Followup: Nokia N800 Internet Tablet

A couple of months ago I bought a Nokia N800. Now that I’ve got some solid usage behind it, I thought I’d post a followup.



Hardware

The N800 is a fairly sturdy little device, but its one weak point seems to be the fold-out stand on the back. I accidently tripped over the power cable while it was charging, and sent the unit crashing to the floor. Doh! The stand snapped at one end, apparently sacrificing itself for the rest of the unit (which otherwise suffered no damage).

I naively hoped that I could get Nokia Customer Service to just send me a replacement part… It’s only a cheap piece of plastic, attached with 2 Torx T-5 screws. I could replace it in a couple of minutes, and it would probably cost Nokia more to bill me for it than to just send it. But, oh no… Naturally it can’t be that simple.

Dear Justin,

Thank you for e-mailing the Nokia Care Contact Center.

We appreciate you contacting us about the plastic stand for your Nokia N800 Internet Tablet being broken off. We thank you for choosing Nokia products and can provide the following information.

Justin, the part you are asking about is not available an an enhancement. It must be changed by a Nokia-trained technician. We understand you do not want to send the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet in for repair. Please check the repair procedures to see if there is a location near you that can resolve this matter.

To get it fixed I need to ship it off, pay shipping and repair charges, and wait a couple weeks for it to come back. So, for the moment, I’ve taped the damn thing back on. *grumble*

The N800 has a number of external buttons. The basic layout is inherited from the earlier 770 model, and isn’t too bad. When holding the device, your left index finder rests on some buttons on top (for zooming and switching to full-screen), and your left thumb rests atop a 4-way directional pad (like cellphones have). I find myself using the index-finger buttons a lot, and although they’re a bit small I can use them fine. I don’t think I’ve ever used the 4-way pad, though — it doesn’t seem necessary when there’s a large touchscreen right next to it. On the other hand, the buttons below the pad (for displaying the menu and desktop/app list) I use regularly.

I usually use the stylus for input, and that works well. …except for text entry. Using the the on-screen keyboard is a bit of a pain with the stylus, pecking away at tiny keys. It has a nice feature where tapping a text field with your finger (instead of the stylus) will bring up a large keyboard, with finger-sized keys. I always forget to use it, though. I need to try using that more often, and I’ve also been considering getting a small bluetooth keyboard to use with it.

Software

In a word: “meh.” In two words: “meh, but…”

The included software isn’t terrible, but is often lacking in polish. I gave some examples in my original post. There are lots of little annoyances that ought to be easy to fix. I hope an upcoming OS update will resolve some of them.

I used the included mail client for a couple of weeks, and then gave up on it. It had two small, but fatal, quirks… 1: Every time you deleted a message, you had to confirm a pop-up dialog. 2: IMAP support didn’t play well with another client accessing the same folder.

At first I thought it was working well with IMAP. When I’d read new email or delete an email, I’d see the changes reflected in Thunderbird (running on my laptop). But if I did those operations in Thunderbird, the N800 mail app never saw the changes. I’d end up deleting some Bugzilla messages in Thunderbird, and then having to delete them again on the N800. Ugh.

The web browser is ok, although being based on Opera and Flash 7 it has problems with a few sites. The 800×480 pixel is just big enough for most pages, although layouts that try to fit the screen sometimes end up looking squished (for example, the side columns on Slashdot force the content column to be only a few words wide).

The PDF reader has also worked well the few times I’ve used it.


Thankfully, the N800 is an open platform with a growing developer community. If you don’t like Nokia’s applications, odds are you can find an alternative. I’ve already installed apps such as SSH, Xterminal, a VNC viewer, MPlayer, Doom, and Minimo. A remote-via-VNC Ubuntu desktop is surprisingly usable when running at 800×480!


One application I’ve particularly pleased with is Gizmo. It’s a VoIP softphone — so you actually *can* use the N800 as a phone. :-) I have it configured to work with the office’s Asterisk phone system, so calls to my extension will also ring my N800.


Battery Life

The battery can last a day or two if the device is idle, or about 2 hours of constant use. Unfortunately, there seem to be some quirks that cause the battery to drain even when it seems idle. The next OS update is supposed to have fixes for this.

Conclusions

Despite having a number of quirks and flaws, I’m quite pleased with the N800 and think it’s got a promising future. Ari Jaaksi, “Head of Nokia’s open source software operations,” posted a blog entry outlining some things in the pipeline. The hardware of the N800 isn’t being fully used yet (FM radio tuner, USB host mode, accelerated graphics), so it will be interesting to see what happens.

About Justin Dolske

Mostly harmless.
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9 Responses to Followup: Nokia N800 Internet Tablet

  1. rick says:

    Hi,

    I just purchased one and installed the VNC viewer but cannot get it to connect. Are you using security on your Real VNC server? Or do you have any advice.

    thanks,

  2. Justin Dolske says:

    rick: It “Just Worked” for me. I’d suggest verifying that other (non-N800) clients can connect fine, and if the problem remains to see if a different server helps. I think I’m just using the default one in Ubuntu.

  3. Ed Lee says:

    Hi-

    I recently sent mine back for an exchange due to short batterylife. I would actually “turn-off” the unit via the menu and after 1 day of no use, it’d be dead. Hopefully the replacement will be better but after reading this, I’m not so sure.

    Thanks for the nice review!

    Ed

  4. Mark Evili says:

    Best write up of this thing that I have seen so far. I was thinking of buying one of these since buy dot com has them and was wondering where do I find packages for this? Can I compile my own programs for/on it? Do you know of a site that could help me?

  5. dj1979 says:

    do you know where i can get my hands on a broken n800 so that i can take a peek inside?

  6. Nokia mobile phones says:

    This is the problem whit the high-tech devices, it takes time until you learn to use it. I am not a fan but i appreciate these efforts. You have real fine phone, the question is…do you use all its tasks?Nokia mobile phones

  7. The stylus is good enough for short stints, though the plastic and lack of heavy weight negated any heavy writing. Still, it came in handy for opening and closing applications because my finger was just to big.

  8. mwgrl5 says:

    Did you ever figure out a solution to fixing your stand? I did the exact same thing last week, and just want to swap out the broken one.

  9. Nope. My screen backlight acting a bit off too, so I’m planning on sending it in for repair when I get my N810. :-)

Comments are closed.