Thursday, March 02, 2006

Using the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet

It's been over nine days since I received my own Nokia 770 internet tablet. I purchased it for it's 'geek' factor more than it's practical value. And I suppose that's a good thing, considering that I paid $385 total for the device. The price may seem a bit steep, but it's in line with other devices in its class, such as PDAs. I own two other PDAs, a Handspring Visor Prism and a Dell Axim X5 Entry. I paid $400 for the Handspring in 2000, and I won the Axim as a prize in a contest in 2002. The Handspring has a 180 x 180 color display, a 33MHz 68K-based processor, and 8MB of flash. The Axim comes with a 230 x 240 color display, a 300MHz ARM-based processor, and 32MB of flash. I've upgraded the Axim to Mobile Windows 2003.

Ordering the 770 was not a positive experience. I had been checking back on the Nokia site for the 770 so that I could order one when they were back in stock. I ordered mine February 4th. They didn't actually ship until the 16th, and it didn't finally reach my house until the 21st, the day after the President's Day holiday. I order from Amazon and Newegg, and in both cases, especially with Newegg, the time from order to arrival is a week or less.

When it arrived, I opened the package and read the Getting Started booklet. There wasn't much to getting started: unpack and open the box, plug the battery into the back of the 770, put the mini MMC card in the bottom of the N770, and then plug in the charger and charge the battery. It took several hours to reach a full charge. Once fully charged I then turned it on and started to play with it.

Starting up the 770 is takes a long time: nearly a minute. When you hit the power button at the top of the 770, you're greeted with a white screen and 'Nokia' in large blue letters across the front. That opening hints at the quality of the display, as the text is displayed fully anti-aliased. Then you see a progress bar slowly creep along the bottom of the screen. Once it's nearly across, you'll see a pair of hands displayed briefly, then the desktop for the 770 finally comes up.

