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Posts: 772 | Thanked: 183 times | Joined on Jul 2005 @ Montclair, NJ (NYC suburbs)
The Nokia N800 Internet Tablet came as a shock to observers of the web tablet scene. No one expected Nokia to expand its line and push the tablet envelope so soon and so far, considering that widespread distribution in the U.S. occurred only 12 months ago.

But the strength of the 770's appeal apparently persuaded Nokia to capitalize on its first-to-market advantage and hug the internet tablet to its N-series, smart-phone bosom. (Hence the "N" prefixing the name.)

Anyone who uses one of these tablets soon experiences a glowing recognition that, holy cow!, the internet doesn't have to be confined to a desk or laptop-friendly chair. Now you can surf standing up, walking around, riding the train and so on, just as you can use a phone untethered from a phone jack.

This comparison to the cellphone's liberation of movement comes from Ari Jaaksi, the head of Nokia's open-source software group and the internet tablet team specifically. And it's critical to understanding why the N800 and the 770 don't fit into any neat categories that other reviewers seem to want to force them into.

By my count, the 770 was at least the eighth -- and not the first -- entrant into the web tablet scene. Last year, uncounted others joined in, primarily "ultra-mobile" PC's. In general, these all incorporate WiFi, eschew keyboards and utilize advertising with people surfing on a couch with their feet resting on the coffee table or while on the move.

People who say, "I don't need to pay $400 to buy a tablet just to surf a little more conveniently" are possibly the same people who said there's always a payphone around so no one has a reason to buy a cellphone. Or who insisted that picture quality was so significant that cellphones and cameras were just stupid to combine. Eventually these folk will see the light, I guess.

The 770 and N800 predecessors all failed miserably. Almost all antedated widespread home broadband and appearance of the $20 wireless router, tried to "use" Linux instead of "live and breathe" Linux, and failed to appreciate certain design requirements.

I don't know if Nokia studied these failures, but it's clear that the early design decisions were sensitive to what could cause rejection of a walkaround web device. Things like:

- Too small a screen. If your screen doesn't show the full width of a web-page, the surfing isn't sub-optimal, it's abysmal. Therefore, the screen must be at least 800 pixels wide.

- Too big/heavy. If you can't carry it around without thinking about it, carry it everywhere, then it's not going to gain traction. Possibly their cellphone experience guided them here, but you can see that Nokia's designers set "large pocket" and "8 ounces" as their limits.

- Too expensive. I don't expect anyone at Nokia wanted their tablet to fall outside their phone-pricing experience. A $2000 OQO-like price wouldn't fit anywhere.

If you base your design on these criteria, you very quickly jettison things like keyboards, disk drives and operating systems you have to pay to license. You spend all your money on the jewel of a display, with 225 pixels per inch resolution.

Strategically, Nokia opted to enlist and encourage the Linux community. Again, maybe their experience with a non-desktop Linux proved lucky, but as far as possible they have chosen to go mainstream. That means not just using Linux, but building Linux up for everyone else. Seeding the developer community with devices is good, but who remembers that the 50,000 euros collected from the initial developer device sales went to the Gnome Foundation, not to Nokia? Nokia has paid Linux developers and contributed code. They're good citizens.

So Linux on the internet tablet isn't free. But Nokia is getting the most bang for its OS buck this way, which previous Linux-y tablets failed to do.

And does this mean that there will be non-Nokia tablets running Maemo in future, with Nokia getting not one penny in royalties? Yes, I expect so. That's the way it works.

Ok, so where's the N800 part of this review?

The N800 hardware is, as you would expect, superior to the earlier hardware -- more memory, faster operation (CPU, DSP). It also rather off-handedly makes possible the killer app the web tablet has always needed.

With the N800's webcam, see-me phone calls finally work. They're dead easy and you don't have to pay outrageous cellphone prices because they're made using VoIP.

And because your N800 has the requisite phone attributes -- lightweight, carry it with you -- you can make this call with the same kind of move-around-the-home-or-office-while-you're-talking nonchalance that any phone call has. This aspect is new and familiar at the same time. It's the web-we-want conjoined with the anywhere-you-want side of cellphones.

Take it from me, see-me calls are just ... natural.
When you don't have to decide up-front, "I want to pay extra for this, so it better be worth using," there's an immediate acceptance of "this is the way it's meant to be." And it's the kind of thing that makes people buy a new device, the way Visicalc (the first spreadsheet) made buying one of those new-fangled Apples worthwhile 20-plus years ago. The step-in price is reasonable, the experience is unique and persuasive immediately, and you don't worry that "this is going to cost and cost and cost."

You won't hear this described as "video conferencing" or "video calls" next year, btw. Those names are so Flash Gordon in their invocation of the future. So don't trust that any reviewer who uses one of those terms has any idea of what's coming. Video conferences are what the guy holding a Treo expects to happen, once Verizon offers it as part of a $120-a-month data plan.

Some users wonder about why the N800 jettisons the useful screen cover that the 770 comes with. It's so you're always able to get a call. Putting on the 770's cover doesn't turn off the WiFi (or Bluetooth), but it breaks the wireless connection. Users make it a physical representation of "I'm putting my device to sleep." You don't put your phone to sleep, and the N800 behaves similarly.

