Nokia N810 few months in use review

n810_icon I had covered my initial impressions of N810 right after purchase. Few months later and it is time for proper overview after many hours of using device.

Positioning

Nokia defines N810 as Internet tablet. Considering N810 is out for a while and it is already second generation of Nokia tablets – it was years early. Design is:

  • largely focused around large screen;
  • provides long battery life;
  • promotes using web apps over software (according to Nokia).

Nokia N810

Interface

N810 runs Linux-based Maemo operating system. It seems usability was big priority because for most tasks it is very easy to use. Few separate factors where fit together very well:

  • 4.1″ 800×480 widescreen touch screen is a lot of screen space for mobile device, it is probably maximum physical size that can still be called pocketable and very high resolution that allows to stuff a ton;
  • hardware controls play with software very well; two buttons on left side act as task switcher and cancel/back; hardware keyboard slides out as needed and is relatively comfortable;
  • stylus is present but most of basic tasks and native applications can be handled by fingers.

Worth noting that this is strictly horizontal device for two-hand grip, it is too heavy and too long to be comfortably operated with one hand.

Software

Software model was completely adopted from Linux. Native utility connects to online repository and provides list of currently available software that can be installed in 2-3 clicks. Updates are handled by same utility.

First update of operating system itself required reflashing (using PC), but further updates are also over-the-air, same as for software.

While native pre-installed applications are tailored perfectly to device (comfortable fonts, large buttons, wide scrollbars, partial/full screen modes) rest are mostly ported from Linux and quality varies greatly.

Multimedia

I hadn’t quite expected that but device is surprisingly good media player. It has regular 3.5mm headphone jack (!) and hardware is powerful enough to run some video on that wide screen. Dynamic video requires converting to lower resolution but for calm ones frame rate is reasonable even for higher resolutions.

There are numerous media players available for installation in addition to native one (that handles music, simple video, Internet radio and UPnP servers). I ended up using native player for music and MPlayer port for video.

I won’t claim I know a thing about audio quality, subjectively it sounds better than my Nokia E60 (I was using for player previously).

N810 has 2Gb internal storage and MiniSD slot on top. MiniSD cards are somewhat hard to buy around here (MicroSD with full SD adapter are common) so I hadn’t bothered to get one yet.

Connectivity

Connection to Internet can be done with Bluetooth through mobile phone or Wi-Fi. Mobile phone functionality feels missing at times but instead device gained exceptional battery life. Over 4 hours constant Internet connection usage is normal.

There is integrated GPS module but quality is questionable. Cold start is extremely long (took me almost half an hour to start it first time) and it likes to lose satellites. One of the most complained about aspects and the one I luckily don’t need much.

It is important to understand that N810 is not an mobile phone replacement. It can work as extension to one or without one in Wi-Fi range but doesn’t provide much of voice connectivity.

Communication

Device is seriously best thing for messaging ever. It handles:

  • SMS (with installable app, through mobile phone);
  • email (POP3, IMAP) – native client or Claws;
  • Skype and Gizmo;
  • Pidgin (unfortunately lagging few version behind);
  • Twitter and Jaiku via Mauku client (better than most desktop ones).

Basically it connect to everything and despite all touch-hype QWERTY hardware keyboard is still best way to get some messages typed.

Browsing

Sad part. For such network-centric device browsing sucks. Early OS versions had Opera that got swapped for MicroB based on Mozilla core (think Firefox with Maemo-style interface). It was apparently served as big open-source win… Know what? Screw open source, I want good browser and MicroB isn’t one!

  • slow startup time;
  • slow operation;
  • displaying as is renders most fonts too tiny unless scaled;
  • slow scaling;
  • terrible fit to screen mode that ruins most of layouts and (together with scaling) makes text mixed with image comon sight.

Did I mention it is slow?

Actually for mobile-optimized sites it works quite well. But regular browsing is self-torture. Firefox (Fennec) is months (years?) away for providing usable mobile browser and MicroB, despite clean looks, is totally patchwork. Oh and it is the only app capable of crashing Maemo that otherwise runs weeks without reboots.

