s face it: the user interface is ugly…. Poor icons, poor background…..Does Nokia have enough resources to spend a bit here?

Now the bug: Carmenu is delivered in two versions, for “so called” landscape phones and portrait phones. My N96 is listed in the portrait phones group, nevertheless, I’m using it “landscaped” in the car. I thought I could install the landscaped version, but it wouldn’t work: Carmenu would hang at startup. carmenuclipThe portrait version, does work but only in portrait mode! Landscaping the phone, gets the rendering clipped, leaving an empty “column” on the right side of the display. Did Carmenu developers know that some Nokia models can tilt the screen?

Functionality – Voice recognitions is worst than using an earphone to input commands, but it shouldn’t be a Carmenu-related problem. I believe it is a technology limit, given the quality of the microphones being used.

The phonebook does the job, it is possible to browse the phonebook lists or to filter lists based on user selected characters. Phonebook navigation is handy using CK-300’s Navi wheel. Thumbs up here.

Problems & bugs – part 2

We can’t say the same for the Music player: can be greatly improved.
The biggest lackness in functionality is missing playlists: even though the manual does mention playlists, actually they aren’t present in the Music Player menu; while it is possible to filter music selection by track name or album name, if you are using seriously your phone to play music, like I do, you will suffer selecting and jumping from track to track.
Nokia, do add playlists! (what’s more, they’re available in the phone music player!). Huge thumbs down here!

Moreover, no album icons are shown, even if present in the music track. Maybe it was Nokia’s choice to do so, just to have all the display size available for artist and track name? However, in my opinion Nokia should enable, based on user choice, what to show. I strongly believe album icons will improve music navigation.

Also the button functionality for the music player on the remote control should be re-thought from scratch, giving users the following BASIC functionality:
- Navi wheel status toggle: by pressing it, it should switch from prev/next track selection, to volume adjust
- Use voice dialing and mute buttons for rewind/fast forward

Another annoying fact is that the phone ring tones are scrambled together into the track list. Nokia should prevent this, say excluding data contained in a particular folder.

I couldn’t test Maps functionality at all. Commands from the remote control are ignored completely. I don’t know if this is Maps 3 problem or Carmenu’s. I suspect the problem lies in the buggy Maps 3. We’ll have to wait for next release for a confirmation.

Last but not least, Carmenu completely misses TV and radio control. Those two programs should be included in next releases.

At least Nokia should go for a phone-firmware-based system-wide control with the Navi wheel remote, also without running Carmenu: basically you could use the Navi wheel rotation for prev/next in the phone menus, with the “Voice dialing” and “Mute” buttons for typical Ok/Cancel selection. This would help users running other phone apps, yet not included in Carmenu.

Conclusions

Pro:
- Brilliant idea
- Impressive audio quality in bluetooth streaming mode

Cons:
- Slow load time: should be lowered to less than 2/3 seconds
- Buggy phone pairing
- Poor user interface design
- Landscape version doesn’t work on “landscaped” phones
- Portrait version clips the display when phone is “landscaped”
- No music playlists
- No album covers while playing music
- Phone ringtones appear in the music track list
- Poor remote control functionality in music player
- Doesn’t work with Maps 3 – Remote control commands are ignored in Maps 3
- Missing remote control user input available in Maps->address search; should be something like the system used to select contacts/tracks
- Doesn’t include TV and radio functions
- Remote control doesn’t allow phone interaction outside of Carmenu, apart from phone call functions.
- When exiting track playback, navigate back to the top menu accordingly, instead of jumping back to the top menu
- Fair too long delay for total music track count; cache data somewhere?
- Voice alerts in Maps 3 under Carmenu are being clipped, particularly when the audio to be muted is not being played on car stereo’s AUX input;

As I’ve said, I hope someone at Nokia will read this small article, removing buggy features and adding what’s missing: the benefits could exploit this product to such an extent that Nokia itself can’t imagine!

Post update

Keeping, testing the Carmenu software I have discovered why I couldn’t get working Maps 3; the problem arises if the music player is running and Maps 3 is launched: at that point Navi wheel input doesn’t get to Maps 3 as it should. Launching Maps 3 without the music player running, works fine, although user input looks a little delayed, probabily because Maps 3 being so CPU intensive.

Let’s hope this bug is fixed, because the idea to have the music player running while the Maps navigator is on, is quite attractive.

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