Nokia N810 Review

For starters, this was an internet tablet, even before the iPad and Android tables. It's not a PDA and it is not a phone. However you can make phone calls with it using the built in SIP and Skype clients. It does contain a contact database, which is useful for storing phone numbers and e-mail addresses. But the default software package lacks a calendar and office applications.
So it is very obvious that the emphasis lies on internet applications. The device has a good web browser, based on mozialla, which shows almost all web pages without any problems. It has an e-mail client, a Skype client, a SIP client, a messenger client (not for MSN), an RSS reader and a streaming media player. Furthermore there are some games, a PDF reader, a picture viewer/editor, and some other utilities.
But the best thing of all is that it runs on Linux. A terminal console comes standard with the software.

Please note that I have only played a short while with this device. Maybe some negative things I'm going to mention here are easily remedied by tweaking some settings.
B.T.W. The software in my device was OS2008 version 2.2007.50-2. Newer versions may also eliminate some of my negative experiences.

Look And Feel

To be honest the device looks great and feels solid. Of course the keyboard is a bit limited, but what do you expect when it has to be this small. Chr key At first it took some getting used to entering digits. Especially if you want to type the digit 0, you'll easily end up typing a 9 because the 9 is on the letter O key. I also miss some very important Linux keys like TAB, | and the back tick character. But that can easily be solved by pressing the Chr-key which then displays all the missing symbols. Also the placing of the cursor keys is unconventional on the left hand side of the keyboard.

keyboard Most of your work can be done with the keyboard, although you'll have to tap the screen with your finger or the stylus every now and then. You can also use a software keyboard on the screen using the stylus if you leave the real keyboard closed. I only miss the cursor keys on the software keyboard, which would be useful during an X terminal session (to recall the last commands).

Applications

Almost everything you'd want to do on the internet comes standard on the N810. Sending and receiving e=mail with the built-in e=mail client. Making internet telephone calls with Skype and Sip. Reading news, listening to internet radio broadcasts, instant messaging, you name it.


Web Browser Browsing the web with a real Mozilla web browser. The Mozialla browser is not a stripped down browser, like in most PDAs and other mobile devices. It simply shows web pages as they are supposed to be shown. You can even watch youtube videos, right out of the box, although video playback sometimes suffers from the slow processor. Showing Shockwave content is no problem either.

The browser defaults to a zoom level of 100%, which is rather small. OK you'll get a good overview of the page, but reading the content is often impossible. Zoom levels of 120% or even 150% are better suited to be read, although the more you zoom in the more you'll have to move the screen about in order to read it all.


Email Sending and receiving e-mail can be done with the built-in e-mail client. If you're using POP mail, this client has everything you'll need. However if you're using an IMAP server to read your mail it is a bit buggy.
The idea behind an IMAP server is to be able to read your mail from multiple machines. In order to do that each machines should synchronize itself with the content on the mail server. Everything works fine if new mail arrives. However if you delete some mails from the server using another machine, the local mails on the N810 remain. Therefore you'll have to go through your entire mailbox on the N810 time and time again to throw away the local mails which are still there even though they are long gone from the server.
Fortunately there is a good alternative available called modest. This e-mail client has the same look and feel as the built-in client, but this time IMAP works as you might expect it to do.
You can instruct the N810 to keep checking your mail box every few minutes (or hours) as long as it is connected to a wireless network. A flashing icon and the flashing LED in the upper left hand corner indicate the arrival of new mail. This feature also demonstrates the amazing battery capacity!


RSS Reader A built in RSS reader, which makes reading news feeds real easy! You can even have the headlines on your home screen, clicking a headline will automatically open the RSS reader with that particular article in view.


Sip Even though the N810 is not a mobile phone you can still make phone calls using internet telephony with Skype and SIP.
SIP is often renowned because of its setup complexity (I challenge you to set it up on a Nokia E61 for instance). But with the N810 Nokia proves that they really do know how easy it can be to get SIP working. For instance to get voipbuster (or one of its sisters) running is only a matter of entering the user name, password and the SIP server (sip.voipbuster.com in this case) and it works!
The N810 is not a real phone. This means that the conversation is done over the main speakers. If you need some privacy, or if you can't hear the other party because of the ambient noise, you'd better use your ear phone set to make the calls.


Instant messaging I haven't tried the built in client for instant messaging, Gizmo, because you'll have to sign up for that service. I hate to have yet another login code to remember.
For instant messaging I prefer the program pidgin, which can be installed on the N810 too. Pidgin can handle AIM, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, GroupWise, ICQ, IRC, MSN, MySpaceIM, QQ, SIMPLE, XMPP, Yahoo and Zephyr. Do you know any other instant messaging services, I know I don't.


Media Player The media player can play content from internal memory and it can stream media from the internet. This turns the N810 into a nice mp3 player or internet radio. There are hundreds of radio station links available in the internal internet radio directory, sorted to genres, languages and countries. The list appears to be updated constantly.


