The Ultimate Linux Handheld

The Nokia N800 starts off the N-series of Linux handhelds with an indisputable winner.

Last year's winner in this category, the Nokia 770, has a younger sibling, and, as oft happens, the kid takes the cake. Nokia's N800, the follow-up to the 770, is smaller, lighter, better-looking, faster and has a larger brain.

Although the N800 bears a high resemblance to its older sibling and retains the overall layout, excellent 802.11 and Bluetooth radios and razor-sharp 4.1", 800x480, 225 pixel/inch color touchscreen of the 770, many things have changed, including:

  • Built-in stereo speakers, instead of a single speaker.

  • Better microphone positioning.

  • The addition of a 640x480 Webcam.

  • The addition of an FM receiver.

  • An upgrade to USB 2.0 connectivity.

  • Two full-size SD card slots with a supported capacity of 2GB each, (in testing, a 4GB card worked).

  • Instead of the 770's single RS-MMC slot, a faster CPU (TI OMAP 2420 at 330MHz vs. the 770's OMAP 1710 at 220MHz), yielding about twice the performance of the 770.

  • Twice the RAM (128MB).

  • Four times the internal Flash (256MB).

Overall, the appearance of the N800 is fantastic. It looks like a finished product, while the 770 had a “prototype” look. This attention to detail is obvious—from the newly designed aluminum front cover down to the built-in stand that locks at both 45 and 90 degrees. It even includes the little touches of chrome and lettering on the slide-out stylus.

Yet, even with all the additional functionality, the N800 is smaller (5.7" x 3.0" x 0.5") and lighter (7.3 ounces) than the 770 (5.5" x 3.1" x 0.7" and 8.1 ounces). The VGA resolution Webcam is accessed via a pop-out button on the left side of the screen.

One feature we miss is the reversible hard-shell cover, which served as a screen protector when closed. If Nokia (or someone else) offered one as an accessory, we would buy it. In addition, we found the smaller buttons on the top somewhat more difficult to manipulate.

The N880's software also is upgraded from the 770's. The company continues to ship a Debian-based distribution, with Hildon widgets, now updated as Internet Tablet Edition 2007. Improvements include:

  • Updated Opera 8 browser with Flash 7 support.

  • Jabber-based IM, including VoIP and video conferencing.

  • Improvements to the connectivity manager so it remembers your connectivity preferences.

  • The ability to use part of the internal SD card as swap, increasing virtual memory.

Nokia has announced (via the Maemo Project) a road map, including GTK 2.10, Samba, Bluetooth headset support, USB host support, Skype and improvements to the built-in e-mail client.

We continue to be impressed by the range of the N800's Wi-Fi chipset. It nearly always picks up APs (access points) that most notebook computers fail even to see. When a Wi-Fi connection is available, you can use the Bluetooth radio to gain access to the Internet via a cell phone. When we received the Nokia N800 to review, it included settings for connecting to Cingular. One of us (Doc) has a Nokia E62 mobile phone with a Cingular data plan, and his N800 review unit got on the Net with no trouble at all.

But, your mileage may vary. To perform the required setup manually, select Tools→Control Panel from the Application menu, navigate to Connectivity, double-tap it, edit the connection titled Cingular Internet, tap Next, and then enter the following connection information:

  • Access Point Name: wap.cingular.

  • Dial-up Number: *99***1# (this is unchanged).

  • User Name: WAP.CINGULARGPRS.COM.

  • Password: CINGULAR1 (also unchanged).

  • Finally, tap Finished.

If you're a US T-Mobile customer, the access point name is one of these: internet.voicestream.com, internet2.voicestream.com or internet3.voicestream.com, depending on your plan and region. The user name and password fields are blank for T-Mobile.

After you get this set up, power-cycle your phone, and you should be connected. Some phones (such as the E62) want you to approve making the connection. After clicking yes on the phone, you're on the Net. Although connectivity over GPRS isn't as fast as Wi-Fi, it's still a lot of fun to be able to pop up your favorite Web site at the beach. (And, both of your authors live by beaches—Jim in Hawaii and Doc in Santa Barbara. Your recreational options may vary.)

