N800, Internet Radio Player

Yesterday I received my Nokia N800 internet tablet.

General impressions

It feels thinner and lighter than the N770 and looks more like a consumer product, though it’s still fairly anonymous looking.

I was already happy with the N770 as an instant-on mini web browser so there’s no particular features or bug-fixes thst I needed in the N800. The software doesn’t have radical advances compared to the N770, but there are various small improvements. The browser does crash fairly often with an “Internal Error” dialog, but the vastly increased (available) memory means that it doesn’t crash so often just because it’s run out of memory when you open too many pages. Hopefully an open-source browser will be used one day.

But the N800’s browser is now capable of showing Google Maps – a very useful feature when out and about. Map drag-to-scroll still doesn’t work, but you can use the little arrow buttons.

The new video calling feature is a nice gimmick but a bit rough. Sound quality is just about good enough, though I don’t think both people can talk simultaneously and I sense some lag. Picture quality is very rough – similar to the first camera phones. The positioning of the camera means that you have to hold the N800 out to the end of your arm, or tilt it away from you, to get your whole face in the picture.

In general, I think the N800 is the best product on the market with these features, for a competitive price, though you need to be realistic about your expectations. I expect to see similar products over the next few years. In particular, I think it needs to be marketed (and optimized) for some very specific uses rather than as a general device. Today that could mean web-browsing, internet radio, video for journeys, and vertical-market applications, and in the future it could mean communicating.

N800 + stand = Internet Radio Player

The N800’s built-in stand feels like a big new feature, though I admit that I could have leaned the N770 carefully against something. This makes it very suitable as an internet radio player. I had been looking for an internet radio for the kitchen, but there are surpisingly few available. I found products such as the Roku SoundBridge and the SlimDevices Squeezebox, but they generally need separate speakers or Hi-Fi systems, need (eco-unfriendly) non-rechargable batteries and/or annoying mains power. And they are about the same price as the N800. The most suitable is this chunky expensive thing. The internet mentions several other devices, but they are not actually widely available. The N800, however, just sits there and plays internet radio without any extra nonsense.

The media player UI does need to be improved a lot. It needs a default list of radio stations, instead of just one (AccuRadio) station. The UI should require less clicks on tiny buttons to change radio stations either in the desktop applet or the full media player, and we need some way to specify radio station names other than “rtsp://rmlive.bbc.co.uk/yaddayadda” [1]. One nice new feature is that you can now context-click on a radio stream in the web browser to add it to the list of radio stations in the media player.

I hope that the soon-to-be-released Canola UI can make this more fun. The videos look very promising. But it’s a big shame that Canola is not open source. Things that aren’t open source have lots of annoying bugs that don’t get fixed.

Update:The N800 has an FM Radio receiver too. The hardware feature was not advertised by Nokia, but the Nokia FM Radio player software enables it via an easy installation.

Touch screen

I’ve been using the thumb keyboard more, particularly now that the iPhone people are aiming for something similar. I can not figure out what determines how long you have to hold your thumb over text fields to make the thumb keyboard come up when you raise your thumb. Sometimes it needs 3 seconds. Sometimes it’s only 1 second. It works pretty well, but the sides of my thumbs or fingers keep hitting the casing around the screen. The screen is actually sunk into the casing 3 or 4 millimeters. A flush screen would make the touch-screen more pleasant. I’m not sure if the iPhone has this lip around the phone. If it does, I suspect that touch buttons don’t touch edges.

I think that the touch-screen UI could be improved quite a bit, so that the stylus wouldn’t be necessary any more. The stylus is fine, but the iPhone should inspire some improvements.

Some more blabbering about the iPhone:

I think Apple made a big mistake pre-announcing the iPhone, though they had no choice due to the lengthy licensing/testing system for mobile phones. By the time it’s actually on the market, people will no longer be that impressed. They get used to new stuff very quickly. And there will be a variety of other similar-enough mobile phone products. The (subsidized, at least indirectly) price is going to put it out of reach of many people, and it’s not going to be easily available because it’s tied to one network. Maybe they will make it seem desirable again with a radical new marketing push at the time.

I also don’t think that the iPhone looks that stylish but I thought that the iPod was too ugly to be a success.

[1] By the way, I don’t expect those bug reports to get any attention whatsoever. The separate-public-bugzilla strategy is an awful failure whose time is running out. It needs to either be integrated with the internal Nokia bug-tracker or someone inside Nokia needs to be paid to tend to it.

4 thoughts on “N800, Internet Radio Player

  1. Canola is not open source? eww. I’m much less excited now.

    Other thoughts:
    * totally agreed on the thumbpad problem and figuring out how to bring it up
    * clearly they need to hire a bugzilla consultant ;)
    * all the UI needs polish- clearly whoever did the video chat app has never used iChat, for example; ditto the radio tool and iTunes, etc.
    * generally, it is sad how much of the screen is wasted- this big, gorgeous screen, and even when apps are in full-screen mode they leave all this blank space that serves no purpose. Sigh.

    Still… very close to being a killer tool. Will be interesting to play with it more (got mine yesterday.)

  2. “I can not figure out what determines how long you have to hold your thumb over text fields to make the thumb keyboard come up when you raise your thumb. Sometimes it needs 3 seconds. Sometimes it’s only 1 second.”

    Nono, it’s not about the time you press at all. It’s about the pressure. You can even adjust the (global) sensitivity of the “thumb detection” in the input settings.

    The task buttons on the left are sensitive to it too, you get a menu that has bigger items (but ends up being not that nice since it doesn’t have a way to scroll it in a decent speed, the arrows scroll just as fast as bugs on bugzilla.maemo.org get fixed…)

    And to chip in on the favourite UI-problems, there are lots of panes which can be hidden (for example the chat windows and rss reader) but they don’t remember their state. So every time my wife starts to chat with me, I have to hide that side pane that makes sure I don’t forget who is on the other end of the chat (by stealing 1/4 of the screen from the actual thing I’m interested in).

    There are lots of little things like that which make up to annoy you badly.

  3. “”I hope that the soon-to-be-released Canola UI can make this more fun.””
    We are trying =) that’s our goal, easy and fun, but of course simple. We are not able to fullfil all users cases with such simple interface, but we are trying to really hear users and get it better and better.

    “But it’s a big shame that Canola is not open source.”
    Yeah, we also do, and we did our best to be able to convince management to release it. What we did? Such a detailed architecture that has no license issues, that can have closed source plugins in the feature (like if some evil wants to put drm on the device etc). But all of this wasn’t enough, but we still fighting for it.

    “Things that aren’t open source have lots of annoying bugs that don’t get fixed.”
    Well, we are fighting to open source it, but in this matter we can assure you :
    We fixed EVERY single bug reported, noticed or even non-reported talked over email/ blog comments. I know you will say that we will not always do that, but we tried to keep it so clean, that for this next release all listed bugs that were in the canola beta 1 were fixed, we patched even some upnp servers that users complained, and we try reporting also platform errors to nokia, to see if the whole platform can keep getting better and better.
    In the end: we have limits, we are only 3 developers + 1 ui designer + tester, but I think we did a good job keeping bugs out =) now we are in beta 2 and most of the small problems are being fixed for the new features and we improved also the installation process that for me was the worst part of beta 1.

    Hey luiz =) we will do it =) someday!!! we will convice people to release it =)

    BR

    Marcelo Oliveira

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