Design and Ergonomics
We've already covered the Nokia 770's size, weight and palm-ability, so let's take a look at the various controls and other amenities. The Internet tablet comes with a silver hard cover that slips onto the handheld. Slide it on to completely cover the display for safe transit. When you do so, the Nokia automatically goes to sleep, so there's no need to turn it off before covering it. When you're using the 770, you can slide the cover on so it covers the back of the unit, adding just a bit to the device's in-hand dimensions; or you can stick it in your bag, pocket or wherever you wish. The cover blocks the stylus silo in both front and rear covering positions, so you won't lose it. Slide the 770 a half inch up to remove the stylus.
All front facing controls are located on the left side. The speaker, 5-way directional pad, back button, menu activator and home buttons. Buttons to turn full screen mode on and off as well as zoom in and out are located on the top edge (see photo below). The power button is also up top, and you can use that to fully power off the device when you know you won't be using it for a day or more. The device uses little power in sleep mode and no power when turned completely off using the power button. You'll have to wait about 20 seconds for it to boot up from complete power off, and it turns on instantly when waking from sleep. The mini USB sync port (cable included), charger port and standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack are located on the bottom edge. The user replaceable battery lives under a door on the back, and the hot-swappable RS-MMC memory card slot is under a door on the bottom edge of the 770.
Horsepower and Performance
The Nokia 770 has a 250 MHz Texas Instruments OMAP 1710 ARM compatible CPU with 64 megs of available internal flash memory and an RS-MMC slot (same as used on recent Nokia phones) with a 64 meg card included. Both 3v and dual voltage 1.8/3v RS-MMC cards are supported. The CPU does bog down if you've got several browser windows open and low memory warnings pop up if you've got the MP3 player going along with a few browser windows or if you're visiting a site with some honking Macromedia Flash action going on. Since Opera supports multiple windows and many sites open links in new windows, you'd be surprised how easy it is to get 5 windows going. Keep an eye on those and close down windows you no longer need or the 770 will slow down markedly.
The Internet Tablet 2005 edition software basics: Using the device
Nokia created their own operating system and user interface for the 770, and named it Internet Tablet 2005 edition software. The OS is Linux and it's based on Debian (Kernel 2.6, Debian for ARM). The desktop is intuitive with the RSS reader, Internet radio player and a clock showing by default (see screen shot below). It has elements of Nokia's Series 80 and 90 GUI with drop down menus embedded in the top window tabs and a quick launch icon bar on the left side. On the left you'll see shortcuts to the web browser, email and a third for other applications. When you tap on the other applications icon, you'll see a cascading menu listing all available programs, similar to the graphical start menus under Linux and the Windows Start Menu.
The toolbar up top has icons to show you battery and volume status among other things, a screen shot utility shortcut and a shortcut to your mobile phone connection (should you use one as a wireless modem for the 770). The device is intuitive and stylus-centric. While you can accomplish several tasks using the front buttons, most are best done using the touch screen and stylus (or your finger). When you need to enter web site URLs or other text, you'll use an on-screen keyboard or handwriting recognition which gives mixed results. The Nokia 770 Control Panel is where you'll install new applications, backup and restore the device, work with secure certificates, calibrate the display, view available memory, customize the desktop, set a password if desired and more.
The RSS reader does a good job of rendering feed items, though we wish it were a little peppier. It's easy enough to copy an RSS feed URL from the browser and paste it into the reader. Internet radio plays streaming stations and you can create a list of your favorite stations. Audio quality through a set of stereo headphones is very good and the device makes a great portable Internet radio. Other apps include a PDF viewer, image viewer, video player, audio player, file manager, notes, sketching (draw using colors), calculator, clock, chess, Mahjong and Marbles. The video player supports locally stored and streaming media in MPEG1, MPEG4, Real Video, H.263, AVI and 3GP formats. The image viewer displays JPEG, GIF, BMP, TIFF, PNG, Animated GIF format,SVG-tiny and ICO files. The audio player can handle MP3, MPEG4-AAC, WAV, AMR and MP2 music.
Web Browsing and Email
Like the email client on some Nokia phones, the 770's email application supports multiple accounts, referred to as "mailboxes". The app supports both POP3 and IMAP email, along with SSL, signatures, HTML and plain text emails, SMTP authentication, user-specified incoming and outgoing mail ports, email encryption and more. You can tell the app to leave email on the server and you can specify the maximum downloaded message size and whether it should download headers only. This is a strong email client for those using POP3 and IMAP mail. Though there's no standalone contacts application, the email client has its own address book with a few preset fields (you can add more fields as needed).
Display and Multimedia
The Nokia 770 has a 800 x 480 touch screen that's capable of displaying 65,536 colors. While not super-saturated, the display is very bright and its anti-glare coating reduces eye-fatigue. Given the high resolution and small screen size, text is small, though sharp. Use the zoom feature if your eyes become tired.
