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Review: Nokia N800 Internet Tablet (Part 2)

Picking up where we left off . . .

Nokia_n800_review

Now let’s take a look at the Nokia N800’s internet capabilities, communication features, multimedia functions, productivity options, comfort and ergonomics, and battery life. 

Feel free to revisit Part 1 if you need a refresher on where we’ve been or simply join me for Part 2 below.

Internet

Although the N800 is capable of a lot more, its main feature is the internet. The device offers rich web browsing on a high-resolution display, Flash 9 support (yes, that means YouTube), and near-instant connectivity through a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone or 802.11b/g wireless network.

Truth be told, unless your lineage traces back to Linux folk, one of the most compelling reasons to buy the N800 is to hop online and surf to your heart’s content.

Setting up a connection

The "Connectivity" section in the Control Panel has everything you need to get online.

Nokia_n800_connect

Just tap the "Phone" icon to set up a Bluetooth DUN connection with a compatible cell phone, or hit "Connectivity" to create and define wi-fi connections. The system will present you with a series of windows and on-screen instructions that make the process simple and fast.

Getting online

Once connected—and it really only takes a moment—just tap the world icon in the task navigator and select "Open new browser window" or a bookmark.

Nokia_n800_openweb

That’s it. You’re online.

Alternatively, you can also 1) tap the applications icon in the task navigator and choose "Web" from the menu or 2) select the "Web shortcut" or "Internet search" applet from the device’s home menu.

Browsing the web

The Opera 8 web browser comes preloaded on the Nokia N800.

Nokia_n800_webbm

Opera is definitely one of the better browsers currently available for portable gadgets (excluding the iPhone). It’s full-featured (bookmarks, multiple windows, Flash, etc.) and renders web pages relatively quickly and in their true desktop form. An optimized-view mode is included on the N800, but the native 800 x 480 resolution makes the option more of a nicety than a necessity.

Even though Opera is quite capable as far as mobile browsers are concerned, it crashed several times on my first day of using it and doesn’t know how to render this site correctly. Text spacing also seems a bit off, and it also usually chokes on Google Reader and Gmail, which I use several times daily. Because of this, it didn’t take long before I sought out a few browser alternatives.

Nokia_n800_webmenu

My favorite of what’s currently available is the Mozilla-based browser that was released about a month ago. It’s still in beta so a few bugs have yet to be shaken out, but it has full AJAX and Google Reader works without a hitch. No other mobile device I’ve tried (excluding UMPCs, of course) has ever been able to keep up with the full version of Google Reader, so I am completely enamored with Mozilla.

Here’s a comparison chart of load times (in minute:second format) I put together while working on my "Website load times on portable gadgets" review from the other day.


Mozilla browser
(beta release)
Opera 8
(default browser)
Amazon 0:19 0:16
CNET 0:30 0:27
Digg 0:19 0:16
Engadget 0:46 0:23
Google News 0:09 0:08
Micro PC Talk 0:18 0:15
MySpace 0:14 0:12
NY Times 0:31 0:26
Pocketables 0:23 0:18
YouTube 0:18 0:15

As you can see, browsing speed in Mozilla is generally a few seconds behind Opera (not sure what’s going on with Engadget), but I don’t care. Google Reader, Gmail, and this site rendered correctly are worth the extra wait.

The N800’s hardware controls (discussed in Part 1 of the review) can be used for navigation and scrolling, but as I mentioned earlier, I find most of them too clunky. I rely on the touchscreen instead.

Nokia_n800_toolbar

The toolbar at the bottom of the browser makes it easy to get around the web using the included stylus or a fingertip (your own, preferably).

The hardware buttons I do use all the time are the ones located at the top of the device: the dedicated zoom and full-screen keys.

A quick press of the full-screen key lets me go from this:

Nokia_n800_web

To this (with the toolbar):

Nokia_n800_webfs1

Or this (without the toolbar):

Nokia_n800_webfs2

If any of the text is too small to read, I press the zoom keys at the top of the N800 or bring up the  menu in the toolbar.

