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We're huge fans of the Nokia N8's slick aluminium case and awesome 12-megapixel camera, but the user interface leaves us flat. Happily, *Spark is here to slap a fresh face on Symbian. *Spark aims to replace your default home screen completely, with a new user interface that reminds us of what you'd see on an HTC Sense phone like the .
After you've installed *Spark from the Ovi Store, it runs automatically when you turn on your phone. On a phone like the N8, which runs Symbian 3, you'll lose the option of having three home screens that you can swipe between. Instead, you'll see one home screen with a handful of configurable widgets that deliver news, weather and Facebook and Twitter updates, as well as a couple of shortcuts. Scrolling down reveals the latest updates from your friends, and space to update your own status.
You also get a new menu button, which brings up a long, swipe-capable menu of shortcut icons to the phone's apps and features. We much prefer this menu to the N8's default menu, where options are often nested within options, and can be hard to find.
*Spark has a simple, intuitive touch interface that we enjoyed using. The news app is particularly fun, thanks to the ability to swipe through the news stories, which are divided into sections. Unfortunately, if you leave *Spark, you get kicked out into the cold world of the normal Nokia interface. Tapping on a Facebook update, for example, opens a Web browser window with the mobile version of Facebook, rather than the Facebook app installed on the phone. It's no use if you're not online, and we would have liked to have seen *Spark's functionality go much deeper -- into its own Facebook app, perhaps.
This gets especially bad on the N8 because there's no 'back' button, so once you're out of *Spark's walled garden, it's not easy to get back in. You have to hold down the home button to view all your open apps, and select *Spark from the list. *Spark also renders the home button a liability most of the time -- if you press it, you end up at the default Nokia home screen, not the *Spark home screen.