I really thought I would love this device considering how much I like its old N770 brother. However it completely misses the mark and I can find no place for it in my daily workflow. Dare I say it, I would prefer an iPod Touch!

Last May at Cork OpenCoffee, Gordon Murray told everyone about an amazing bargain on Expansys. Nokia N770 Internet Tablets were selling for approx €100. By the end of the coffee morning, more than 10 had been ordered and after a few hours humming and hawing I got one too.

Initially I loved it with its touch screen, wifi, bluetooth, web browser etc. Then I realised it was based on Linux and discovered the treasure trove of Maemo apps out there. Pretty soon I had a good application stack including some of my desktop favourites like Pidgin IM, OpenSSH etc. However the killer app for it turned out to be mplayer. I load up Divx and Xvid movies and tv programmes onto a 1GB RS-MMC and have the perfect mobile movie player for the car and elsewhere.

Of course there were problems too:

  • The biggest by far was overall speed and performance. It’s a very slow device to do anything.
  • The browser was pretty rubbish too, unable to handle any site with lots of Javascript and unable to handle modern Flash sites like YouTube.
  • I upgraded the OS on the N770 several times with OS2007HE with the expectation of better browser/flash performance but neither improved.
  • The build-in email client didn’t work properly with GMail IMAP on Goog Apps and generally none of the built-in apps were as good as Open Source ones.
  • The lack of a java stack meant that it couldn’t tap the huge application base from all the Nokia Symbian phones either.
  • The touch screen is almost unusable with fingers and really needs a stylus which is incredibly annoying when you want to tap something quickly.
  • The iGo Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard had major character repeat problems with it

So I started wondering if maybe it was time to upgrade to the N800 or N810. The N800 has a much faster CPU, more memory, takes bigger memory cards, has a better screen, runs Skype, has a small camera and the all-new OS2008 but is over €200. The N810 adds a slide-out keyboard, GPS and a few other goodies and is generally over €300. However, I wasn’t going to spend that sort of money without knowing for sure that these devices were far better.

Luckily Tom Raftery had an N810 which he thought was garbage compared to his iPod Touch and he loaned it to me for several weeks. I am so glad he did, I won’t be buying it or the N800 based on my experiences.

n810 - Share on Ovi

First the good news. It’s much faster than the N770, the iGo keyboard works perfectly, the screen is much better, Flash works well, Skype works and the built-in keyboard is ok. But that’s about it. The problem list is almost identical to the N770:

  • You cannot practically use the UI without a stylus. The touchscreen remains terribly unresponsive. Palm had this issue sorted 8 years ago
  • You cannot call something an internet tablet if GMail doesn’t work in normal HTML mode
  • You cannot call something an internet tablet if GMail IMAP doesn’t work on your email client
  • Why have a movie player which is incapable of playing lots of formats when mplayer exists?
  • The GPS is utter rubbish compared to the N95-8GB. The maps are a joke.
  • The browser is still dog-slow with Javascript
  • There is still no java stack
  • No-one has bothered to write a Twitter client.
  • There is no built-in decent PIM app

I just don’t understand the target market for the N810. Give me an N95-8GB with a touch screen and the N-series tablets immediately become irrelevant. They do lots of things ok but nothing brilliantly, they just fall between several stools.

The sad fact is that the N770, a three year old design, is not that bad compared to N800/N810. Unless the next tablet is head and shoulders better than the iPod Touch it will be a flop. What would make me buy an N820? It has to be a cloud device:

  • Seamless syncing with all Goog Apps and other online/cloud apps
  • Full integration with all the Ovi initiatives
  • Lightning fast JS engine
  • Brand new UI much more like the iPod Touch
  • Finger friendly UI
  • Java stack that can handle most J2ME apps built for mobile phones (Yes I’ve read the technical problems with this. Solve them!)
  • Best of breed movie player, email client and online/offline PIM

Somehow I doubt we’re going to see this.