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Nokia 770 Internet Tablet

A review of the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet by David Newall

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 screen.

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

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.

David Newall - March 14, 2006