January 14, 2008

Nokia N810 – initial impressions

Follow-up to More handheld musings from Steve's blog

I’ve had the N810 almost a week now, using it fairly intensively. To be honest, at the moment I can’t decide if I like it or not. I certainly have mixed feelings about it. Here are a few pros and cons:

Pros

The screen is very nice. Everything is of course quite small on an 800×480 screen with a 4” diagonal, but that doesn’t both me. I can cope with small text. And anything smaller would make some websites much harder to use. Google Reader is much less pleasant on a narrower screen.

The browser works really well. I’ve had a couple of unexplained crashes, where all browser windows would just disappear, but overall it works well and has coped with every site I’ve pointed it at. I’ve even let my daughter loose on it, playing some of her online games (dressing dolls, designing houses, etc.) and she’s not complained. Javascript, flash, etc. all present no problems. No Java though…

Battery life has been surprisingly good. I’ve left gmail and google reader open in background windows all day, both refreshing over WiFi every few minutes as usual, and the machine has still lasted all day and had plenty of power for a few hours of browsing in addition. But still, you should expect to charge once a day, and probably carry a charger with you just in case.

The media player works well, and the speakers are surprisingly loud and of fairly decent. Obviously they are small and so there’s not much bass, but they don’t sound tinny, and nor do they distort at high volumes. I was impressed.

The slidey keyboard is really nice. Easy to slide out and back in.

The front and back of the case are metal. Real metal, not shiny plastic. That makes it feel quite robust. Unfortunately, the metal does scratch (sorry, WOM World:-), and I’ve been quite careful with it.

This last week I’ve been trying to use the device as much as possible “out of the box”. I’ve installed a couple of apps, and the install process is pretty straightforward. There are a few web sites listing 3rd-party and Nokia-developed apps, and an application manager that makes installation and updating pretty simple. I plan to explore the available apps this week to see what’s out there – see a “con” below for one reason why…

Cons

Performance isn’t spectacular. Google sites can be quite hard on systems resources these days, Google Reader in particular. They can be quite slow on this device. That’s frustrating when part of the reason for having it is to use those odd 2- and 3-minute periods to catch up with stuff, or check email. And with a Reader window open for a few hours of catching up on RSS feeds, I’ve run out of memory occasionally and had to close down all browser windows to get going again.

The wasn’t quite enough CPU grunt to keep up with the BBC’s iPlayer, but I guess that’s not entirely surprising.

As with the N82, the USB cable doesn’t charge the device which is really, really annoying. Why not?

The device comes with a soft leather-like slip case. I’d prefer it to have a hard side to protect the screen, not just from damage but from unintended screen presses which in transit. You can lock the screen, but I haven’t always remembered and have occasionally taken it out of my pocket or bag to find it doing something unexpected…

Text input isn’t as good as I’d expected. I’m especially disappointed by the keyboard. A long, long time ago I used to own a Psion Series 3 and later a 3a, which looked like this:

It was very easy to thumb-type on that, and I suppose I was expecting the N810 keyboard to be similar. It just isn’t. I guess I’ll get better with practice but I find the keyboard slow to use. I’m especially frustrated by lack of space above the top row, before my thumbs knock against the screen.

But the keyboard is still a major advantage over the N800 and N770, though, because the other forms of input are worse! Handwriting recognition is painful and the onscreen keyboard isn’t much better. To be fair, you can train the handwriting recognition so it might get better with time, and I haven’t yet much used the onscreen “thumb keyboard”. I’ll have a better fell for both of those things by the end of the week.

Not having built-in offline PIM applications was more of a problem than I thought it would be. I have calendar information in my phone, but having to juggle multiple devices is just a pain. If I’ve got the N810 in my hands, I want my calendar there. Once the whole world is Wifi’d I can use Google Calendar, but right now that’s not an option. I could of course connect via my mobile phone, but that can get expensive very quickly. There are PIM apps out there that might do the job, and I’ll try them over the next few days, but it would be better if Nokia provided something…

GPS adds a lot to the cost, and I’m not interested in it. If Nokia produced an N800 with a slidey keyboard (an N805, perhaps!) that would be more interesting to me.

Summary

I’m actually impressed with how well the device works. What it does, it does well. It would benefit from a bit more CPU power, and a bit more RAM, but otherwise it does a good job. Unfortunately, at least out of the box, it isn’t quite the job I want doing! Built-in offline PIM applications, synch-able to Outlook, would make such a difference. Add that and I’d be sold…

So, now I’m off to see if they exist out there somewhere. One of the nice things about the device is that the openness of it means there’s a fair amount of software being developed for it, all/most available for free.


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