No alternative browsers just finished me. In the end most of my browsing is between Newsgator Mobile and Mobile Wikipedia.

Gaming

There is:

  • tetris;
  • solitaire;
  • few gems like Hex-a-hop and Sopwith;
  • bunch of those pitiful “Linux has games too” ports.

Hardware keyboard is excellent for typing but joystick is terrible. With most game ports not doing well with touch screen controls… Gaming on N810 may help to kill ten minutes at best.

Tweaking potential

ARM processor running Linux. Kind of holy grail for Linux enthusiasts. There is happy established community and their tablets are getting a lot of abuse experimenting. I had seen reports of N810 running Android, Ubuntu, etc… VMWare had even demoed N800 running virtualized Android and Windows CE at the same time.

I have little interest for installing alternative operative system at moment. But if someone gets Android (or anything else with usable browser) to stable level I just might.

What’s good that Linux part can be easily ignored, on the surface device is friendly (much more than Symbian for unprepared).

Overall

Interesting and useful device that came ahead of its time. Next generation of Nokia tablets is supposed to come out this year and it just might set the tone of pocketable Internet for years.

I had read interview with Nokia executive that mentioned Maemo is one of three core platforms for Nokia (other two being Series 40 and Series 60) so they are very serious about it.

Good for

  • messaging;
  • mobile Internet;
  • media playback;
  • Linux enthusiasts.

Bad for

  • full Internet;
  • business tasks;
  • gaming.
Look up Nokia N810 at Amazon

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8 Comments

  • Strangely enough, those are all the reasons (Except for the Linux enthusiasts) that I went with my blackberry in the end. I was actually looking at the earlier model of the 810, the 800, but when they abruptly were replaced, I had to go back and rethink my strategy.

    In the end, what won out was the fact that my cellphone died, and so a blackberry was just the logical choice.

    I still wish I had one of these, but I’m not sure how I could fit it into my daily life. How do you personally use it?

  • @Angelo

    Well, blackberries are expensive breed around here (like ~$5000 for contract signup).

    I got very tired of Symbian, it turned out to be way too phone-like OS with crappy choice of software. I have no warm feelings for Windows Mobile either so I suddenly run out of smartphone options.

    So I went for N810 cause it does everything that very expensive smartphone does (except calls) but better and cheaper. Just add any (and choice is suddenly wide again) phone for talking and EDGE.

    I use my N810 mostly as media player and for Internet when I am stuck away from PC (I am way too lazy and clumsy to drag notebook around all the time). I’ve used to watch plenty of video on N810 but no longer need that after notebook purchase.

    Basically I perceive it as tiny Windows-incompatible computer.

    My N810 might get swapped with some future smartphone but I think we are going to see tablets melt with smartphones into single device. Early prototypes on snapdragon platform are very much like tablet plus mobile phone.

  • Hmm actually I suppose that was a really good idea. Would have made more sense to purchase that had my phone been working.

    Thanks for that post, I’m always curious as to why/how gadgets enter peoples lives :P

  • @Angelo

    Tablet is kinda outsourcing functions from phone. :) Modern high-end smartphones are good but pricey.

    I could actually afford some fancy HTC but didn’t feel like it. I dislike to overpay when it is not really justified.

  • I doubt these comments are being read anymore, but…

    There is a usable browser now.
    Tear.
    MicroB and Fennec become marginally usable if you turn off Java and Flash until you need them, and TURN ON VIRTUAL MEMORY as well (Just like Windows has Virtual memory, Maemo apparently has it too)

  • @ishida

    What’s wrong with reading comments? :) I read and appreciate every single one.

    Tear seems still beta, hadn’t seen it in releases RSS. Tried Midori (also webkit based) but it lacks proper integration – no touch-scrolling, etc.

    I have flashblock enabled.

    Thanks for virtual memory hint! Somehow I missed that one. Enabled it this morning, will see how it goes.

  • For what it’s worth, the fast, new Opera Mobile browser for the Internet Tablet is a godsend!

  • @lad

    I don’t think I still had N810 where Opera made a version for it at last. :) But I am enjoying Opera Mobile on my current tablet and it’s definitely makes a great browser for smaller devices just as well as for desktops.

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