Nokia N800 Review: Part One
I finished my 2-week evaluation period with the N800 (thanks, WOMWorld!). Unfortunately, it arrived around the same time I was ramping up my photography hobby stuff because of the nice weather we finally got out here in Chicagoland, so I didn’t have a chance to delve in to as many features and 3rd-party apps for the N800 as I wanted. However, I did get enough play time to figure out a few things about it. I find that I’m remembering a lot of information I want to point out, so I think I’m going to break this up into multiple parts.
Part One: Hardware
The hardware was very nice. As I mentioned in my initial post about the N800, I think it’s pretty sleek and well-built. The materials, while not all metal and super-high-end, didn’t feel cheap. In fact, the N800 felt very solid. There was no creaking or flexing of the plastic. The weight balance was good, and the N800 felt very comfortable to hold, even for long periods of time. The screen was huge, high-res, and bright. It reminded me of the awesome high-res screen on the Dell Axim x50v that I used to use, but bigger. Fonts and pictures were crisp. When you think about all of the functionality that was crammed into this very pocketable device, the sleek design is even more impressive.
The buttons to the left of the screen were laid out well and had good tactile feedback. There was a 5-button d-pad, an escape button, a button to bring up the menu bar options, and a home button that assisted you in switching among open applications, or going to the home screen. These buttons made navigation a lot easier. However the 4 buttons on the top — -, full screen, +, and power — were a bit small and set too close together, which made it easy to accidentally press the wrong button sometimes. However, once I got used to the thin, small buttons, it wasn’t that hard to operate them without looking. When pressed quickly, the power button brought up a menu screen with various powering-down options like locking the screen and going to sleep, completely switching off the device, or turning off the wireless radios. At first I kept turning the device off completely when I was done with it, but it took too long to come back from a cold boot, so after finding that out, I just put the N800 into sleep mode for quicker access. The +/- buttons either zoomed in or out on a screen to enlarge fonts or images, whether it was the browser or the PDF viewer. In media playback apps, they controlled the volume. The full-screen button toggled the app screens into or out of full-screen mode. Reading, browsing, or viewing videos in full-screen mode was really awesome thanks to the high-resolution, brightness, and crisp font display.
As can be seen in the picture, there’s a little circle on the top left side of the N800. That’s the little camera that you can press on to pop it out. It’s swivelable so that you can aim it at yourself for video chatting or video VOIP calls. I played with it a little bit, but since I didn’t have anyone to test out the video Google Talk with and I don’t like pointing cameras at myself, I didn’t really give it much attention. It was rather low-res, but considering how small the form-factor was, it’s relatively impressive that you can actually use it for video calls.
The touchscreen was pretty responsive. I had read about how the touchscreen can distinguish between a stylus tap and a finger press on the screen, and displays an appropriately-sized menu or on-screen keyboard. I was very surprised to hear this; I’d never had a device with this type of functionality before. This actually worked pretty well. Sometimes I accidentally brought up the stylus menus when I tapped the screen with my fingernail, but if I re-tapped the text field with my finger tip, it switched the keyboard to the “thumb keyboard” version. I’d say about 75% – 80% of the time I used my fingers to navigate menus and type in URLs, notes, and other text, and it was completely comfortable and usable. I composed my first blog post about the loaner N800 on the N800 itself, using the virtual thumb keyboard. It took a little bit of getting used to, figuring out where the numbers and symbols are, etc., but after a little while, I felt pretty comfortable using it as if it were a physical thumb keyboard. If the iPhone’s on-screen virtual keyboard works as well as the N800’s, I think most people will be fine with not having a physical keyboard. However, because I used my fingers a lot to interact with the N800, the screen was smudged up with fingerprints, but it was a very nice touch not to have to use the stylus most of the time.
The fold-out stand was a great addition, and I like how it was contoured to fit the lines of the N800 when folded. I definitely appreciated that it was a built-in stand. There are many mobile devices out there like the PSP, or other media players that should have some kind of built-in stand, but don’t. This was a nice design detail from Nokia. It offered a couple angles at which to prop up the N800, and satisfyingly clicked into place at the two different detents. The stand made it easy to listen to music or watch video, hands-free, converting the N800 into a mini-stereo or mini-video-player. When the stand is folded out, it revealed a mini-USB port on the right side, and a covered SD slot on the bottom, very clever. I worried about how thin the stand was, though. It seemed like the most fragile thing on the N800. And because of how the stand is laid out in relation to the mini-USB port, I was wary about using the USB port, because if something would have fallen on top of the N800 to make it tip backwards and inadvertently close the stand, it seemed like the stand would break when it hit the plugged-in USB cable. Of course, if you’re careful, this shouldn’t be an issue, but still, accidents can happen.
The stereo speakers on the N800 sounded very good, and were relatively loud for their small footprint. Listening to music or podcasts through these speakers was a great experience. I’ve always been sort of an advocate for mobile media devices having some kind of built-in speaker setup so that I wouldn’t have to resort to using some kind of speaker dock or the like just to listen to the content if I don’t want to use headphones. Obviously the N800 isn’t going to replace your home theatre set up, but for the size of this device, the speakers were very clear without much distortion at higher volumes. I’m not an audiophile, so YMMV. The stereo speakers plus the big, high-res screen could make for a very nice video-watching experience, probably better than watching videos on a Sony PSP (though I didn’t have a chance to do this comparison).
The two hidden SD slots allowed you to have up to 4GB of external storage, 2GB SD cards supported on each slot. One slot was hidden on the bottom edge of the N800, under the flip-out stand, and the other slot was inside the battery compartment. I didn’t try putting an SD card in the battery compartment slot, but the SD slot on the bottom of the N800 was fairly easy to access. However, I noticed that the slot didn’t have a spring mechanism for removing the card. Instead, you would have to rely on the very small ridge at the bottom front edge of an SD card to pry out the card with something like your fingernail. Since I had used a 2GB mini-SD card in an adapter, it was more difficult to wrangle the card out of the slot. I had to take the mini-SD card out of the adapter, then use a pair of needle-nosed pliers to remove the adapter. That’s when I found out the SD slot didn’t have the normal spring-loaded mechanism that I’m used to!
Well, this brings us to the end of part one. For the next part of the review, I’ll get into the wireless radios, and the N800’s built-in apps.