The Internet Tablet Revolution

Since the introduction of the first Palm devices back in 1997 I was tracking the evolution of pocket computers with great interest. However, for a very long time I couldn’t find the combination of factors that would make me buy one. The first device I seriously considered was N770 from Nokia. It was breakthrough in many ways but still quite limited in it’s memory and processing speed. I kept an eye on its development and when Nokia released it’s successor N800 I was sold. I bought one and used it for about 9 months when N810 was released. I immediately upgraded. I wear my N810 wherever I go for more than a year now and I’m very satisfied.

Some of the reasons I didn’t like any of the previous generations of PDA were their small screens, the use of closed operating systems or their high price tag. So the main advantages of N810 over it’s rivals at least for me are:

Superior display than most of the PDAs. 4.1″ is very good and balanced size. Any bigger and it won’t fit in your pocket. Superb 800×480 screen resolution – you can’t go better for a display of this size. And due to the fact this display is transflective it’s readable even in bright daylight.

N810 is more mobile than the netbooks, which are gaining popularity recently. It’s smaller and lighter and it fits in your pocket or in a lather sleeve like this one. Better mobility is also aided by the very good battery life. I use mine to read while commuting, some internet browsing and I might turn on the gps once in a while. That’s about 1.5 hrs daily and I keep it in off-line suspended mode (but instant on – less than a second) for the rest of the time. Its battery lasts about 5 days between recharges with this usage pattern.

N810 runs an open source, linux based OS and application stack designed for use with touchscreens. Openness, flexibility, best of breed package management (debian’s apt). Want maemo mapper + openstreetmap, xterm + openssh, Doom or other popular application? No problem – check out http://maemo.org/downloads/OS2008/. Not strictly related but it’s browser is gecko based (that’s mozilla & firefox engine) and has flash support. Some of the greatest apps for N810 are written by the community.

N810 has built-in gps and comes with Wayfinder pre-installed. If you want turn by turn navigation you’ll have to pay a modest subscription fee to use this option. maemo mapper is a free mapping and navigation alternative. maemo mapper’s routing capabilities are not as extensive and route recalculation needs an Internet connection but it’s very good app nevertheless. Go try it. There’s also navit – a very promising navigation app in the making. This gps led us trough most of the southern Spain few months ago.

As expected for an Internet Tablet N810 has bluetooth and wifi. No device is useful without good connectivity options in this day and age. Hook it to the nearest WiFi hotspot or your 3g enabled bluetooth phone. And it’s WiFi is among the best I’ve used – very good range and compatibility with hot spots around the world.

One of the great surprises was the quality of the built-in qwerty keyboard. I didn’t expected nearly as comfortable typing. Sometimes I have this feeling that I didn’t hit the right key but when I look at the screen it’s all correct. Very good job, Nokia.

Another surprise was the amazing sound for a device this small. It actually sounds better than my ThinkPad X41. It’s last.fm player, vagalume, is killer app. Use it like a portable personalized radio.

There are built-in camera and mic as well. Combined with the pre-loaded software like jabber client with voice and video support (and gtalk), gizmo and skype it’s the ultimate communicator.

It’s light sensor is very handy. Based on the current light conditions the display brightness is adjusted to save power and make work with the tablet more comfortable.

And last but not least the price: it was first released at $450 and is currently (Dec 2008) being sold for about $335 in various on-line stores.

What’s next? There are quite a lot people that prefer their internet tablet to have some built-in long range connectivity options in addition to WiFi like GPRS, 3G or WiMAX. Nokia responded to this demand with N810 WiMAX edition. I personally am completely satisfied with 3G via bluetooth phone.

But what’s more interesting is the upcoming fourth generation internet tablet (N900?). Rumours are that it will be OMAP3 based, will have built-in HSPA connectivity, high definition camera and hardware based graphics acceleration. Recently nokia released the Maemo 5 SDK which is targeted at this future device’s developers.

I’m glad someone (Nokia) finally has taken this technological way. I hope they continue evolving the internet tablet series in the same way and spirit. Can’t wait to see what N9xx will look like…

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