Nokia_n800_zoom

Nokia_n800_maxzoom

A page can be zoomed in 7 intervals, from 80% to a rather outrageous 300% (shown in the photo directly above).

YouTube

I’m not much of a fan myself, but I know that YouTube support is high on the list of many people’s must-have features of any mobile web experience. That’s why it’s getting its own section.

Nokia_n800_youtube

As one of the only portable gadgets around that can even play YouTube and other online video, the N800 is already a step ahead of a lot of other devices. Playback is a bit choppy while the video is downloading, but after that it’s not too bad. In other words, the bar isn’t set very high. Once Flash support on handhelds becomes the norm, I don’t think the N800’s YouTube abilities will be looked upon too favorably.

Communication

Nokia is better known for their vast array of mobile phones than their internet tablets and GPS units, so a common (and reasonable) assumption about the N800 is that it’s a phone.

It isn’t.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be used to stay connected with friends and family. Quite the contrary! The Nokia N800 is actually quite the internet-based communicator.

Instant messaging

Nokia_n800_im1

Nokia_n800_im2

First of all, it’s got instant messaging. Google Talk and Jabber both come preinstalled on the unit, but don’t forget about all those third-party applications, notably Pidgin On Maemo, to keep your thumbs moving and the stylus tapping.

Internet calling & Skype

Nokia_n800_videoconf

The N800 also supports internet calls (VoIP) with video through Google Talk and Jabber. I didn’t test out either service because the day before I unboxed my N800, Nokia released a firmware update (version 4.2007.26-8) that added native Skype support.

Nokia_n800_skype

Nokia_n800_skypecall

Video chatting isn’t supported yet, but everything else is pretty spot-on with the desktop version.

Nokia_n800_skype2

Well, almost everything.

Call quality was horrible on my end using the supplied stereo headset (barely audible, delayed sound, echo, the works), but those on the other end reported clear landline-esque sound. I put the headset back in the box (where it will stay) and have been using my Sennheiser CX300S inner-ear monitors and the N800’s built-in microphone with better results.

The mic is very sensitive, which is good because you don’t have to hold the device up to your mouth, but bad because it picks up a lot of background noise. A few people I called (from home) said it sounded like I was standing in the middle of a freeway! Ironically, they sounded better and clearer to me.

Call volume is generally pretty low through the built-in stereo speakers and headphones, but maxing out the system volume makes it a non-issue, assuming that you remember to decrease it before you listen to music or watch a movie, of course.

Email

Since I’ve never been all that interested in instant messaging and I really only signed up with Skype for testing purposes, it should come as no surprise that my preferred method of online communication is email.

The N800 has an email client that supports both IMAP4 and POP3 accounts. I already set up five accounts on my iPhone, which I take with me when I leave the house, so I only set up one on the N800 (I don’t think there’s a mailbox limit). The process was pretty standard (account type, personal info, server settings, etc.) and only took about a minute to get through.

Here’s a shot of the inbox:

Nokia_n800_mail1

And here’s an email:

Nokia_n800_mail2

Nothing fancy. Just functional with a nice mix of basic and advanced settings (delete messages from server, retrieval intervals, message size limits, HTML or plain text, SMTP authentication, digital signatures, read receipt, and so on).

Multimedia

Because both expansion slots each support up to 8GB cards (SD, miniSD, microSD, MMC, RS-MMC), the Nokia N800 can easily transform into a formidable 16GB flash-based portable media player boasting a large widescreen display and a well-rounded set of compatible photo, audio, and video formats (see specs chart in Part 1 for details).

Media player

Nokia_n800_mediaplayer

Preloaded onto the N800 is a media player application uninspiringly named Media Player. Better apps from Linux developers are freely available online (not to mention downloadable and installable directly on the device), but if all you want is a no-frills program to watch an occasional movie or listen to music, Media Player is fine.

Video playback is good and smooth, but audio quality is just average. Music isn’t as rich or full as on, say, the iriver clix 2, but it won’t make your ears bleed. If you’re even only mildly serious about your music, I’d recommend something more robust like Canola.

Internet & FM radio

Both internet and FM radio are available as applets accessible from the N800’s home view.

