January 08, 2008

More handheld musings

Follow-up to Handheld dilema from Steve's blog

Since I wrote the original entry over a year ago, I’ve ended up doing absolutely nothing about getting a new PDA because I still haven’t found my ideal device. I did actually get a replacement battery for my m505, at a cost of about £10, plus another £5 for the teeny-tiny Torx driver to get the back cover off. In the end, though, I’ve not used it much. Too much of what I do is web-based these days, and the m505 just isn’t useful enough.

So I’m still looking for something that will let me surf modern (Web 2.0, AJAX, whatever you want to call them) web sites, specifically the Google suite (gmail and reader being the two most important), but also Warwick Blogs (obviously), Facebook, YouTube, etc.

It also needs to have some offline capabilities. What exactly, though, I’m not sure now. Back in Sept 06 I was sure I wanted PIM functionality (calendar, todo, etc.), but I’ve lived without it, or with it just on my phone, for so long that I’m not sure that’s so important anymore. I certainly need to take notes on it. I miss that a lot.

As for hardware, well I think it needs a relatively large screen. QVGA just doesn’t display web stuff as well as I need it to. My test of the Nokia N82 proved that to me. That was a physically small screen (2.4”) too. I’d want something larger, as well as higher resolution. 3” or bigger, and VGA is, I suspect, the minimum I’d be happy with. Such things do exist…

Does the device need a keyboard? Well, I managed very happily using graffiti on Palm devices for many years, doing a fair amount of text input, and I got quite quick at it. So a keyboard isn’t essential. I don’t know how well handwriting recognition works in modern devices, though. The stuff built into Windows XP Tablet & Windows Vista is surprisingly good. Something like that in a handheld would be great. Something as good as Palm’s Graffiti would be fine. Otherwise, a keyboard would be needed. And I don’t see the point in anything less that a proper QWERTY keyboard, but maybe I need to try alternatives.

Back in September I was wondering about the Nokia Internet Tablet – then the N770. There are newer versions now, the N800 and N810. They still don’t have PIM applications, which put me off at the time but maybe doesn’t put me off so much now. And the N810 has a keyboard. I really need to get my hands on one to try it out.

As if by magic, one has just appeared on my desk from those very kind people at WOM World (again). So, over the next few weeks I’ll be trying this out to see if it is a device I can live with, or not.

A quick summary of the device:
  • It has a 800×480 screen with a 4” diagonal.
  • It runs a version of Linux which has a seemingly active developer community, so filling in gaps in functionality should be possible with 3rd party (and mostly free) applications. I could even write my own – Python and Ruby have been ported to the device already
  • The N810 has GPS and mapping built-in. I guess this is much the same as that in the N82. I’m not looking for this in a handheld.
  • It comes with a version of Opera built-in
  • It has 2GB storage and an expansion slot for mini- or micro-SD
  • It has a slide out keyboard, as you can seen in the picture to the right
  • It is a little smaller than shirt-pocket sized, and probably just a little too heavy to keep in there permanently

So, a fun couple of weeks ahead…

- 15 comments by 4 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. John Rawnsley

    Prices on the N800 are sub £200 so I am definitely getting tempted, particularly as it can use a bluetooth phone for internet connectivity when wifi is not available. Is a physical slide-out keyboard worth the extra £100 for the N810 or does the latter have more going for it over the N800?

    08 Jan 2008, 23:01

  2. Steve Rumsby

    The N810 has GPS as well as the slide out keyboard. Other than that I think they are functionally identical. I’m not sure thr keyboard is worth 100 quid, but with the GPS too, assuming you want GPS of course, it probably is. It is difficult. The slidey keyboard isn’t as good as I’d hoped, and a separate Bluetooth keyboard might be needed for extensive text entry. In which case you might well be better with the N800.

    I need to play with the onscreen text entry some more to get a feel for how well the N800 works with no keyboard. Watch this space…

    (You’ll probably get a chance to play at lunch one day soon :-)

    08 Jan 2008, 23:33

  3. John Rawnsley

    Why did I take you up on the opportunity to play with it?

    I just bought an N800 off eBay.

    11 Jan 2008, 14:52

  4. John Dale

    We picked up an iPod Touch in the office to test our mobile site with. I didn’t expect to like it very much, because I didn’t see the point of it compared with an iPod Nano or Classic, but I have to say that I’m knocked out by the web browsing on it (and it has calendar and contacts if you like that sort of thing too). I’ve got to the point, completely to my surprise, when I carry it around everywhere with me because it’s just so handy to be able to glance at email or the web in a spare moment, and it’s so good at doing that. Since I’m now carrying the iPod Touch and a phone everywhere with me, I intend to switch to carrying just an iPhone (which does everything the Touch does and more, including, obviously, being a phone) as soon as they do a 16GB 3G model which isn’t locked to O2.

    What I find most impressive about it, apart from the amazing web browser, is the quality of the screen; it’s 480×320, which isn’t actually that high-res; in fact it’s the same as the Palm T3 and T|X, which have been around for years. But if you put the Touch and a Palm T|X side by side, it’s night and day. The text and graphics and icons on the Palm belong in the last century; the Touch in this one. It’s a joy to use – as, surprisingly, is the on-screen keyboard. It’s not as fast as a physical keyboard, but if like me what you do is mostly reading and only a little bit of input, it’s more than sufficient.

