N800 – Often misunderstood Nokia Internet Tablet

A pot of honey…

I should admit that I didn’t believe in the internet tablet concept in the beginning. I simply couldn’t imagine why would I need a device like that if I already have a laptop to use when I’m at home/in the office and a multimedia computer when I’m on the move. That is until I got an N800 of my own and used it for a few weeks. Now it is always in my briefcase, on my table, or in my hands.

My judgment of N800 is a bit biased, since I work for the company that manufactures. Also the use cases that are important to me are not typical for average consumer. My house and my office are covered with wireless internet, I’m often working on the move or just waiting in check-in/security queues or just for connection flight.

There are quite a few really good and comprehensive reviews of N800, like e.g. this one by ThoughtFix. So I decided to concentrate on the use-cases of N800 and try to answer a question why there’s a niche for Internet Tablets concept.

A surprising number of reviews gave thumbs down for 770 and N800 devices. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe that criticism is good for Nokia. There are many things that can be improved and deserve to be complained about. However, sometimes it is just a misunderstanding of the concept that causes dissatisfaction with a product.

There are two issues that are mentioned most often as drawbacks of Nokia internet tablets.

  • Lack of GSM phone capabilities (goes hand in hand with comparison to iPhone)

This is a perfect illustration of the fact how strongly Nokia brand is associated with mobile phones. Transition of Nokia to a internet/software company is not going to be easy, partly because the existing brand is so strong.

Internet tablets are not phones – they are not supposed to be. Comparison to iPhone is thus not completely valid.

These devices are targeted at different user groups and serve different purposes. Nokia Internet Tablets are about spontaneous internet use (in all its forms), everything else is second priority.

  • Lack of Calendar and other PIM applications and lack of synchronisation with PC

If we are thinking about living in Web 2.0 world, we have to accept that all PIM applications are located online, not on the local device. And after all – PIM is not the core of the Internet Tablet. There are web-based calendars, web-based contact lists, etc – N800 just provides a convinient way to access any of these services.

CNET editors’ review captures the essence of N800 quite well: “It’s not meant to be a replacement for your PDA, smart phone, or laptop”.

Internet tablets are about consuming the media, not so much about anything else.

…a spoon of tar…

I don’t want to say that N800 is flawless. There are certain things that really disappoint me.

  • browsing experience

Embedded Opera 8 doesn’t properly render Google Reader pages. That is my favourite RSS aggregator and I am really disappointed. Rendering of the page is quite weird and the degree of weirdness changes over time (probably as Google guys are changing the implementation).

It is possible to install Minimo browser that does the job properly. It renders some pages better than default Opera browser, but can sometmes crash. So while it is possible to read pages you want using two browsers it doesn’t provide for the best possible user experience.

(Hmm, just wondering if this in in Linux DNA – you can get anything to work, if you are prepared to spend enough time to hack it and forego on user experience 😉

Another issue is that realplayer clips embedded into web pages do not work – a standalone player has to be launched (if site design provides such possibility)

Flash files playback is too slow – so watching YouTube becomes a troublesome experience.
There’s a way around it though – thanks to MacSlow for pointing out a way to improve YouTube experience using Orb for conversion. http://macslow.thepimp.net/?p=106

These flaws in browsing experience are really a shame – on internet tablets browsing is one experience that should be perfect.

  • default email client

Lets you wish for much better performance and usability. The _default_ client could’ve been much better.

  • video and audio playback

I had a 2Gb memory card on my N93i. When I put it into N800 I expected that all MP4 videos recorded with N93 and N93i will play there. Unfortunately the frame rate of the playback was close to 0, so I had to delete all videos.

Music files (mobile optimized AAC files ripped from CDs using Nokia Music Manager) didn’t play either, so I had to delete them and rip the CDs again – into regular MP3s.

N800 being an Nseries range device, unfortunately is not supporting all the same media formats. There’s still room for improvement.

Even though these are just three not-so-perfect features, they are fundamental to internet tablets functionality (internet and media consumption), and thus even smaller flaws there are seriously degrading the overall experience.

…and other ingridients

After using N800 for about three months and trying a lot of different software during this time I ended up with the following most important use cases where N800 really serves its purpose:

  • spontaneous internet use (browsing, e-mail, instant messaging, internet telephony)

N800 provides a better alternative to mobile phone because of the larger screen and easier text input.
Whenever using laptop is an overkill – N800 comes into play. Checking mails while having a morning cup of coffee at home,
talking to my family using GTalk while waiting for a flight, chatting with friends on IM while sitting in a cafe downtown. These are not situations where taking out and booting up a laptop is optimal solution.

  • reading books

There are plenty of e-books available. It is much more convenient to carry an N800 around than two-three books in your luggage. Mobile phones have too small screens, and laptop is an overkill for reading books. I still occasionally pick up a paperback in the airport though, despite having a good library on my internet tablet 😉

  • watching movies

Up to four DivX movies can fit on a 2Gb memory card, providing enough entertainment for a long train or air trip.
DivX player user interface could’ve been friendlier, but once you start watching a movie you don’t think much about it.

  • watching TV

Watching news programs whenever I want to, because I never can turn on the TV at the right time.

  • listening to radio/internet radio/music

Just a nice bonus in addition to everything else. While reading, chatting or browsing there’s no need to use another device for music.

Here’s a list of applications that I installed in addition to the standard software and didn’t uninstall since:

  • Media manager Canola – compared to the default image viewer/music player Canola is a killer app. It is a user experience how it should be.
  • FBReader – Perfect for reading e-books. Supports portrait mode, allows customisation of colours, etc.
  • Minimo browser – a backup solution for browsing the web. Unfortunately it is not stable enough, although it renders some pages better than Opera. Lack of flash support also prevents from using Minimo alone.
  • Gizmo – Internet telephony at its best – supports chat and voice calls to multiple clients – Skype, Gtalk, MSN, Yahoo.
  • Office – Abiword and Gnumeric. I don’t use them for creating documents, but they are really good for viewing e-mail attachments.
  • mPlayer– for watching DivX movies.

In conclusion

Do you have to be a geek to use internet tablets? I would say – yes, at least for now, and at least a little bit.
But the trend set by Nokia 770 and N800 has a great potential to develop into a mass-market consumer internet device.

I was really skeptical about the whole concept of internet tablets in the beginning. But if you ask me now – would you buy a device like that – the answer will be “definitely yes”.

Thanks to all the reviewers:

Thumbs down for the N800 from me” by MacSlow

It Does Little, and Not Very Well” by Rob Pegoraro, Washington Post

Nokia’s Marriage To Small Computers Still Has Its Problems” by Walter S. Mossberg, The Wall Street Journal

My First Impressions of the Nokia N800” by Jose_R.A.M, mobileburn.com

Nokia N800; A Real World Review After One Month’s Use” by MobileCrunch

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