No doubt those of you who have taken my recommendations over the years on using older Nokia Symbian handsets (especially the S40/Asha models) have had a nasty little surprise crop up in their email apps the past few days. Well, I helped get you in this fine mess that Microsoft has created, it’s only fitting that I help get you back out.
I’m sure many of you were convinced that this would be it. Microsoft’s slowly been eroding away and disabling functionality of the older Nokia Symbian handsets since purchasing the Finnish phone superpower a little over a year ago, and email is probably one of the most important. Although the announcement to shut down NMS has minimal impact on the Symbian S60 handsets for the most part (just got my wife’s E63 taken care of – excuse an Outlook quirk for her work), the lower end S40 and Asha users are quite literally being left out in the cold right near the beginning of Winter here in the Northern Hemisphere. “But don’t worry,” they say in a friendly coo, “You can continue to have email on your Nokia phone by using the browser to access your email provider’s website!”
Have you tried using modern mobile webmail from the default Nokia Xplorer browser or even Opera Mini on these things? Ugh. Cue the wailing and gnashing of first world teeth, folks.
Not only is it a data pit, it’s a pain to launch, navigate and use. It also does nearly nothing for those who aren’t plugged into the big three free providers (Google, Hotmail and Yahoo) and don’t have access to any mobile-specific webmail interface. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think this is Microsoft trying to convince us to abandon these cheap little tanks in favor of spending more money on a fragile new smartphone that eats data like a fat kid tears through a bag of Cheesy Poofs. Well, do you know what I have to say to that? Nice try, Microsoft.
Thanks to T-Mobile standing by their 2G customers and a little bit of J2ME software back from the cusp of the smartphone revolution, you’ll likely still have to pry my Nokia C3 from my cold, dead hands!
Reintroducing mujMail – A Blast From The Past
I’ve mentioned various places throughout this site in the guide and elsewhere how much I love open standards, standard protocols, and open source software. This is one of those occasions.
Most of you readers likely haven’t had the experience or background to know much about this whole Java MIDP thing with feature phones, or how it’s kind of a bottom tier unifying application framework glue between hundreds of thousands of modern handsets. Well, back before touchscreens and the rise of the iPhone and Android handsets, back when WAP was still a big deal, there were .JAR/.JAD/Java/J2ME/MIDP MIDlet apps – mostly thanks to Sun Microsystems and Nokia. Most low end feature phones even today that can run any sort of applications are pretty well guaranteed to be able to run these little nuggets of Java code due to the OS they use. This is one of the reasons why I recommended the Nokia handsets that I did. Even after the Ovi Store began to atrophy and S40/S60 specific software development began to die, there’s still the humble wealth of J2ME apps that can still be run, waiting like rough diamonds buried in the mud of the internet.
Although we’re only talking about five years ago, that can sometimes be a bit of an eternity with technology, but it’s hard to kill well designed and good tech… no matter how hard some companies try. Which brings us to mujMail, one of the greatest known contributions to the J2ME landscape ever authored that you’ve probably never heard of. What’s so special? It’s just an open source mail client that supports both POP3 and IMAP, and there’s no third party server dependence. That’s it. There’s no subscription cost and no middle man third party vendor dependence to access your email, no data-hungry overly bulky interface; there’s only you, your phone, and your email barely using any bandwidth, just how you like it on your trusty old S40 or Asha handset.
Now, there are a couple creature comfort caveats that are lost, especially on S40 handsets such as push notifications, on-screen notices, and address book integration, but it has some features that help overcome those issues. Truthfully, I only recently made the switch over to mujMail on my C3, but I’m already regretting not making the switch sooner than I had. In a way, we should all thank Satya Nadella and Microsoft for finally killing off NMS. Without this change, we wouldn’t have had the need to find a replacement solution.
Making The Switch
Before getting into the meat of things, we should briefly emphasize which protocol to use for setting up your mail access and why. You should be using IMAP because it keeps read and deleted messages synchronized between all of your mail clients across all your devices, which is something that POP isn’t designed to do.
Okay, we’re using IMAP for receiving, SMTP for sending! Got it? Good!
