Nokia 770

Second Review

David Newall

22 April, 2006

I've been using a Nokia 770 for more than a month, and I want to share my experiences.  The simple message is that it's paradigm shifting.  I'm typing this review on my kitchen table.  No, really, I'm actually typing onto my table, with a laser keyboard projector.  It's really rather neat.  It projects a keyboard onto the table, tracks where I place my fingers, and presents the information using bluetooth.  Nokia 770, Nokia N70, Nokia HS-26W, iTech VKB Bluetooth features extensively in my setup.  It connects the keyboard, screen, mobile phone and headset.  The phone gives me Internet and voice, simultaneously.  It also lets me place calls from the bluetooth headset, as well as receive them.  I press a button on the headset, say a name and surprisingly good speech-recognition works out which name from the phone's directory I said.  It didn't need me to record the names before it could recognise them, either, which is what is so surprising.  Voice recognition has come a long way in the past decade.

Just as talking with someone is as easy as saying their name into the headset, so using the interrnet is as easy and quick as just grabbing the screen.  Startup time is about as long it takes to dial the packet session, and you can suck data pretty fast over a 3G network.  Even 2.5G networks give a healthy 200 and something kb per second, which they call low-end ADSL speed in Australia.

Last night, at dinner, my guests were discussing a painting they particularly enjoyed, which hangs in a gallery somewhere or other.  In seconds, thanks to Google, I had the picture in my hand.  By the end of the evening, we'd all laughed at a photo of us, which I took on the camera built-in to the phone and transferred to the 770 using bluetooth; I'd emailed a mathematical proof that one of us had drawn;  and I'd demonstrated that I could manage my servers with it by logging into one using SSH and displaying a list of running processes.  We could have been sitting at a cafe in India!  Welcome to earth, circa early-21st century.

The Nokia 770 is not all peaches and cream.  The product is the first of its type and it has a few rough edges.  Nokia's choice of Opera browser is odd, the email client is really disappointing, the Flash player is only version 6, the WiFi interface shuts down at inconvenient times, bluetooth can be iffy on occasions, the browser often doesn't even try to connect to the remote server leaving the busy wheel spinning, and it doesn't come with a Java virtual machine.  The last point is interesting because it's a significant cost of Nokia's choice of Linux.  Had they powered the 770 with Symbion, which they helped develop, it would have had Java on day one.  Still, I'm pretty sure there's an open-source Java machine that I could load, and one can't imagine Sun holding off from an official ARM release much longer.

Probably the most telling fact is that after a month the unit is substantially as the factory delivered it.  I've added xterm, SSH and a bluetooth HID module, but made no other change.  None of the rough edges bothers me enough to fix, and believe me, I could fix all of them if I were properly motivated.

There are two brand-related things one notices.  First, with the exception of the keyboard, which is made by i-tech, everything else comes from Nokia.  That's not really important.  The headset is just a bluetooth headset; the phone could be any bluetooth-enabled phone; even the 770 itself could have been made by anyone; but it does look very handsome seeing the same logo everywhere.  As a small reward for brand-loyalty, karma if you will, the one adapter recharges all components.  Which brings me to the second brand-related thing one notices: not a Microsoft in sight.  To be sure it would still be a fabulous product if it was powered by WinCE, and in fact would then have wonderful, usable handwriting recognition, leave alone an impressive raft of applications, most of which I would never want to use.  As it happens I did recently see a WinCE-powered unit of similar specs, in particular a 4+" 800x480 pixel screen.  The point is this: I choose to live with the unit's quirks whereas if it ran Windows I would be forced to live with them.