MobileCrunch reviews the Nokia N800 handheld

Oliver Starr has published a comprehensive hands-on review of the new Nokia N800 handheld computer – the next generation of the 770 Internet Tablet that I've been using for the past few months. Like Oliver, I've been under an NDA from Nokia about the device and he and I were pretty frustrated that an unboxing and specs-from-the-box review was posted by someone who was under no such embargo and had a buddy who worked at a CompUSA store and posted the day before the announcement was officially made at CES. Such are the perils of working within the system I suppose.

Nokia N800

Oliver Starr has published a comprehensive hands-on review of the new Nokia N800 handheld computer – the next generation of the 770 Internet Tablet that I've been using for the past few months. Like Oliver, I've been under an NDA from Nokia about the device and he and I were pretty frustrated that an unboxing and specs-from-the-box review was posted by someone who was under no such embargo and had a buddy who worked at a CompUSA store and posted the day before the announcement was officially made at CES. Such are the perils of working within the system I suppose.

I any event, Oliver's review does what none of the coverage I've seen so far has managed to yet provide – it gives you the insight that only a month (or more) or working with a device on a daily basis can provide. I've had a few opportunities to work with the N800 when he and I are together and compare it to the previous generation device whihc has become a fixture in my gadget bag (disclosure: Oliver and I work together at Foldera and traveled to Europe in December to attend the Nokia World event in Amsterdam and have some meetings in Espoo, Finland with the company).

The N800 inherits all of the essential goodness of the 770 and improves on it in virtually every way. Read Oliver's review to get all of the details. Rather than repeating his observations here, I thought I'd share some general observations about the platform after months of using it. Everything that follows is just as applicable to the N800 as the 770.

  • This is neither an overgrown PDA nor an Ultra Mobile PC. Our inherent need to categorize everything based on what we know notwithstanding, this is really a new form factor and a device with a different intended use case than anything that has preceded it. Nokia's vastly improved messaging about the device calls it the first Internet-native device – designed from the ground up to provide a tailored internet experience. Their argument is that connected PDAs, cell phones, and even PCs have all had internet capabilities added on, not designed in. I'll leave the dissection of that rhetoric to others. It;s a better message than that this is an ideal device for reading e-mail while sitting on the couch which is what the original messaging implied when the 770 was first introduced in mid-2005.
  • The form factor is unique and very compelling. It provides an amazing visual experience with the 800 x 480 pixel display which is bright, well-saturated, and evenly illuminated. The touch screen works flawlessly and rarely requires recalibration (an issue with some of the Tablet PCs and UMPCs I've worked with).
  • Battery life is quite good (2.5 - 3 hours of steady use) and the devices use standard Nokia phone batteries which are about the size of a square of Ghiradelli chocolate so carrying a second (or even third) battery doesn't carry a major weight penalty. The batteries are also far less expensive than an additional UMPC battery and more in line with what you'd pay for a second smartphone battery.
  • The charger is the same one used with recent Nokia phones so if you use both devices you need only pack a single AC adapter ( a huge win for a gadget boy like me who has a zippered bag just for adapters when I travel).
  • With both Bluetooth and WiFi on board, connectivity is an almost everywhere proposition. I've been very happy with the performance using my standard WiFi locations (home, office, airport, cafe) and the Bluetooth experience is also quite good using the admittedly slower connection from my Nokia N93 which is on T-Mobile's network. The upside to T-Mobile in my experience is that I get a good solid connection from just about everywhere I go. The downside is their network simply doesn't provide a true 3G connection so the speed is relatively pokey compared to what I experience when using my Treo 700p on Verizon's EVDO-enabled network.
  • Like Oliver, I've been using a ThinkOutside Stowaway Keyboard with the 770 and the combination allows me to get set up and working in a matter of seconds. As I'm a frequent traveler, I've found the combination of these devices provides the ability to be set up and productive in seconds after I board the plane so the 10-15 minutes prior to takeoff can now be devoted to getting a bit more work done rather than looking through the SkyMall catalog waiting until doors are closed and electronics need to be shot off. When that happens, everything packages up in a few seconds and fits neatly into the seat pocket. As soon as the 10,000 foot all clear is given, I can be back at work in a mater of few seconds more.
  • Of course, the kind of work I can accomplish on the 770 is different than what I can do on my Tablet PC, Windows laptop or MacBook. But as much of what I do on planes is read and review PDFs and text files, compose lengthier e-mails, and draft articles, blog posts, and reports the PDF viewer, e-mail client, and notes utility are quite serviceable. Transferring documents betwen the 770 and my PCs can be done via Bluetooth, mini-USB cable or via the MMC card used for removable storage (I have a 2 GB card in my 770 whicj provides ample data storage and additional virtual memory).
  • The media capabilities are quite good. I've successfully ripped and formatted video and easily transferred MP3 audio and podcasts  to the device and used it as a digital photo album to show off some of the pictures I've been taking with N93's amazing digital camera and camcorder.

That gives you some idea about how versatile the device is and how it can be put to work. With the enhancements offered by the N800, the use case only looks better. Rhapsody streaming music is included on the new device and a Skype client is coming in Q2 to augment the Google Talk and Gizmo Project options on the 770. With the addition of a Bluetooth GPS receiver and the free Maemo Mapper utility, turn-by-turn driving directions give the 770 another application. A commercial GPS solution from Navicore was announced and demonstrated for the N800 at CES.

Unlike a UMPC which really can't be carried in your pocket or a smartphone which has a musch more limited display, these devices provide a unique solution between those two options. I regularly carry the 770 in my coat pocket and have found it ideal for capturing notes during an interview or meeting, whiling away a few minutes while standing in line, or snatching an extra few minutes of productive work time while traveling.

The price is attractive ($399.00 for the N800) and the excellent connectivity options provide an instant on, quickly set up and connected work style I've come to really appreciate. Like Oliver, I've been extremely pleased with the experience overall and I can't wait to get my own N800 to take advantage of the faster processor, increased memory, and other improvements that have been added to the new device. 

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