The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Got Me a N800!

Posted by Deliverator on January 9th, 2007

I managed to get a Nokia N800 Internet Tablet a few days earlier than they were supposed to go on sale. A kind store employee took sympathy on me and sneaked me one out of the back and walked me through the register to ensure my purchase didn’t hit any snags. Nokia apparently has talked about reprisals against stores that sold the N800 early, so the store and employee will remain nameless. Nevertheless, thanks ***, you know who you are!

So far, I really like the N800. It is a nice evolutionary upgrade to the 770 in almost, but not quite every way.

Here is the good:

-Much faster processor. This time they went with an OMAP 2420 processor from TI. It is clocked at 330mhz and has support for floating point, 3d acceleration and other things that the OMAP 1710 in the N770 didn’t have. This should make it possible to better support processor intensive video codecs at higher resolutions and framerates. The system feels much snappier.

-128 MB of ram and 256 MB flash storage (little under 200 available to the user). Both of these were much needed upgrades, providing more space for 3rd party applications and enough ram to run a few apps at the same time comfortably.

-Has two full size SD card slot. One is in the back compartment along with the battery. The other is on the bottom right side of the unit and is easily accessible while running. The max officially supported size is 2 GB, although several users are reporting that some 4 GB cards seem to work. These are not SDHC compliant cards and are outside of the normal SD spec, so use with care as many devices will not work with these non-compliant cards.

-Screen is even better than the already amazing one on the 770. Same unrivaled 800*480 resolution, but the backlight seems smoother, pixels smoothly blur together instead of standing out and off axis visibility is improved. I was impressed with the quality of the display on the 770 and am even more so with the N800. Combined with SD support, the N800 is going to make an excellent photo previewer/manager.

-Supports Bluetooth 2.0 and has out of the box support for Bluetooth Keyboards, at least the one I am using, a Nokia SU-8W. I paired up my keyboard using the applet in the control panel. I can start typing more or less instantly after powering it on! This is the way it should have been from the start, Nokia, so you get no points from me. You hear that Nokia, NO POINTS!

-The N800 has a hinged stand that pops out and lets you set it on a desk at one of two helpful angles. There is also a ridge along the back of the unit which places the N800 at a better viewing angle even when placed flat on the table and makes it easier to hold in one hand.

-New OS2007 feels a bit more refined and end-user friendly. Feels very responsive on the faster hardware. Sadly, Nokia announced that it will not be back ported to the N770. Applications compatibility between the two releases seems to be pretty good so far, so hopefully this doesn’t split the development community.

-Browser has received an upgrade to Opera 8.5. So far, it has worked well with every Web 2.0ish site I have thrown at it. Flash appears to work with Youtube now, albeit slowly.

-Stereo speakers instead of the monaural speaker on the 770. A whole four and a half inches of stereo separation, wooo!

-All the connectors have been moved from the bottom to the right side of the device. This makes it much easier to leave power, usb and headphones plugged in while it is being used on a desk (especially with the intergrated stand). This also makes it much easier to use as a media player, as the end mounted ports work much better with jacket pockets. With up to 8 GB of storage available, the N800 makes a formidable portable media player for both audio and video.

-The headphone port accommodates standard 1/8″ stereo headphone plugs, but also provides stereo headphone + microphone support with a cleverly designed headset which is included standard. There are already a number of VOIP phone solutions available including Google Talk, Gizmo Project. Skype support was additionally announced at CES as part of the official product release, but it will be months to a half year before it is available.

-OS 2007 supports a feature called “Single Click Install” which allows users to simply click on a file to add a repository and install software from it. In the past, users could install 3rd party software by clicking on .deb files, but there wasn’t an easy way to upgrade (or find out about upgrades) as new versions of the software came available. You could add a repository, but this feature was somewhat buried in the Application Manager applet and required you to laboriously enter the repository info using the on-screen keyboard. This change should be helpful for end-users and power users alike, as it allows end users a simple way to install 3rd party software and keep it up to date and allows power users to keep a backup of their repository lists without having to mess with apt’s sources.list file. Specifics on this feature can be found here.

Meh (things about which I feel relatively neutral):

– The N800 has a webcam that pops out of the left side of the unit and can swivel to face the user or 180″ to face away. I haven’t fooled around with the video phone software much, but the quality of the video is pretty low. The sensor is quite noisy. Frankly, I could have cared less about the webcam and would have prefered not having been charged for that particular feature. I haven’t heard a single user cry out “you know what they really need to add/improve when they release a new one of these things? – a webcam!” On the contrary, I have heard several users and system administrators complain that they won’t be able to purchase the new unit because of rules against cameras (including phone cams) in many businesses.

– The much maligned email app has not been improved. The built in email application is one of the most common sources of complaint about the N770. Thankfully, an updated copy of Sylpheed has been released and it runs well on the N800. The dialogs are much closer to being fully Hildonized and full screen switch support is forthcoming.

– A large number of people seem to not like the new grey and silver styling of the N800 and preferred the black finish of the N770. I too liked the more professional styling of the N770, but don’t feel overly strongly about it.

– The N800 no longer comes with a protective metal screen cover like the one found on the N770. I never found the included metal slip case to be very good, especially as it blocked stylus removal. I much preferred the nice aluminum case from Brando Workshop. The N800 comes with a felt fabric pouch like you would use to carry eye glasses. It doesn’t provide any real protection against firm pressure from a hard object or a fall to the ground, but will keep your screen from accidentally getting scuffed up by your car keys. I will definitely be searching for a good after market case onces 3rd party accessories become available.

Things that suck hard vacuum:

– The buttons on the N800 are absolutely atrocious. While the width of the unit has actually increased slightly, the size of the four way rocker has actually shrunk. The rocker was already small enough on the 770 to elicit complaints. The back, menu and home buttons have been merged into a single mega button. The space for each function on this larger 3 way button is smaller than before and because this button is flat, it is very hard to find the right button by touch and thumb presses sometimes mis-register on the far too small button pad. Both the rocker and 3 function pad feel cheap and plasticy and actually have some play to them. Buttons on a premium device like this shouldn’t wiggle, period. If you can believe it, they did much worse to the top buttons. The top button on the 770 and 800 control full screen switch for applications, a plus and minus button used for volume, brightness and used by a lot of 3rd party software for functions like page up/down and a multifunction power button, which is frequently used to lock the screen, put the unit in offline mode, etc. On the N800, these buttons have been reduced to button so small that you pretty much need to use your fingernail to activate them without simultaneously squashing the neighboring button. The full screen button is no longer in the top left, where it was easy to activate with one’s index finger while scrolling around with the rocker. Now, it is sandwiched between the + and – buttons, with no space in between with which to tell them apart by touch. These are amongst the most common buttons used by apps and it is now exceedingly easy to hit the wrong one. FBReader, an excellent multi format book reader for the Nokia 770 and widely considered to be one of the platform’s killer apps is now next to useless due to the exceedingly poor button design of the N800. I have honestly seen better button quality on $20 pirated Hong Kong game systems. It is my earnest, sober opinion that Nokia should fire the designer of these buttons. I know of at least two stalwart and highly visible Nokia proponents who have returned their N800s and gone back to the N770 for this reason alone. The other improvements are significant enough that I don’t think I will return it, but only because I plan to buy a dedicated e-ink book reader in the near future, and don’t otherwise have to use my N800 in the dark much. Still, this is a major slip from the usually high overall build quality of Nokia products and seems to be a common thread amongst detailed reviews I have encountered.