The stylish Nokia 770 Internet Tablet constitutes a bold gambit by the cell phone maker: an Internet-centric PDA without cellular connectivity. Instead, Nokia designed the unit to connect to the Internet via either a Bluetooth cell phone or an 802.11b/g wireless network. It costs £245 including VAT, online from Nokia
The shipping unit I tested bears the earmarks of a first effort. The hardware is mostly good, but the software feels like an afterthought: The basics are there but they aren't well executed. Other assessments have found that geeks love it for its potential as an open platform, but it's not slick enough for consumers.
A good hardware package
Physically, the 770 looks great: It's small (at 0.7 inch thick, 5.5 inches wide, and 3.1 inches high) and fits comfortably in a pocket. The 4.1-inch-diagonal, 800-by-480-resolution touch screen (a stylus is included) is bright, with good color and definition. Nokia cleverly stashes a USB port on the bottom of the unit, along with a headphone socket and a power port. The 770 carries a paltry 128 Mbyte of flash memory (half of which is available for storing data and additional apps), but you can add storage space through the unit's RS-MMC (Reduced Size Multimedia Card) slot. Nokia includes a 64 Mbyte RS-MMC in the box.
In my tests conducted using both 802.11b and g networks, the unit's Wi-Fi connectivity worked quite well. However, the device had the annoying habit of often asking which connection to use when switching between programs, even when a connection was already active.
The surprisingly long-lived battery held out for about 5 hours of casual Web browsing and music playing, and the battery kept the unit going overnight when set to operate in standby mode.
The software is a let-down
Though the hardware was well designed, the software was a big letdown. The 770 runs an open-source Linux-based operating system - which means that you can run certain adapted Linux programs - and it comes preinstalled with an e-mail program, a Web browser, an RSS reader, a video and audio player, and other software.
Unfortunately, none of the apps are particularly good at what they do. The e-mail program is rudimentary (it lacks a basic spelling checker, for example) and the video player is extremely fussy: Several files I tried to play refused to run, even though they were in the right format. The device can play streaming RealMedia audio and video, but it doesn't support other commonly used streaming video formats such as WMV.
The 770 also lacks IM software and gives you no way to view or edit documents except as PDF files. (Nokia says that it plans to launch a software update that will include some of these features, plus VoIP support, by mid-2006.)
Though the meagre memory allotment was adequate for listening to music and browsing the Web at the same time, the unit often slowed to a crawl when it encountered complex Web pages. I found entering text bothersome, as well. In the absence of a QWERTY-style keyboard, I could enter text through an on-screen keyboard or via a handwriting recognition program, but neither was easy (or fast) to use.
Despite being an interesting device, the 770 lacks the features that might have made it a great one. It handles Web browsing and basic e-mail via broadband, but most modern PDAs can do more than those tasks - and they also have better included software.
An interesting device, but not a great one. While geeks will love the openness of the Linux tablet, consumers won't have the patience.