Nokia N800

This is the first time that we’ve covered a tablet device here at the TechCast Network so without further ado, here is the review for the Nokia N800.

What’s it all about?

The N800 from Nokia has been designed purely as a portable WiFi tablet that can be operated by stylus or finger touch. Using the built in wireless technologies you can browse the web using the flash enabled Opera browser.

Don’t confuse this for a phone with a big screen because it just isn’t. It doesn’t have 3G or GPRS or any of that, which is a bit of a surprise considering it’s coming from Nokia but they’re targeting this at a particular market that clearly doesn’t want to browse the web anywhere anytime.

There’s no calendar or office suite bundled with this tablet. So it’s no PDA either.

This is what it is. It’s a device designed to be used around the home or in a wireless hotspot when you’re sitting down sipping your Starbucks coffee and you just want to check your mail, send a quick IM, internet radio streaming or check your favourite web sites.

What’s it got?

Out of the box you get built in Bluetooth and 802.11 b/g wireless connectivity. The 4.1-inch widescreen display features a stunning 800 x 480 resolution and is touch screen capable using the stylus or finger touch.

When playing internet streamed music, the quality was really quite stunning for a device of this size with two nicely portioned stereo speakers pumping out HitzRadio.com tunes.

A microphone is also present for using with the integrated (and hidden) video camera that pops out when you push it in at the side of the N800. I hadn’t noticed it was there until I actually got around to reading the spec sheet.

The N800 is also capable of video playback and Nokia have thought about the user experience of this particular use of this device by integrating a desk stand that can fold away. Simply flip it out and sit it on your desk and enjoy watching a movie stored on the MiniSD card.

-Web Access

Web browsing on most portable devices tend to result in a miserable experience with either the screen being too small, wrong dimension, not high enough resolution, poor browser compatibility. With the N800’s core feature being the web browsing capabilities, my expectations were set quite high.

Using Opera 8 as its bundled browser was a wise choice for Nokia instead of opting for building their own or choosing an unknown browser. The Opera developers have been working to bring their version of a web browser to many different platforms including the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii. They’ve also had success with their mobile versions on the Windows Mobile platform so when it comes to knowing what you want from a mobile web browser, these guys should know what they’re doing.

The inclusion of Flash 7 also means the potential to stream content from sites like YouTube and Google Video as well as being able to view Flash animations and content on web pages. When testing out the ability to play back video from YouTube and Google Video I was unable to get anything other than a choppy video despite having an 8 Mbps connection on an 802.11g network. I believe the issues are related to the flash plug-in for the Opera browser rather than it being a connectivity issue but unfortunately this was the case with a lot of the other video streaming sites out there that use Flash.

However these are minor set backs considering the excellent web browsing capabilities of Opera 8. The N800 tablet combines the use of the stylus and the tablet interface in one seamless experience allowing for easy accessibility and viewing options for web browsing. The 384,000 pixel display is able to reproduce web content exactly as you would expect when you see it on a laptop or desktop class machine. The 4.1-inch wide aspect ratio of the screen also means that text is readable even when the page is zoomed out and for the occasions where you need to enlarge the image, three dedicated keys at the top of the N800 allow you to zoom in and out of the page and display the browser in full screen.

Tabbed browsing is allowed with the various pages showing up on the left hand dock and pages can also be minimised to this dock to get access to the home screen. RSS has been integrated right in to the home screen and can be modified to include your feeds from your favourite sites.

-Communication

Voip and video conferencing is possible with the N800’s instant messaging software that can tap in to the Jabber network, which allows you free access to MSN, AIM, ICQ and Yahoo. Google Talk is also available for voice and video conferencing with seamless integration straight out of the box. A decent broadband connection is a must as well as a relatively strong WiFi connection to minimise video and voice lag.

Sending and receiving e-mail is very straightforward with the POP3 client allowing for quick access to your mail. Tapping out messages is just as easy as well using the on-screen QWERTY keyboard to tap your messages or using the full screen keyboard to tap with your fingers.

-Entertainment

The most popular and obscure file formats are compatible with the N800 including favourites such as MP3, JPEG, MPEG 4 and M3U as well as the least favourite formats like Real Audio and Real Video.

Audio – AAC, AMR, MP3, Real Audio, WAV and WMA
Image – BMP, GIF, ICO, JPEG, PNG, TIFF, SVG-tiny
Video – 3GP, AVI, H.263, MPEG-1, MPEG-4, Real Video
Streaming – M3U, PLS

When playing videos from the built in memory (transferred using the USB 2.0 connection), performance was good with the 4.1-inch screen with a nice crisp picture and good colour reproduction despite the 65k colour screen. With an aspect ratio similar to 16:9 you can get away with playing widescreen video with minimal black bars interfering with the picture.