The 770 has the best display of any device in this class I've ever seen. At 800 x 400 in landscape mode, it's bright colors and sharp clean graphics are a wonderful thing to view, especially for my bad eyes. Unfortunately, that's about as far as the positive experiences go.
  • The 770 has internet connectivity, but only via WiFi and Bluetooth. The Axim, by contrast, can connect to the internet if connected to a PC via it's USB cable.
  • When you do connect the 770 to a PC via USB, the mini MMC card shows up on the PC as an external drive, just like a USB thumb drive. By contrast, plugging in the Axim requires you use Microsoft's synch software. Once properly connected you then use a extension of the file explorer to view all on-board storage. While using a pure USB interface is a good thing, the problem with the Nokia is that once connected to USB the mini MMS is unavailable to the 770. Open up the 770's file explorer and the mini MMS is grayed out. Further, the internal storage on the 770 that isn't part of the MMS card is unavailable; it's not exported as part of the USB file system visible on the PC.
  • The 770 interface is slow. It's slow to start up and it's slow to execute once started. My 770 shipped with the latest software load (December 2005), so I know I have the latest release with 'performance enhancements'. If this release is fast, I'd hate to have worked with the earlier release that was slow. By contrast, both the Handspring and the Axim are quite snappy. You turn on either the Handspring or the Axim and they are on the desktop (or the last opened application) nearly instantly. I attribute the slow performance to the use of Linux, not to the processor chosen.
  • The 770 has 128MB of flash and 64MB of DRAM. This is a lot for a PDA running Windows Mobile, but it's cramped when running the version of Linux shipped with the 770. And that is a shame, considering that I once used Linux (with a GUI) on a 25MHz 486 with 16MB of ram and an 80MB hard drive (1995). If you have too many applications open you will get a dialog telling you that the 770 is low on memory and please close one or more running applications. Keep in mind that this is embedded Linux, and it has no swap.
  • The good news is that the built-in browser, from Opera, renders most pages beautifully (if slowly). The bad news is that you can't have more than a few browser instances open before you run low on memory. And if you hit a site that uses Flash, you may crash the browser or have to shut it down because the Flash-enabled page consumes nearly all the limited 64MB of DRAM. For example, go hit the Open Laszlo site and watch what happens.
  • AJAX support in the browser is limited at best. I tried to read my Google mail, and it failed. I then tried to run Google Map, and while it ran better, it was inconsistent at best. AJAX support, without the hype, is actually a Good Thing. Experiencing it on the 770's browser is not.
  • WiFi connectivity is very frustrating. If the WiFi connection is open (broadcasting the SSID), then the connection manager can find it and display it. But if it's closed (like mine is), then navigating to the dialog to manually add the WiFi connection is annoying, especially the first time you have to do it. In order to manually enter a connection you have to open the connection manager, then select the menu on the upper left. In the menu you select 'tools' then 'Connectivity settings...'. In the Connectivity settings dialog box, then they click on the 'Connections' button. Then on the Connections dialog you click on the 'New' button. The final 'New' dialog is in fact a wizard that steps you through the process of adding a WiFi connection. The ability to edit connections should be a button on the main connection manager page, not buried five levels deep in menus. That button should be titled 'Manage'.
  • Maintaining WiFi connectivity is very frustrating. Finding a connection is slow enough. But if the 770 goes into sleep mode, when it wakes back up the chances are very good that your existing connection will be shut down. That means you have to select, yet again, to connect to a wireless connection. This gets real old real fast. I'm sure the wireless portion is turned off to conserve battery power, but the software should have a settable option (in the connection manager) to automatically attempt to reconnect to the last known good connection, and pop up a dialog saying that is what it's doing. A better feature would be to not forget the connection, but to open the wireless and reload (at a driver level) the last known-good configuration data in an attempt to quickly restart the WiFi connection. Regardless of a final solution, the current solution of forcing you to repeatedly reselect a connection point after a sleep mode is poor at best.
  • When the 770 is plugged into the charger, it should not go into sleep mode. Neither my Handspring or Axim did this. This was great when I was at a location where I could plug in and work for a longer period of time on the device.
  • Game play. I like the Mahjong game that ships with the 770, but it has the most annoying habit of freezing in the middle of game play. When it finally comes out of its freeze, the sound effects are either gone completely, or only the click works.
  • New software. Right now it seems the only place to find software is through Maemo. Maemo is a development wiki, and it appears that development is ongoing and quite heavy. It will be interesting to see what comes out, but what is needed are tools for business use (spreadsheet and document viewing/editing are prime needs). I'm also waiting to see if pure performance is also improved throughout the system. I'm sure that someone will say I can view PDF documents with the built-in Adobe, but the build-in Adobe is horribly slow. Opening and navigating a PDF, especially one with images, is so painful that I kill it and just wait until I can view it on a PC.
  • A single professional portal for new software. The developer or hacker will say to the above bullet that I can follow the links on Maemo for new software. No. Handspring/Palm and Microsoft provide a single portal that links to large collections of software far more directly that what I've found on Maemo. Maemo is great for developers, not for end users.
  • Finally, the browser interface. Moving around the browser using the stylus is annoying. The buttons on the left, especially the large navigation button at the top, do not work intuitively with the page. I expected the up and down arrows to just move up and down the page (that's all I wanted). Instead, it moves from URL to URL on the page, left-to-right and top-to-bottom. The page up/page down capability works on the PDF viewer as expected. Another annoyance is when the browser is in full screen mode. If you click on an URL that spawns another window when in full screen mode, you have to hit the full-screen button again at the top of the device to bring back the desktop, so you can click on the close button. My suggestion: when in full screen mode, put a duplicate close button at the bottom of the screen with all the other controls. You have enough space, it makes it that much faster to get rid of the popup browser window you spawned.
I've heard that Nokia is getting ready to create a new network device called the 880. I hope that they've learned enough from the 770 to add more DRAM to the device (128MB at least) as well as really tune the software to run as efficiently as possible.

The 770 is not for everybody. If you want something for practical day-to-day use, you're better off buying a PDA or smart phone. And a word to Nokia: make nice with Microsoft. I would love to be able to run Windows Mobile 2005 on this device in place of your version of Linux. It's both fast and complete. Trying to impress the Linux geek crowd is not a good business plan, nor is trying to shoe-horn Linux onto this type of platform. Using Windows Mobile 2005 would make this a far better, and far more successful, mobile device.


  1. Boy, this sure takes all of hte fun out of the 770. If my Axim is better, then I would hate the 770. I think I will stick with a full-blown laptop for my browsing and email.


  2. The 770 has internet connectivity, but only via WiFi and Bluetooth. The Axim, by contrast, can connect to the internet if connected to a PC via it's USB cable.

    If I have a internet connection in a PC would I use a cellphone to navigate trough the web? I mean, does it make sense at all... I f don't have acess to a PC it's one thing, while having it it's another...


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