Unannounced—but recently discovered by the Nokia N800 community—the device has a built-in FM stereo tuner. Enabling this is as simple as updating the apt-based application catalog and searching for the FM receiver tool. Download it, and you're set once you plug in the headphones for use as an antenna. (FM waves are much longer than cell-phone waves, so you need a conductor up to 30" long or so.) You can configure the FM widget to play through the speakers, though this setting is not retained in the version we tested. (It defaults to the earphones.) Reception is about the same as you'd expect from a Walkman-type radio. One obvious omission we would like to see corrected: the NXP (née, Philips) TEA5761 FM receiver could be upgraded to a TEA5764, which includes RDS (Radio Data Service). That's the data stream that runs in the background with many US FM stations as well as all stations in Europe and many others around the world. For the N800, it would allow the FM tuner to identify stations, programs and music information. (Right now, on the FM tuner widget, you have to enter call letters manually for all your presets.) More important, RDS support would allow applications to be built that make use of data on the RDS stream. These include song or program title (date and timestamped) and other identifying information. Through ProjectVRM (which Doc heads at Harvard's Berkman Center), discussions already have begun toward making the N800 an interactive FM/streaming/podcasting device—one that could include a “buy button” that allows listeners instantly to become contributors to (and members of) public radio stations playing programs that listeners like. This opt-in orientation toward paying for radio (and podcasting) has the potential to revolutionize the whole business.

We even could use opt-in payments to fix commercial music radio. The Copyright Royalty Board earlier this year came up with a ruling that said every station on the Web would have to pay a tiny per-person/per-song fee (which increases to $.0019 each by 2010). While the Royalty Board and its predecessors (going back to the DMCA in 1998) spoke about a “hypothetical” marketplace with a “willing buyer and willing seller”, the N800 actually makes such a marketplace possible, but on a completely voluntary, natural basis. Listeners pay only for what they like, in any amount they like, whenever they like. They can subscribe, escrow the data for use (including payment) at a later time or whatever. The key is providing a low-friction way of listening and paying without any coercion on the supply side—a way to blow up DRM by turning stations and podcasters into true intermediaries between performing artists and those who enjoy their work. And, wouldn't you rather pay directly for public radio than have to listen to pledge drives twice a year?

Even without that extra feature, the N800 is a big advance on radio-as-usual. For example, you can “time-shift” radio, like TiVo does for video.

The N800 also has both USB and line-in interfaces, allowing you to record (and perhaps even edit) as well as play back podcasts. Simply add software. That's a huge advantage of the N800's nature as a wide-open Linux device.

One more fun thing (among many) to do with your N800 is use it as a navigation device. Nokia sells a Navigation Kit that includes a Nokia LD-3W Bluetooth GPS, car charger, car mounting kit, 2GB memory card and Navicore software with maps. However, if you already have a Bluetooth GPS, you might investigate Mameo Mapper. After you get through the setup, you can end up with a set of maps that are based on Google Maps (street or satellite view) or any of several other on-line map sources, including Microsoft's excellent Virtual Earth (VE). If you enable auto-download, these can be downloaded as needed through your cellular-phone data connection. (For more on Navicore and Maemo Mapper, see Doc's Linux for Suits column in this issue.)

We found that we could get five hours of use on a single charge while doing typical Web browsing, over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and listening to the FM radio. This is impressive for a device with this form factor and a Wi-Fi radio.

It's still early, but it's clear that Nokia is committed to the N-series (as it's now called) as a platform, and so are both vendors (such as Navicore) and developers. Be sure to visit both maemo.org and garage.maemo.org, where you can see what's developed and what's developing—and start rolling your own cool stuff for this excellent little device.

Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal. He is also a Visiting Scholar at the University of California at Santa Barbara and a Fellow with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

Jim Thompson has been noodling about with UNIX and Linux for far too long. He knows he started with BSD Unix Release 4.1a on a Vax 11/780 in 1980, and still thinks echo 'This is not a pipe.' | cat - > /dev/tty is funny.

______________________

Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal

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Locations, for the love of baud, how can I add more locations?

Neon Samurai's picture

So far, it is my only complaint. Maemo includes a nice long list of "home location" cities but somehow manages to skip over a few big ones. It includes about four recognizable Canadian cities that can be selected for home locations. In my specific case, the list includes Collingwood, Ontario (a small town of 17 thousand near the smaller town I grew up in) but fails to include Toronto (provincial capital of 2.5 million people where I live now). I realize this is a temporary limitation of the software rather than the hardware. I wouldn't complain except that not having the correct home location available throws off the weather applet and any other location based program I try to run.

If someone can point me to information on adding custom cities I'd be very greatful. Heck, if I have to build a new locations library and package it in a .deb then I'll happily do so and release it to the community.

This so far, this is my only complaint.

Pictures

jinxed's picture

What?!? No pictures?

