The N800 is not a PDA.

Seriously, it’s that simple.

I’ve seen a few negative reviews of the N800, and they all seem to have the same focus: “The contact application isn’t as good as the one on my PDA”, or “There is a lack of any decent calendaring app”, or “The email app is crap”.

Well, I’m not surprised. It’s not a PDA, why would you expect it to act like one?

I really should add here some links to some of these negative reviews, but I’m about to go to bed. I’d also like to add links to some positive reviews – all, coincidentally, people who’ve found areas where the N800 shines, and they’re not being used as a PDA.

Probably the most egregious review I’ve seen in this respect is Sean Luke‘s review.

I’ve mirrorred Sean’s review, as he’s updating it as people respond to it, and I wanted to preserve a copy of what I’m responding to.

What’s wrong with Sean’s rantreview?

Firstly, he’s not doing an apples-for-apples comparison. Secondly, he seems to be focusing on minor details of the UI, and ignoring the overall user-experience.

To address these points in order: The Newton was, there is no doubt, an excellent beast. Forget for-its-time comparisons – even for *today*, there is probably nothing that comes close to matching the Newton in many ways – its handwriting recognition, its functionality, it’s ease-of-use. However, the Newton was also heinously expensive – the original models cost around $1000. You can get tablet PCs today for around that price. By contrast, my N800, including shipping etc, cost under $550 Australian – and that’s even with the double-handling of having it delivered to someone in the US, then forwarded on to the other side of the world.

Expecting the N800 to have the same features as the Newton is even more ridiculous when you take into account the intended purposes of the two devices: the Newton was expressly designed to be, and marketed as, a PDA. The N800 is expressly designed *not* to be a PDA. From Thoughtfix:

The Nokia N800 Internet Tablet is not a PDA, ultra-mobile PC, smartphone, or eBook reader. It is an Internet Tablet. In my interview with Dr. Ari Jaaksi of Nokia, he emphasized that the device was built from the ground up to focus on Internet functionality..

Sean makes this mistake time and time again:

he N800 was the first PDA I’d recommend

The N800’s … small application-function icons are .. the worst I’ve seen on a PDA.

I find it unbelievable that in 2007 a PDA has come out

The N800 takes an … approach … which is much less functional for a PDA

Expecting to have the same functionality in a device that’s about 1/4 the size, under 1/2 the cost, and designed with a different purpose in mind – well, what would you say to someone who bought a brand-new $12,000 Hyundai and complained that it didn’t have the off-road capabilities of last-years $100,000 Jeep?

The N800 is not a PDA. Stop expecting it to be one and half your gripes will disappear.

Next, obsessive focusing on minor parts of the UI. Sean has a rant about Nokia’s “triangle fetish”, and another rant about the arrow to the right of the address bar in the browser. For my part, I wouldn’t have noticed these things if Sean hadn’t pointed them out – the function of all of these things was immediately obvious from the context.

I don’t think Nokia’s intent was to design a UI that conforms to some arbitrary style guidle; I think they were trying to define a UI that’s intuitively and immediately useful.

To focus more specifically on one area: Sean complains that:

“On Most Web Browsers A Clockwise Arrow Would Mean “Reload”. Here It Means “Go”

Let’s compare with the two most common browsers, Internet Explorer (6.0, to be precise), and Firefox (2.0, default theme).

IE uses an icon with a page and two green arrows pointing clockwise around the edge of a circle to mean refresh. A seperate green right-pointing arrow to the right of the address bar means “go”.

Firefox uses a blue arrow, which bends clockwise to make almost a full circle, to mean reload. A seperate green right-pointing arrow to the right of the address bar means “go”.

On the N800, we have a green right-pointing arrow to the right of the address bar. Which is it most similar to?

Even leaving aside the fact that the arrow is bent clockwise (but is only a 1/4 circle, nowhere near the full circle that both IE and firefox have), its function is obvious from its placing: immediately to the right of the address bar.

On top of this, Sean’s complain is even more ludicrous because that button *is* a refresh button, as well as a go button – if the address in the bar is different from what’s currently loaded, the browser will go there. If the address hasn’t been changed from the current page, the browser reloads the page.

In practice, most users aren’t going to look at the button and say “Gosh, let’s see – what does my style guide say that a quarter-turn-clockwise green arrow to the right of the address bar means?” – most users are going to type an address look for a “go” button (or just hit the enter button on the on-screen keyboard), and find themselves at the new page.

I could go on, and on, and on: I enjoy a good rant just as much as Sean does. I’m not going to, because I think I’ve made my point.

Instead, I’ll offer Sean a useful suggestion:

Re: scrolling down the big menu with the triangles: don’t. Use the d-pad on the top-left corner. It scrolls item-by-item, and it’s a lot easier than extending your thumb 1/4 of the way across the screen to hold down a button.

Lastly, Sean seems to be overlooking the biggest selling point of the N800: The software stack is (mostly) open source. You can add other apps; you can hack the existing ones. Hell, you can even replace the kernel and give yourself new features! Nokia have made it incredibly easy for people like Sean to get involved and help make future versions of the OS even better – just go to http://maemo.org.

Sure, it’s not perfect, and a few of Sean’s points are very valid (I think – I wanted to find one to illustrate this just now and couldn’t. I’m sure there were some there though…) – but Sean has an opportunity to fix those problems for everyone in a way that he’s never had with any other device before.

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