Review: Nokia N800
The N800 runs a flavor of Linux known as OS 2008. Several software packages come loaded with the N800, including a full-featured web browser (with Flash!), e-mail client, media player, and instant messaging application. Perhaps most notable is the inclusion of the internet telephony service Skype. Pair your N800 with a Bluetooth headset and a WiFi connection and you almost have a phone. You can also choose to install Gizmo.
It’s an “internet tablet,” which means it is WLAN / Wi-Fi capable. You can also pair the N800 with an internet-enabled GSM phone via Bluetooth. Unfortunately, the N800 does not have a SIM-card slot so you can’t connect via GSM/GPRS directly.
There are 128 MB of DDR RAM installed — the same amount as the iPod Touch — but only 256MB of storage. Two internal memory card slots are available, and they support cards with up to 8 gigabytes of storage.
The N800 also comes with an integrated VGA (640 by 480 pixel resolution) web camera for video calls and chats. Install some additional software, and you can use the camera to capture stills as well.
Using the device
I could not successfully set up the e-mail client to work with my Gmail account. I’m not entirely sure it works with secure IMAP connections. It does, however support regular IMAP and POP connections. Its email client is easy to use, once configured. Oddly enough, the N800 does not have a pre-installed calendar application. It’s a curious omission, in my opinion. You can, however, install one.
There are three input options on the N800: a full(er)-screen finger-sized keyboard, a stylus-sized keyboard, and handwriting input. I found the handwriting recognition system a pretty easy system to train, though as with any such system, you may also have to retrain yourself. The way I write my lower case T made the N800 think I was entering an X. Once trained — I only tried two characters — the tablet was able to recognize most of my non-cursive input.
Typing on it the full(er)-screen keyboard is easier than using the stylus keyboard, but you can’t see all of what you’re typing at once. I also don’t like hunting-and-tapping with a stylus for input. Two-thumbed typing using the stylus keyboard actually worked pretty well for me. In fact, I found that the touch-recognition was at least as (if not more) accurate as my iPod Touch, even though the stylus keyboard has smaller ‘keys.’
The N800 uses physical buttons for zooming, scrolling, and toggling between full-screen and partial screen. Being able to toggle between screen modes is an excellent feature, especially for watching videos. But it’s a feature I would look for in the application menu or on the screen rather than the top edge of a touchscreen device. Overall, the combination of a touchscreen and buttons is an incongruous one.
So is this a computer or what?
Feature-wise, I’d say it’s most comparable to the iPod Touch and the Sony PSP. Think of the N800 a mini-computer that’s been optimized for the Internet. The iPod Touch is a first-and-foremost a music player and the PSP is primarily a gaming device. The N800, by comparison, is made for surfing the web, checking e-mail, and communicating via IM and VoIP.
Internet communications is not all you can do with the device, however. You can also play music and videos, and install a range of software. That brings the N800 a little bit closer to the world of ultra-portable laptops such as the ASUS Eee PC.
In other words, the N800 is a bit like a smart phone without the phone or a computer without much software. And that’s kind of the problem with it. It occupies a weird niche that makes less and less sense when you consider the availability of ultra-portable notebooks like the OQO and Eee PC, devices like iPod Touch and PSP, and smart phones such as the iPhone or Nokia’s own N80, N95 and N96.
Will it fit in my pocket?
In terms of size, the N800 is slightly smaller than the PSP, but significantly larger and heavier than the iPhone and iPod Touch. I was able to fit most of it in the front pocket of my jeans, while standing, but it wasn’t a good fit. It’s weight also makes it awkward to carry in a hoodie or jacket pocket. If you plan to keep it with you, also plan on carrying a purse. Men may have slightly better luck since their pants tend to have deeper pockets.
Is it worth the money?
Price may just be the N800′s killer feature. As of this writing, you can buy an N800 from Amazon.com for about $250. That’s at least $100 less than most smart phones. I see the advantages of the N800 for globetrotters who want to stay connected, yet don’t want to carry a pricey, heavy laptop, or don’t have a GSM-enabled mobile phone.
But the N800 is only $50 less than the Eee PC Surf, which has four times the RAM, a larger screen, full keyboard, and a faster processor. Plus, since it’s a full-fledged computer, you can be productive without a WiFi connection. When compared to the Eee, the N800 doesn’t look so appealing.
Is it worth it? If you want a small, connected device, and $250 is your absolute limit, yes. But I say spend the extra cash to get a device that’s smaller (iPod Touch), more capable (Eee PC) or both (most smart phones).