N810 in a nutshell

N810 unboxing

N810 unboxing by Matt Biddulph. License:

Got my N810 yesterday. Some thoughts:

GPS: sexy. All kinds of interesting possible results. Kudos to Nokia for leading in this, though now that my blackberry does rough triangulation from cells, I’m not sure how pragmatic it is. (Modulo concerns about privacy that go along with cell geolocation.)

look and feel: much improved. The switch from plastic to metal makes a surprisingly big difference.

keyboard: A little cramped, and I think slower than the screen keyboard for small amounts of text entry. But probably much better than the touch screen for long note-taking sessions. Using it I’ve actually IM’d from a maemo-based device without wanting to stab myself, which I’d never achieved before :) (IM, it was pointed out, is something you can’t do from the iPhone ;)

adding keyboard while still shrinking the size of the device: miraculous and impressive. (You can feel the extra weight when comparing the N810 and N800, but nothing that I’ll notice day to day.)

improved UI for non-keyboard/non-stylus use: the bigger menus do a lot for me, but there is still a long way to go here. Why do I have to choose one of four small objects after I hit the power button, instead of large, readable objects 1/5 or 1/4 of the size of the screen? why is the unlock message small, quietly colored, and in one corner of the screen, instead of over the whole thing? Most importantly, when I turn on the device, why am I presented with giant, empty, useless space (ooh! a web bookmark! a clock!), instead of a big, helpful list of things that are one click away from usefulness? Device-modal, full-screen dialogs, menus, and notifications should be used frequently and to good effect in this thing, and it is frustrating that they aren’t.

OS 2008 user site: surprisingly useful; was easily/quickly able to install apps from it. (though there is some non-friendly stuff there- what does ‘catalog installed but not enabled’ mean to non-technical people? Even to most technical people it won’t be obvious. Got that when installing Pidgin, which otherwise went very smoothly.)(But I can’t uninstall Skype? seriously?)

reduced storage capacity: big negative for anyone who uses it as a music player, like me. I’ve got 16G of music on my N800. Cramping me down to 6G total on the N810 is… eww. May be a showstopper for my daily use of the device, since that is my primary use case for it right now, which is a shame given the keyboard. N900, here I come. ;)

still no cell network access: Argh. I DO NOT WANT TO CARRY TWO DEVICES. I’m not the only one. Creating a new category of device is great, but ideally you want to create a category that people will reasonably want. Apple (and to a lesser extent Blackberry) are proving that there is a huge market for always-networked phone-email-browser combo devices/platforms. I fear (for Nokia’s sake) that when faced with the choice between a reasonably capable phone (like iPhone or Blackberry) with always on networking, or a very capable nokia with inconsistent networking, or carrying two devices to get nokia capability plus reliable networking, they’ll choose the extra convenience of the single device. Certainly most days I choose to go Blackberry-only, and while the N810 makes that choice a little harder, it isn’t by much.

I’ll continue to use it, and to help Nokia improve it, because it scratches my unusual itches. But I’d be a lot more excited to help out if it had a snowball’s chance in hell of commercial success- and that, to me, seems to depend on always-on networking, which for better or for worse means cell for the foreseeable future.