Saturday, March 25, 2006

Using the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet - Part 2

It's been almost a month since I received the 770, and I've come to better understand its ways. Not that I appreciate it any better, but I do understand it better.

First, the power on issue I talked about the last time. You can leave the 770 on indefinitely if you flip the cover over the LCD face so that it goes into sleep mode. When you pull the cover off, the 770 immediately turns back on. This is infinitely faster than physically powering up the 770 when you want to use it. Operated in this manner, battery power will pretty much last all day, even if I use it to continuously read news on the web or view some of the simple trailers I've managed to collect. The problem seems to be the power indicator on the screen. I've had the tablet die twice on me, even though right before I closed it up the power indicator showed a full or 3/4's full charge on the battery. Either the software is flawed or the hardware is flawed, or some combination thereof. The best thing to do is just plug it into the charger every evening so it's fully charged the next day.

Second, there are system crash issues. I've had no less than four incidents where the 770 went through its cold-start sequence (white screen with blue Nokia legend, followed by the slow crawl of the progress bar across the bottom of the screen) while working with it. And every time the crash seemed linked with attempts to find a WiFi connection. Most of the time looking for a WiFi connection either finds one or it doesn't. But every once in a while the system seems to stutter, then freeze, then reboot.

And that leads to the use of WiFi. Between the lack of decent WiFi hot spots in Orlando and the odd problems of syncing up when I do find an open WiFi hot spot, I can't find a decent connection. The best connection is through my home wireless hub, a Cisco/Linksys WRT54GS. I can find open hot spots at a number of Panera Bread shops, but even though the WiFi connection utility indicates a wireless connection is solid, the network connection is problematic (the web browser fails to connect, the news reader fails to update). Couple the dearth of open hot spots with poor network connectivity even on good wireless connections, and you quickly discover that the networking experience with the 770 leaves a lot to be desired.

Third, there's the performance issue. As reported in the prior post I found that it was not a good thing to have a lot of applications open. I've also discovered that keeping an application open a long time also leads to slowdowns in performance, and even browsing through multiple pages with a single browser instance leads to a big performance hit over time. This is in stark contrast to both my earlier Handspring and Dell Axim. Startup of applications on the 770, even with the December drop of the software, is already sluggish to begin with. These slow downs only make it worse. As a consequence I've gotten into the habit of killing the browser instance after every six pages. Even then, you can tell the system is challenged because it takes a long time to even end the browser application.

Finally, there's the development environment (SDK) found on the Maemo web site. I work under SuSE 10 on my notebook, and in order to install the SDK I had to download and unpack all the tarballs. The installation was straight-forward enough, and I had everything up and running to the point where I was writing and testing very simple Hildon UI applications. The problem came when I logged out of SuSE and closed down the machine. When I logged back in I discovered the environment stopped working. I thought something had corrupted the SDK environment. Turned out (after a total of three complete reinstallations) that when you start up after a complete shutdown, that you should execute '/scratchbox/sbin/sboc_ctl start', and as root. This mounts all the restricted file system bits in Scratchbox's chrooted environment. I stumbled across this little jewel when I read the complete tutorial and found it as step 3 under the section titled 'Installing maemo rootstrap'. I say this with sarcasm because step 3 starts out as "If you have just installed Scratchbox ... jump directly to step 5!" And as dumb luck would have it, I was going through the installation all at once. I should have read all the way through each and every step. Then I would have had A Clue as to what to do on subsequent restarts.

Nokia has got its work cut out for it. Both the environment and the SDK are going to need considerable polish before it has any kind of impact in this emerging market, the ultra-portable PC. And it will have formidable competition. While Microsoft's Origami may seem limited to many, I can assure you that when it's compared to the 770, the Origami looks like a work of genius.

Right now, I feel like I've pretty much wasted $380 on the 770. I continue to work with it the hope I'll find some hidden feature or application I've missed so far.