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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why the polarisation?

Perhaps the biggest problem is that it's difficult to know who exactly the Nokia tablets are primarily aimed at. Are they for the casual user who just wants to look at some websites while lounging on the sofa, or the enthusiastic user who wants a pocket-sized alternative to their laptop with a full range of computing features?

Obviously both of these people would get a lot out of the Nokia tablets right now. The tablets have an excellent and easy to use browser which can display almost all websites, even Flash and AJAX ones, but they also feature an open software platform that can give you most of the functions of a full-size computer.

However, going on from here, which direction should the tablets go in?

Until now, Nokia has favoured the more computing-oriented user as they've spent years courting the open source community, and deliberately made the tablets very open and "hackable" to appeal to serious hardcore computer users. The Nokia tablets have become cult devices, with very dedicated fans doing all kinds of things to push the hardware to the limit. Is this the future of the tablets?


If Nokia stick with the current Hildon interface for the tablets, there's a risk that more casual users will buy devices such as the iPod Touch, whose interface emphasises a small number of the most popular functions.

If Nokia step away from Hildon and go for a more simplified tablet interface such as Canola (which the ITS advocates), they risk losing most of the devoted fan base that they've built up since the very first tablet in 2005.

Neither option is particularly attractive, because casual users represent a very large potential market, while dedicated fans represent a lot of goodwill towards a particular product.

If Nokia tries to move in both directions, they run the risk of annoying everyone and pleasing no one.

So they're stuck. Or are they?


Can you please all the people all the time?

When we talk about the tablets we're actually talking about two things: the tablet itself, and the operating system and interface that runs on it. These aren't tightly bound together, you can change the OS and interface on your tablet if you want to.

In theory people could install whichever OS and interface they liked, and everyone would be happy. At the moment this is a pretty difficult thing to do, but it could be made simpler, especially if it was done using Nokia's official firmware update software.

That would be messy though, and potentially very bad PR. People might feel like they were buying a cheap half-finished build-it-yourself kit, the tablets would become the Ikea furniture of portable computing. It would also possibly make life very difficult for the Maemo software platform which Nokia has spent so much time promoting, especially if people changed the operating system as well as the interface.


What everyone needs

Nokia needs the tablets to be a complete "straight out of the box" product, where you can just buy it and use it straight away with a minimum of fuss, like a DVD player or a toaster.

Casual tablet users need an interface which lets them get to the features they use the most as quickly and easily as possible, without lots of junk they never use getting in the way.

Serious tablet users need an open device which lets them run as much software as possible and access as many settings as possible. They don't want to be shut out of anything by a nanny interface that spoon-feeds them unnecessarily.


Here's what the Internet Tablet School suggests

Casual users probably don't want to install or alter anything on the tablet. They just want to go ahead and use whatever comes with the tablet, and they want it to fulfil their needs straight away.

Serious users on the other hand are extremely enthusiastic about installing and altering stuff, the whole attraction of the tablets in the serious computing community is how open they are to alteration.

Given this difference, it would make sense to pre-install a Canola-like interface on the tablet to cater for casual users, but include something in the sales package (a booklet, a CD, a memory card full of software/firmware) to help serious users install a more serious interface.

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.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Nokia N800 & N810: Hints and tips for using the web browser

Some hints and tips for using the web browser on the Nokia N800 & N810

The web browser is the most important feature on the N800 and N810 internet tablets as it lets you look at websites, which is the main purpose of the tablets.

The browser is fairly easy to use, especially if you're used to using web browsers such as Firefox or Internet Explorer on computers. However, there are still a few quirks and features which may not be immediately obvious, and that's what we're going to look at in this tutorial.

For those who are interested, the browser used in the N800 and N810 is called MicroB, and is based on the same Mozilla technology that Firefox uses. It is compatible with all the major advanced website standards such as Flash, Javascript and AJAX, and is possibly the world's best web browser on a pocket-sized device. The tablets are compatible with far more websites than the iPhone or iPod Touch because Apple's gadgets cannot display Flash-based sites.


How to open the browser

There are actually many ways to get the browser window to open. The three most popular are:

- New Window method: Click on the browser icon (the globe in the top left hand corner), then click on "Open New Browser Window", then enter the website address you want to go to in the address bar at the bottom of the screen (the one with the small globe next to it), then click on the green button to go to that address. You can open several new windows if you like, and you can switch between them by clicking on the icon featuring two white squares that appears in the bottom left hand corner and selecting the window you want. You can also close windows by clicking on the squares icon and then clicking on the "X" next to the window you want to close.

- Bookmark method: Click on the browser icon, then click on one of the bookmarks, and the site you selected will open in a browser window. If you already have a browser window open, the site you selected will appear in that open window. You can add your own bookmarks by going to the site you want to bookmark, then clicking on the small globe next to the address bar, then clicking on "Add Bookmark".

