Let’s face it, with a title like that you kinda hope there’s going to be a winner and a loser.
I bought my Nokia N800 during the summer this year because I was spending a week away from the laptop and because I wanted to familiarise myself with the whole experience of a modern palmtop. The iPhone had been announced a few weeks and the Irish blogosphere was waffling about Nokia 770 tablets for under a hundred quid. I ordered one but the device wouldn’t have arrived before my trip and so I opted for it’s younger brother. I’ve spent a little time detailing my love affair with the device which waned every time I needed to reboot the machine from USB using a PC and wipe it and restore. I never got round to getting a compatible keyboard nor the GPS unit. My frustrations with the OS and interactions with it were enough.
Comparing the two might not seem fair. The Nokia N800 was announced at CES in January 2007 and the iPod touch wasn’t revealed until September 5th of 2007. The N800 does a lot more but to be honest I don’t think it does it well.
I’m not going to delve into deep specifics here.
Both have touchscreens, WiFi, USB-based connectivity (useless except for treating the devices as peripherals) and a headphone jack.
The hardware itself is a major difference. While the Nokia has to squeeze in a VGA webcam, 2 SD slots, speakers and bluetooth as well as a stylus, the touch does away with those and just includes 16 GB of storage. The difference in the size of the units in every dimension is astounding. The Nokia N800 makes the iPod touch look like a large credit card and the touch feels more solid as a result though it’s nearly half the weight of the N800. You’re best with large pockets with the N800, a back pocket in jeans will do but it’s uncomfortable in the front. A jacket would be best because the heft of the N800 feels odd flapping about if you put it in the leg pockets on a pair of fatigues. The N800 has a big silver plastic border which is a little tacky and adds to the bulk of the machine.
The Interface is another area where there’s a considerable difference. The N800 comes with a 800×480 screen at 225 pixels per inch whereas the touch has a 480Ã—320 pixels at 163 pixels per inch. Seems like a big difference but to be honest the screen on the touch seems heaps better. The iPod touch interface is fluid, responsive and actually a pleasure. The N800 less so. It’s functional but tapping on the stylus is a pain and the data entry is … a real strain on the patience to the point it couldn’t be used as a proper terminal without an external keyboard (and it’s to their credit though probably with some chagrin that they’ve included a chiclet keyboard on the N810, the successor to the N800.)
Software-wise it’s actually harder to gauge. The N800 comes with Linux and there’s a raft of Maemo software for it. Flash, absent on the iPhone….kinda works though the underpowered processor on the N800 makes it a not-entirely lovely experience. It does have Skype and there’s a port of gaim/pidgin too. These apps are sadly representative of the problem with all of the applications on the N800 and, to a degree, nearly every open source application. In short, they look like ass. Pidgin, for example, wastes space so that the screen is filled with clunky icons and you don’t get enough space for the chat history and the text entry field. Similarly the email application has such a poor interface that you end up resizing columns – which again is slow.
Now, the touch doesn’t come with a mail application but a quick jailbreak later and we have it. I’m aware this means it’s not a fair comparison but we have to compare like for like. MobileSafari beats the pants off Opera. I’m sorry, there’s just no competition. And every application for the touch, whether it’s official or a hack, looks gorgeous. Considering the markets there, it’s evident that iPod touch hackers are emulating Apple and N800 hackers are just throwing together interfaces without thought to use. The N810 will fix some of this as the on-screen virtual mini-keyboard ends up obscuring things you’re working on, something I’ve not experienced with the iPod touch. And the full screen “finger” keyboard on the N800 is frankly awful. A lot of negativity has come about the keyboarding on the iPod touch and iPhone, but virtual keyboards are the future. And the Apple solution wins hands down. I suppose it boils down to your preference. With the iPod touch we’re still in no-mans land with hacks and no SDK until February 2008. With the N800 there’s the whole maemo community. The quality of the workmanship varies a lot between the two platforms.
It might seem fairer to have compared the N800 to an iPhone and believe me, I shall. The N800 exists somewhere between the two Apple products. The N800 comes into it’s own as an internet tablet when you don’t have a laptop. The Wifi and Bluetooth mean that with a Hotspot or a BT-equipped phone and a data plan, you’re always online. The touch only has Wifi which means you’re stuck with Hotspots. The iPhone has it’s mobile circuitry built in so no need for a phone.
One of the critical points is screen orientation. The N800 is solidly set in landscape mode. This means for applications that scroll, such as web pages or chat history, you can be at a disadvantage. The iPod touch can change orientation so that if/when there’s an IM client for it, it will appear much more suitable. Unlike the Newton, the touch is limited in its use of the orientation but this is a minor niggle – it’s like the Newton was in v2 of the operating system, as seen on the MP120 and MP130. Not bad for a first version.
Internet Tablet OS 2008 will be out in late November and will run on the Nokia N800 so it will be interesting to see where they’ve gone with it. Whether they’ve leapfrogged Apple’s iPhone with their work (they’ve had a while to work on it) or whether they’re content to sell to hobbyists?
By Feb 2008 I expect to have an iPhone too. We’ll see how that shapes up after the SDK is released.