Software challenges in the Nokia N800

Nokia's sleek Internet Tablet is a showcase for open-source development. The software pickings are slim, but Web-based software may help.

Nokia N800
Don\'t be mistaken--the Nokia N800 is not a phone. (Credit: CNET Networks)

The Nokia N800 Internet Tablet (including video review) represents the Finnish company's open-source commitment condensed into a shiny, high-end package. The device's clear resolution, generous screen size, and handy-dandy kickstand are a PDA dream, yet this is no PDA. It isn't even a phone.

At its core, the updated Internet Tablet is a good-looking portal for accessing the Internet, and a stage for Nokia's continued experiment in supporting open-source development on the Maemo platform. Since it's not a phone, the device doesn't require a proprietary operating system like Symbian to place calls and manage screen size. The N800 Internet Tablet already scored one victory with CNET reviewer Bonnie Cha by using Opera 8 as its native browser (the latest version of the software is Opera 9). Yet after spending some time with the 7-ounce, 5-by-7 inch bundle of Wi-Fi joy, she noted that the other programs were merely basic and functional.

For what is essentially a $400 gadget-lover's splurge in a world pledging allegiance to all-in-one PDAs, asking for stellar software isn't an outlandish request. After living for a month with his Nokia N800, Oliver Starr from MobileCrunch praised the Linux-based Maemo platform as a whole, but, like Cha, called the base offerings meager and lamented the lack of personal management software.

The good news is that GTalk and Jabber come preloaded, though Skype is not yet Maemo-compatible. Also, plenty of apps are available from Maemo's Web site (for free, of course). What's less wonderful is that the developer community has not gotten around to creating Internet security software to protect Web surfers and chatters during all those exposed hours. While offerings like Opera have not had to fret about security breaches the way Microsoft and Internet Explorer users have, there's no guarantee that the device will be safe from new exploits, especially those tailor-made to Nokia's heavily-publicized operating system.

Nokia's continued support of Maemo through the release of the N800 Internet Tablet, which replaces the N770 model, will perhaps entice more developers to create multiple versions of their software. For example, the free music manager MediaMonkey would be an excellent addition to this storage-heavy device, were the program only available for Linux.

Though Java-based downloads are also out, the N800's screen is large enough to comfortably rely on browser-based programs, provided your connectivity is strong and speedy. Indeed, Webware is a fine solution to slimmer software pickings, and solid browser-based media storage centers, organizers, and communicators operate online. With the N800's instant on/off capabilities (versus a laptop that can take minutes to power up or down), accessing your thought bubbles or games becomes much more doable online with and browser-based games.

What do you think? Are open-source devices like Nokia's N900 Internet Tablet going to help push alternative platforms like the Linux-based Maemo forward, or will they only add another layer of frustration for users whose device won't support the best-of-breed software they want?

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.