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Introduction to Symbian

If you're new to Symbian, the chances are that you're more than a little confused by some of the different platforms and jargon. In an attempt to clarify things, here's only what you really need to know.
(Updated May 2007)

Quick Model Reference  
Series 60 UIQ Series 80 Series 90
Nokia N-Gage, N-Gage QD
Nokia 7650, 3650, 3660
Nokia 6600, 6620, 6630, 6670, 6680, 6681, 6682, 7610
Sendo X, Siemens SX-1, Nokia 3250, E60, E61, E61i, E70, N70, N73, N76, N80, N90, N91, N93, N93i, N95, E90, and many more...
Sony Ericsson P800, P900, P910i, P990i, P1i, W950i, M600
Motorola A920/A925/A1000
Nokia 9210, 9210i
Nokia 9300, 9300i, 9500
Nokia 7710

Brief history

Symbian itself grew out of Psion Software (hence many of the similarities -often under the hood- between Psion's EPOC operating system and modern Symbian software platforms). Recognising that the future was a connected one, with messaging, email and web central, mobile phone giants Ericsson and Nokia (plus a few others) were involved in setting up the new consortium with the Psion staff.

Today (2007), Psion itself has more or less ceased to exist, leaving Nokia and Sony Ericsson as the dominant partners in Symbian.

Series what?

Terms you'll see bandied around a lot include 'Series 60' (or just 'S60'), 'Series 80', 'Series 90' and 'UIQ'. These are all Symbian-based platforms, but don't despair because it's all relatively simple. In many cases, once you've bought a device, you don't even have to remember much about its internals, as most developer web sites include photos of all the different hardware, you just click on the one you own to see what's available.

UIQUIQ is stylus-based interface (heavily influenced by the easy-to-use Palm OS one). The best known examples of UIQ devices are the Sony Ericsson P800 and P900/P910i, although there are others, including the Motorola A920/925/1000. Look beyond the Palm-like interface and you'll see glimpses of stuff that's familiar from Psion days.

But only glimpses. The biggest downside of UIQ 2 is that some of the benefits of multitasking have been removed by the way programs revert to a neutral state when sent to the background. So you switch away to check your calendar or answer the phone and then have to re-open your document and find your place all over again. And again.

UIQ 3 restores proper multitasking, thankfully, with the Sony Ericsson P990i, W950 and M600 now available.

Series 80Historically, Nokia have opted for Symbian devices which don't need a fragile touch-screen. The well-known Nokia 9210 effectively ran EPOC version 6 and is extremely similar to an old Psion Series 5mx in many, many ways, with the minor difference that the lack of a touch-screen necessitated a set of programmable command buttons to the right of the screen. Nokia refer to this interface as 'Series 80'.

Series 80 is also used in slightly tweaked form in the newer Nokia 9300 and 9500 communicators. If you want to get close to a Psion-on-steroids-with-a-colour-screen, then these are the ones to get. You get almost the full range of built-in applications (including Word, Sheet, etc.) and there's full (and proper) multi-tasking, so you can have dozens of programs and documents open at once, switching between them as needed. The 9500 wins out for most people, with more useable keyboard, Wi-Fi and a reasonable camera, although both 9300 and 9500 are now being phased out, in favour of the new 9300i, which adds Wi-Fi to the original 9300 spec, plus a very good business software bundle, although the poor keyboard and smaller screen, plus absence of a camera won't endear it to individuals.

And all these devices are now being replaced by the Nokia E90 (see below)

Series 60Down at the other size extreme, Nokia has been very successful with their small-screen 'Series 60' (S60) interface. Again this is recognisable Symbian under the hood, but again there's no touch-screen and this time Nokia has written many of its own (slightly dumbed-down, from a Psion owner's perspective) applications from scratch, ditching the standard Psion/Symbian ones presumably because they wouldn't suit the one-handed, button-driven interface and generally smaller screen.

There's multi-tasking power here under the hood and many third party applications have been ported to Series 60/S60, but everything's restricted to some degree by the screen size and keypad text input. Of course, this last problem can be solved with a Bluetooth keyboard...

The best S60 devices to go for at the moment are probably the Nokia N95, E61 and E90. The N95 because it's the ultimate multimedia smartphone, let down only by limited RAM, the E61 because you can pick it up incredibly cheaply now, it's bargain of the century and has a great qwerty keyboard, and the E90 because it's the ultimate communicator for power users(!)

Series 90 'Series 90', as seen in Nokia's idiosyncratic 7710. It uses much the same operating system and applications as Series 80, but tweaked to support a slightly larger, touch-sensitive screen. But there's no keyboard, of course, so input is via gesture recognition, virtual keyboard or Bluetooth keyboard. The interface has been orphaned by Nokia, alas.

See also my Top UIQ tips, Top 9500 tips, Top 9300 tips, Top 9210 tips, Top Sendo X tips, Top Nokia N70 tips, Top Nokia N95 tips, Top Nokia E70 tips and Top N-Gage tips...