Strange fallacies in Ars Technica's review of the N800

I’m not convinced that the device being reviewed is the same as the device I’ve got sitting beside me, and have been using for weeks. In general, it sounds right, but some of the things the reviewer says make me wonder if ve actually used the device.

Eg, on page two:

Unfortunately, a number of the apps that I was able to use on the 770 do not function on the N800, including GAIM and the IRSSI IRC Client.

I’ve got GAIM running just fine. Obviously the reviewer is familiar with adding extra repositories, or they wouldn’t have had GAIM running on the N770. All I had to do was add a repository, install Gaim, and voila, working multi-protocol chat.

As far as I can recall, I did have to use a BoraMistral repository – GAIM doesn’t seem to have been explicitly ported to MistralBora yet. However, it does work fine. The reviewer didn’t state that “GAIM hasn’t yet been explicitly ported”, he stated that “A number of apps … do not function on the N800, including GAIM”, and that statement isn’t true.

On Page 4, talking about the stylus keyboard:

The only poor choice Nokia made here was making the hyphen key accessible only from the Symbol toggle.

Again, this is totally at odds with my experience. I open the stylus keyboard, and I find a hyphen directly below the 7, to the left of the 0 -in the numeric keypad, no toggling to the Symbols needed.

This could, possibly, be a regioning issue – I know that different regions have different keyboard layours, so perhaps the reviewer was using some odd region that has a broken keyboard? I’m using en_GB, if anyone’s interested in trying to replicate this.

A bit later, talking about the finger keyboard, something I can almost understand.

Nokia made a peculiar choice that reduced the keyboard’s usefulness to me. Nokia put the space bar off to the left in the bottom row of letters, instead of in the middle…. It’s not a deal-killer, but it was enough to make the experience of using the finger keyboard a bit off-putting because I couldn’t touch-type.

Certainy I’d find touch-typing hard on any keyboard that was almost a standard keyboard but with a misplaced spacebar – I have enough trouble with those broken “ergonomic” keyboards.

However, there’s two things wrong with this statement which make me lose any sympathy I had: firstly, the implication is that if the spacebar was in the *middle* of the bottom row of letters, it would be a standard keyboard and could be used for touch-typing. I’ve never seen such a keyboard – all of the keyboards I’ve used have the spacebar on the row beneath the zxcvbnm keys, not on the same row.

Much more distressingly, this claim seems to imply that the reviewer expects to be able to touch-type on a small keyboard designed to be used for thumbs. I don’t understand this a all. the thumb keyboard is not a standard keyboard in size or form; ones existing mental routines that allow one to touch-type on standard keyboards won’t work, regardless of the layout, because one can’t lay all of both hands over the keyboard in the standard manner.

Instead, one is going to have to learn new ways to touch-type, simply because one is now using only thumbs to type on a small keyboard. The reviewer seems to be implying that learning to type with ones thumbs is no problem; learning to type ona 4″ touchscreen with those thumbs is no problem but the fact that the spacebar is in one location that it’s never been on any real keyboard that I’ve seen (instead of a different location where it’s never been on any real keyboard that I’ve seen) makes the problem insurmountable.

I don’t understand.

A more excuseable error – but still a fallacy – comes on page 5:

VoIP support is limited to Google Talk at the present time, but a Skype client is coming.

In fact, there’s a Gizmo client available as well. This has been around for at least a few weeks, and got a bit of attention on various sites related to the device when it was released (from memory, I found out about it from planet.maemo.org). However, not knowing about this is almost excuseable – one can’t always be aware of every third-party application.

This is followed by a restatement and expansion of an earlier egregious fallacy:

As mentioned above, there are no IRC or instant messaging clients that support AIM, MSN, or Yahoo currently available for the N800, so its functionality in those areas is limited. I expect that to change as current applications are updated for the new tablet OS.

I’ve already mentioned that GAIM works fine. I’ve tested MSN and Yahoo and both work fine – I don’t have an AIM account so can’t test that. I have tested ICQ though, and that works fine as well.

Earlier the claim was made that irssi doesn’t work on the N800; I haven’t tested that and can’t comment. Now the claim made is that “there are no IRC … clients .. currently available for the N800”. I’ve installed, and used without problem, the same version of XChat that worked on the N770.

Given that the author knows how to install the ITOS2006 version of GAIM, claiming that the same version doesn’t work on N800 is inexcusable. “Has not been tested”, “Has not been packaged for” – those statements would be fine. “Doesn’t work” – that’s a statement that it’s been tested and found not to work, and that’s just wrong.

As an aside, there’s a page on the maemo.org wiki, where there’s a list of known working apps. GAIM and XChat are explicitly listed as working – that’s how I found both of them.

In general, this is quite a good review – and by that, I mean that it’s fair and balanced, the fact that it’s also a quite positive review is simply because the device is so excellent 😉 These few hiccoughs in an otherwise good review are quite strange.

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