Nokia N800 User Review

Discussion in 'Other Device Manufacturers' started by BrentDC, May 28, 2008.

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  1. BrentDC

    BrentDC Perspective is everything

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    Nokia N800 User Review


    I want to preface this review by saying that the Nokia N800 is by no means a recently introduced device. Some might think a review may be a little late (especially with the speculation of Nokia discontinuing this model), but I think a few things have made the appeal of the device grow recently. Most importantly, the device's Price has dropped considerably: at debut, the Nokia N800 was $399 and now it can be found at some online retailers for as low as $200. A price drop like that can certainly create an increased interest to the point where it is no longer just a Linux hobbyists toy, but a device ready to be used and bought by the masses. Someone may also find a more recent review of use because it features the latest OS (OS2008), and the latest and greatest software that may have not been present when the device debuted - and when most reviews were written. I certainly found this to be the case when I was interested in buying this device.


    The Hardware

    One of the things that attracted me to the N800 was the hardware. The specs are impressive and so is the actual device. The crown jewel is the high resolution 800x480, 4.13 inch touchscreen. In some of the online pictures, the screen at times appeared a bit washed out and colorless, but my impression of the screen when I actually had the device in hand was quite different. It is truly bright, vibrant, and just an overall pleasure to look at. Color saturation is far better than on my previous handheld - a Palm TX - and so was the brightness. In fact, unless are you in direct sunlight you probably won't turn the brightness all the way up, because it is way to bright for most situations. I kept it at 25-50% and it was more than enough.

    The casing of the device is mostly a black plastic with the exception of the front which is silver. It seats firmly in your hand partly because of a nice curvilinear backing that slopes up and out so your hands can kind of rest underneath it for support (this bulge on the back is also where the stylus is inserted). The device is also very sturdy and not prone to flexing. Even when I tried to intentionally flex it, I felt no bending or creaking whatsoever. One thing that bothered be a little was how the battery door located on the back of the device is held in place. It does not seem very secure; it is kind of loose and rattles a bit when shaken. I don't know if this is how all the Nokia N800's are, or if this is just specific to my unit, but I fear that it will pop off one of these days and I will loose it and or my SD card which is held in place by it.


    Ports, Buttons and Connectors

    With many handheld and smartphone devices including Mini and Micro SD slots, it was a breath of fresh air to see the Nokia N800 have two full SDHC slots (one located under the battery door and the other behind the flip-out desk stand). I really think this is a major reason I purchased one. Conceivably, I could add 32GB of fast flash storage (two 16GB SDHC Cards), and that is certainly more than I'll ever need, and more than most people need on a mobile device. It will feel nice getting 'untied' from this limitation of my Palm TX (it could not use SDHC Cards). Other Ports that the N800 has is a 3.5 millimeter headphone jack, a mini USB and charging port. One thing that I liked, is that the connectors fit very snugly and securely into their respective ports. For example on my TX, the headphone jack did not securely hold headphones. Every once and a while the headphones would loosen and I would lose the sound in one ear. I'd then have to fumble in my pocket to fix this. This did not happen on the N800. Once the headphones are connected, they are connected and that's it. Same with the mini USB.

    The N800 has seven hardware buttons plus a five way navigator
    (zoom in, fullscreen, zoom out, and power button on the top of the device from left to right, and the five-way, escape, menu, and home buttons on the front left face of the device). I have to say this is one of the weaker points of the N800. All the buttons are just too small. And what is up with the five-way? Instead of, like on my Palm TX, where the center button is recessed and the directional buttons are raised, it is the other way around. This in turn causes you to have to press the very edge of the already small directional buttons so you don't press the center button. I frequently just miss the button, or worse yet, hit a button I don't mean to. This is not helped by the fact the escape key is directly below the five-way. There is nothing quite like trying to scroll in an application and then unintentionally hitting the escape key and closing the app altogether.

    Another piece of hardware the N800 has is a pop-out rotating web-cam. This seemed almost too much ahead of its time to me at least. I suppose for people who use video conferencing extensively this could be an extremely useful thing, but to the average Joe like me, well I barely know what video conferencing is. I can't see myself really using this and would've preferred a nice 3MP Camera instead (the web-cam can be used for taking pictures, but the quality is very poor).


    Battery

    As time has gone by, and mobile devices have gotten more advanced with their faster processors, brighter, larger screens, power draining expansion slots, and slimmer form factors, the thing that has really taken the hit is battery life. Of course battery technology, like everything else, has improved, the improvement has not been so much so it counteracts these other power-draining features. This in turn, has caused the battery life on most mobile devices to be significantly less than what would be desired--and let's face it, battery life is one of the single most important things that can dictate the usefulness of a mobile device. This is why I am happy to say that the N800's battery life is excellent.

    The battery itself is located under the fully-removable hatch located on the back of the unit (this space also accommodates one of the two SD slots). The battery is advertised as being 1500 mAh and is user-replaceable.

