Nokia N800 Internet Tablet: Just Add Skype and We’re Set

I’ve now had the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet for almost two weeks, wandering about both home, downtown Toronto and other remote locations, testing it out for both defining what exactly it is and how "mobile" it is.

First what it is not: a wireless mobile phone — there’s only WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. Via Bluetooth you can connect to the Internet through one of Nokia’s phones, such as the N80i which I have also been testing out.

Here’s where I find it so handy. You’re sitting in the family room watching the Buffalo Sabres defeat (a Skype contact’s) New York Rangers on a high def TV and want to look up the career record for Tim Connolly, a Sabres player, without missing any game action. Pull out the N800; go to NHL.com and voilà – all the information I want is there — in my family room — without having to remove my laptop from its docking station in my home office. As a dedicated platform Internet Appliance the N800 offers: practical portable Internet access in a handheld size mobile platform; Andy likes to call it a platform for Casual Computing.

Ken Camp, Luca Filigheddu and others have written some fairly extensive reviews of its capabilities so I’ll stick to discussing its practicality and where I feel it fits into the webosphere. First what do I use it for:

  • Casual browsing away from my primary workstation – around the house, on the backyard patio, in WiFi-enabled coffee houses, other remote but WiFi connected locations where I simply want to look up some information.
  • While sitting through a seminar in a WiFi-enabled university building, checking key RSS feeds: keeping up to date not only on key news sites such as Google News and BBC News but also on SaundersLog, VoIPWatch, Mark Evans Tech, Mathew Ingram and other weblogs that I regularly follow.
  • Via GTalk, getting video tours of Andy’s travel spots: his hotel rooms, the Virgin Atlantic waiting room at Heathrow, etc.
  • Interplatform IM .. at one point I was chatting on the N800 via GTalk with Andy from a WiFi connection at a Starbucks. When I drove way the conversation continued on my Blackberry GTalk client. (Of course I could only respond while waiting for traffic lights).
  • Checking GMail (not my primary e-mail account) via the GMail POP service.
  • Looking at Howard’s double.

But there is the one problem I frequently encounter – the variability of WiFi quality. Om has a lengthy discussion in his post on The Cloud’s new London muni-WiFi setup about this issue. I find there are WiFi connections and WiFi disconnections. Of course on my home network there is no problem. The N800 works quite well on the Canadian HotSpot network (@$0.15 per minute on any Canadian wireless account) but does not work with Toronto Hydro Telecom’s "free" mesh network in downtown Toronto. Either the system does not have enough bandwidth to handle demand or it’s of very limited bandwidth. Can find the SSID but does not bring up web pages. In fact the "free" WiFi at the "Howard’s double" location was not able to handle external GTalk connections; there were at least a dozen other laptops going in this coffee shop over what was obviously a bandwidth limited connection.

Here’s what I like about it:

  • Wide screen: the 800 x 480 touch screen responds to a toggle switch between the N800 "desktop" and a full screen display of, say, web pages or weblog entries. Viewing web pages in 800 pixel full width mode is a handheld Internet device dream; it makes reading them much easier than on any "narrow screen" mobile phone or PDA.
  • The Home Desktop provides an instant look at key items. In my case I have selected the Google Search Bar, a summary of most recent RSS feed headlines, GTalk presence for selected GTalk contacts and a clock
  • The Status Bar at the upper right provides instant access or notifications related to key operating parameters: Battery status, WiFi connectivity, Audio Volume, my GTalk status, etc.
  • Relative ease of finding and establishing WiFi access points: click on an icon in the Status Bar and detection of WiFi networks occurs immediately; select the network you want to connect with, enter any requested network key and you’re quickly connected.
  • The setup of user buttons, not only a five-way button but also a set of buttons to manage Full Screen display and display magnification.
  • The pop-out web camera (although the actual video quality needs some work)
  • Just having the RSS Reader
  • Google Search Bar on the Home Desktop; how many of us start our browsing sessions with a Google search? But it takes up a minimum amount of desktop real estate.
  • The ability to have real time chat, voice and video conversations.
  • Two SD-size memory expansions slots: one internal and one removable to expand memory up to 4GB; these memory cards become disks when the N800 is attached to your PC.

Awaiting The Skype Role

Here is the problem that becomes obvious when using GTalk on the N800 — it’s got, for me, the same eight contacts that I’ve always had with GTalk .. well, it’s now actually nine, Phil invited me to join his GTalk contacts over the weekend … But GTalk has become a teaser for the one missing module for such a device. The N800 Skype client that was announced at CES last January for availability early this summer would turn this into an ideal Internet Appliance. It would allow me to use the N800 for real time conversations with my >100 Skype contacts. Then I’d be using it to razz my Skype contact who is such a devoted Rangers fan while watching the games in this upcoming Stanley Cup (professional ice hockey championship) series.

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.
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