Extremely brief review of the Nokia n810 05 Jan 2009
opinion linux

A coworker of mine was kind enough to let me borrow his Nokia n810 for a couple days to try it out as he know I was considering purchasing one for myself. I'm very glad I tried it before buying it, since I'm not going to buy it now (sorry Nokia! The princess is in another castle!)

The thought of a handheld, wireless capable, Linux device is very intriguing for me. That said, I'm not sure what I would even do with it! As I mentioned in my previous post, I like to feel cool, and the prospect of answering the question "is that Linux in your pocket or are you just happy to see me" is far to enticing to pass up. Regardless, I think the n810 suffers from some critical hardware, and software, deficiencies.

The n810 is powered by a 400Mhz ARM processor, and comes equipped with either 128MB or 256MB or RAM (from what I can tell), I'm not entirely certain which is to blame for the sluggishness of the experience, but my guess is on the RAM. Particularly when running the browser (Gecko-based) I would experience "hiccups" where the device spent a few seconds registering input, before actually following a clicked link. This may be more at fault of the software, but for an internet tablet, the sluggishness of the browser in both user interaction and rendering time was absolutely infuritating.

The built-in keyboard is smooth, a little too smooth for my taste; I found myself constantly struggling to hit the right keys with my fingers (my thumb is the width of 2.5 columns of keys). Unlike most US keyboard layouts, the n810 keyboard has a lot of keys in "weird" places that I could not get a hang of over the course of a weekend. I eventually gave up on trying to chat or use SSH on the device because I found it so painful to try to type on the device.

The battery life was nothing to write home about, closer to a laptop battery life, instead of a phone's battery life.

The Software
Despite being Linux-based, the device doesn't feel like Linux at all, which I think is a good thing for the mass-market. The "Home" screen was pretty slick, with the ability to add applets to the "desktop" to report things like weather, time, VPN status, etc. A cross-between systray and Dashboard, the Home screen was where I felt most comfortable in the device (the "home" screen in my Smartphone is set up with similar informational panels). Once leaving "Home" I was soon frustrated again, I still haven't figured out whether or not the "Accounts" preference in the Control Panel (for IM accounts) and the installation of Pidgin are the same thing or not. Email and IM, the two other foundations of what I would expect from an "internet tablet" were weak. Neither of them cooperated with any of the IMAP/SSL or Jabber/SSL servers I use, and they both seemed to be targeted at webmail and chat services like GMail and GTalk.

Maemo does use .deb packages for installation, so I could pretty easily find some of my favorite open source applications in the Maemo repositories, unfortunately the GUI frontend for apt-get on Maemo allows for only one operation at a time (no checking multiple boxes and then clicking "Install") so adding new software was literally a 30 minute operation.

I don't think I'm being too negative in saying that I'm disappointed in Nokia for releasing what I think is such a substandard product. With the ubiquity of wireless in San Francisco, having a nice solid ultra-portable machine that I can actually fit into my pocket is exciting, The Nokia n810 is certainly not that machine.

This week I'm shipping my ASUS Eee PC off for my little sister, so I'm starting to look more and more for something even more portable to fill the void, right now the leader is the OQO model 02 which is about 2 times the price of the n810, and ships with Vista by default, but with Ubuntu and close to 6 hours of battery life I think it could be the ultra-portable that I've been looking for.