Nokia N810 Tablet Vs. iPhone In Thrilling Death Match

We got great feedback from defenders of the Nokia 810 tablet following my <a href="">dismissive review</a> of the device after a five-minute evaluation at the <a href="">Web 2.0 Summit.</a> N810 advocates said it's not a smartphone; it's a completely different class of device: A Web access device, MP3 and video player, VoIP phone, Internet video chat machine, GPS, and mor

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

October 19, 2007

12 Min Read

We got great feedback from defenders of the Nokia 810 tablet following my dismissive review of the device after a five-minute evaluation at the Web 2.0 Summit. N810 advocates said it's not a smartphone; it's a completely different class of device: A Web access device, MP3 and video player, VoIP phone, Internet video chat machine, GPS, and more.

Also, it slices, dices, cuts, and carves a radish into a lovely rose.

Reader Andrew writes:

People keep complaining that there's no GSM/EDGE/3G, but it has Bluetooth so you can just connect to your cell phone and surf! Even the cheapest cell phones have Bluetooth, and that means there's no need to buy an expensive smartphone or have a second cellular contract.

Surf the Web from the couch while watching TV, without waiting three minutes for your thigh-burning heavy laptop to boot. Watch movies on the train. Take it on holiday and it's smaller and lighter than your $1,500 laptop, and you won't be so worried about breaking or losing it. Read and write e-mails from your hotel room (free Wi-Fi in the hotel). Make cheap Skype calls from your hotel room (very useful if you travel internationally). Use GPS to find your way around foreign cities. Watch movies on the train. Carry it in your jacket pocket, not your suitcase. It's less than half the price of a laptop (cheapest MacBook is $1,100) but allows you to do most of the same things. It's not cheap, but the price will drop soon enough. I want one!

"sachin007" writes: "This is the problem when a person writes a review after using the device for 5 minutes. For 5 minutes the apple eye candy looks always good. Please don't make such reviews without actually using the device."

I gave that some thought before I wrote my earlier review. Was it fair for me to pan a device after a test under such poor conditions? I finally decided it was -- so long as I disclosed the conditions loud and clear. Still, my evaluation is by no means a substitute for a complete and thorough review.

"polr" writes:

This article misses the most important feature of all N series Internet tablet: the 800-by-480 screen resolution that fits in a shirt pocket.

Forget the iPhone or BlackBerry resolutions. At 320-by-240 resolution, when you want to see a real Web page it won't fit the screen and the constant scrolling is such an annoyance.....

Polr goes on to say it was unfair of me to compare the N810 with the Palm Foleo, because the N810 has a shirt-pocket form factor and the Foleo was envisioned as a laptop.

Also, look in the comments thread of my earlier post for problems "mikchev" had with his N800 (predeceessor to the N810).

A reader named Chris -- he asked that we withhold his last name -- went on eloquently and at length:

Chris: I'm just an ordinary user -- not a rich linux fan/geek. I've used and owned Nokia's 770 and the N800 (the predecessors to the N810). I'm no huge Nokia fan -- indeed, I think their online store is one of the worst I've ever seen, belonging to the 1990's.

But on Internet tablets (their name for the N8xx and now-defunct 770 line), I think they see something very useful.

You're not the only journalist to see otherwise. CNet reviewed the 770 at (IIRC) a 4.5 /10. Users, disagreeing, reviewed it at 9+/10.

Some specific comments on your review:

"more money on another smartphone"

The N8xx isn't a phone. A lot of us don't want it to be a phone. A phone with the feature set and hardware of the N810 would probably cost $300+ and be tied to a 2-year contract costing at least $1,000, maybe $2,000.

My response: This is central to my disagreement with the N810 advocates: If I'm going to spend $479 -- the retail price of the N810 -- on a pocket-sized computer, I insist that it be a phone, too. Or else I still need a phone, and have to pay for that, and carry it around. And I'll have to have a service plan on the cell phone.

I'm paying $60 per month for iPhone service, and I get 450 calling minutes, unlimited data, 200 visual voice mails, and 5,000 SMS messages. That's quite reasonable.

That's why I bought an iPhone, rather than the earlier iteration of the N8xx. And I expect the overwhelming majority of consumers will agree with me -- they'll go with the iPhone, or some other smartphone, rather than the N810. Because they don't need what the N810 has unless it also offers cell phone capabilities.

Chris: Instead, the N8xx is a full-featured, fully functional computer from the late 1990's/early 21st century, that fits in the palm of your hand, and weighs about 8 ounces. Simply think about the specs -- 400 MHz CPU (somewhat faster, clock for clock, than a Pentium II or P III or PIV), 800-by-480 display, 256 Mbytes of RAM, and 2 Gbytes of storage, with one card expansion slot. (Currently limited to 8 Gbytes, future limits will probably be 16/32 Gbytes). This is a powerful and flexible piece of very open hardware.

My response: Indeed, yes, Chris. With the exception of the display size and keyboard, the N810 is roughly equivalent to the hardware specs of the PC I used in 1997. It surfed the Web, played music, and probably could've played video if there was any to be played.

Can the N810 be hooked up to an external display? I know it supports Bluetooth keyboards, but how about a full-sized display, keyboard, and mouse?

Chris (quoting my review from Thursday):

"What's the market for this thing? It seems to me like this is a toy for rich geeks -- people who can afford to spend $500 on a whim."

As you note, are there people who use GPS? Indeed, you spent $800. Wow. You're richer than I, sir! Or more likely, you placed a high enough value on having a GPS device that spending $800 made sense to you.

