Nokia’s second-generation N800 Internet Tablet marks a significant step forward on the path between bulked-up phone and stripped-down notebook computer. For the knowledge worker, whose productivity, entertainment and communication needs are increasingly being served by resources in “the Internet cloud,” the N800 is a compelling way to tap it.
The tablet’s 802.11 b/g wireless connects you to your usual networks (and maybe some you hadn’t discovered). Bluetooth through your phone gives you backup connectivity and lets you use your favorite peripherals. The N800 comes with Opera 8 and Flash 7 for Web surfing; a Jabber-based instant-messaging client with Voice over Internet Protocol and video chat; and a gorgeous 4.2-inch screen running at 800x480 resolution, meaning no horizontal scrolling for many Web pages. Combine this with screen zooming, stylus or touch-screen keyboarding, multiformat dual memory cards, a Really Simple Syndication (RSS) reader, multiformat media-playing and even basic handwriting recognition, and you have a stylish and highly functional device for interacting with multiple forms of content, local and online.
The N800 represents a mostly innocuous addition to the corporate information technology environment because it’s optimized to connect to Web content, not to be a standalone productivity device with full personal digital assistant, telephony or mobile desktop functionality. The closer the world of work pushes toward some type of “Web operating system” though, the more the N800 shines as a personal communicator with that OS. Is there a Microsoft Word or Excel applet for it? No. Could you connect to Google documents and spreadsheets and create or edit such files? Absolutely. Is it a phone? No. But you can make Google Talk calls with it, and a full Skype client is coming soon. Does it connect natively to back-office servers? No. But you can connect with them via virtual network computing.
The N800 also works for IT in that its Debian open-source roots along with application installation and removal are handled by a robust application manager that connects to any number of subscribed repositories. This greatly simplifies distribution and setup of new software.
Unlike some other hardware manufacturers, Nokia has reached out to open-source developers by creating the Maemo development platform for its Internet tablets (maemo.org), publishing a road map of upcoming tools and enhancements, and maintaining an application catalog for end users. (A broad road map for the product is also available online at jaaksi.blogspot.com/2007/02/high-level-roadmap.html).
As with any hybrid device, the disadvantages of the N800 depend on one’s expectations. Because its contacts and e-mail applications are hardly industrial strength, it lacks the full complement of features for primary use as a PDA. And as a media player, its current handling of video leaves something to be desired. Used as a communications device, its telephony dependence on a broadband connection is also a limitation, and it currently supports only Google Talk. And Bluetooth is, well, Bluetooth, and sometimes dodgy about pairing.
Nonetheless, in the relay race of endless technological innovation, the N800 offers an early glimpse of the next runner, stocked with multiple forms of connectivity, storage, communication, entertainment and built for the world of an even more pervasive Web. If a lot of your company’s productivity apps have Web interfaces, you might gain some instructive feedback from equipping eager technophile users with N800s.
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