It's a good time of year to be far away from the office. But despite concerted efforts from Research In Motion, Palm, Motorola and others to design the perfect multi-purpose wireless device, nothing truly lets you take your office on the road. You need to make calls, send e-mail, read and edit attachments, browse the web and play music and videos, so you either make sacrifices or carry more than one gadget — which, no doubt, pleases mobile-device makers.
In this vein, Nokia has created the N800 Internet Tablet, a sleek and shiny hand-held computer designed foremost for browsing the web in your hand. It can do a lot of other things, too, such as play audio and video, get your e-mail, do instant messaging, pull in RSS feeds and read PDF files. What it can't do is make phone calls — at least not without some help. The N800's wireless abilities are limited to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. If you're in a Wi-Fi hot spot, you can make Internet-based voice and video calls (a webcam neatly pops out of the side) using Google Talk or Jabber, which come preloaded. If you're not in Wi-Fi range, though, the N800 makes a Bluetooth connection to your mobile phone, and piggybacks on that cellular network for Internet access, albeit much more slowly.
But the N800 is a good web browser when you're in a Wi-Fi hot spot. The 10.7-centimetre diagonal screen is crisp and bright, which is a good thing since most text appears downright miniscule. The N800 has two zoom buttons positioned on the top of the device for your left index finger, but using them badly jumbles the layout and graphics of most websites, and even the stylus isn't always accurate enough to click on hyperlinks. You can also navigate with a small five-button directional pad and three other buttons (Back, Menu and Home), but the screen is a touchpad as well — although your fingers will likely leave persistent smudges.
And that brings us to the old bugaboo of hand-held devices: typing. Tapping words into the onscreen keyboard with the stylus is slow and imprecise, and only mildly better on the larger one made for thumbs. Sure, you can receive e-mails, but sending replies is painstaking. Investing in a Bluetooth keyboard would be worthwhile — but yet another thing to carry.
Ultimately, the N800 is a good device for surfing for news, scanning blogs, listening to music — it has modest external speakers and streams Internet radio nicely — and watching downloaded videos, even if You- Tube is choppy. But these are passive endeavours at a time when the web is becoming ever more interactive, which often requires typing. Such an incongruity could be more easily forgiven in a gadget that at least lets you make a phone call.