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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Nokia N800 & N810: How to use the tablets to make free video calls over the internet

Video calling is very, very cool indeed

The Nokia N800 and N810 internet tablets both have built-in webcams: the N800's hidden in a round pop-out section on the left of the tablet, and the N810's mounted on the front. They're there to let you make video internet calls where you can speak and hear the other person in real time, just like a videophone.

This feature might sound very technical and nerdy, but it isn't at all. If you'll forgive the sentimentality, video calling is actually one of the most emotionally fulfilling features of the tablet. Being able to see someone's face when you talk to them makes the conversation feel far more intense, and gives you a feeling of almost being there with the person.

Because the tablet is portable, they can carry you with them as they walk round the house or wherever they happen to be. One especially nice feature is that you can show the other person the world around you very easily, as if they were seeing what you were seeing. For example you could give someone a tour of your house using the tablet's camera.

Video calling is wonderful for talking to people you haven't met in person for a long time, or for talking with people on the other side of the world. The call is free, so there's absolutely no worries about the cost either.

If you haven't already tried video calling on the tablets, we seriously recommend you do if you get the chance. It's really really good fun, and something that appeals to practically everyone, not just technology fans. Video calling will put a smile on your face.


Important info before we start

At the moment, there's a severe catch to this feature: you can only use it to make video calls to other tablets. Both you and the person you're calling have to own a Nokia tablet. You cannot currently call people who have webcams on other devices such as PCs or phones.

However, this may change in the near future as new versions of the tablet software are released. There are already unofficial hacks which allow calls to other devices, so it's definitely possible from a technical point of view, but the built-in official software currently only works with tablet-to-tablet video calls.


Also before we start, make sure you've updated your tablet's firmware

There's a bug on some tablets which causes video calls to cut off after a certain amount of time. This seems to be more common on tablets with older versions of the tablet firmware, so it's important to update your tablet to the latest firmware before setting up the video call service. You can find out detailed instructions on how to do this by clicking here, along with an explanation of what firmware is and why it's worth updating regularly.


Right, we can get started! First of all, have you got a Google account?

Probably the easiest way to handle a tablet-to-tablet video chat is using the Google Talk service. All you need to access this service is a Google username and password, for example you can use your Gmail username and password, or the username and password from any other Google service.

If you don't have any kind of Google account, you can create one during the setup process described below.


How to set up the video call software

On the N800 you can make the video call software launch automatically by simply pressing the camera on the left side of the tablet so it pops out. The N810 doesn't have a pop-out camera so you'll have to start the software manually.

You can manually start the video call software by clicking on the Contacts icon (the three orange figures on the left) and then selecting "New Internet Call".

You may be prompted to add a calling account when you first launch the software, but if you're not then click on the "Add Account" button to start the account setup wizard.

After the wizard has started:

1. Click Next.

2. Select Google Talk from the drop-down menu (it may already be selected). Click Next.

3. If you already have a Google account (that includes Gmail accounts too), select "Use Existing Google Talk Account". If you don't have a Google account, select "Create New Google Talk Account". Selecting this second option opens the tablet web browser and takes you to a page on Google's site where you can register a new Google account. After you've done this, close the browser to return to the wizard and continue with step 4.

4. Enter the username for your Google account in the Username section, and the password in the password section. Click Next.

5. Invent some name for the account, don't bother with a nickname if you don't want to. Neither name matters much, it's purely for your own reference in case you use more than one account on the tablet. If you want to, you can also add a picture to your account by clicking on the "Browse" button. When you've finished, click Next.

6. Click on Finish.

If you've entered your username and password correctly, it should now connect you to the Google server and display a large green dot at the top of the screen. It may also download contacts from your Google account onto the tablet.

If it can't connect, it will show a red dot with a white line through it. If this happens, first of all make sure the tablet has an internet connection.

If the connection is okay but you still have problems, it may be that you've entered your username and password incorrectly. To re-enter the username and password, click on the "Internet Call" menu at the top, then Tools, then Accounts, then select the account you're trying to use, then click Edit.

If you do all this and it STILL stays on the red dot, try again later as there may be a temporary problem with the connection to Google's server.


