Since I wrote the first part of my review based on daily use of the Nokia N800, several things have changed. All for the better.
Nokia released OS2008 for the N800. Since the new operating system was released, I am finding the N800 even more useful. In fact, I find that very seldom do I have a need for my laptop while working or traveling any more.
I have used my N800 every day for about a year now. I use it for many things but reviewing PDF documents at customer sites is the primary reason I bought it. This use was also one of the two main reasons that I continued to carry my laptop with me when I traveled. I have about 250Gb of PDF files that I have created over the past 30 years. I keep these PDF files on a USB hard drive and load the files that I think I will need for a job on the N800 memory cards. Since the card size is limited, I need to have the USB drive available when I am traveling. Accessing the drive was the main thing making me keep my laptop available.
The other reason I carried my laptop was for those times when I had to connect to a wired Ethernet network, or had to use a dial up connection. The N800 worked great on wireless networks, much better than my laptop. But, it lacked a means of connecting to a wired Ethernet network. It also had no modem or serial port.
The release of OS2008 had many new features. For details on OS2008 goto Nokia's official site. The new feature that I find most useful is; USB host mode is now available. You do need either a special cable, or to enable USB host mode in the operating system. For me, since I do not mind heating up a soldering iron, making a cable was the easy thing to do.
I can now use most of my USB devices on the N800. My roll up keyboard, hard drives, flash drives, Ethernet adapter, serial adapter, GPS, CD-ROM, and card readers, all are working perfectly. I have connected digital cameras, and my MP4 watch and the files pop up right away. I no longer need my laptop to look at PDF files on my hard disk. Now, I do not have to use my laptop to access networks via wired Ethernet.
When I need to take notes at the library, I use N800 with the USB keyboard. If I need to dial into a customers system, I hook a modem up to the N800. I type my notes from the day into the N800 while they are fresh on my mind. Then I transfer them to OpenOffice using sshfs over a wired Ethernet connection to create a PDF file when I get back home.
I am comfortable with the N800 for most of the daily tasks that I had carried the laptop for. The only time I use the laptop in the field now is when I have to write a program for the client. And, I expect to be able to do most of that on the N800 soon. I am writing many of my interfaces in PHP now. That can be done on the N800 today. I am working on porting some of my other programing tools to the N800.
I have also eliminated the need for a separate GPS system when I travel. The mapping software in the N800 is very complete and accepts input from my USB GPS module. I have no trouble entering addresses and planing routes on the tablet.
Other new features that I find useful; Skype works great, multimedia applications are much improved, battery life is about 20 percent better, larger SD cards are accepted, and most software applications are easier to port.
The only thing that I do not like, compared to OS2007, is the method of placing applets on the desktop. I find that it is too easy to move items by accident. Some, the rss applet in particular, are very difficult to reposition. I prefer the old way of having to select a menu item in order to reposition or resize items.
One item I added, and that I find invaluable, was not part of the OS2008 upgrade. I strongly recommend that anyone with an N800 consider adding this to their tablet. It is the ability to boot from an SD card or a USB device. This one comes courtesy of Fanoush and is one of the most useful things that you can do to your tablet. Booting from the SD card opens up a lot more space for installed software on the tablet.
In summary, I find that, for most situations, the N800 is now very capable of filling in for a laptop, pda, and mobile GPS. I suspect that Nokia had no idea that this would become such a useful device. I did not envision, when I bought mine, that I would come to count on it for so many things. After one year of living with the N800, I believe it is the best gadget purchase I ever made. That is saying a lot considering what a gadget freak I am! Many thanks to Nokia for making a good system great.
Over the years, I have used many methods to get online from remote locations. I have carried laptops and notebooks. I have used Pocket PC's and Palm Pilots. I have used several different cell phones. I have used libraries, Kinko's, and cyber cafe's. I have even checked into hotels just to use the phone line in the room for a couple of hours.
Some time in the future I will write a detailed account of the good and bad points of each of these methods. For now, let's just say that I was less than happy with any of them. So, I was still looking for a better means of getting connected.
I have watched several gadgets, touted as the perfect solution for remote access to the Internet, over the years. They all had issues that I felt would make them no more acceptable than the methods that I had already tried.
