[AUUG-Talk]: Review: Nokia 770

David Newall david.newall at auug.org.au
Wed Mar 15 00:16:53 EST 2006

Imagine if you could shrink your whole computer into something that fits 
in your hand. The Nokia 770 comes close. The first thing that must be 
said is that it's not a phone. Not at all. It's a palmtop PC, with a 
colour touchscreen, 64MB RAM expandable via a reduced-size MMC slot, 
bluetooth, WiFi, built-in 'quiet speaker' as well as a mini-socket for 
microphone and speakers, USB port and a few buttons including a four-way 
rocker with centre-select.

So far it sounds like a PDA, and not an overly ambitious one at that. 
But what makes the Nokia so much more than is its screen and its 
operating system.

First, the screen. A fraction over 4", 65,000 colours, 800x480 pixels. 
That's not a tyop. Where standard for a PDA is QVGA, 320x240 pixels, 
where only a few years ago or ten, standard for a desktop was VGA, 
640x480 pixels, Nokia give WVGA in your palm. The screen is superb; 
probably the best feature of the hardware although I hasten to add that 
the whole package shrieks of quality. This screen illustrates the true 
meaning of the word 'resolution.' I don't care how big your screen is, 
the 770 has a higher resolution, with almost 230 dots per inch. That's 
close to printer-quality.

The best thing about the 770 is not it's hardware, which I have already 
said is excellent. The best thing, and what makes it almost your desktop 
in your palm, is that it runs Linux. Nokia took Debian, added a whole 
bunch of stuff which they wrote themselves, as well as some they didn't 
including the Opera web-browser, and repackaged it for the 770. They 
call the unit the 'Internet Tablet', which makes a statement on how they 
view the product.

Nokia encourage third-party development, and support and participate in 
the maEmo project, which they founded for this purpose. There seem to be 
no secrets in this unit; that makes such a refreshing change.

The 770 comes with two standard input methods: handwriting recognition 
and on-screen keyboard. The handwriting recognition is rubbish, not 
surprisingly, although it can be trained and perhaps might even become 
usable. I doubt it. The on-screen keyboard, on the other hand is really 
quite good. It predicts what word you are typing, using a dictionary 
augmented with your own typed history, to offer a choice that often 
includes the word you want. It's rather like the dictionary mode that 
some mobile phones have for entering SMS, but on steroids. WinCE easily 
wins at handwriting recognition, but perhaps not at typing on a small 

Nokia include Opera; a PDF viewer; a video player supporting AVI, H.263, 
MPEG-1, MPEG-4, RealVideo and 3GP; a POP/IMAP mail reader; an audio 
player supporting AAC, AMR, MP2, MP3 & WAV; a News reader; an image 
viewer supporting BMP, GIF, ICO, JPEG, PNG, TIFF & SVG Tiny; the 
obligatory calculator, clock, notepad & sketchpad; and chess, mahjong & 
marbles games. This year's release is expected to include VoIP. Missing, 
and this surprised me, is a calendar. I suppose it is an Internet 
tablet, and not a PDA. No matter, it runs Linux...

The first application I downloaded and installed was Xterm. Lovely to 
have a shell; it makes it feel like a real computer. There is a growing 
list of already-ported applications, including AbiWord, Gnumeric, many 
games, a couple of lite- browsers, a Citrix client! and more. Full 
development tools are freely down loadable from maemo.org.

Nokia see this for surfing the 'net. They provide built-in WiFi, and 
bluetooth so you can use your cellular when you're not in range of an 
available access point. Not building a cellular modem into the unit was 
as brilliant a decision as it was surprising: it neatly side-steps the 
whole question of what standards, GSM, CDMA, 3G and on, to support, as 
well as ensuring that it will work worldwide.

The Nokia 770 is truly the must-have geek or executive toy for the year.

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