Agree with that

Recetas bajas calorias's picture

Hey, I agree with Jinxed, share some pics! :)

Well.... what about the OQO model 02?

Panboy's picture

I have seen the 880s and the really are great devices.

But, is this not the *ultimate* handheld we're talking about?

The OQO model O2 runs Ubuntu without compromise (save interpolated video resolutions > 800x480). It's an x86 box, no cross compiling, 1808p HDMI out, EVDO or EDGE or HDSPA from multiple providers, flash disk if you want it (or mod with 160GB), a real Wacom digitizer, delicious backlit keypad, etc, the list goes on.

Dude, we're talking about

Anonymous's picture

Dude, we're talking about 250$ vs 2000$ :P

770 not bad for what it is

Anthony's picture

Being a long time linux user I am fairly impressed by the 770 - especially at the $130 price point. Figured I pick it up as a disposable unit until the next version of the n800 (n880?) comes out.

As a long time linux user I remember suffering many (many!) years of half usable gui applications and fiddling. For a v1.0 version of a product it is pretty darn good. And much more useable then hacking Linux onto an AXIM (and cheaper too!).

Anyway I love it and eagerly await the next version.

I have one it is totally awesome.

Aun's picture

I have to say this is a great internet tablet. It is not a phone, it is not a PDA, it is not a laptop. It is the internet when and where you want it. It has cool factor 10. I have been asked several times if it is an iPh*** or an iP**. Since I am a software engineer and I usually get these questions at work I just say "No, it runs Linux." Then, I just wait for their jaw to hit the floor. This is it I tell you. I had a poc**** for a year, a Pa** for a year and this thing at the core takes the cake. No battery issues like I had with the Pa** no brain dead start over from 1999 issues like the poc****. It is the real thing + a camera.

So, all you smart people. I give you a chalenge. Get up off your hands and make this thing awesome. I want total geek (to me that means engineerers and mathematicians) software out the wazoo for this thing. I want to be able to view fractals in infinite precision, I want video and voice calls. I want video files I can send to anyone... Make this thing soo cool and powerfull you want to buy one for your Mum.

I guess you can tell I like my N800.

and BTW,
I think Slackware rocks.

N880 and FM Radio

geoff lane's picture

While FM is nice, in the UK, DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) radio would be better if only because BBC7 is only available on a digital broadcast.

FM radio

Alan Kay's picture

Nokia posted a great FM radio app on maemo.org. You simply plug in a set of headphones or external speakers, and the wiring works as the external FM antenna. Mine picked up stations as far away as 90 miles.

DAB

Roger Lee's picture

That's OK if you don't mind you 5 hours battery time dropping to only a couple of hours.

DAB is brilliant, but the chipsets available now are pretty power hungry.

Eee-PC

Anonymous's picture

Anyone knows how does it compares with the Eee-PC ?

How does it compares?

Anonymo's picture

The Eee PC is an x86 PC, so you'll immediately have many different Linuxes and other operating systems to choose from. The Eee PC has a 900MHz Pentium M (vs the N800's 330MHz Texas Instruments OMAP 2420), so it will feel a good bit faster too.

It has a hardware keyboard. It is bigger. It is a subnotebook, and not a web tablet. It has a 7 inch screen (vs the N800's 4.1 inch), but it has the same resolution (800x480).

At $200, the Eee PC looks pretty sweet. But it doesn't really compare to an internet tablet in terms of pocketable portability, unless you have gigantic clown pockets. So I'm looking into the clown pockets now, cause I am definitely wanting an Eee PC.

the 770 taught me everything I need to know

stevo's picture

While the 770 was somewhat useful at home (well, in the moments between being frustrated by the typos in need of correction for having to fight with the minuses of the various text input options), I was quickly exhausted by the reality that wifi seems to bring out the best of Murphy's Law when Not Set Up By Yours Truly. When I really needed to be connected, Verizon's VCAST made it so far more easily and reliably than dicking with wifi on the 770. I don't know how many times a hotel's "Do You Agree to the Terms?" page/mechanism baffled the 770, or how many times I had to re-establish the connection and/or credentials.

Sorry, 880, but your pedigree does not impress.

The n800 shows non of the wifi issues

Neon Samurai's picture

I've been loving the n800 since I picked it up a few weeks back. So far, there's been no issues with wifi. As the article mentions, it tends to pickup access points that my notebook radio misses. I even had a chance to test it when out of town in a much less tech savvy area and still found a few networks outside of my travel router. The only issue I've had with wifi is cordless phones which, by some poor engineering choice, also use the 2.4ghz bandwidth. The phone blows out my notebook's wifi also though so that's an issue with the airwaves rather than hardware.