Nokia_n800_radio

New audio streams can be added at will, radio stations can be saved and renamed, and FM reception (through headphones) is great. Sound quality varies depending on the source, but it’s generally on par with what you’d expect from an audio stream.

Rhapsody

In addition to Skype, the newest firmware added Rhapsody as a native application on the device.

Nokia_n800_rhapsody1

Nokia_n800_rhapsody2

I don’t know if it was a limited-time offer, but a 30-day free trial account with Rhapsody Unlimited (normally $13/month) was included when I upgraded. I activated it without hesitation and thoroughly enjoyed a full month of full access to Rhapsody’s extensive music catalog.

The application crashed a few times when buffering chosen music, but the implementation on the N800 is still really nice. Tracks can be listened to throughout most of the system (web browsing included), and the interface is straightforward and clean.

I like the idea of having millions of songs at my disposal without giving up any space on my memory cards.

UPnP media server

The N800 can also act as a UPnP client, connecting to compatible media servers on the same wi-fi network to share multimedia content. I don’t normally store music or movies on my computer, but I installed Home Media Server on my Samsung Q1P so I could give the feature a try.

Music streamed with no problem (though the volume was very low), but video just stuttered and stuttered and stuttered. I’m sure there are workarounds and better apps than the one I tried, but I don’t care about the functionality enough to find out (I didn’t even have a media server installed before this!).

Productivity

When I called the N800 a full-featured Linux computer in Part 1 of this review, I wasn’t kidding.

Nokia_n800_filemanager

Aside from all the hacking and developing possibilities, the device is able to handle most basic computing tasks (word processing, file management, online apps, download/save images from the web, etc.) and can easily adapt to various work environments and usage scenarios.

Nokia_n800_btkeyboard

This flexibility is due in part to the integrated Bluetooth technology. The N800 supports the following profiles:

  • Dial-up networking
  • File transfer
  • Generic access
  • SIM access
  • Object push
  • Human interface device
  • Serial port

Connected to my Think Outside (now iGo) Stowaway Universal Bluetooth keyboard, the unit allows me to do the majority of what I do online, including writing some of this review. If my iPhone supported Bluetooth DUN, the N800 would be one heck of a portable office and mobile blogging solution.

How productive you can be with the N800 depends on the nature of your work, of course, but the quick access to the internet, email, and contacts (where’s the calendar?) afforded by the device makes it possible to find a place in most lifestyles.

Nokia_n800_gread

Nokia_n800_rss

Keeping up with RSS feeds may not be a critical part of everyone’s workday, but I rely on it very heavily. The included reader is a nicely executed addition to the N800’s application list, but nothing can take me away from Google Reader.

Comfort

I’m incredibly grateful for the integrated desk stand, which I sometimes use as a hand strap, because the unit wasn’t designed with ergonomics in mind.

Nokia_n800_hand

The device is relatively comfortable when used in both hands, but because I don’t like the hardware controls on the left of the display, I usually hold the device in one hand (my left) and the stylus in the other. Unfortunately, this is awkward and uncomfortable. Unlike in the picture above, the N800 can only be used in landscape mode, which requires some wrist contortion and a strong pinky to keep the device straight and steady.

The unit is light enough to be held in other ways ("pinched" between your thumb and other fingers, for example), but the pinky-centric one is what feels most natural to me. It’s the way I would imagine someone new to the device would pick it up and use it.

Battery life

I may be the only one who didn’t know this beforehand, but evidently the N800 is meant to be left on at all times. Not on-on, but idle-on like a cell phone. Even though I probably should’ve assumed this to be the case (it’s Nokia after all), I think a note about it should have been included in the user guide. Otherwise people like me are going to be pretty annoyed at the long boot-up time after a complete shutdown. A "full boot" takes about 40 seconds, whereas a "resume" from idle mode takes less than 1 second.

Nokia_n800_battery

Anyway, the N800’s removable 1500mAh li-ion battery is given an "up to 13 days" standby estimate and an "up to 3.5 hours" web browsing time. How accurate these ratings are depends on various settings, but based on my daily usage patterns over the past six weeks, I’d say that the device requires a recharge every 2-3 days.

