Nokia 770 Review


This is what will be my Nokia 770 review. It has already been reviewed extensively by the mainstream press, Ars Technica, The Register and more. Despite this, I think there's room on the net for my thoughts on this curious little device.

Why curious? For starters, the device is about the size of a PDA but is most certainly NOT a PDA. Out of the box, it has a meager Contacts program and no calendar/To Do list. There's no sync software, as there's nothing to sync. Rather, this little device is a full-on computer in a very small form-factor. This is a point that many early reviewers missed. They expected a PDA or a phone or some hybrid of this. The 770 and it's successor, the N800 are not that. It would be much fairer to compare the Nokia Internet Tablets to a UMPC.

In fact, save for a keyboard and depending on your needs, the device is almost a laptop in it's features. I'm writing this in AbiWord, typing on a Bluetooth keyboard while listening to streaming music from a UPnP media server in my basement. All of this on a paltry 250MHz processor and 64MB of RAM.

If I'd rather, I could check my gmail or RoundCube mail accounts with the bundled Opera browser. If I really wanted to push things, I could be typing this in Google Docs on an embedded version of Mozilla, microb, that Nokia is working hard to stabilize.

By default, Nokia bundles very few applications with the 770. Of the installed applications, Opera is the centerpiece. The 770 includes a full Opera Browser based on version 7, and a full Flash 7 plugin. The browser is absolutely fantastic. Yes, the screen is small which can lead to small text, but the zoom feature is well implemented. I think Nokia hit the right balance between form-factor, screen size and readability. While the Nokia 770 is Palm-like in size, the browsing experience is certainly closer to a desktop or laptop than a PDA or a phone.

Beyond the basic installed software, the Linux and Open Source community have provided ports of the AbiWord word processor, Gnumeric spreadsheet, several decent text editors, a FTP client, Pidgin instant messenger and several PIM applications, notably GPE and WinZig. While no sync software exists, I believe that once could sync using OpenSync with GPE, and you could always work something out with rsync and Winzig.

When paired with a Bluetooth keyboard, the 770's options really open up. It really does become a small, fully working computer. Even with the ThinkOutside keyboard, both parts weigh in at about one pound. For more connectivity, ports of an SSH server and client, VNC and a Windows Remote Desktop Client exist. Yes, you can use this device as a small window on to your work desktop machine. An NX client would really round things out. As of the time of writing, this doesn't exist, unfortunately.

The Nokia 770 is a testing ground in almost every conceivable way. It's clearly a test device for Nokia to try something other than Symbian, it offers odd functionality and many rough edges, the owners are a test market for Nokia, it offers them a chance to dabble in both the Open Source and Linux communities, it's a development testing ground, it's a chance for Open Source software and the OSS community to embrace and run with a major company, it's testing the limits of GTK, the limits of ARM processors, many emerging internet technologies such as AJAX, UPnP, Bluetooth, WiFi and more.

It's best to think of the Nokia Internet Tablets as windows on to the Internet, or at least the network. They really are Internet interface devices. Yes, they can edit text, play music stored locally on flash cards and can even be made into half-decent PIMs, but that's not the point. These devices are new ways to connect to and interface with the Internet and Network. They stream over UPnP, they play songs from MP3Tunes, they allow you to control other systems using open communication protocols, and they let you browse, check mail, IM and more. It's the Open Internet in your pocket, and it's only limited by your imagination.

This little device is the niftiest electronic device I've bought in a long time, and it's not even particularly good at too many things. - yet.

It's an open book, a clean slate. It's a new form factor offering new functionality in a novel way with a new interface based on open and emerging standards. It is the first thing I've purchased in recent memory that helped to change how I think about computing, the network and the Internet. If that's not worth $150 to a Computer Scientist, I don't know what is.