Once I pick up a bluetooth keyboard, this little monster will be a full blown Linux rig. Now to wait for someone to start making custom fit hard cases for it. (I checked the links posted earlier but no hard cases)

If anyone else out there is loving there n800 and in need of a hard case; might I sudgest dropping InnoPocket and email asking if they will be producing one? The one they produced for the Palm is a must have item.

http://www.innopocket.com/web/

maybe the recently announced

tso's picture

maybe the recently announced gecko or webkit engines for N800 can fix that problem (if the N800 have that issue at all, the browser it uses have been updated compared to the 770 iirc)? at least the gecko/mozilla can be installed already.

i just hope they backport them to the 770, that i recently got, cheap, and loves :D

Some things you forgot

Anonymous's picture

The n800 now has flash player 9 (but still doesn't do youtube perfect, see this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHnu94Cw59A))

The n800 also now has skype, and can support SDHC memory cards, allowing dual 8 gig SD cards, for a total of 16 gigs of space. Also, oddly enough, most media must be re-encoded because of the limitations of the n800 (usually AVI must go to 30 FPS at 400X240. Any higher resolution requires a lower framerate, such as 18 FPS)

Lastly, as the previous poster noted, the n800, with debian, doesn't support some popular open-source codecs, like OGM, MKV, and OGG. however, you can install ogg support from maemo.org.

Keep in mind I don't actually have a n800. I've only used the 770 and really want one of these puppies.

Not forgotten, just written too early

Doc Searls's picture

Linux Journal has a three-month lead time. At the point we wrote the feature, a number of things now included with the N800 were not yet available. In fact, we barely got the Navicore GPS stuff in there, under the wire.

What matters is that it's an unusually open Linux-based device from a large company that's serious about making, marketing, and improving it — and that it is supported by a growing and very active development community.

I have my issues with the N800 too. I had to buy drugstore glasses to read the fine print, and a lot of what I like about it (and amongst the supporting software and hardware) is still early-stage. Still, i see this as a Good Thing.

As it happens, I'm writing this from an airport lounge in Los Angeles, having just flown coast to coast from Boston. I used the N800 all the way, mostly for GPS. The unit is hot, but the battery is down only one "bar". Mostly I used it with Navicore, by the way. I still can't figger how to get Maemo Mapper to deal with being untethered from the Net, even after I've downloaded almost 2Gb of maps. But I will. And that's cool too.

Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal

the issues with the youtube

tso's picture

the issues with the youtube playback goes away if you allow the video to fully download before playing iirc. also, there is a program out there that allows you to download a youtube movie onto the N800 (or for that matter the 770) and play it back using mplayer (also available on both devices). something i have done on my 770 with good results.

all in all i dont know what opera have done with the flash plugin, but the sooner we could dump proprietary elements in, now basic, web use, the better. iirc there is effort, from the company behind the opera browser, being put into putting media tags into the next html spec. with the default codes being ogg related.

Nokia no friend of free software

Leif's picture

This review fails to mention that the Internet Tablet OS contains many significant pieces of proprietary software and that, because of that fact, Nokia was able to abandon the 770 and force it into premature obsolescence.

When the N800 was released, Nokia announced that their new software would not be available for 770 hardware. A couple weeks later, they changed their mind and released a "os2007-on-770 hacker edition," but with no official support and less functionality than ITOS2006 it is more of a slap in the face than a useful operating system. It's stated purpose is actually to help developers with only a 770 to produce N800 software; Nokia is apparently uninterested in having a system whereby developers with only an N800 are encouraged to make apps that work on both devices.

Now, 8 months later, as they planned most of the cool new maemo apps that have come out post-N800 do not have ITOS2006 builds available, and the "hacker edition" is still not usable. This is very convenient if you're selling n800s, but rather inconvenient if you already own a 770.

You might expect that when a big hardware vendor ships their own Linux distro purpose-built for a device, the hardware would be well supported by free software. But you would be wrong. 14 months after going on sale, the 770 received an effective death sentence from Nokia. With a proprietary boot loader, power management daemon, and wifi drivers, the free software community has been so far unable to pick up where Nokia left off. Nokia claims they will support the N800 longer than they did the 770, but as long as it remains full of proprietary bits users are still at their mercy.

