Average user rating
- Compact tablet-style device
- 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0
- Built-in webcam for internet video calls
- When internet-connected, functions well as a mobile web tablet
- Poor built-in PIM functionality
- Disappointing battery life
- Limited add-on software availability
When Nokia announced the 770 Internet Tablet towards the end of 2005, eyebrows were raised. It was certainly a novelty for the mobile phone specialist: the Linux-based 770 was small enough for a (voluminous) pocket, had a wide-aspect-ratio screen, and lacked both a keyboard a SIM slot. We weren’t overly impressed with the Nokia 770, largely on account of its sluggish performance. Even so, it proved popular among Linux enthusiasts.
Nokia has stuck with the Linux-based internet tablet format, bringing out an update and taking the product into the ‘N-series’ fold — the stream of high-end devices that includes other experiments such as the camera-centric N90. The N800 is certainly a slicker device than its predecessor, but it that enough to impress us this time around?
The N800 is a tablet-style device with a look and feel somewhere between a landscape-mode Windows Mobile Pocket PC on the one hand and a games console like Sony’s PlayStation Portable on the other. However, the N800 lacks the plethora of buttons you'd find on a games console and is significantly larger than most of today's Pocket PCs. It's a bit too bulky and heavy to carry comfortably in a pocket, measuring 75mm wide by 114mm deep by 13-18mm deep, and weighing 206g.
The N800's front panel is silver-coloured, with twin speakers hidden behind a grilled area that covers more than half of the fascia. The touch-sensitive screen measures 4.13in. from corner to corner, has a resolution of 800 by 480 pixels and delivers 16-bit colour (65,536 colours).
To the left of the screen is a set of control buttons, most of which have dual functions depending on whether they are tapped or held down.
The upper set of controls is a navigation pad with a central select key that can be used as a scroller when web browsing. Beneath this is a collection of three buttons. One of these calls up on-screen menus relevant to the current application or activity; another is a 'back' key, while the third is a ‘switcher’ key that allows you to quickly move between and close any running applications or, if held down, returns you to the main screen.
The remaining controls are on the edges. On the top is the main power switch, keys for zooming and a key for turning off the various side menus on the screen when you want to use the device in ‘full screen’ mode. There's also a microphone here.
The right-hand side houses the headphone socket and mains power connector, as well as the slot for the touch-screen's stylus (generally, we found a fingertip to be faster and just as ergonomic). Nokia has not eliminated one of our gripes with the Nokia 770, though: the stylus still only fits into its slot one way round.
There's a clever pull-out stand at the back for propping the N800 up on a desk. This stand hides two further connectors: a mini-USB port to the right and an SD card slot on the bottom edge. There's a second SD card slot under the battery cover (although not under the battery itself), giving you plenty of scope for memory expansion. With a suitable adapter, you can use card formats down to microSD in size in both of these hot-swappable slots.
The left edge initially looks completely clear, but if you depress a small circular area near the top, a tiny VGA-resolution webcam pops out. You can use this for making video calls over the internet.
The N800 comes with a protective slip case, a 128MB miniSD card, stereo headphones, a PC connection cable and a quick-start guide. If you want a full manual, you'll have to download this from Nokia's web site.
The Nokia 770 was criticised for its sluggish performance, so it's heartening to note that the N800 uses a faster processor (although CPU details are not forthcoming on Nokia's web site) and more memory — 128MB of RAM (compared to 64MB on the 770) plus 256MB of flash (compared to 128MB on the 770). You also get a 128MB miniSD card with an adapter for the SD card slots. The operating system, as on the 770, is a version of Linux, now dubbed 'Internet Tablet OS 2007 edition'.
Although it lacks a SIM card slot, the N800 has both 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0 built in. The latter can be used to connect the device to a mobile phone for wide-area connectivity, while the former connects to local wireless networks.
Once the N800 has an internet connection, you can browse the web (via the superb Opera 8), check the RSS reader (feeds are shown on the home screen), use instant messaging and email or listen to internet radio and make internet calls (including video calls with the integrated webcam). Jabber and Google Talk are pre-installed, but there's no Skype client at the time of writing.
Without internet access, the N800 becomes a standalone mini-tablet of limited functionality. Bundled applications include a contact manager, PDF viewer, image viewer (BMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG, TIFF), notes maker, media player (AAC, MP3, WAV and WMA), clock with alarms and several games.
The touch-sensitive screen has two soft keyboards associated with it: a small affair that requires stylus input and a larger one, occupying most of the screen area, that you can tap with the fingertips (although it's too small for accurate touch-typing). Handwriting recognition is also supported.
The N800 functions as a mass storage device, up to a point. Once it's connected to a PC using the supplied USB cable, you can transfer files to and from media in either of the two SD card slots, but not to the 128MB of internal memory. You can also use the cable connection to update the device's Linux operating system. However, there's no way of synchronising the N800's contact list with a PC; and since it has neither calendar nor to-do list applications built in, the N800 lacks the PIM functionality that's routinely provided by smartphones and handhelds.
Performance & battery life
Our review sample was somewhat slow to boot up, but it was sprightly enough thereafter — even with several applications opened at once. Clearly Nokia has made an effort to address the issue of the 770's sluggish performance.
We tested the N800 with a 1MB PDF, as we did with the 770 model. Each page of the document took a couple of seconds to load and zooming could be quicker. However, moving around within a page was quick enough. By comparison, the 770 took several minutes to render an image-heavy PDF.
The N800 is generally a pleasure to use: the 4.13in. screen is clear and sharp, and the ability to switch into full-screen mode is useful for certain activities — especially web browsing.
Battery life was disappointing. In our standard handheld test, we played music continuously from an SD card with the screen forced to stay on, and got 5 hours 16 minutes of uptime. For a mobile device this is less than adequate, and if you keep the device internet-connected via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, you're unlikely to get a day's-worth of charge from the BP-5L lithium-polymer battery. For the record, Nokia claims up to 3.5 hours of 'browsing time' and up to 12 days on standby.
We can’t help liking the N800, and it's certainly a significant step forward from its predecessor. However, liking a device and seeing a market for it are two different things. Out of the box, the N800 has relatively little allure for the professional user: there's no way to view, edit or create business documents, no real PIM functionality and no PC synchronisation. Even the VoIP capability is hampered by the current lack of a Skype client — although this is expected by the middle of the year.
For a wider audience, the N800’s appeal is limited by its reliance on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for internet connectivity, and by its disappointing battery life.