pmuellr is Patrick Mueller

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

nokia n800

I recently succumbed to my gadget lust and purchased a Nokia N800, which bills itself as a "Internet Tablet". I'd classify it as a PDA.

So first, why choose this thing over some of the more likely gadget candidates? I've had people ask me about the following devices:

  • iPhone or iPod Touch
    I'm a contrarian, you wouldn't expect me to get the same thing everyone else has, would you? I was hoping for something a little less locked down, that had memory slots, etc. iPhone itself was definitely out because I can't justify spending that kind of money on a monthly cell phone bill.

  • Nokia N810
    Since the N810 is the successor to the N800, it would seem to have been a natural choice in terms of getting the latest and greatest. But you forgot to factor in my cheapskate-ness. The N800 is a lot cheaper. And the N810 didn't seem to have enough features I wanted / needed to justify the additional cost. Perhaps the GPS.

  • Asus EEE
    Too big. Otherwise, would have been a no-brainer. I want something that will fit in my man-bag, and the N800 is almost the exact same size as a Nintendo DS (it's a little thinner), which is a perfect size.

So, here are some of the things I like about this device:

  • Big (for a PDA) hi-res screen; 800 x 480 resolution, 3.5" x 2.0". Rendered text looks gorgeous.

  • Two SD slots. After upgrading the OS to OS 2008 (from OS 2007 which it's shipped with), you can use SDHC cards. I have a 4GB card in now, and a 8GB card on order.

  • Bluetooth, including audio support. Perhaps even A2DP, can't tell for sure.

  • Built-in stand so the device can "sit up" instead of just laying down.

  • Mini USB jack; provides access to the 'internal' SD card as a file device.

  • Development kit freely available.

It's not perfect though:

  • With that big hi-res screen, I thought I'd be able to watch some (relatively) hi-res video. Like perhaps a 4:3 video rendered at 640x480. For example, the Cosmos DVD set I got for Christmas a few years ago that I haven't finished watching. Well ... it would appear the box can't really drive video at that resolution cleanly. I'm still experimenting with HandBrake and QuickTime Pro to figure out what I'm willing to live with in terms of quality and size, but I'm getting some results I'm pleased enough with at a resolution of 320 x 240. But not being able to drive video at, at least 640x480, is a bummer.

  • OS 2008 includes a "Mozilla-based" web browser (previous versions shipped a version of Opera), so I had some hope of being able to run something like Google Reader on the device. My big worry was the screen size, and that does end up being a problem for that particular app. But there's a bigger problem, and that's the speed. Running Google Reader was like watching it run on a desktop in slow motion. In fact, the N800 might serve as a useful debugging device (a slower-downer, as it were). You'll largely want to stick to 'mobile' web sites for this device, and I've cataloged a few of them here.

  • On my previous PDAs, all Palms, I used the wonder iSilo 'e-Reader' program to do off-line reading of HTML files and scraped web sites. It's really a fantastic program, and I've been spoiled. For the N800, your text-reading options are: the web browser (HTML files), a PDF reader, and you can download the popular FBReader program. Problems: for big files, like a book, the browser takes too long to come up. For PDF files, unless the PDF file has been rendered pretty much like a PowerPoint presentation, you'll only be able to read it with the postage-stamp-sized 'view' window which you drag over the page; painful. FBReader? All I can say is, I've used iSilo, and it would be difficult to use something with less function. I may have to actually write some code or something here; I think this device would make for an excellent eReader platform.

  • The 'camera' hardly deserves to be called a camera. Here's my first picture from the device, and it will probably be my last. I mean, why bother? Mariano's comment is perfect, especially since he made it before I added the title or description about it coming from the N800.

  • Although it claims to support WPA, WPA2, EAPs, PEAPs, and other parts of the WiFi acronym zoo, I was unable to get the device connected to the IBM network. Bummer. I haven't fully exhausted the options yet, but it's not looking good at present.

All in all, pretty much what I expected. Some good, some bad. If you've not used a PDA before, you will most likely be unhappy with things like the browsing experience. For the casual user, there's actually lots of stuff here that I won't use much, but I'm sure other people would: Skype and Gizmo, IM, Email client, RSS client. And of course, Doom.