Nokia is wasting Linux fans' time and money with throwaway hardware crippled by proprietary software, and I'm extremely disappointed in Doc Searls for writing this glowing cover story about them which completely misses that point.

p.s.: The n800 doesn't have line-in or FM radio timeshifting any more than it has a free operating system, unfortunately.

Rather unfortunate

cprise's picture

Embedded Linux seems to have found its way to the pinnacle of "sculpted" (non-standard) throwaway gadgets.

c'est la vie

Terry's picture

If you purchased a device that doesn't do what you want it to, it's simply your own fault for either not doing enough research, or for not being patient enough for something better that was bound to be released a few months later.

770 had closed drivers, does the 800?

Anonymous's picture

we know that the N770 had several propriatary drivers. I also know that some of those drivers are open on the N800. can you please identify any drivers that are propriatary on the N800. (depending on what they are I may still buy a N800 and accept the fact that when I upgrade the kernel I'll loose those functions)

David Lang

This is why I walked away

Anonymous's picture

I had trialled the N800 for 2 weeks, but came to realize this issue. It was the sole reason I decided to walk away from the unit. Nokia seems unclear on the reason that people choose to run Linux.

The ASUS EeePC is 1/3 the price and lets me run a fully open OS, like Fedora.

While the EeePC is larger than the N800, to me that means I can actually see what's happening on the screen. It's also the same size as sub-notebooks that cost over $2k - at $200, I'm OK with that.

ASUS EeePC

KevinW's picture

WHere did you already buy the ASUS EeePC (if the 701 model) through, and how did you get Fedora onto the EeePC? Does it have within it's BIOS setup, for a USB first-device option, if connected at startup?

From what i've read, it doesn't seem to be available until sometime next month yet. It does look pretty cool, and i'd love to have something i can test various new Linux distro's on.
Thanks.

"Nokia seems unclear on the

Anonymous's picture

"Nokia seems unclear on the reason that people choose to run Linux."

And what would that reason be, pray tell? "freedom"? To some, maybe, but not to all. Hell, many people who use N800/770 do not use it so they could use Linux, they use it because they want a portable internet-tablet. To them, the OS it runs on is irrelevant.

The relevancy of a Free OS is that it's maintainable

Oisin Feeley's picture

the OS it runs on is irrelevant.

It may seem like it's irrelevant at the time, but the absence of Freedom to improve and fix the OS means that it becomes relevant very quickly. See the comments on the Nokia770 obsolescence to understand that practical relevance.

Yes, it does :(

Leif's picture

IIRC, the N800 wifi driver is partially GPL but still has a proprietary part. I'm not sure why exactly, but nobody is running a kernel newer than Nokia's release version (2.6.18-omap1 in 2007SE_4.2007.26). You can patch and rebuild that version, but I don't think you can run a later version yet. The daemon required for charging the battery is still closed, afaik. The official flasher (for installing a kernel and/or rootfs) is also still closed, though it has been reverse engineered so there is a free replacement now.

This is just the tip of the non-free iceberg that is the ITOS. Before buying an N800, have a look at the EULA you get when you try to download the "open" SDK.

i recently got a cheap 770,

tso's picture

i recently got a cheap 770, and i was able to install the latest pidgin release. so i dont know how dead it is...

the 770's problem is more that its underpowered for what it attempts to do. and was in many ways a tech demo rather then a official product. the N800 was the first official product in the series.

Absurd

Leif's picture

Saying the 770 "was in many ways a tech demo rather then a official product" is absurd. I bought mine at CompUSA, after checking its specs at nokia.com. It is clearly an "official" Nokia consumer product. It is still being sold new by many retailers 7+ months after Nokia admitted they wouldn't be providing ITOS2007 to 770 end-users, and they aren't (and never have been) advertising it as a "tech demo". Most retailers don't even mention it's a Linux-based OS.

It is nice that Pidgin works on ITOS2006 as well as 2007, but the Mozilla-based browser component and nokia's own SIP client add-on (which was long promised to be "coming soon" before the N800 was released) are both ITOS2007-only. Same with Skype.

Gizmo Project, meanwhile, has graciously provided simultaneous (but separate) 770 and N800 releases of each new Linux version they've produced this year. This is no doubt costing them extra time and money, all because Nokia couldn't be arsed to support the 770 after the N800 was released. I wouldn't expect gizmo or many other ISVs to still be supporting ITOS2006 when the 2008 release comes out.

(Note that gizmo is also closed-source, unfortunately.)

770 _was_ sort of demo

Anonymous's picture

770 _was_ sort of demo product inside, even if they don't tell ya - ask Ari Jaaksi at inconvenient moment ;)

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