    [​IMG]

    (Picture of the device with the battery door removed)

    After fully charging up the N800, I started up some, albeit less than scientific, tests. First, I set the RSS Reader to update every 30 minutes, and the E-mail app to poll for new emails every 15. I then preceded to casually browse the internet for about two hours straight, and after that listen to internet radio (all of this over WiFi). Anyone familiar with WiFi probably knows it is very power-hungry. I continued to listen to internet radio for roughly 30 minutes, then began reading some educational material in FBReader. Did that for about 20 minutes, then preceded to watch some streaming video for about 45 minutes. After this I checked the battery and was shocked see that it still said I had an estimated 2 hours left. I fired up the browser again and browsed the web for another hour, then after that played quite a few games of Mahjong. My all out assault on the battery began at 10:00 AM and finally commenced at around 7:00 PM when I received a Low Battery warning. Under this very atypical, intentionally power-draining, nearly constant use, I was still able to go almost all day without a charge. Needless to say, I think that a charge every night, or every other night, will be more than enough for most people.


    Operating System (Maemo/OS2008)

    As nice as the hardware may be - and the hardware on the N800 is nice - isn't it the software that really makes or breaks a device? I've heard many people voice their opinions about how they are unhappy with the operating system that comes installed on the Nokia Internet Tablets (Maemo), but myself, I've been extremely pleased with it. Coming from the Palm OS mobile operating system, universally known as one of the most elegantly designed user interfaces around, my standards are pretty high. I found Maemo very easy to learn and easy to use. It took me all of a couple days to fully get used to the interface, and in fact, with the ability to multitask, I actually found it easier to use than my the OS on my Palm TX. That said, individual applications are only as easy to use as the designers and programmers have made them. And since there are not a great deal of preinstalled applications (and even less are really useful because they are lacking needed features), you are at the mercy of 3rd party developers. Don't get me wrong, there are certainly preinstalled apps that are useful like the Web Browser for example, but your experience may be extremely different dependent on what applications you have installed. Also, I think that some people forget that the Nokia N800 is a mobile device. It has a 4.13 inch screen and a 400 mhz processor - it will not replace your laptop or desktop and nor should it be expected to. I think that once people understand what its limitations are, and what you can expect this device to do and what you should not, their level of satisfaction will go up significantly.


    The Desktop/Interface



    The Interface is actually pretty simple. There are basically two areas of interest: the status bar located on the top-right part of the screen and the task navigator located on the left. The status bar features things like a battery meter, brightness/sound controls, and wireless signal indicators. What is displayed depends on what is currently active e.g. if you have your N800 connected to your computer via USB, a USB icon will be shown. The task navigator accommodates the application launcher, the specialized launchers (web and contacts), and any currently opened programs. I found the default app launcher less than stellar, so I use a great third-party application called Personal Menu. I like Personal Menu because it is simple and I can (almost) fit all of my applications on one page. This is a huge improvement over the built-in launcher.

    [​IMG]

    (My setup of Personal Menu)



    As you may be accustomed to seeing on your Desktop or Laptop, Maemo also has its own Desktop (the software kind). But instead of placing Icons and shortcuts on it, you put applets on it. I really like Maemo's Desktop (also referred to as Hildon Desktop). There are all kinds of applets you can put on the thing, like Internet Search (Google or Wikipedia), RSS News, Weather, Internet/FM Radio, Clock, etc. And the best part is, tons of third party applications also come with Desktop applets so there is quite a selection.

    [​IMG]

    (Maemo Desktop - the Alpha Blending gives it a nice touch)

    The background image of the desktop can be changed and the interface can be themed. There is not a great selection of themes, but I found the ones available to be very pleasant.


    The Web Browser

    Since this class of devices are called Internet Tablets, I do think it would be prudent to talk a little bit about the web browser that comes with the N800. It is just called Web (actually, technically it is called MicroB, but most average users probably know of it just as Web), and its browser engine is based on Mozilla Firefox 3 Alpha 1. It fully
    supports the newest Web standards, like AJAX, and ships with the latest Adobe Flash 9 Player (more about this a little later). Web pages render very nicely on the 800x480 screen, and although the text size is on the small size, I found it very readable. There are also zoom in/out controls and a "Fit to width" option (it reflows the webpage to fit the screen size), although I very rarely find the need to use it, because most pages fit the screen without any formatting needed. The achilles heel of MicroB is probably its speed at both rendering web pages and interacting with AJAX heavy websites. It is definitely slower than Firefox (2) on my Desktop, and obviously this can be attributed to less processing power, but also it uses the Firefox 3 Alpha 1 rendering engine and there are probably improvements that could be made. Overall though, you will probably not find a better browsing experience on a mobile device, because even with my two complaints, it is still very good.


    [​IMG]

    (A screenshot of Wikipedia)

    [​IMG]

    (A screenshot of the Brighthand.com home page)


    Flash

    The Nokia N800 come preinstalled with the Adobe Flash 9 plugin. My impression of the Flash support within the Web Browser was so-so; most videos, including Youtube, were kind of choppy and the overall Flash Video experience wasn't great. Flash animations were better. For example, I was able to view some flash tutorials without any issue at all, and even was able to easily use some interactive flash content. My advice would be: if you want to view video, especially high resolution, I would try to view it within a media player (Canola has a Youtube plugin) or if that is not possible, then just use a regular computer.