Conclusion

Although labeled as an internet tablet, the Nokia N800 really defies categorization. Web browsing on the device is certainly more enjoyable and desktop-like than almost anything else in its class (whatever that is), but that’s really just a fraction of what is truly a highly versatile, multi-faceted device. Beyond providing a rich internet experience, the N800 is an open-source Linux computer, mobile office, portable entertainment center, and communications tool.

Originally priced at $400, the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet is available now from Amazon for $280.

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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35 thoughts on “Review: Nokia N800 Internet Tablet (Part 2)

  • Avatar of Christoph

    It’s a nifty device and certainly a step forward in embedded Linux devices of which we will hopefully see more. The plethora of software options and ability to port projects to the Maemo platform is the main draw for some people.

    Unfortunately, no Skype for Linux has video yet. But maybe Maemo will get video first and then desktop will follow (please do it soon, Skype).

    Reply
  • The best 800 review I have seen–great job!

    Reply
  • A few apps like the FBReader e-book reader support screen rotation. But in general, the screen cannot be rotated.

    Reply
  • I agree with you, Google Reader is good – but I’ve become addicted to the Feed Reader built into the N800 because I can download feeds before I leave the house and read on the bus to work. And I actually use a combination of the “scroll key” and touch screen for really quick navigation thru the feeds! You may want to give it a chance.

    Reply
  • I think there are a few games that support screen rotation, too. I can’t find them right now, but I vaguely remember reading about them earlier this year.

    I haven’t installed anything new for a few weeks, so FBReader has been added to my list. I saw something about GPE recently (updated PIM suite, I believe) that I want to look into further as well.

    @ Brendan: Does the scroll key/touchscreen combo work well for you in other apps, or just the reader? Since the keys are there, it would be nice if I could actually use them happily.

    Reply
  • Yeah, I use touchscreen/scroll key combo a lot in the web browser – it mimics a typical “TAB” jump to forms and links. By clicking the center key on the scroll pad when i need to enter text, the N800 goes immediately to the finger touchpad keyboard – which i use most of the time now. It can eliminate the need for multiple touches with the stylus to hit a small link or form box without having to zoom in a couple clicks. Also, the scroll key is good for playing DOOM!

    Reply
  • I would definitely recommend the GPE Calendar and an application called Erminig which syncs Google calendar seamlessly with GPE.FBreader is one of the best E-readers out there. A recent huge addition to the N800 recently is the beta SIP client which integrates into the contacts system and enables SIP internet calls without Skype or Gizmo check out RTcomm.

    Reply
  • how did u remove, and replace, the address field/toolbar? clicking the full-screen button twice only toggles between full-screen and half-screen? thanks for any input.

    Reply
  • @ Brendan: I didn’t know that about the center button. Thanks! I don’t like the finger keyboard very much, but I think I’ll give it another try.

    @ Jim: Thanks for the app suggestions. I haven’t tried them all yet, but I’m really liking GPE Calendar so far.

    @ slider: In the drop-down web menu, go to View –> Show toolbar and then check/uncheck “Full screen” to show/hide it. You can see an image of it in the review, right above the table showing the Opera/Mozilla load times.

    Reply
  • Avatar of slider

    thx Jenn. awesome.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Matthew Peretz

    As I’ve spoken to Jen about this device before, I really, really appreciate her review! I am deciding between this device (with bluetooth keyboard) and the Palm Foleo (whenever that comes out…).

    Any thoughts from people on choosing one over the other?

    I’m basically interested in a simple, inexpensive device for creating text documents to ultimately post onto my blog or some personal diary.

    I don’t care about much else – I didn’t want to wait for boot-up time on full OS devices.

    I’m aware that the Palm is more suited as a PIM device – but I don’t care that much.

    I use google docs and gmail mainly.

    I don’t care about cellular connectivity really – I’ve never been a fan of paying for data tranfer via cellular network so I can wait to be connected via Wi-Fi or bluetooth.

    Any thought though on which device would be better?