    If you’d like to try it, I’ll swap you for your N810 for 24 hours…

    11 Jan 2008, 22:24

  5. John Rawnsley

    The Touch’s screen is brilliant. I ordered one as soon as it was announced and it makes a great iPod for music, video and photos. I carry it everywhere and have about 4,000 photos on it which beats any traditional photo album I ever made hands down. The Safari web browser looks great but has no java, no flash, no pdf support, doesn’t remember passwords or autofill forms. The Apple ads touting it as the full internet really get up my nose.

    11 Jan 2008, 23:19

  6. Steve Rumsby

    If you’d like to try it, I’ll swap you for your N810 for 24 hours…

    Thanks for the offer, but, based on what John says, I suspect the Touch is not really up to what I’m wanting to do with a hand-held device. The web browser needs to work a bit better than that to keep me happy. Shame, really, because the Touch does look a whole lot better:-) I’ll happily let you play with the N810 for a while over a coffee downstairs, though, if you want.

    14 Jan 2008, 11:21

  7. John Dale

    Interesting. I’ve actually played with an N810 a bit already, and I would say that the Mobile Safari browser beats it into a cocked hat in every area except perhaps screen resolution (which obviously is a device rather than a web browser feature). It’s true that it doesn’t do Java or Flash, but I don’t visit any web pages which require java any more (can there really be any major sites which require java?) and for me at least, Flash is associated almost entirely with games, adverts and video. Youtube viewing is available via a separate app from the web browser, so that covers quite a lot of video ground, so although I’d quite like it if Flash support could be added, I don’t regard it as a deal breaker. PDF viewing is built-in, as is Office document viewing.

    John’s right, though, that not remembering passwords or auto-filling forms is a bit annoying. But not annoying enough to stop the device being wonderful.

    14 Jan 2008, 17:40

  8. Steve Rumsby

    Hmmm. Maybe I need to play with a Touch after all? I’ll add it to the list:-)

    15 Jan 2008, 09:27

  9. John Rawnsley

    I was wrong about the PDF support on my Touch. I must have tried a duff PDF or a non-responding site before. This time I tried my own web pages on crocus and the PDF came over with no problems. The font dithering of latex generated PDFs is not brilliant but is readable with the full text width visible in landscape mode.

    Just got my N800 and flashed it right away to OS2008 using XP on my dual boot MacBook Pro (there’s a MacOSX flasher for the N770 but not the N800). I tried first using the ITS Linux but it wouldn’t give me full use of the USB port. Must ask about that. I had to add the .net framework v2.0 to XP to get the flasher to run, but once done it was very straight forward.

    15 Jan 2008, 16:07

  10. Steve Rumsby

    I’ll sit back and wait for the N810 vs. iPod Touch comparison, shall I? :-)

    15 Jan 2008, 16:20

  11. John Rawnsley

    Apple just moved the Touch goalposts with the firmware 1.1.3 upgrade. The Mail app is very good. No problems connecting to Google, AOL, .mac. I didn’t think I’d push my luck by trying to connect to Exchange :-) Great animation for deleting email.

    Google maps is good too. You move around the map just dragging with a fingertip similar to viewing a zoomed in image.

    If only it had file storage…

    15 Jan 2008, 22:46

  12. Steve Rumsby

    I noticed the 1.1.3 announcement. I also noticed the upgrade fee. I know it isn’t much, but I’m not sure I like the precedent that sets… The OS upgrade for the N800, giving it all the software functionality of the N810, is free as you’ve already discovered:-)

    So, the decision gets more tricky, it seems. I think I need to play with a Touch.

    If only it had file storage…

    It doesn’t? I just assumed it would! Don’t all the other iPods? How irritating. Then again, the built-in storage isn’t huge anyway, so by the time I’d put my music on it there’d not be much room left for files! If only they produced a HD version of the Touch…

    16 Jan 2008, 09:22

  13. John Rawnsley

    It doesn’t? (have file storage)

    No, it doesn’t. All transfers of data (songs, photos, videos, movies, contacts, calendar,...) are done through iTunes.

    If only they produced a HD version of the Touch…

    Throw in bluetooth connection to a phone as well and it would be a killer.

    I also noticed the upgrade fee

    I can live with that. I want companies to benefit from their investment in software development so they stay in business. I’d happily have paid a similar fee to Nokia. You could argue that the Touch was originally cut down too much to differentiate it from the iPhone which is clearly a communication device as well as an iPod so this upgrade should have been free.

    I bought the Touch as in iPod, and whilst I’m happy to have the extras, I mostly use it as a pocket-sized photo album as well as a music source in our car on long journeys. The N800 is slow but it does the Internet tablet job for me.

    16 Jan 2008, 10:22

  14. John Rawnsley

    Actually the Touch OS upgrade to 1.1.3 is free. It’s the new applications which cost $20. Which explains why I had to sync twice, first to get 1.1.3 and then to purchase the apps.

    16 Jan 2008, 17:25

  15. If the Ipod Touch had a semi-decent office package, it’d be perfect. You can add hacks for some features (at your own risk of course!) and Apple’s taking some timid (and extortionately-priced) steps to opening up some of the iPod Touch’s potential (ie the new mail app etc.). It feels like it could be so much more and for less than £200 it’d be a bargain.

    17 Jan 2008, 10:21

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