Now, you might as well just gut your current mail account settings from the onboard Nokia mail application since they’ll be doing it for you anyway on November 17th. Of course, you’ll need to download and install the mujMail JAR file onto your phone. I personally went with the 1.07.02 (2009-03-20) stable release because that’s just how I roll. Unfortunately in my case, none of the web browsers on my phone can apparently handle downloading and installing JAD files properly anymore, so I had to trot out an ancient Windows virtual machine (we run nothing but Ubuntu at home, and Wammu wasn’t much help at the time) and install the trusty, rusty Nokia PC Suite to get the little bugger installed. Hopefully, your own go at this will be easier than my own.
Once it was installed, it was pretty much downhill from that point. After setting the network connectivity rights of the application to not always pester for connection permission (from the application: Options > Application Access > Communication> Connectivity > Always Allowed – it is technically an unsigned J2ME app, after all), I read over the documentation, plugged in my account information, and was immediately off to the races! Let me tell you, it runs lean both on memory footprint and data usage. Battery life on the phone unfortunately takes a really big hit if I leave it to run and check for new messages for any number of hours, but we’re talking about a phone that normally goes nearly a week between charges otherwise. Honestly, most of the time I don’t need immediate mail notifications anyway and had typically set the check cycle around once every four hours (that’s 14400 seconds if you’re curious). The nice thing with mujMail is I can enable and disable that feature as I see fit, but if I want to use it on my phone, I have to leave the application open and in the foreground as the S40 operating system can’t multitask and run MIDP apps in the background like S60 can. So I won’t get push notifications anymore, such is life. After participating in last month’s mobile detox challenge, I know I’ll be okay without it. Savoring life instead of being shackled to my phone being immediately accessible 24/7/365 is a pretty sweet thing to restore to your daily routine.
Even if I wasn’t okay with taking my time on responding, there’s still conditional stupid email forwarding tricks that can be done with most email accounts and the MVNO’s SMS e-mail address (none of the MVNOs I mention are listed there, but their addresses should be identical to their host network’s address – check with your provider to be certain). This method can get expensive if you forward all your email to SMS on a PAYGO account, but if you’re selective about doing this using filter settings or you use a larger package with “unlimited” messaging, this can still be a feasible (but somewhat messy) push notification hack for anyone still needing time-sensitive notifications. I use this method myself for critical server failure notifications with my day job.
Before we go any further, I might as well give you a couple cheat sheets. Here’s the IMAP and SMTP settings for Google, Hotmail/Outlook, and Yahoo to help get you started. Since we’re talking about J2ME apps, I’m also listing a few other useful little applications that I’ve picked up myself for the old C3 that you might find of great benefit yourself: KeePass (password manager – compatible with Keepass files), GoogleAuthenticatorJ2ME (a Google Authenticator friendly TOTP two-step authenticator), XMS (data based SMS alternative), and Talkonaut (XMPP messaging app – main site here). All of these apps either support most of Nokia’s Symbian platforms and/or J2ME. Who says you need a $300+ smartphone for these sorts of applications and features?
NOT DEAD YET!
Try as they might, these phones can’t be killed off in the hands of a resourceful owner. After installing our new mail client and re-tweaking the home screen to accommodate the changes, losing NMS shouldn’t faze any of us… and it certainly shouldn’t result in anyone running out to buy new phones.
Of course, for any of you GSM Blackberry users out there who still haven’t been able to make the MVNO jump, you can save some money and technically do similarly without paying for a carrier that provides BIS service. Start out by following the instructions here to set up your new provider’s APN, and then install Opera Mini, LogicMail, and XMS to replace the BB Browser, Email and BBM apps. Et violà, you’re now free of your BIS dependence!
Nobody but Ryan Seacrest seems to want to step up and provide mobile phone users with any level of feature or smartphone with a physical keyboard anymore. The selections have been so sad recently, that I feign a great ennui and despondence to anyone that even brought the situation up. I’ve tried and used touchscreens with Swype and the like, but there’s something to be said about the durability and functionality of these now cheap little hard plastic and metal gems with their small screens, their solid battery life, their lean data usage, and their tactile little QWERTY keyboards. The discontinuation of NMS on S40 could be quite the boon for the frugal communicator, as I’m sure a lot of people are going to wind up buying a new smartphone because of this, and nobody else will want them because a “core function” has now been disabled. Who knows! With any luck, the aftermarket availability might actually improve enough due to this situation to help fill the void. This “loss” of functionality may actually become our gain. Thanks, Microsoft!
Nokia’s Symbian S40 is dead. Long live the S40 platform!