    Reply
  • Hi Matthew. I was thinking about emailing you this afternoon because of all the news going around about the Foleo delays. Nothing has been confirmed by Palm, of course, but the latest set of dates now seem to be late September to early October. Not exactly in line with your ASAP timeline, unfortunately.

    If time is of the essence and your decision is really between the N800 and the Foleo, then your only option may just be the N800. I still think the Foleo (or something similar with a close to full-size keyboard) is better suited for your needs, but the N800 is by no means a bad choice if you don’t mind a two-device setup and the comparatively small screen.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Matthew Peretz

    Thanks Jenn,
    I read a bunch of very negative critiques of Palm’s tendency to release buggy software/devices and that made me very leary of getting a just released Foleo – people were saying things like – wait for the Foleo 2… blah, blah, blah. I don’t know. People were also telling me to wait till the N800 had WiMax – and from having run these device sites myself when I was at Internet.com I can now remember well all of the people with every kind of advice – usually telling you to wait for this or wait for that – or some other negative angle on things.

    If everyone could just sit and wait for the ‘perfect’ device to come out we’d all be dead first… there is no point in waiting for some new wireless working group to be ‘just about finished’ – for what? To what end?

    I know these people – I had 5 Web sites related to devices that I ran – and the fact is that you end up talking to the hardest core group of geeks (not that that’s in any way bad) – but they tend to over-analyze EVERYTHING and if one were to listen to them one would never buy anything.

    It’s the nature of people who tend to be on these Web sites as more than casual users.

    So – basically I learned that you can learn to use just about anything if you have to – and that there is NO perfect solution to anything.

    Oh – and one guy is telling me that the N800 is perfectly useless as an ‘offline’ device – so that unless you are actively connected to a wireless network you might as well not get it.

    I can think of reasons to NOT get just about every device out there – keyboards too small, devices weigh too much, battery life, start-up times, crappy screens, etc.

    As a Mac OS X user I can also pretty much say that I’d really not like to have to get involved in Windoze again… and most of the devices run Windoze of some sort… or you get stuck with about 2 choices in Linux…. and Mac doesn’t make anything at all light enough….

    On and on.

    Maybe I’ll just go back to pen and paper for my diary/blog/journal.

    The Foleo – who knows. People are probably right about not buying the first issue – it’s like any new car model – they tend to be buggy – from cheap American cars all the way to Mercedes (I know – I had the first model ML320 in 1998).

    I’m less hesitant about the N800 – it’s more like a second release after the N770. But if it’s really not useful as an offline device? Then where am I? But then again some folks who want to use them as ebook readers are certainly touting them as great – and that’s highly offline behavior.

    If I can type documents while offline and then email them to my blog? Then I’m all set.
    Can I?
    I’ve seen a number of forum entries on sites linking to allegedly decent “productivity” software – meaning word processing, etc.

    That’s all I’d need.

    Reply
  • I don’t think the N800 is useless offline at all. Although much of its functions require an internet connection, there’s a lot that can be done without one, including typing up documents.

    The device ships with an application called “Notes” that’s similar to Word, though with fewer formatting options. The main ones are there: bullets, alignment, fonts, colors, etc. You can create new documents, edit existing ones, copy-and-paste, and send files via email or Bluetooth directly from the app.

    I also downloaded Leafpad and MaemoPad, two word processors that are well recommended by Linux folk.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Matthew Peretz

    So I get this note on Brighthand…

    Here is the message that has just been posted:
    ***************
    I’ve got a Nokia N800. I like it. But I’m a Linux/UNIX gearhead. I would strongly recommend against getting one unless you’re familiar with Linux (specifically Debian/Ubuntu/dpkg-based) system administration. And if what you want to do involves entering lots of text, forget it. It’ll work with a bluetooth keyboard … then you’ll discover that the available editing solutions are utterly inadequate. (There’s a port of AbiWord in the works, but currently nothing suitable for extended work, unless you’re familiar with vim, aka “vi improved”. And I would not recommend learning a vi-family text editor to a novice.)

    The Foleo looks like the best solution for a cheap mobile writing gizmo, unless the Eee PC — when it finally shows up — has a decent keyboard and screen option.

