Ceci n’est pas une iPhone

Last week I got a new gadget, a Nokia N800 Internet Tablet. I’ve been yearning for a device like this for some time, but hadn’t found anything I liked… I’ve looked at cellphone-type devices, but they all seem to suck. The long-rumored Apple iPhone had seemed like a possible contender, but it’s still months away and carries a hefty price tag. I first saw the N800′s predecessor (the N770) at the Firefox Summit a few months ago, and after some research decided it was the kind of device I wanted to try.

This is not an iPhone.

More info and my impressions after the jump…

What is it?

First of all, it’s not a phone. Rather, it supports WiFi and Bluetooth (which you can pair with some phones for on-the-go network access). It’s a bit difficult to describe what it does… IT’s basically a pocket-sized computer (running Linux!) with a web browser, RSS reader, email, IM, media player, and more. It can also do VoIP and Google Talk (so you *can* actually use it like a phone), although I haven’t tried this yet.

Hardware specs:

  • 800×480 screen that looks *really* nice. Only 16-bit color, though.
  • 320Mhz OMAP CPU. The system is quite snappy, even when multitasking.
  • 128MB of system RAM, 256MB of flash storage, and 2 SD slots for additional flash storage (in my case, a 2GB card). 128MB SD card included with system.
  • Headphone jack and stereo speakers, which sound good and are plenty loud.
  • (etc)

It’s actually a bit bigger than the iPhone, but still quite small…

Comparison of N800, iPhone, and Nintendo DS sizes

My Impressions

Overall, I really like it — and I have yet to install any 3rd party apps. The web browser is Opera 8 (yeah, yeah, I know). It’s fairly solid with the sites I normally visit, although its older Flash 7 player doesn’t work everywhere. [Until recently, desktop Linux was also stuck at v7, and it was a real pain. I hope the new Flash 9 player is ported to the N800 soon!].

The media player was an unexpected surprise… It integrates with streaming radio stations fairly well, so I’ve been rediscovering SomaFM, RadioParadise, and other Shoutcast stations. There is also software available to stream audio and video from a PC’s media collection; I hope to try that out soon.

Now for the not-so-good bits…

The UI doesn’t seem to match any existing model (Windows, Mac, Gnome), but it’s simple enough to learn quickly. My biggest nit is that some things require a double-tap, while other things only need a single-tap. If there’s a method to the madness, it’s not immediately obvious to me.

The battery status icon only displays the time remaining (eg: “Estimated battery time left / When idle: 8 days / When in use: 2 hours”). Maybe I’ll get used to it, but I’d like to see a percentage too. When it’s charging, it just says “Charging”, without any feedback as to the current state of the battery. Is it done charging? No idea. How much longer till it’s 100% charged? No idea.

It has a nice desktop widget that allows fast access to play a net radio station. But it’s only showing the URL, so I have to remember that “http://somafm.com/gr…” is Groove Salad, and that “http://shoutcast…” is Smooth Jazz. I can’t find any way to edit a readable title (Clip -> Details gives an ever-so-helpful “Unable to find media file”, even when it’s playing). This is weird, because the list includes a default station with a normal, readable title. I’ve also noticed it sometimes plays the wrong selection, but maybe that’s my fault.

I can’t figure out the logic of the RSS reader. I thought it was deleting entries after I had read them (which is what I’d want), but sometimes entries persist long after I’ve read them. And other entries disappear before I’ve read them. Each entry has a “Keep for later” checkbox, but no “I really don’t want to see this any more” checkbox.

The web browser’s popup blocking is off by default. Uhm, why?! And when it’s enabled, an annoying “Pop up window blocked” notification is displayed.

Summary

Even though I’ve found a number of nitpicks with the N800, I do indeed like it!

About Justin Dolske

Mostly harmless.
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5 Responses to Ceci n’est pas une iPhone

  1. Quick question: does the Opera 8 browser has the SVG support activated? A quick way to find out usually is by hitting the following page:

    http://www.opera.com/products/desktop/svg/

    Thanks for the info.

  2. beltzner says:

    Sounds pretty cool. Does it have any low-power WiFi detection so that when you’re, say, in line at a Starbucks or something you can quickly figure out if there’s a network you might be able to hop onto in order to grab a bit more data?

    What’s the sync model like on the email reader?

    Can I play with it when I see you next?

  3. Justin says:

    Antoine:

    It seems that the N800 browser doesn’t support SVG; on the Opera page you linked to, it just displays an icon in the IFRAMEs. [Looks similar to how Firefox displays an icon when a plugin is missing, although plugins are not involved here.]

    However, the external media viewer (“Images”) does have some form of SVG support. Clicking on the first example on Opera’s page opens it up in the viewer, and the animation even plays. The second example doesn’t show anything, though.

    I tried a few other SVG samples at other sites, and had mixed results. Most didn’t display, but a few simple ones did.

    Beltzner:

    It does have a WiFi connection chooser and status icon on the home screen. I’ve only used it at MoCo and at home, so I’m not sure what it displays when no network is present, or if an unknown network is present. IIRC, the first-boot configuration asked me if I wanted to automatically connect to any available network or just networks I approve… But now I can’t find that setting.

    The email client supports POP and IMAP, and looks like it can either leave messages on the server or download them to the device. I haven’t figured out how I want to do email yet, since I currently have Thunderbird pull everything down to my laptop.

    The Nokia says it can’t want to play with you, and hopes you’ll be it’s friend. :-)

  4. Thanks for the feedback Justin!

  5. Dethe Elza says:

    The N800 is running an open-source OS: Linux with the Maemo desktop. The developers have been pretty active on the Cairo list, working with the Cairo developers to get better support for the built-in 2D vector acceleration, so SVG support should get better over time. It’s certainly on the agenda.

    You can also install Python on the N800, so it shouldn’t be hard to get your own custom functionality where you need it. As for SVG in the browser, someone was porting WebKit to the 770, but I’m not sure what the status of that effort is. There is also a Mozilla-based browser, so you’ve got lots of options.

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