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LinuxWorld Product Review: The Nokia 770 Internet Tablet

What's particularly compelling about the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet is that it's not only the first to be billed as an "Internet Tablet," but also its software is built entirely from open source components. Parts of it come as a result of direct community participation via the Nokia 770's community site.

Once booted, users are greeted with a slick interface with direct access to several applets, including a Google search window, contact list and a music player preset to AccuRadio HitKast. It also has a Web shortcut pointing to the "Tableteer," which points to a homepage intended for 770 users with support and update information Included.

Boot time was surprisingly long -- roughly 10 seconds. However, potential buyers need to understand that this device is not a PDA nor is it a laptop. Think of it as somewhere in between.

Users are able to manage and rearrange these applets as desired, although the process for doing so seems a bit disjointed. Until the applets are properly aligned -- something that doesn't come automatically -- you're unable to perform other tasks with the device.

On the left side of the device face are four buttons. The largest is a multi-directional one used primarily as a navigational aid from within applications such as the browser or text editor. In the middle of this button is another, used to easily control the appearance of a smaller keyboard intended for the stylus. The next button is for easy reloading of a Web page, and the third is for quickly producing an application-specific context menu. The last is for returning to the device's default screen.

You'll also find three more buttons on the top edge of the device -- the first for taking the application window full-screen, the second for zooming the window and the third for volume management.

There you'll find readily available controls for managing screen brightness -- which is excellent -- sound and Internet connectivity and monitoring battery level. Three additional icons are available for initiating Web and email access and navigating to other applications, games and device utilities à la the Windows start button.

Features galore, plus comfort and speed

A quick perusal of the application menu shows the device is stocked with all of the features users have come to expect, including an audio and video player, RSS feed reader, file manager, chat -- including voice -- via Google Talk and even several games such as chess. Response time for application loading is quite good.

If users don't like using a stylus to type, they can either take advantage of the device's handwriting-recognition utility or use the Blackberry-like digital "thumb board," which appears simply by pressing and holding a finger against the text field. The time required for the keyboard to appear seems oddly long. Once displayed, typing into it seems easy enough -- although anything beyond a short e-mail might be a bit much.

The Nokia 770 Internet Tablet provides a pretty fantastic experience, with the window size far exceeding a typical PDA. Yet, the total device size is small enough to allow for comfortable surfing from the couch or kitchen table.

Pages load very quickly. Page navigation is done either by using the navigational button or the stylus. You'll also find the typical offering of icons at the bottom of the browser, including a URL window, forward, backward, homepage, and reload buttons, and icons for easily zooming in and out of a page. Taking the browser window full-screen using the top-edge button makes for a great browsing experience.

The default 30-second dimming is far too brief and the cause of some interruption, particularly if immersed in a Web page. The control for changing this setting was easy to find but was a maximum of just two minutes. At any rate, screen visibility is restored with a simple screen tap.

All said, the Nokia 770 seems to be an expensive luxury item – priced at $359.99 -- rather than a necessity. It has its quirks, but they're to be expected given that the product's software was community-designed. The company continues to evolve the software and has already made a major update available -- OS 2006, which was installed on the device I reviewed.

I look forward to seeing what other compelling products come from Nokia, a company that clearly understands the advantages businesses can reap from working with the open source community.

About the author: W. Jason Gilmore has developed countless Web applications over the past seven years and has dozens of articles to his credit on topics pertinent to Internet application development. He is the author of three books, including Beginning PHP 5 and MySQL 5: From Novice to Professional (Apress), now in its second edition, and with co-author Robert Treat, Beginning PHP and PostgreSQL 8: From Novice to Professional (Apress).

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