    File Manager

    Maemo comes with a basic file manager that you can use to organize, move, copy, delete files/folders with. It is actually fairly nice for basic users - the interface is simple, and it supports most basic file operations. It has two different viewing modes: List or Thumbnail and allows you to directly launch files to be handled by other applications.

    [​IMG]


    A couple features I wish were present are, easier access to frequently used things (cut/copy/paste) via a toolbar, and an "Open With" option. It appears that you cannot select which application you want to open a file with, but it opens it with whatever is defaulted to handle it. As I said, it is probably a very nice application for average users, but for advanced Linux users it is not. It does not let you see the filesystem, but only the ~/home/user/MyApps/ directory on the internal memory and obviously, all the contents of inserted expansion cards (it also shows Bluetooth devices and SMB Network shares). A more powerful - and potentially dangerous - tool is a very nice 3rd party file manager by the name of EmelFM2. Although at times I find the interface a bit clunky, it is what I use primarily.


    PDF Reader

    The Nokia N800 comes with a decent PDF reader. I think that PDF Reading is really one of the strong points of this device with its high resolution screen - and the software really doesn't disappoint.

    [​IMG]


    Sure, it is bare bones - doesn't even support searching PDFs - but I think the fact that it actually opens almost any size PDF quickly, renders them nicely, is enough for me on a mobile device. I think that almost any mobile device struggles at reading PDFs: one because they are highly resource intensive, and two because they are designed for large-screens and do not reflow nicely. And, if you want your PDF Reader to have a few more features, there is always Evince.



    Besides Web Browsing, what can I do with my IT?

    This may be a question some people may raise, so I'll try to give an answer. The NITs (Nokia Internet Tablets) are far more than what their name suggests - Internet devices. I've found mine immensely useful for checking email with Modest Beta, Reading PDF documents with Evince, catching up on the news with the excellent built-in RSS Reader, playing videos or music with the built-in Media Player or one of the many 3rd party alternatives, or even sketching/doodling/writing with Xournal.

    These are just a few examples of some of the things you can do and the 3rd party apps you can use with your N800. But there are a few things that I, and many many others, wish could be done on the N800, that you just can't. One of them is using a decent PIM suite: although there are many PIM applications available (GPE, Pimlico, Gene cash's PIMs, etc.), either they are extremely bare-bones or are slow. I haven't come across anything as decent like there was available for my Palm TX and I think these devices really need something like that. Another is Microsoft Office support: unless you go the Google Documents route (which is so-so on the NITs), there are absolutely no other alternatives at this time. I think if Nokia or the 3rd party development community could fix this, then the NITs could really be a must-have mobile device.


    Pros
    • Large Bright Screen
    • Nice Web Browser
    • Dual SDHC Card Slots
    • Stable Linux OS (after three weeks no crashes yet)
    • Desk Stand
    • Secure Ports
    Cons
    • Small Buttons
    • Loose Battery Door
    • Slip-in Case is prone to having the device fall out (where is the zipper or velcro?)
    • Limited Preinstalled Software
    • No "Portrait" orientation support
    Conclusion

    If you couldn't tell from my review, I really like my N800 and am glad I purchased one. Does it have its weaknesses, sure, but it has a lot of strengths. My needs are such that PIM management and Microsoft Office support are really not to terribly important, so it to greatest detriments are not that detrimental to me. I would suggest to any prospective buyers: if you've come to the conclusion that the N800 can do what you need it to, then go out and get one, because it is a really quality device.







    Additional Resources

    Here are some useful websites that anyone who has just purchased/thinking of purchasing a N800 should take a look at:


    Maemo.org - it has the most complete software listing, wonderful tutorials, and detailed development information.


    InternetTabletTalk.com - The most knowledgeable Internet Tablet community resides here, anyone that wants to learn about the Tablets should hang out at this site for a while.


    Gronmayer.com/it - It is the host of many software repositories that you can install to your device.


    TabletBlog.com - This is where I go for all Internet Tablet-related news, and all kinds of cool stuff.


    TabletSchool.Blogspot.com - Very basic and easy-to-understand tutorials can be found here.
     
  2. SuperGdog

    SuperGdog aka Gdog

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    great review. I am looking at getting one.
     
  3. SGosnell

    SGosnell (retired) Palm Pilot

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    I pretty much agree with everything. For internet use, it blows any Palm out of the water, but for core Palm functions, Palm blows it out of the water. I still carry my Palm, because I need the PIM functions and the password manager. There is simply nothing worthwhile available for the Nokia, and nothing in sight on the horizon.
     
  4. BrentDC

    BrentDC Perspective is everything

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    When I had a Palm TX I had 150+ apps that I used on a regular basis, and there are 2 I miss: SplashID, not so much for bullet proof security or anything, but just for its organizational features, and Docs To Go, because there isn't anything for Office Docs.

    Maybe Access' newly updated Garnet VM (beta 2) will be a solution.

    http://www.access-company.com/products/gvm/
     
  5. yorker

    yorker Mobile Deity

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    Great Review BrentDC! Very detailed, I'm sure many would find this useful! :newpalm:
     
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