When Nokia introduced the N770 Internet Tablet, I was very interested. There were many things that caused me to take a hard look at the N770. First, it was made by Nokia. I have always had good luck with their cell phones. I still prefer them to most other brands. I find them to be rugged, well made, have a good feel, and in general to be excellent quality for a fair price. Then there was the operating system. The Tablet is based on Linux, an operating system that I have used on my computers for years. It also has Wi-Fi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth connection capability. But the thing that really got my attention was the screen. An 800 X 480 touch screen with 65536 colors. After using small screens with low resolution, that seemed like it was perfect for me.
Why didn't I ever buy one? I have learned that first generation products are often little more than a test bed. While they may be good, companies use them to find out what needs to be done to make the later generations better. That seemed to be the case with the N770. There is one memory slot that can only use RS-MMC cards up to 1Gb according to the specs on the Nokia web site. That did not seem like nearly enough for me. I sometimes need to download client files that could fill up 1 Gb pretty fast. Also, I was not seeing any really positive reviews by people who were using the N770 daily for remote Internet access. There were plenty of reviews out there, but most were based on a day or two with a sample unit, as opposed to weeks of using the Tablet daily. I never base a purchase decision on that type of review. I want to know what people who have used the unit regularly for at least a few weeks have to say. So I decided to wait for the next release. That is a decision that I do not regret.
On January 8, 2007 Nokia introduced the N800. It is the successor to the N770 and thus the second generation Internet Tablet. This one really grabbed my attention. The physical design was much improved. Did I mention that the looks of the N770 did not impress me? The new model has a built in web cam. There are now two memory slots that accommodate up to 4 Gb cards and accept SD or MMC full and reduced sizes. The N800 also has stereo speakers built in. The list goes on and on. But, the thing that made up my mind? I found several reviews written by people who used it regularly for several days before reviewing it.
I have had my N800 for four weeks now. I will start by saying that it gets better every day. The ever growing list of applications are really filling all gaps fast. I have never been as happy with a product as I am with this. This unit has already paid for its self many times over.
Let's see what the N800 is not:
- The Nokia name is almost always associated with cell phones. That is not what the N800 is. It does not have the ability to make or receive phone calls using the cellular network.
- It is not intended to be a Pocket PC or Palm Pilot type device. It does not come with PIM type applications like a calender or to-do list.
- Even though the operating system is based on a Linux distribution, it is not a PC replacement. It has no hardware keyboard, no hard disk, and cannot easily be connected to external drives.
- While it has media playing capability, the battery life is too short to consider it a real replacement for your iPod or MP3 player.
So what is the N800 Internet Tablet? For me, it is a little bit of all of the above. More important, it is freedom from most of the things that have plagued the other methods of connecting to the Internet when away from the office. To address the items from the list above:
- Voice, text and video communications are possible even though the N800 is not a cell phone. It comes with an application called Internet Call that supports Google Talk and Jabber as well as Nokia Internet Call Invitation which supports video calls. I used Google Talk and tested Nokia Internet Call Invitation and both worked very well on both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections. In addition Gaim Internet Messenger and Gizmo Project have both been ported to the N800 and both worked well. I used Gaim on AIM and MSN with no issues. Rumors have been around for some time that Skype will also soon be available.
- I do not use PIM functions on any of the electronic gadgets that I own. I prefer to use a paper based day planner for that purpose. I take detailed notes when I am working and have always found it quicker and easier to do so on paper. That said, I have noticed that there are several calender and to do list applications available for the N800. I don't think using the N800 would be any more difficult for these functions than using a pocket computer. YMMV.
- I have found that with the applications that are available for the N800, I use my laptop less and less. I don't think it will ever eliminate my need for a full computer but it does fill many of the functions very well. The storage, screen size, input methods and processor speed are the main reasons I will continue to use laptops and desktop systems.
- Media playing capabilities on the N800 are acceptable even though they are not spectacular. I do like the fact that it has speakers built in. I have always disliked having to use a headset when I just want to listen to a quick MP3 track or watch a video. The speaker quality is ok for that. They lack some of the richness of a quality set of headphones, but are as good as some of the ear bud type headsets that are included with some devices. The ear buds that come with the N800 are much better than the built in speakers. In fact, I was surprised when I tried them, they sound as good as some of the very expensive earbuds. Full motion video using the media player that comes with the N800 was jerky and it was obvious that frames were being dropped. I installed Mplayer and KMplayer and found they do not have that problem. Watching videos on the N800 is not bad. I have watched 2 hour videos without running out of battery power.