Indoor usage of the N800 provided excellent display results but as soon as you take this to the wilderness of the outdoor environment, the thing that makes us all warm starts to produce a lot of glare and reflection on the screen and even with the display backlight set to maximum it can still be a struggle to see the screen. A future improvement would be to implement a brighter display or a display type different to LCD like those that are coming out for laptops based on SED technology, which I believe Sony have already launched in one range of their VAIO notebooks. LCD technology has always struggled to fight the problems of daylight interference rendering so many ‘portable’ devices useless simply because you’re unable to see what’s going on. The N800 fares a bit better than these so called ‘portable’ devices but it’s no where near the clarity that it needs for it to be useful and convenient to use.

Audio playback from the speakers was really good. I used it for both in the office whilst working and on the bedside table. With the ability to tune in to my favourite internet radio station, Hitzradio.com I was able to stream 128kbps audio over the air waves and listen around the house either using the built in speakers or plugging in a set of 3.5mm headphones.

The 256MB of memory will quickly fill up, especially if you’re going to be storing video clips or music albums so an extra memory card is a must. Nokia have designed the N800 to take two memory cards which accepts Micro SD, SD, Mini SD and MMC in either slot so you need not worry about increasing the memory capacity with SD cards coming down in price where a 4GB card is less than £30 meaning a potential 8GB of flash storage can be possible in this device. That equals a lot of music or an ample amount of good quality video.

Was it any good?

From a design perspective, the N800 tablet represents the N series of Nokia handsets very well and the compliment of multimedia and internet capabilities reinforces the fact that this device belongs there. With a combination of good battery life, display and input capabilities as well as the Linux foundation means that there is a lot of potential for those in the know to modify and customise the software to their hearts content. It’s also a small stepping stone for what we can expect to see in future revisions of this device.

Using the Nokia N800 for wireless audio streaming allowed it to remain on constantly for a total of 5 hours whilst browsing the web with the screen on maximum brightness. That’s not bad considering Nokia state that it should last 3.5 hours of web browsing time.

Sound quality from the stereo speakers is great for listening to internet radio or your mp3 collection. It’s ideal for occasional use and has the ability to pump out your tunes at a high volume without the tinny-ness effect that you typically get with devices like this.

There are issues in using this as a ‘portable’ device when outdoors because as I stated before, with it being an LCD display of limited backlight ability, the display is a struggle to read, especially now that we’re approaching warmer and brighter weather. Testing the N800 outdoors proved that the display is as good as LCD gets when it comes to outdoor use and that isn’t really that good. There are some new display technologies that are hitting the market now and just around the corner, which will eventually make its way to devices like the N800, but before this happens devices like this and others using LCD screens will suffer from the glare issue when used outdoors.

The touch-screen side of things proved to be excellent and well engineered. Software that recognises the method of input, stylus or finger, will automatically adjust the way the cursor works. Whilst its no doubt easier to use the stylus, when you need to quickly change track or adjust the volume it’s dead easy to do it all at a touch of a finger. One criticism it receives is that some of the buttons aren’t really designed for finger touch and you will find it difficult to hit the icons on the top bar.

A well rounded software package that comes with this tablet device, married with the excellent N series design means that the N800 is excellent but without some minor adjustments it can’t be classed as perfect. It’s missing a 3G connection, which is a must if this device is ever going to be of more use than in the home or in the office. Who wants to carry two devices with them at the end of the day? It can’t possibly appeal to the corporate segment because it lacks the personal information management (PIM) software that integrates a decent calendar, contact and task capabilities.

If you’re not bothered about the issues outlined above, then what the N800 can do, it does very well! The intuitive Linux operating system will allow anyone to be able to pick up this device and get it up and running with minimal fuss. The price tag of around £280 does make this very expensive for what it is, but since it’s such a niche product this is expected. You have to be a pretty hardcore mobile web user to justify the cost, so it’s not one for me since I’m happy to use my notebook to do what the N800 does. Compare this with the cost of a UMPC and it makes a bit more sense since those can run in to hundreds of pounds more. Depending on which way you look at it, the N800 is probably the best cheap alternative when you look at what’s available in the UMPC and PDA market.

2007-04-16 Onwah Tsang

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