January 21, 2008

Nokia 810 – more thoughts

Follow-up to Nokia N810 – initial impressions from Steve's blog

I’ve had the device for a couple of weeks now. After the first week my main problems with the device were:
  • text input
  • the lack of offline PIM applications

I’ve specifically looked in more detail at both of those since then, and sadly not got great news.

Text input

There are four different methods of getting text into this device:
  • Handwriting
  • Small on-screen keyboard for use with the stylus
  • Large on-screen keyboard for use with thumbs (i.e. rest the device on the fingers of both hands and use two thumbs on the screen)
  • The slide-out keyboard

Handwriting is still unworkable for me, It is simply too slow. The slidey keyboard is much better, but still not as fast as I’d hoped. The small on-screen is no faster. The on-screen thumb keyboard is probably the fastest of the bunch, but is uses up a lot of the screen and so hides what you are typing into. Overall, I prefer the slide-out keyboard and use that most of the time.

I am disappointed, though. I guess I’ve been spoiled by a couple of previous devices. The keyboard on a Psion Series 3a I owned about 10 years ago was much better than this one. It was bigger, which helped, but that wasn’t the only reason it was better. The keys had a better feel. The keys on the N810 are a little too hard to press, and there just isn’t enough room above the top row.

And I’ve owned a couple of convertible laptop/tablet PCs and so used handwriting input in Windows XP Tablet edition and Windows Vista. I’m still astonished at how well that works. My handwriting is not great, but Windows seems to manage to make sense of it most of the time. Of course, it has more processor power to throw at the recognition task. But still, I find handwriting input under Windows very, very usable.

I’ve also used Palm devices and found Palm’s graffiti easy to learn and very quick. Ironically, one of the 3rd party apps you can install on the device is a PalmOS emulator. Naturally this supports graffiti text input which is for me faster than any of the native methods! I wonder if Nokia could manage to build graffiti into the standard product…:-)

So, I’m glad the N810 has the slide out keyboard. For me, that makes it a much more usable device than the N800. But I’m still disappointed.

Downloadable applications

There’s quite a nice application manager for installing 3rd party applications. I’ve had a lot of success putting games and a few other things on the machine. Just click on the download link from the relevant web page, open the file in Application Manager, and click “Install”. Quick and easy. And there seem to be quite a lot of applications out there.

I was specifically looking for PIM applications – calendar, ToDo list, address book. More specifically, applications that would work offline. Such things do exist for Linux systems. The GNU Palmtop Environment has these applications and more, and better still they can be synchronised with Outlook/Exchange. The main pieces of this suite have been ported to the Nokia platform, but sadly not the synchronisation components. So, GPE give me the offline functionality I need, but with no way of synchronising it with anything else. That’s a great shame. No doubt this will be ported in due course, but until then…

I was also looking for an app I could use for note-taking in meetings. The built-in notes application is pretty basic. It is essentially equivalent to Windows Notepad – i.e. just a text file editor. There’s no scope for hand-drawn content, nor any organisational functionality. There’s a 3rd party app that addresses both of these problems – maemopad+. Unfortunately, it didn’t come packed for an easy install, and I haven’t yet managed to find the right set of bits and pieces to install to make it all work. Disappointing again, because app sounds like exactly what I want. Maybe there’s be a properly packaged version of it soon?

So, mostly the support for 3rd party applications is pretty good, and there’s quite a variety of stuff out there. But, but everything I want is available yet, and not everything seems to be properly packaged yet. I guess these are relatively new devices and the development community hasn’t had enough chance to sort itself out. I’m sure these problems will resolve themselves over time, but until then the N810 doesn’t quite do it for me…


There’s a lot to like about this device. For casual web browsing it is hard to beat. Catching up with email or RSS feeds in odd 5-minute slots when you’re waiting for something else to happen saves me a lot of time, and this device does it well. It would be better with a bit more CPU grunt. I find Google Reader in particular to be a bit slow at times when popping up menus and similar. If I travelled a lot, being able to carry this device for checking email on the move and not have to bother with a laptop would be great. Despite the problems of text input, the N810 does this stuff very well. For sitting on the sofa & surfing during TV ad breaks, there’s nothing to beat it!

I have tried it with Google Documents and it coped very well with both documents and spreadsheets (didn’t try presentations).

It is less good at PIM-like tasks. To be fair, it isn’t designed for that, so maybe it is unfair to complain. But I don’t want to have to carry another device. That’s just silly! It is perfectly possible to put such functionality into the standard N810. Nokia take note… Or maybe I’m in the minority in wanting such functionality?

The media player works well enough, too. It isn’t an iPod, of course, but it plays music and video and makes it easy enough to find and manage. If my primary requirement was a music player I’d buy an iPod Touch, but as a secondary function of a PIM/browser device, I’m happy with what’s there.

Finally there’s the price. The N810 is too expensive for my tastes. The N800 is better, but without the slidey keyboard I wouldn’t buy it. Take the GPS functionality out of the N810 (I don’t want it, anyway) and call it an N805, reduce the price, and maybe I’d consider it. Assuming the PIM functionality was available, either built-in or from a 3rd party, of course.

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