770 as a Laptop

What we wanted to do was see if something like a Nokia 770 Internet Tablet could be used as a laptop substitute and perform serious work. There's no theoretical reason why it couldn't, especially when you consider that the 1.5 GHz machine a PA might use to type up Word docs spends most of its time being under-utilised and the rest struggling to cope with the operating system.

The 770 runs a light-weight Linux so, no troubles there. Out of the box, though, the unit is fairly useless. The web browser is OK-ish but crashes regularly and will do so usually when doing something important like buying a travel ticket or other sort of online transaction. Opera, in fact, have issued precisely zero upgrades as well which makes them fairly unlovable in our eyes.

The email client is also unusable for people who get a lot of email or who need to do group mailouts. And there's no decent editor.

However, because of the power of Open Source, there is quite a lot of stuff available through Just download and install and away you go ... well, almost!

What we needed was a powerful email client, a decent editor, a Linux console, various Linux tools, and graphics software to manipulate images for the web.

The email problem was solved by using Pine which handles groups and which also handles things like deleting lots of emails easily. Setting up the configuration took a little time but was worth it. Since we installed it, Mutt also became available but it is a little less suited to run on a box where Sendmail and Fetchmail aren't running.

For a serious editor, we chose Vim. A sort of micro-Emacs is available but without being able to add Lisp modules, what's the point? Vim isn't very useful out of the box either. It's missing all the packages it needs to do things like syntax highlighting or built-in Ftp which make it easy for us to shift documents around. A little research on the web enabled us to find the supporting packages and discover where they should be put. Because of package peculiarities we also had to create new directories where it was looking for a specific package.

We ended up with a fully functioning Vim that could grab and save files to the web and which made life easier, when dealing with marked up files, by highlighting the syntax. Setting all this up took some time as well.

There are two consoles available, one of which has an extended feature set. We chose it, and it works fine.

Next, we got two more browsers - Links for the console and Minimo for the GUI. Minimo was fairly useless to start with but has improved a lot with constant updates (see our chat with the developer at ). Links does its job well.

Lastly, we wanted to be able to manipulate images for placement on the web. This whole area wasn't as successful as the others. First of all, you would think that a newish Nokia camera phone would be able to transfer photos by Bluetooth to the 770, wouldn't you? It doesn't. The 770's Bluetooth implimentation is pretty much brain-dead. It allows connection to a mobile for websurfing purposes (something to be avoided with rip-off telco prices and slllllooooowww speeds - nothing like paying top dollar for a third class product, we always say) and connection to a Bluetooth keyboard.

In the end we had a not very good system where the paint program Horizon was used in conjunction with Python, the Python Imaging Library, and Distutils. Images could be mangled and combined with Horizon and then the size and image type could be changed on the command line with the Python Library.

Almost there! In fact, this tiny under-powered thing has mostly done it's laptop job with great aplomb. Data entry has not been the problem you might think either. Stylus entry is quick and the ability to do that most anywhere and especially in comfy seats meant that we've hardly used the Bluetooth keyboard which was purchased because we considered it a necessity.

The main niggles attach to the fact that Nokia make you feel nickle and dimed to death - cost cutting everywhere - bad Bluetooth, cheap screen that is easily scratched, cheap charging cord that went intermittent after a few months, cheap implimentation of Linux that was so bad it had to be chucked early which has led to 3 incompatible OS upgrades which has scared off a lot of developers. And then another upgrade for the newer N800 hasn't been released for the 770. Sounds to us like someone needs a clue.

What of the N 800? We don't know. It is bigger, more powerful, has a camera, and like a lot of Nokia products looks like it was severely chastised with an ugly stick. In theory it should do all the jobs we've asked of the 770 better, and in the case of photos, much better.

Talking of which, Apple's iPhone has just been released and there's going to be a frenzy of hacking coming up. OS X under the hood virtually guarantees it. And forget about the Ajax apps on the web - who wants to pay an ISP or telco tax every time they want to look at a document? It will be interesting. Anyway, the queues forming to buy this object should give Nokia pause for thought.

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