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My Nokia 770

A couple of weeks back, there was quite a bit of buzz in the Irish blogosphere and elsewhere about the Nokia 770; prices for new N770s had dropped from $290ish to a very reasonable $140 / EUR130-ish price-point. I, along with a good few others, bought one.

I bought mine through Expansys, with a free 1GB RS-MMC memory card. They’ve sold out and no longer have any N770s listed; however, still seem to have them in stock, so if you’re interested, you can probably still pick one up. (It seems Nokia is trying to sell off their remaining N770 stock, cheap, with plans to drop support for the software platform. I’m fine with this, but it may put other buyers off.)

I’ve now been using it for a while, and am still happy. ;) Here are my recommended top apps:

Slimserver. Originally designed to operate as the backend software for the Squeezebox thin-client MP3 player, this has a fantastic UI built for the N770, and its MP3 stream output works perfectly on the tablet.

This is by far the neatest way to get at a 6000-song music library without a laptop; there was some talk in the GNOME community of making a decent DAAP client, but so far there’s no working results there that I could find. :(

maemo-mapper. This is a fantastic mapping app for the tablet; it presents map tiles downloaded from OpenStreetMap or Google Maps in an N770-optimized format, with the usual nice draggable UI. Bonus: it’ll work offline, so you can follow a route while online, then take the tablet along to help navigate.

Tip: once you start maemo-mapper, click the “Download…” button in the “Repository Manager” and it’ll download details for the 5 most useful map repositories, including Google and Virtual Earth.

FBReader. A very nice document reader; much nicer than trying to read long HTML pages in the builtin web browser, especially since it allows you to turn the device on its side.

In general, the Opera Mini browser works fine; be sure to enable Javascript and set up a swap file on the RS-MMC card first. It does all the basic HTML and rudimentary AJAX; Google Calendar is a no-go, but GMail and even Google Maps works adequately, modulo minor bugs. Plain Old HTML sites like Wikipedia, IMDB and so on all work great.

As long as you’re realistic about the platform, it won’t disappoint — video requires custom transcoding, for example, and proprietary apps like Flash and RealPlayer lag behind their desktop equivalents, but as far as I can tell that’s the case for every embedded platform. (Since I spent a couple of years developing such a platform, I’m quite comfortable with this.)

A really really nifty thing about the N770 is that it’s now entirely hackable — within 30 minutes of powering on, I was able to get a terminal window open with a root prompt, and was adding ext3 partitions to the RS-MMC card. Apps are installed using “apt-get”. The terminal even has word-completion system optimized for the UNIX command-line – nice ;)

This SomethingAwful thread contains plenty more good tips. I’m happy I bought it — so many of these gadgets can wind up as an overpriced door-stop, but this is easily worth what I paid for it.

Update: this thread at InternetTabletTalk seems pretty chock-full of good advice, too.