Nokia introduced the next major version of its Symbian platform, called Belle, on Wednesday, in addition to three new handsets that will run it. Symbian Belle follows the just released Symbian Anna software, and will power the new Nokia(s nok) 600, 700, and 701 handsets.
Existing Symbian smartphone owners of the six most recent Nokia handsets will also see the Belle update as a future download. The new software is Nokia’s effort to modernize the user interface, while bringing new features including customizable widgets, more data on the lock screen and a pull-down notification shade.
I saw a leaked video of the Belle upgrade last week, but Nokia now has an official one that highlights the updated interface and new features. Based on what I’ve seen so far, Nokia has addressed many of the UI deficiencies that held the latest version of Symbian back. My review of the N8 last year showed a promising handset that took two steps forward in some cases and one step back in others. This version looks much improved.
It’s interesting that much of the video focuses on features found on some Google Android(s goog) handsets: re-sizable widgets, a one-tap method to add them, a scrolling application list of icons, additional home screens, and the pull-down notification shade, which Apple(s aapl) is also using in its iOS 5 software. Somehow, I don’t think that was the plan all along for the new Symbian software. Since Symbian is on its way to becoming an end-of-life system — Nokia will use Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 (s msft) software going forward — it appears any unique interface design improvements have been put aside and additions are mostly meant to play catch-up.
Copycat or not, the look and feel of Belle suggests existing Nokia handset owners who can get the software will likely be happy. And there’s still some innovation in the update. Near the end of the video, Nokia shows off the use of NFC, or near-field communication, for simple device pairing with a wireless headset. Most NFC solutions are focused on the fast growing mobile payment space, but kudos to Nokia for leveraging the short-range wireless technology for easier device connectivity. Also included are a host of Microsoft applications for productivity: Lync, Sharepoint, OneNote, Exchange ActiveSync and PowerPoint Broadcaster.
As far as new hardware, the upcoming Belle-powered Nokia 600, 700 and 701 are all full-touchscreen devices without hardware keyboards. The 600 is billed as the “loudest smartphone,” catering to the music crowd with a small, but powerful, loudspeaker. Nokia’s “smallest smartphone” is the 700, with dimensions of 4.33″ x 1.96″ x 0.38″ and a weight of just 3.38 ounces. Rounding out the trio is the new 701, which offers higher-end components than the others: a 1 GHz processor, 8-megapixel camera and more internal storage.