Sunday, June 11, 2006

Nokia 770 Internet Tablet OS 2006 BETA Review

On June 9th the Internet Tablet OS 2006 edition Beta was announced on maemo.org. What follows is a quick review of some of the features. Remember when I said Nokia might be good for Linux? If this beta is any indication then I might have been wrong. Let me state up front that once installed, you can't revert back to an earlier version of the software (or at least I can't).
  • The clock is fixed again. It was broken in the May 2006 release, being off by -3 hours. Now it behaves correctly. I still find the world view a waste of an application. At the very least they could draw the cities of the world on the map.
  • WiFi networking has changed. If an application such as the web browser is started and there is no WiFi connection, then a connection will be automatically made from the collection of WiFi connections that the connection manager already knows about. The flip side is that if the application is closed then the WiFi connection is closed. I'm assuming this is so that battery power is conserved. It just makes starting up another web-enabled application (such as mail) take that much longer while the connection is re-established.
  • Applet windows are movable on the desktop. They are movable by selecting with the stylus and then holding the stylus down. You move the stylus across the face of the desktop to move the window, then lift the stylus from the desktop to let the applet window 'go'. Unfortunately applet windows are not allowed to overlap. And there is no grid with which to align their edges. Gnome has a desktop alignment grid. Microsoft Windows has a desktop alignment grid. And speaking of Microsoft Windows, I thought we left tilable-only windows behind when we left Windows version 1.
  • The new color themes are garish and ugly. After the update the screen was using the orange color theme and the orange background image. I changed that to the older gray color theme and a simpler, cyan-colored background. I hope that the final release of this software installs all four of the earlier color themes as well as these newer themes.
  • They changed the menuing system. Some of the menuing changes are for the good. As you can see the side menu has been reorganized with sub menus that better categorize their contents. Some of the changes are questionable. As you can see to the right, the connection manager is in the Tools submenu. It's no longer a part of the network applet (the globe icon next to the power icon on the top right).
  • The web browser is unstable. I don't know what's happening with the browser, but it's unstable. It fails to properly render some pages. If the page is refreshed then the browser will properly render the page. Under some circumstances the browser completely crashes, specifically when I tap the browsers URL input field with my finger to bring up the finger keyboard.
  • The system is unstable. I attempted to change a WiFi connection after a connection had already been made. After clicking the 'Change connection...' menu selection, the tablet locked up solid, then rebooted. This is repeatable.
  • The thumb keyboard is awful. The thumb keyboard is accessable if you tap an input field with your finger. When that action occurs the thumb keyboard takes over the entire screen. Tapping on keys is maddeningly slow, and there are instances where the finger taps are not registered, requiring you to tap multiple times. After a while you find it's faster just using the stylus on the older virtual keyboard.
  • Memory usage and recovery is better than before. The greatest memory consumer is the web browser. But when the browser is closed, all memory used by the browser appears to be fully recovered. In fact memory usage behaves this way with any application that is opened and then closed.
  • Performance is spotty. There are instances where applications open very quickly, or pages render very fast. But there are other instances where the tablet appears to freeze for upwards of 30 or more seconds, especially when rendering web pages. This is a regression from the May 2006 release.
  • Chat and VoIP is limited. When I bring up with chat or VoIP the only selections are Google and Jabber. Since my accounts are AIM and Yahoo, there's no way for me to use either of those services. The VoIP requires me to purchase a Bluetooth capable headset. Right now I'm in no mood to spend any more money on the Nokia 770 or peripherals, so I won't be able to test (let alone use) VoIP.
  • Video playback is still as bad as ever. The latest demo video is a Discovery Channel commercial. This replaces the Ice Age 2 video that shipped with the older software. The playback is still grainy and low resolution. If you high quality video playback, buy an iPod.
Summary

I find what Nokia is trying to do with the software intriguing. But it is definately beta software, and from my sampling it is very rough all over. If you've got a Bluetooth headset and services on either Google or Jabber, then you've got more features to explore and possibly use. The thumb keyboard is awful. It's slow, and attempts to bring it up causes other applications (such as the web browser) to crash.

And if this is what is being shipped on new 770's, then those new owners are not going to be happy campers.

If you're a current 770 owner and you're not interested in testing and reporting bugs, or putting up with the crashes or strange device freezes, then stick with the older May 2006 version until this version is officially released. You won't miss anything. Once the beta is installed, you cannot revert back to an earlier version.

More Screenshots


An example of an improperly rendered page in the browser.


The same page after the refresh button was pressed. Now it renders correctly.


How to personalize the desktop.


Selecting one of the desktop applets, in this case the RSS reader window.


When selected, the applet appears on the desktop. In this case the RSS reader overlays the Google search window. Note that both windows are outlined in red, indicating they overlap. What's interesting about this is that windows can't overlap. You either have to move it off the window you're covering or else the window is removed automatically.


The RSS list viewer. The refresh 'button' is now in the upper left corner. What's more, you have no idea how many items are unread, like you did with earlier versions. I do not like this new layout. There was nothing wrong with the older layout that I could see.


Selecting a single item opens it up such that you can read a brief synopsis. Unfortunately, clicking on it again doesn't send you to the web page, but sends you instead to the larger RSS feed reader. Then you have to click the entry again to go to the web page. I hope they fix this action by either removing the new feature here or by going directly to the web page.


The chat application. The only services available right now are Google talk and Jabber.


And VoIP calling. Once again the only services available are Google talk and Jabber.


The browser URL input field has partial matching as characters are typed in. A feature we're all used to by now with Firefox, but a nice feature to finally have on the 770.


And, of course, my favourite webrag in glorious colour. And full screen no less.

5 comments:

  1. Please note that Jabber offers transports to connect to propriatory networks like AIM and Yahoo, so your complaint is somewhat incorrect. I'll also note that the firmware image is in beta, and is not shipping with this firmware (that's beta, you see)

    ReplyDelete
  2. The VoIP requires me to purchase a Bluetooth capable headset

    No it doesn't. There's a built-in microphone on the 770.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You have managed to put quite a bit of mis-information on your blog.

    I'll just address the downgrade. you can downgrade. You just need the NEW flasher-2.0 for anykind of flashing once you have beta on the device .

    BTW, you can get rid of many browser crashes and slowdowns by disabling flash (plugins) from the browser.

    ReplyDelete
  4. a few notes...

    The windows updater *will* work for installing the 2006-Beta despite what the maemo site says...

    The 2006-Beta still doesnt support the New 2gb RS-MMC or MMC-Modile memory cards.

    However there is a fix... download this zImage file > http://www.freenux.org/~mm/zImage-su-18-200625 and Flash it using the new linux flasher (ie: flasher-2.0 -f -k zImage-su-18-200625 )This was originally referenced in bugzilla, bug #621.

    sidenote, the windows installer will not work for the zImage file. Linux only at this point i guess. Also,the kernel doesnt really make the system any more stable, it doesnt seem to hurt it either.

    ReplyDelete
  5. You're right about the Windows updater being able to load the beta. That's what I used. The problem was when I tried to re-load the older version, I was using the Windows tool. The idea of having to go under Linux to fix the 770 annoys me. That in spite of the fact I've got Suse 10.1 dual-booting on the same notebook with Windows.

    It's a good thing I have only a 1GB MMC.

    ReplyDelete

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