So, the N800 Internet Tablet is somewhat like all of the above mentioned devices without really being any of them. What it is intended to be, is a way to use the Internet when you are away from your other computers. It does do that very well.
Connection options with the N800 are Wi-Fi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth. I have used both of these for many hours since I got the Tablet.
I am very impressed by the wireless module in the N800. Without having tested the actual sensitivity, I can say that it is more than twice as good as any other wireless device that I own. From my office, my laptop only sees the wireless access points in my office and home. From the same location, the N800 sees 7 other wireless systems in the area. I have not found a parking lot where it does not see at least 3 wireless access points. To compare, I took my laptop and the N800 to my local Panera Bread parking lot. I then connected to their router and started moving away from the building. I was able to keep the connection on the N800 for more than 1/4 mile after the laptop lost it. I might mention also that when I first got there, the laptop only saw the Panera Bread router, while the N800 saw two other systems in the same shopping center. Nokia has really accomplished something to get this sensitivity without using an external antenna.
Bluetooth connections with the N800 are just as impressive. I have never been able to tether my laptop to any Bluetooth phone for more than a few minutes without having it disconnect. I have tried several laptops and several cell phones and the results have been similar. Some will hold for 20 to 30 minutes but that is rare. Most often, it has dropped within 15 minutes. I have used the N800 with 3 different cell phones and have only had one disconnect out of 13 connections. Some of these have lasted as much as an hour and a half. To me, that is great. I prefer not to use that method of connecting since it is slower than Wi-Fi, at least where I travel, but it is great to know that it is available if Wi-Fi is not. I had no trouble setting up the connections for any of the phones. I went to the Connection Manager, after turning Bluetooth on the phone on. Went to Tools, Phone. Clicked New and the system found the phone. Then I paired it and setup the connection using the Mobile Operator Setup Wizard in the Tools menu of the Connection Manager. Worked all 3 times with no problems at all.
The N800 does not have built in modem or Ethernet options. However, I have been able to use a Zoom Bluetooth modem for dial up connections. I also always carry a wireless router with me, usually a Linksys WRT45G running DD-WRT. I use this for two reasons. Some hotels do not yet have wireless but do have wired Ethernet in the rooms. In that case, I setup the router in a normal configuration to give me wireless and wired connections to their Ethernet. Other times, I need to connect wired Ethernet devices to the wireless network in the hotel. In those cases, I setup the router as a client bridged connection. In effect, using the router as a wireless adapter for multiple wired Ethernet connections. I do not find the lack of modem or Ethernet a problem with the N800.
The web browser in the N800 is Opera 8 and it includes Flash 7. I have run into sites where Flash 7 will not load the content. Most of those sites redirect to a page to load Flash 9. I have not tried to load Flash 9 yet. Overall, the browser works fine for most of the sites that I need. The thing that I really like is the full screen mode that the N800 has. Press one button and the web site is presented on the full 800 X 480 screen. That means very little horizontal scrolling is needed. There are also keys on the top of the unit, on either side of the full screen key, that allow zooming the page. That comes in handy for someone like me who has eyesight that is showing signs of age. Small fonts can be a pain to read. With the zoom keys, Nokia has overcome that problem. I wish zooming was as easy on my laptop. The zoom range runs from 80% to 300% more than enough for me. The browser has all of the normal functions that I expected.
This would be a good time to mention a surprise that the N800 had. I like to listen to the radio when I am working. Nokia included a undocumented FM radio module in the N800. It is now documented and a software applet is available to make use of it. You do have to plug in the headset to use the radio but that is only because the headset cable is used for the antenna. Once you have the radio application running, you have an option to turn the speakers on. That was a nice addition to the unit. It also does not seem to make much difference on the battery life to have the FM radio on.
The included RSS feed reader application is one of the best that I have ever tried. Adding feeds is as simple as clicking the feed link on a web page. You can also add feeds manually by typing the address or using copy and paste. The feeds update based on the connection type available, a very nice feature if you have to pay based on data use when connected by Bluetooth, and according to a schedule that you setup. A summary applet is available to place on the desktop that shows the latest items from your selected feeds. I watch several feeds and really like having the applet handy.
More details coming in the next part. Meanwhile you can find more details about the N800 here.