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Jean-Luc Picard's Internet tablet: the Nokia N800

Before we moved into our house in 2001, I had it wired for data.  In most rooms of the house you will find one or more 4×4 faceplates on the wall, with two coaxial and two RJ-6 connectors protruding.  There's even one on the kitchen counter, where I intended, someday, to place a web tablet.  It's never been used, because that was where Janice decided the coffee maker should go (note to male readers: consult with your better half before deciding where network taps should be placed…), but I've always had in mind that there would be one or more tablet devices in the house, used for quick web browsing amongst other things.

Enter the Nokia N800.  The N800 is the tablet device that Jean-Luc Picard must have surely carried when Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted 20 years ago in 1987.  Weighing just over 7 ounces, and measuring 3 x 5.5 inches, it's easily carried to wherever you need network access. It's a capable web browsing platform (with Opera on board).  It's also a fabulous media device with an 800×480 screen, perfect for watching widescreen video.   And with a full blown Linux OS under the hood, it's easily extended by other software developers.

The N800 is designed for connectivity.  With WiFi on board, it can easily connect to any mobile hotspot.  And, although it doesn't have a cellular radio, it can use the built-in Bluetooth to connect a cellular phone, and piggy back the phone's data connection.  I frequently did that with the N95. 

I've found it most useful for:

  • quick easy access to the web.  You can have a PC-like browsing experience anywhere.  It's no longer necessary to suffer through the compromise of a phone-based screen for web access.
  • reading RSS feeds.  It was trivial to copy my OPML file over to the tablet, and configure the built-in RSS reader to read my feeds.  Even better, though, was simply accessing the feeds from Google Reader.
  • checking Email.  While it doesn't have an easy way for me to check my Exchange based email for work, it does have very nice support for GMail, including a notification icon that runs on the N800 desktop.
  • IM / Chat.  A built-in Gtalk client makes it easy to stay in touch.  Moreover, it can also support voice and (via the built-in video camera) video conversations. 
  • phone calls.  Again, although there isn't a built-in cellular radio, Gizmo Project for N800 can be downloaded and used for making voice calls to the PSTN.
  • media.  It's a very capable audio player, and with an 800×480 screen (a 15×9 aspect ratio) it's plenty large enough for mobile media playback.  I watched several hours of television programming on a recent flight to San Francisco with no trouble at all.  To get the best media experience, you will want to download the mplayer application, which supports more video codecs, with higher quality playback.

The claimed battery-life is phenomenal, with up to 12 days standby, and 3.5 hours of continuous use.  I didn't measure the standby claims, but easily achieved 3 hours of continuous use.

Additional software for the N800 can be found at maemo.org, and at maemo-apps.org.  These are resources well worth checking out, with applications ranging from streaming media to network management.  Useful tips and tricks and opinions from other bloggers can be found at the N800 blog.  

It seems as if the future I anticipated in 2001 when I wired our house for the web might finally be realized in the form of the Nokia N800.  Cool!

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