Map The N810 comes with a built in GPS receiver. It comes standard with a map program by Wayfinder. This program can be used to find your way in strange places, however it is not a navigation system. You can download your required maps from the internet. Preferably you do that before you loose your Wifi coverage, otherwise you may get a nasty surprise when you see your next telephone bill.
For navigation you can upgrade the map software to a full navigation system. This is not free software though. You can rent it for a month, a year or a 3 year period.

I can't help noticing that the GPS receiver is a bit deaf. It could be the test device itself, but it might as well be a general issue.


Some of the utilities Apart from the above mentioned programs the N810 also features some games, a file manager, a calculator, a notes writer, a PDF reader, a sketch program, a search feature, a picture viewer/editor and a contacts manager. The picture viewer can also be used to transfer the N810 into an electronic photo frame.
As opposed to most other portable devices the N810 is standard not equipped with calendar or (mobile) office suite. You can install gnumeric as a good spreadsheet program. However I haven't found a suitable word processor in the short time I was able to play with the N810.


Settings I haven't mentioned the settings tools yet. There is a control panel (used to change system settings), an application manager (to install/remove programs), a backup/restore program (who needs that?) and a connection manager.
Especially the connection manager is very easy to use. You can setup multiple Wifi connections and save their settings. From then on the N810 will automatically login to an available known Wifi network.


X terminal And last, but by all means not least the standard program is X Terminal, which is the command line interface to Linux. More on this later though.

Installing Extra Applications

Application manager Extra applications can be installed in several ways. The easiest way is to use the GUI Application manager. There you can search for the application you want to install, click it and a few seconds later the application is ready for use.
Another way to install applications is to download installation files from the internet. Clicking such a file is all you need to do to install it, just as easy as installing through the Application manager.
People familiar with Debian or Ubuntu Linux may prefer installing extra applications using X Terminal and the apg-get suite of utilities. You may even prefer the dpkg way of installing programs.
And if you still can't find what you're looking for, try writing or porting a program yourself! After all it is a Linux operating system, which is by design highly customizable.

Most install procedures rely on software repositories on the internet. Those repositories together hold a wide variety of software installation packages. Unfortunately the basic set of repositories holds only a limited number of software titles. However there are many more sources on the net to add to your repository list. Try gronmayer.com/it/ for instance and you'll find almost everything you'll ever need on your internet tablet. B.T.W. you'll have to open this link on your N810 and click Select all repositories and then click the Install selected button. After that you can start the Application Manager and start picking your favourite applications!

Connection Manager

What would the use of an internet tablet be without a connection to the internet, one way or the other. Naturally Wifi is the preferred way to connect the N810 to the internet. An alternative way is to use your mobile phone as an internet modem.

Connection manager Wifi connections are made using the Connection manager. I must say that it works perfectly. When you connect to a new access point you simply enter the security parameters and off you go. You can then tell the N810 whether you want to store the access point settings for later.
Every time the N810 comes within range of a known access point it automatically connects to it, without even bothering you about it. Not only does it make an internet connection fully automatically, it even reconnects all the services you still had running from a previous time you were connected. So your instant messenger client, your SIP and/or Skype clients, the RSS reader and your e-mail are automatically reconnected. Calling home cheap while on holiday abroad is very simple with the N810 in your pocket.

And what about the sensitivity of the Wifi interface? Nothing to complain there either! I was even able to see and connect to an open network in my neighbourhood which I have never even seen before on any of my other Wifi equipment. Not bad, considering the enormous efforts Nokia has made to make the Wifi as power efficient as possible.

Connecting the N810 to your Nokia mobile phone using bluetooth in order to use the phone as an internet modem is easy enough. It's simply a matter of finding the phone, connecting to it, selecting the country and operator and that's it. OK you'll have to give the connection manager the instruction to connect to a phone and not only to Wifi networks, but that's a detail you'll soon find out.
BTW, I've used a 9300i and an E61 to test it. I don't know what other Nokia phones or other brands will work though.
However I have not been able to make the N810 connect to a Windows Mobile (sorry) phone. I've tried both a QTEK S100 (WM 2003SE) and an HTC P3600 (WM 5) without success. The N810 simply doesn't see the phone, whereas other Nokia devices have no problem finding and connecting to the PocketPCs at all. I can connect a PocketPC to the N810, but then I can't use the PocketPC as modem. The N810 has to see the PocketPC, but that seems to be impossible.

Linux

Gnumeric Oh yes, did I tell you that the N810 runs on Linux? Sure I did, but what does that mean to me, the end users? For normal applications it doesn't really matter whether the N810 runs on Linux, Symbian or any other operating system. I think the main benefit of the N810 running on Linux is that it can run many existing Linux programs which are ported by many volunteers and software vendors. The picture on the right shows gnumeric, a spreadsheet program, running on the N810 for instance.
It also matters of course if you're a Linux fan! The first thing I did was dive under the hood of the machine by starting X terminal.

