Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Review: Nokia n800

I bought a Nokia n800 on EBay last week. This is an "Internet Tablet" meaning that it has WiFi and a built-in browser.

The n800 is based on Linux although the operating system is well-hidden from the casual user. It comes with the original release, OS2007, installed. There is an update called OS2008.

I only got a fleeting impression of OS2007. You have to charge the battery before upgrading so I used the earlier operating system while I waited for it to charge.

OS2007 uses the Opera browser. Other reviews said that it didn't render video very well. I checked YouTube and found that this was true.

The upgrade was easy. The instructions say that it takes 20 minutes but it seemed more like 10 before it was ready.

The n800 comes with very little memory but it has slots for two memory cards. I put in a couple of 2 meg cards. The manual warns that it is not compatable with all cards but it didn't have any trouble with the off-brand ones I used.

There was no question that the upgrade took. OS2008 has a different look. It also uses a browser based on Mozilla Firefox.

One pleasant surprise is that the problems with movies are fixed in OS2008. I've tried YouTube, videos that I have previously downloaded and converted, and some movies that I have ripped from DVD. All play perfectly (note - it takes special software to rip DVDs).

The n800 features a large touch screen. It is larger and has a higher number of bits per inch than the iPod Touch. The resolution is 800x480 - more than twice an many pixels as the iPod.

While you can get by using your fingernails, the n800 comes with a stylus. It also has two sets of navigation buttons on the front. I have barely used these. It has buttons on the top for zooming in and out and a button to toggle the current application to full screen.

The browser works quite well. I've checked several sites and they all render properly. You do have to scroll around a bit and zoom in on smaller text. This is easy enough.

You have three options for entering text. If you touch the stylus to a text field then a stylus type pad appears at the bottom of the screen. One of the navigation buttons opens a finger type pad with larger buttons. You can also print letters although this takes some practice.

OS2008 comes with several other applications including a usable media player and a PDF viewer. Other applications can be installed for free from Nokia's web site. Some of these enable features in the b800.

The n800 comes with a low-resolution, pop-out camera. By default this is set up for video conferencing but you can download programs to take pictures. It also has an FM radio which is enabled by a program.

Open source software has been ported from other platforms. I loaded ScummVM which lets me play classic LucasArts games like Monkey Island. Doom has also been ported.

The n800 is Bluetooth enabled. If you have a Bluetooth phone then it can use it to connect to the Internet and can take over as the phone's handset.

So, how does it compare with the iPod Touch? The two are very similar but they have different focuses. The iPod is a media player that can also access the Internet. Not all web sites work with the iPod and you are very restricted on what you can copy to it.

The n800 is an Internet device that also plays media. It is bigger and heavier than I want a media player to be and the interface isn't as good for playing music. For example, it doesn't support album art.

On the other hand, it does not need web applications to be written for it. Also that larger screen is nice when viewing movies.

The biggest difference is in the attitude of the manufacturers. Apple keeps total control over the iPod Touch and the iPhone. In contrast, Nokia already has a full development kit. It even has a command prompt as part of the operating system, something that Apple keeps disabling.

Between the larger screen and the amount of control that Nokia gives you over the device, I would rate the n800 higher. Those who prefer Apple's cool factor will be happier with the iPod.

UPDATE: I did find a couple of web sites that do not work on the n800. These are ones that do streaming video through Real Player or MicroSoft's Media Player. Sites that stream through Flash work fine.

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