Leaked Symbian^3 Belle Update on Nokia E7 Abandons Soft Keys for Navigation Bar

Leaked screenshots of the Symbian^3 Belle operating system firmware update, the one to follow Symbian Anna, reveals that soft keys are finally being abandoned on the Nokia E7 hardware that it was loaded on.

In the picture above with the list icons, you can see the older soft-key style navigation scheme on the bottom. The right image shows the transition to toolbar icons.

Soft keys, which are two bottom keys of the device, was a popular feature of Symbian and Windows Mobile as the platforms evolved from the PDA realm to the smartphone space. In the early days, the keys mimicked the functions of two menu keys at the bottom of what are known as dumb phones, or more elegantly referred to as feature phones. However, those keys have since been viewed as antiquated, as they often pull up small text-based menus that aren’t as finger-friendly for the touch experience found on more modern consumer operating systems like iOS and Android, and instead, hardware makers have moved towards a navigation bar at the bottom, which switched over from text-based menus to a touch-friendly GUI. The navigation bar could change and become dynamic depending on the app, the screen or task at hand, and would is akin, for desktop OS users, to the Ribbons UI on Office and Windows products today. For many, it’s seen as more intuitive as users don’t have to dig through menus and the basic functions and features are all displayed in plain view.

With the Symbian Anna update, also known as PR 2.0 release for Symbian^3, Nokia refreshed the UI to give it better icons and a portrait-oriented full QWERTY keyboard. Continuing on for Symbian Belle, also known as the PR 3.0 release, it’s nice to see more refinements to Symbian’s UI to keep it competitive with iOS and Android.

It’s just too bad, in my opinion, that these recent changes to the Symbian experience to modernize the Symbian operating system comes as Nokia is beginning its transition to the Windows Phone 7 platform. Though Nokia has committed to releasing and selling 150 million Symbian smartphones to keep the ecosystem alive in the midst of the transition, it would eventually become a Windows Phone 7 house. Despite its aging aesthetics and usability in the current Symbian^3 pre-Anna build, Symbian offers a lot of features and the Nokia N8 is the best in class camera phone on the market today. It comes pre-loaded with free Ovi Maps voice-guided turn-by-turn GPS navigation, a great messaging and emailing app, and a stellar camera. There are also subtle features, such as a clock on the sleeping screen, that serves to create a refined overall experience. despite those features, it had a lot of drawbacks–constant random reboots and lag–and hopefully Anna and Belle will help to spur more interest in the Nokia N8 and E7 as they both offer excellent build quality and amazing designs.

Via: My Nokia Blog