The shell is handled by a program called busybox, a single file implementation of a stripped down ash shell. Every shell command (like: ls, pwd, cp or more) is in fact a symbolic link to the file /bin/busybox. This means that not all the exotic parameters of a full featured shell will be supported, but let's face it how many of the 50 options of the ls command do you know and use regularly?
It also means that you'll have to do without the beloved man pages. You can however type ls --help for instance to get a list of all the supported options.

As I said, the Linux of the N810 is a bit limited. However this can be remedied by many installable programs. For instance installing the program gainroot, will allow you to gain root access, something which is disabled on the N810 by default. Should I tell you to be carefull with the root account? You can brick your device with it if you don't know what you are doing, as usual in all Linux versions.
The next program you really can't do without (IMHO) is less, install it and use it as a better more.
Openssh is also a must have. With it you can ssh to any other Linux machine, and use scp to copy files to and from other Linux machine. Or even let other machines (from anywhere in the world if you do it right) connect to your N810's Linux shell. Be sure to disable root login in /etc/ssh/sshd_config, otherwise anyone can become root on your machine!
It is even possible to install a complete python development environment on the N810.
And finally you could install a more user friendly text editor like nano or joe. Busybox comes standard with vi, but that is not really the most user friendly text editor there is, if you ask me.

Other Sources On The Net

I have only a few links here which I found useful during my testing period. Undoubtedly with a bit of googling you should be able to find many more resources.

On Maemo you'll find all things you need regarding the Linux flavour on the N810. It also contains information if you want to write or port applications for the N810 yourself.

And last but by all means not least. Here's a guide to bring your N810 under your control. It describes things like getting root access, adding more software repositories, enabling ssh for your Linux console, etc, etc.

Conclusion

The Nokia N810 was surely a wanna have gadget in its days. Especially if you were on the road a lot. However considering the rise of Android tablets makes the Nokia N810 bite the dust on almost all fronts.

Disaster Strikes

Oops, I think I've bricked it. Or rather it bricked itself. The only thing it does now is trying to start up a couple of times and eventually it gives up completely. I see the Nokia Logo, I see the two hands, and then the Nokia Logo again, but that's it. OK, maybe it's tired, let's give it a rest. Remove battery for a while and then insert and try again. Pfffff, nothing. Bother!

How did this happen? Don't know exactly. All of a sudden the e-mail application, which ought to check for new mail every 5 minutes started complaining. Every five minutes a pop-up appeared telling me there was a fatal error and the application was shut down. The rest of the programs were still running fine.
I tried to start the modest e-mail application in order to tell it not to check the mail every 5 minutes. As I said, I tried to, it refused to start and came up with the same pop-up.
OK, it's time for a reboot then. I tried switching off the device with the power button. Everything went dark. No not everything, there was that dreaded pop-up again. I pressed OK, and I pressed OK again, and again, but the pop-up came back as soon as it disappeared. At last the only solution was to remove the battery. And from that moment on it wouldn't start up again.

I've browsed the internet for a solution and decided that it needed a software re-flash. Hopefully that will remedy the problem. But it's day 2 of a 3 day holiday when this happened, and I don't have a suitable USB cable at hand here. So I had to wait anxiously with the hope I could get it going again.

D-day arrived. I was at work, took the USB cable, downloaded the latest software from Nokia, ..... now what?! Nokia tells me to start the Internet Tablet Software Update Wizard. But I don't have that! I've looked, and looked and looked again, no Internet Tablet Software Update Wizard to be found. Time and time again I arrived at the same page, but no ITSUW.
You know what, I'll try the Nokia pages from a different country for a change. Bother that same page again! Wait a minute there's something else at the bottom of the page! Ah a link to the Wizard! Finally half an hour later I was ready to install the Wizard and revive my N810 (correction, it's not mine).
No I wasn't. The Wizard needed .NET framework 2.0 from Microsoft, whatever that may be. Instead of providing me with a direct link to that software, the installation program of the wizard simply terminated. I downloaded and installed the .NET framework, lost some 90Mb of hard disk space in the process, all just to be able to upload a file to a USB device. I wish I had a Linux machine at work, but I was too anxious to wait until I got home again.

Well, in order to cut a long story short (too late I'm afraid), the Wizard started, asked me if I wanted the latest software version (which is 2.2007.51-3) and off it went. It took some 4 minutes to upload the file, and another 5 minutes to flash it.
It's a miracle! It's alive again!
I lost all settings and installed programs in the process. Fortunately there was no data on it, only installed programs. A backup wouldn't have helped me here either, because the backup program only appears to backup the home directory, not the installed applications.
I'd better bring it back before I break it again. Therefore I didn't have time to test if the new standard e-mail client works better with IMAP than before.

B.T.W. flashing new software did not erase the internal memory card.