And it makes a world of difference between these tablets and laptops that really do sleep. Your tablet is just on. You start using it. No delay, no wakeup, no nothing. I've always regarded the 770 as "instant on" because it's live the moment the screen cover comes down. But the "never off" side of the N800 is better, and I'm more comfortable with keeping it on all day and connected to my network than I have been with the 770.

The N800 has enhanced sound, sleeker design and top-of-the-device buttons that went from easy-to press to hard-to-press. (As did the front-side buttons.) All from cellphone-experience, I think -- the design needs to say "next year" not "last year" but still travel in the handbag, backpack or briefcase, where it'll get bumped a bit. And though the rationale for an internet tablet is centered on the internet experience, it's quite possible some iPod money will go towards the consumer's purchase, so the sound had better be worth hearing.

The big failing of the N800 so far seems to be a missing FLV codec in its Flash 7 plugin for the Opera-for-devices browser. That means YouTube videos are unplayable directly. (Workaround one: use my.orb. Workaround two: use Vidconvert.) And, without any official announcements, it seems the consensus has become that if you can't do YouTube video you can't claim to be web-video-capable. Forget everything else, YouTube is the sine qua non. This must sting at Nokia, because of course that undercuts the N800 just where it's intended to settle.

Consequently, we've already heard that an upgraded Flash and/or browser are in the works.

So how good is the N800, compared to other devices? Well, if you're a businessman, you can use an internet tablet or a UMPC to surf the web at 800-pixel-width. To control your desktop computer remotely while you're in a meeting and want to look at some file or other back at your desk. To read PDFs. To look at (or edit) Word documents or Excel spreadsheets. To connect to the internet in any WiFi cloud or using a cellphone. To play a variety of games. To read on.

You might prefer the UMPC because its 800x480 screen is physically bigger, at least in the current generation. The larger size may make the remote operations easier. You can also make use of the superior text-to-speech technology on the Windows platform and have your tablet read to you on your morning drive. Plus you have Powerpoint. And then there's Solitaire, for those who really need it.

And handwriting recognition. Let us not leave out that superiority. The N800 on the other hand:
- costs $500-$800 less
- weighs 7.2 ounces, compared to 29 ounces for the Asus R2H, for example - is smaller
- is already in its second-generation, benefitting from the lessons learned the first time around

Is the N800 better than the 770?

I think the speed, browser-and-Flash and OS improvements make it a preferable device. The webcam-with-Skype turns the N800 into a nonpareil. When Skype gets here, of course.

That said, the top-of-the-device rocker button with the + and - zoom is far easier to use on the 770 than the new formation, and this is significant for use of the internet tablet as an e-book reader. You see, FBReader utilizes + and - to advance (or retreat) in the e-text you're reading, and it's just plain easier. Not to mention that, sans cover, the 770 weighs only 6 ounces, which is easier to hold up when you're lying in bed, reading before falling asleep.

So I'm keeping the 770 and my wife gets the N800.

-- Roger Sperberg
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Posts: 1 | Thanked: 0 times | Joined on Jan 2007
Nice review, with many good points. As you say, Nokia released the n800 rather quickly on the heels of the 770, making it seem as though they are expecting this kind of device to be a hit. But do you know of any real numbers anywhere that give an idea of the 770's popularity? How many have they sold, how many users are there, etc.? seems pretty vibrant, but how many 'just plain users' are there out there?
Posts: 3,401 | Thanked: 1,255 times | Joined on Nov 2005 @ London, UK
I'd disagree with your assertion that the cover is not there because it means you can take a call - with the 770 you could leave wireless enabled, in which case with the right case design on the N800 there's no reason why a cover would prevent you from accepting a call.

While I can see what you're getting at, I just wish Nokia had given us the choice to use a cover, or not. Instead they've decided that I don't need a cover, when I would concur that I do as I don't intend to use the N800 as a VoIP phone, and I suspect I'm not alone in this regard. The thing is, I use my N800 the most while I'm mobile where WiFi is non-existant so VoIP is not even an option - however I do have my mobile phone with me, and can you guess what I use that for?!

Maybe in 2009 or 2010 when VoIP has *really* taken off and free City-wide WiFi networks are available I'll sing a different tune, but as of right now I only know TWO people who regularly use VoIP (and I don't plan on calling them that often!) and if they need me, they call my mobile phone!

Also, don't forget that some of us work in sensitive environments where it is mandatory to disable wireless, so walking into my office means I have to disable wireless - the cover was perfect for this. Yes, it means I'm going offline (or I'll be fired!) but that isn't justification for Nokia to ditch the cover or it's protective qualities.

Good review in all other respects though!

Last edited by Milhouse; 2007-01-27 at 04:38.
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Posts: 564 | Thanked: 8 times | Joined on Nov 2005 @ Fayetteville, GA
Awesome review. I'll take two please.
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Posts: 30 | Thanked: 2 times | Joined on Jan 2007 @ Minnesota
Forget everything else, YouTube is the sine qua non. This must sting at Nokia, because of course that undercuts the N800 just where itís intended to settle.
Well said, Roger. And it had better sting! The failure to provide for YouTube could doom this otherwise deserving device.

Popular technology imagines and serves popular taste. While I may not wish to relate to the n800 or the Net itself as a giant jukebox or TV, the goal of selling lots of n800s should take into account what the masses like to do.

If it's a licensing matter with Adobe, Nokia would be well-served to cough up the fee, incorporate the latest Flash and roll out new ads touting streaming video usage before the n800 acquires a fusty, last-gen reputation.

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