The Nokia 770 has a speaker and a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack which pumps out good quality music. Though the device has a mic at the bottom, no application currently makes use of it. However, it should come in handy when the next version of the OS is released with support for VoIP.
Photo viewing is a pleasure thanks to the sharp, high resolution display and the included image viewer supports a wealth of formats. Color saturation could be higher for a better wow effect, but most folks will be pleased. Likewise video playback is great on the large screen, though given the device's horsepower, keep encodings under 600 kbps for smooth playback.
The 1500 mAh Lithium Ion battery is good for 4 hours of service when online via WiFi. That's very good for a device with a large display and wireless. Should you need to plug in, the 770's small charger is unobtrusive (it looks just like Nokia's standard phone charger but the connector is smaller in diameter). The device has three power modes: on, off and sleep. The Nokia will automatically sleep after a period of inactivity and a tap on the screen will wake it up with no delay. Sleep uses little power but it does use some power. If you plan on using the 770 throughout the day here and there, let it go to sleep. If you won't be using it for a day or more, turn it off using the power button. We found that the 770 lasted about 4 days when in sleep mode (not using it at all) and indefinitely when turned off. The Nokia will automatically go to sleep if you slide the protective cover on to protect the display.
WiFi and Bluetooth
WiFi is the Nokia 770's preferred means of connecting to the Net given its high speed and 802.11g connection that's backwards compatible with 802.11b. The device supports WEP (40 and 128 bit), WPA, DHCP, proxies and has very good range. You can also use a Bluetooth enabled phone as a modem, but be prepared for slow page loads unless you're lucky enough to be in a 3G coverage area. The connection manager is one of the least friendly pieces of software on the 770, but it gets the job done once you've spent a few minutes to master it.
the Nokia 770's Bluetooth 1.2 radio is intended primarily for using DUN (dial up networking) with a Bluetooth enabled mobile phone. As you'd expect, Nokia phones are supported, along with most other phones. Windows Mobile phones aren't compatible out of the box, but with a bit of geeking, you can fix that (see these instructions). If you're not a Linux geek who's happy with a command line action, you can wait for the next OS update which will include support for Windows Mobile phones as BT modems. The 770 doesn't ship with a Bluetooth keyboard driver, but you can download a free one here which worked well with our Think Outside Bluetooth Keyboard. The 770 supports the following profiles out of the box: Dial-Up Networking, File Transfer/Object Exchange, Generic Access, SIM Access and Serial Port.
Comparing the Nokia 770 to another Linux Handheld
When using the Nokia 770, the Sharp Zaurus SL-C devices come to mind, current ones being the SL-C3100 / SL-C3000 and the C-1000. I have an older model, the SL-C860 which is very similar to the current C-1000. Now, there are some major differences: brand new Zaurus handhelds cost more than the Nokia 770 ($459 for a C-1000 and $700 for an SL-C3100 with internal hard drive), though older ones can be hand for less. They have integrated keyboards, PIM and office applications and syncing software. Clearly the Zaurus is more than an Internet appliance, it's a mini-computer and a PDA too. But there are a few striking similarities: the Linux OS with a friendly GUI on top, open source software community support, a great browsing experience (the Zaurus comes with a version of NetFront that's much more capable than PDA and phone versions of that browser, and you can install Opera), and a sharp screen with tiny fonts (but a similar hardware zoom feature). The Zaurus models have superb 3.7" VGA 640 x 480 CG color displays for a high res browsing experience, though less than the Nokia's in dimensions and resolution. The Zaurus' display is more striking in terms of brightness, color saturation and contrast which is important for photo and video but less so for web browsing and text. The Nokia has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth while you must use WiFi and Bluetooth CF cards with the Zaurus. The Nokia is more turnkey while the Zaurus sometimes requires some geeking around. In the end, the browsing similarities are strong but the Nokia remains a very strong single purpose device with great ease of use while the Zaurus appeals to those who need a mini-computer/PDA and want to spend more money for the added features.
And of course there's the Pepper Pad, which we'll be reviewing soon. The Pepper was released Jan. 2006 and also runs Linux with a user-friendly graphical user interface. While it wants to be your best buddy in the couch-surfing department as does the Nokia, it also aims to do more. Like the Zaurus, it's not a targeted single purpose device but rather a jack of several trades including video and MP3 playback (it has a 20 gig hard drive), AV remote control and more. Unlike the Nokia, the Pepper is large (12" x 6.6"), heavy (2.3lbs) and costs $800.
An OS upgrade forthcoming in 2006 will be free to all who purchase the current 2005 OS model and it will add VoIP and an IM client. In the meantime you can download GAIM for instant messaging. No office suite is included but you can download some open source apps at maemo.org/maemowiki/ApplicationCatalog (Maemo is the name of the Nokia 770's development platform, which you can also download). And yes, there's a free Doom port available there, along with Suduko, the AbiWord word processor and a Bluetooth keyboard driver .