A few months ago Nokia released the third iteration of their Internet Tablet N-series, the N810. This model has some new hardware characteristics, and a brand new version of the Maemo interface. Update: I designed a clean background for you, to be used with the “Echo” theme. Download it here, check out how it looks like here.The N810 features Wifi, bluetooth 2.0, USB 2.0, a miniSDHC slot, 2 GB internal storage, 128 MB RAM, 800×480 4.1″ 16bit sunlight readable transflective TFT LCD screen, a VGA webcam, a microphone, a 3.5mm audio jack, a sliding backlit keyboard with an ambient light sensor, a 400 Mhz CPU, a kickstand, and integrated GPS. Compared to the N800 it’s missing the dual SDHC card slots, the FM tuner and it uses a microUSB connector instead of the more standard miniUSB. In the box we found a case for the device, a charger, a car stand, a microUSB cable, a second stylus in case you lose the first one, a soft cloth to clean the screen, and the manual.
The device weighs 226gr and its size is considerably smaller to that of the N800’s. It fits well in a pocket, while the keyboard keys have the right size to hit them precisely. However, the sliding keyboard plate is too wide for my small hands and I so I have difficulty writing fast on it, although I expect most males or bigger females to not have the same problem as I did. The joystick and “open menu” button are now placed next to the keyboard and are not accessible without sliding that compartment out. This is not too bad though, as the OS2008 is designed with more “finger navigation” in mind than previous versions of Maemo.
On the left side of the screen you can find the webcam, a pulsing notification light used by some applications, a “go back” button, and a “taskbar” button. On the right side you will find the audio jack, charging port, and when you slide out the kickstand, the microUSB port is revealed. On the top of the device you will find the “go fullscreen” button, “zoom in/out” buttons, the on/off button, the stylus compartment, and for the first time, the N810 sports a hardware-based “lock keys” slider button. Speakers are stereo and located on the left and right of the device, while the microphone is located under the kickstand.
The N810’s WiFi and Bluetooth connections are strong features. The device has a great signal and with the new version of the OS we now enjoy more Bluetooth profiles, while a recent hack by the community allows for BT PAN (which can be used with Windows Mobile v5+ phones to feed the N810 with a connection). Another hack that the community was able to pull through was making the USB slave port to a host one (so you can connect keyboards or flash readers).
Other differences of the OS2008 over OS2007 is a brand new web browser based on the Gecko engine, better compatibility with cellphones and Bluetooth DUN, a different theme, better email client (although still not ideal), Jabber support, Gizmo and Skype come with pre-installed installation links, faster Flash implementation, a much more sane media player, enough settings, and other improvements throughout the included applications. Two things I miss from the software: the supposedly supported media formats are not fully supported (I can’t get any h.264 QVGA file to playback for example and I had compatibility problems with some XViD files), and the… webcam makes me look far fatter than I really am (wrong aspect ratio?).
The GPS module worked well (N800 users can use a Bluetooth GPS module to get the same service), and the included Wayfinder application included the maps of Canada and USA. The solution does not have built-in routing or turn-by-turn voice directions, but it can be upgraded by subscription ($130 for 3 years.)
Video by ThoughtFix
Regarding third party applications, the truth is that the platform has taken a hit. Nokia broke compatibility three times so far, and just like in their Symbian platform, the number of third party applications available are fewer and fewer. There were about 2000 Symbian apps for v2, and there are only 400 for v3 two years after the release of the platform. For Maemo v1 there were about 250 apps released, and for v2 there were only about 210 released. For Maemo v3 the number is similarly low at 165 apps, and I don’t personally expect it to get very high. And when I mean “low”, I have to compare it to Windows Mobile and its 20,000 apps or PalmOS and its 30,000 apps. If you divide the number of years these platforms have been active in the market you will see about 3,000 apps per year, while Nokia enjoys about 100-200 per year. Nokia must learn to stop breaking compatibility and putting off developers like that. To build trust, extra engineering effort must be in place to not break the APIs and ABIs again. Another thing that’s bugging me is that every time there’s a new firmware out, I have to reconfigure the OS from scratch (not everything gets backed up). I would prefer an upgrade that doesn’t wipe out user’s changes and data.
Finally, some good news and some bad news. The good thing is that battery life is exceptional with over 3 hours of intense WiFi usage and many days of standby. The bad news is that I find the screen on the N810 less bright than the one on the N800 (configured the same way). Additionally, the screen only has 16bit color, so gradients look really bad. This is a worthy device, evolutionary to the N800, but it’s too expensive to make it big. At $400 street price is well situated between cellphones, but it’s not a cellphone. It’s well situated between laptop prices too, but it’s not a laptop either. In reality, it’s a modern PDA (oh, excuse me, an Internet Tablet). And $400 for a PDA in this day and age, it’s just too expensive. Users are more likely to get an iPod Touch for $299 and a free (via their wireless contract) Nokia S60 cellphone that does VoIP SIP, than buying this device stand-alone. A more realistic price would be $280 to $300. Nevertheless, this is one cool device!