How to make video calls

Once you've correctly set up the internet call application, you can use it to make video calls to anyone else with a tablet who has also set up their tablet's internet call app.

To call someone, you need to find out their Google Talk username (which is the same thing as their Gmail address if they use Gmail). You then need to add this to your list of contacts if it isn't there already, by starting the Internet Call app (pop the camera open or click on its option in the orange Contacts menu).

If there are no contacts at all, you can click on the "Add Contact" button on the front page of the Internet Call app.

If you already have contacts listed, you can add more by clicking on the Internet Call menu at the top of the screen, then click on Tools, then Create New Contact.

VERY IMPORTANT POINT: When adding a Google Talk contact, write their username in full including the @gmail.com or @googlemail.com part at the end. For example if a contact's Google username is "johnsmith12345", then you would have to add them to the contacts list as "johnsmith12345@gmail.com". If you forget the @gmail.com part, it will not work.

After you've added a contact, Google will send a message to the other person's tablet asking if they're willing to accept calls from you. They have to confirm this on their tablet before you can start calling them.


Yes yes, enough with the setup. How do you actually call contacts?!

Once you've got a confirmed contact on the list in the Internet Talk app, you can call them simply by clicking on their name.

Bear in mind that they have to be near to their tablet to answer, and they have to have the green dot at the top of the screen.


How do I end the call?

Click on the red telephone icon.


How much does the call cost?

Nothing.

The call is completely free, though you may have to pay extra data charges if your tablet is connected through a mobile phone.


What about them calling me?

They do the same thing as you. Make sure you're near the tablet so you can answer it, and make sure there's a green dot at the top of the screen.


Green dot? What are you talking about? What is it? And how do I make sure there is a green dot at the top of the screen?

After you've successfully set up a Google Talk account on your tablet, a green dot will appear at the top of the screen whenever the tablet is connected to the internet. The dot indicates that your tablet is connected to Google Talk, and it means you can receive Google Talk internet calls (including video calls).

The green dot should appear automatically when the tablet is connected to the internet. If the dot is red, try clicking on it and selecting "ON". It will then flicker between the red and green dots while it tries to connect, and if it succeeds it will stay green.

(Incidentally, if you've set up the Internet Talk application using a service other than Google Talk, you'll still see a green dot but in that case it indicates it's connected to whichever service you set it up with. This tutorial assumes you are using Google Talk however.)


Does the Internet Call app have to be running to receive Google Talk calls?

No, all you need is the green dot at the top of the screen. If you answer the call, the Internet Talk app will open automatically.


What if I don't want to receive Google Talk calls?

You can disconnect from the Google Talk service by clicking on the green dot and selecting "Off", which will turn the dot red. No one can call you when the dot is red.

To reconnect to Google Talk, click on the red dot and select "On". When the dot is permanently green, people can call you.


How do I switch the camera on and off during a call?

The Google Talk service can be used just for voice if you prefer. The tablet camera can be switched on and off during a call.

On the N800, you can switch the camera on by simply popping it out of the side of the tablet. You can switch it off again by sliding the camera back into its hiding place.

On the N810, you can switch the camera on by clicking on the camera icon within the call window. When the N810's camera is on, the light in the corner of the tablet will glow red. You can switch the camera off by clicking on the camera icon again.

Note that switching the camera off doesn't end the call, a voice connection is still present so you can talk even without the cameras. To fully end the call, click on the red phone icon.


How do I make the video picture quality better?

The tablet cameras, like all digital cameras, work best when you're in daylight, so try to make calls during the day if you can. If there's no daylight, switch on as many lights as possible.

The picture will be best when you're not moving, because movement is the most difficult thing to transmit on an internet video connection. It's probably best if you sit down to make the call, and put the tablet on a table using its built-in stand.

Remember to keep checking the reference picture on the left of the screen, this shows what they're seeing of you, so you can adjust the angle of the camera if needed.


Which camera is better, the N800's or the N810's?

They're both the same camera technically, but the N800's camera can be twisted round to a variety of angles. The N810's camera is fixed and just faces forward, so you have to move the entire tablet to adjust its angle.

In practical terms the N800's camera is more flexible, but the N810's one works fine as long as you position the tablet itself correctly during a call.