    (The rumoured Macbook Pro 12″ sounds lovely, but will likely cost $BIGNUM …)

    And then I get Jenn’s note to me…

    Argh!

    I don’t know what to do.

    I was just going to get a Fujitsu P1610 from the eBay seller Fujitsu_Store refurbished for about $900… I figured I could maybe live with Windows even though I really hate it.

    You always have to defrag and do all this stuff with windows that I don’t seem to have to do with Mac – and Windoze puts little bits of programs all over the place so when you go to delete programs you never really do delete them… etc.

    Am I wrong?

    What should I get?

    Reply
  • just a reminder, it has fm radio too

    Reply
  • Avatar of Joseph

    First of all, congrats on a a very thorough review! I am quite sure it will provide me the mobility I need on the road without the cramped feeling I got from the ipaq 6815.

    I wanted to know whether the N800 would be able to open attachments to word documents in formats such as pdf, ppt, xls, doc etc.

    Thanks.

    Joseph

    Reply
  • Hi Joseph. Thanks for your comments.

    Out of the box, the N800 can open image, text, and PDF attachments. Microsoft Office document files cannot be opened using any of the device’s preinstalled software, but there may be third-party solutions available. I don’t know of any offhand, but I do know that MaemoPad doesn’t open Word docs (or if it does, it didn’t work for me).

    Reply
  • Wow! Definitely best review of N800 i’ve read.

    Reply
  • Thanks, jk.

    The Fan’s Attic: There may be a workaround, but as far as I know, Sling doesn’t work on the N800. An alternative that has received positive reviews, though, is Orb.

    Reply
  • Thanks Jenn.

    I will have to look into that. I think the lack of Slingbox support is really hindering my liking of this product. If it did, I would buy it in heartbeat.

    Reply
  • Hi..

    I bought a N800 and i have a lot of E-Book files .lit type that u read with microsoft e-reader is there a program that can access this type of file on the N800 as fbreader doesn’t support .lit

    Reply
  • Excellent review of the N800. It’s everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask. :-)

    There are offline uses I would like to point out. when you browse the web at home you can save the full page with images to the device or to the sd cards for reading later. I do this frequently with tutorials and PDFs. Second, I also take screen shots of google maps on my laptop and transfer the .jpg to the Nokia N800, this way you can view the map and scroll around at different zoom levels.

    Those two are the main uses I have for the N800 offline.

    I am attempting to document the new OS2008 on the N800 at my blog.

    Reply
  • Great offline tips, Chris. Thanks for sharing them.

    I haven’t updated to OS2008 yet, so I look forward to your continued thoughts on the process. My N810 should be arriving soon, so I may not upgrade at all. I kind of like the idea of having the old tablet with the old OS and the new tablet with the new one.

    Reply
  • I don’t know where to go for an answer to this question so I’ll try it here. Perhaps someone can provide the answer or point me in the right direction…

    A simple problem: I used to be able to access youtube videos with my N800 but I can’t anymore! When I try to, instead of seeing the video, the word ‘image’ appears on the upper left corner of the youtube screen. I can still see videos I have downloaded and the original N800 commercial.

    What do you think is going on? How can I watch youtube videos with the N800 again? Any ideas or suggestions?

    Many thanks!

    Joseph

    Reply
  • this device SUCKS i have been trying to download media players and trying to see you tube and filecabi.net and this device doesn’t do it. now it has a problem with my 2 gig sd card in it. what a waste of money! this is a nothig but a waste of money. what a piece of shit!!!
    conrad

    Reply
  • Avatar of MR LG

    i’m going to buy this product,however still need to get comment about how good is YOUTUBE downloading,and what i heard it very choppy and slow, i’m fan of YOUTUBE and I’m using LG Chocolate, is my phone compatible with this product?

    Reply
  • Hi,
    I think your wish about screen rotation happened now! Check here:
    http://www.sse2.net/rotate/

    I have a question
    Which one is louder, N800 or N810(I mean the loudspeaker)?

    Reply
  • Avatar of Andrew R

    This is a great review for the Nokia N800, my only question is if it has a calender program available for event planning and whatnot.

    Reply

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