In the case of the N8xx, what are some of the possible markets?

  • One of the best bookreaders going, given the size and resolution (roughly 275 dpi) of the screen. (This is hitting it with somewhat faint praise, however, as no e-book reader is magnificent. But the Nokia is the first device where I've been willing to do it, and I speak as a longtime Palm user.)

  • Portable Media Player. Lots of people are willing to drop $300-$700 on these devices. The Nokia's not the very best, but it's awfully good. With Mplayer, I can play back video at full DVD resolution (480 lines). That's not something the iPhone can do (320 lines). True, it's not quite as seamless and easy-to-use as an iPhone.

  • GPS as you suggest.

  • Palm-held videoconferencing. Voice over IP. I can't think of another device that does both of these things at this crispness and fits in at remotely this cost.

  • Huge expandability and customization, making it great as a tool to customize for enterprise markets.

  • Above all, it is fantastic for being able to surf the Web as part of one's daily life. When I'm watching TV, especially with friends, I don't want to have a laptop hanging about. But if we've some question about an actor, show, or actress, I pick up my N800 and boom, IMDB's up, we can pass the tablet around easily, everyone takes a look.

  • I find surfing in bed when traveling to be one of my favorite uses.

My response: I surf in bed with the iPhone, too (at least I do when I'm alone -- my wife has a no-gadgets-in-bed rule).

But I don't do videoconferencing, and I don't know anybody who does. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, I'm saying I, personally, don't have a use for it. And I expect the overwhelming majority of consumers will agree with me.

Chris (quoting my earlier review):

"The device has 10 Gbytes memory for music and video playback."

No. It's got 256-Mbytes RAM, and 2 Gbytes of (flash) storage. It's expandable, via a mini-SD card slot to a further 8 Gbytes. (In the future, possibly more).

You complain about the keyboard. I agree. Everything's a trade-off. I've not tried the built-in physical keyboard yet, but friends have said much what you've said. Not just that it's small, but the top row is so close to the edge of the device that it makes typing difficult. So be it.

For anything beyond a one-line e-mail response or a url, I use a Bluetooth keyboard. Other than when traveling, I generally don't need to do this, but it's awfully nice to be able to pull out a couple of light devices rather than wrestle with a bulky notebook.

My response: Oh, man, you've got me there, Chris. Since I wrote my earlier criticism of the N810, I've logged another 12 hours or so on my feet, with the PowerBook in its briefcase on my shoulder. I'd love to be able to get rid of that weight when I'm at a trade show or conference. I have literally walked miles since Tuesday with that PowerBook in my briefcase hanging from my shoulder (and I do mean literally -- I had trouble finding a cab a couple of times and decided to walk back to my hotel instead).

On the other hand, I don't go to as many trade shows and conferences as I used to -- and, therefore, I don't have to stand on my feet with the PowerBook in its briefcase dangling from my shoulder as long. And the N810 costs a lot. So I don't think I can justify the expense.

Again, I think the overwhelming majority of consumers will agree with me on this. Most people aren't spending a lot of time carrying their notebooks around. Notebook computers aren't really portable so much as they are transportable: You pick them up, take them someplace new, and set them down again for hours or days at a time.

Chris (quoting me):

However, zooming on Web pages is, as far as I could see, vastly inferior to the iPhone.

Umm... Well, yes, I guess that's one way of putting it. But you're comparing a 320-by-480 display with an 800-by-480 display. Two and a half times the resolution.

You generally don't need to zoom with the N8xx. I'll grant you, the iPhone makes a virtue of necessity. Personally, I find the zoom feature trivial and straightforward, but I rarely use it.

I applaud Nokia's innovation in coming out with the N810, but it seems to me that it's not ready for the market yet.

Had you said that about the 770, I would have agreed with you. This is the device line's third version, and each has sold very strongly.

As [my colleague Rick Martin] noted: It's like Palm Foleo (announced but never released): An expensive, limited-function device with no clear purpose."

Uh... Limited function? You are joking, right?


Whatever else its merits or lackings, it's the very antithesis of a limited function device.

Where's the GPS on the iPhone?

Where's the 275 dpi on the iPhone to let me read books?

Where's the 800 pixels wide so I can read Web pages the way they were meant to display on a desktop?

Where's the openness on an iPhone?

Where's my ability to update firmware without bricking my device if I use it the way I want it to, including adding applications from

Where's flexible codec support on the iPhone?

Built-in Skype, Googletalk, and SIP support? Where's that on pretty much any other device this size?

My response: All true. The iPhone is an appliance. Even with the recent decision to launch an SDK, developers will be kept on a tight leash. More than that, the specs are weak compared with other smartphones -- and the N810. The N810 is a fully functional, completely programmable computer.

But the iPhone trades functionality and capabilities for ease-of-use and elegance. It's the Apple philosophy: It just works.

Chris: Look, you can argue the device isn't polished enough. I don't know if I agree or disagree. You can argue that you prefer to have a low-resolution screen like the iPhone with a better user interface. I'd disagree, but it's a legitimate opinion. But to argue it's a limited function device, then compare it to a vaporware product?

Please... that's just silly.

Anyway, no disrespect intended. It's good to see that the device is getting press, good and bad. You made it clear that you were writing your review after a very quick examination, and I can respect that.

I obviously disagree on several points, but it'd be a dull world if we all agreed on everything.

Me again: Thanks, Chris.

All in all, the disagreements with my evaluation were knowledgeable and well-thought-out. I'm proud of our readers. (Except for the guy who said I don't like the Nokia N810 because I'm fat and it's not chocolate-covered.)

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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