- Keyword Search method: Click on the Google search box on the tablet desktop, then type in the words you want to search for, then click on the arrow on the right of the search box. The results of your search will appear in a new browser window, or if there's already a window open the results will appear in that. You can change to a Wikipedia search if you prefer, by clicking on the Google icon and selecting Wikipedia. If you can't see the search box on the desktop at all, click on the "Home" menu at the top of the desktop, then "Select Applets", then tick the box marked "Internet Search", then click on "OK".


Menus in the browser

There are actually three separate menus in the browser window:

- The "Web" menu at the top of the screen, which is the most comprehensive and lets you access virtually all the browser's features.

- The Bookmarks menu, which is the small globe to the left of the address bar at the bottom of the screen. This lets you go to your favourite sites, lets you add a bookmark for the site you're currently viewing ("Add Bookmark"), and lets you remove and organise bookmarks using the "Manage Bookmarks" option.

- The Magnifying Glass menu, in the bottom right hand corner of the browser window. This lets you zoom in and out, choose whether to show images and lets you switch Flash and multimedia support on and off. It's also got a search function if you want to find a particular word or phrase on the page you're currently viewing. Do NOT tick the "Fit Width To View" option, see below for an explanation why.


How to refresh web pages

There's no "Refresh" or "Reload" button on the tablet browser, but you can refresh pages by simply clicking on the green arrow button next to the current page's address. For example if you're currently looking at www.google.com, you can refresh the page by pressing the green button next to "http://www.google.com/".

However, this may not work on some sites which use a web technique called frames. Pages on sites that use frames can be refreshed by going to the "Web" menu at the top of the screen, then clicking on "Web", then "Navigation", then "Reload". If you're using the web at full size the Web menu won't be visible. You can still access the reload option though, by holding the stylus down on the screen to make a menu appear (don't let go until you've selected an option), then select "Navigation", then select "Reload", then take the stylus off the screen.


Do NOT use Fit Width To View

There is an abominable option on the tablet browser called "Fit Width To View", on the magnifying glass menu in the bottom right corner. Do not use this option. Make sure that this option is always unticked.

For more details on why Fit Width To View should be avoided, click here to see our special mini-tutorial on the subject.


How to turn Flash on if it doesn't work

If you're trying to access a Flash-based site (for example homestarrunner.com or youtube.com) and it doesn't seem to work, it may be that your tablet browser has Flash support switched off.

To switch it back on, click on the magnifying glass in the bottom right hand corner of the browser, then click on "Components", then make sure you have ticked the "Shockwave Flash" option. Also make sure the "Default Plugin" option is also ticked.


How to stop pages loading when they get stuck

As regular web users will know, sometimes websites get stuck while they're loading, and you may want to just stop the page loading.

If a site gets stuck while it's loading, or if it's just loading too slowly, press the small red icon in the bottom right corner which appears during the loading process.

You can retry the loading by pressing the green button next to the website address bar. Alternatively, you can give up and go to another website by entering a different address or clicking on a bookmark.


How to highlight and copy text on websites

If you want to highlight text within a text entry box (for example in an e-mail or forum post you're writing), just sweep the stylus over the text you want to highlight.

If you want to highlight text on normal web pages, you have to use a special "double tap" method. Tap the stylus twice near the text you want to highlight AND DO NOT LET GO AFTER THE SECOND TAP. With the stylus still held down, move it over the text you want to highlight and the text should change colour as you do so. After the text is highlighted you can let go. If you want to copy highlighted text, hold the stylus on the highlighted text and select copy from the menu that appears.

The "double tap" method can take some getting used to, but once you get the knack of it it should be fairly easy to use.

The reason there is a double tap method at all is because a single tap could indicate you just want to scroll around the page. The tablet needs some way to tell that you want to highlight text rather than move the page. Ordinary computers with mice don't have this problem because you don't use the mouse buttons to scroll the page, they have a scroll wheel instead.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Nokia N800 & N810: How to switch the tablet's blinking light on or off

The Blinking Light

The N800 and N810 internet tablets have a bright light built into their top left corner (on the N810 it's at the very edge of the corner, on the N800 it's under the direction pad).

This light can be made to blink during certain events. One of the most useful events is when the tablet is switched on but the screen is off, because the blinking light helps you find the tablet in a dark room.

Others find this light very annoying and wish they could switch it off!

Fortunately this tutorial tells you how to switch it on and off. It's very very very very very easy, you just have to know where to look.


How to switch the tablet "night light" on or off

1. Click on the sun icon in the status bar at the top.

2. Select "Display Settings".

3. Click on LEDs.

4. Tick the "Device On" box if you want to switch on the night light, untick it if you want to switch it off.

5. Click on OK.

That's it!


Getting the light to blink on other occasions

You'll notice from the LEDs menu mentioned above that there are many other opportunities for the light to blink.

However, these will only work if you are using the built-in applications which came with the tablet. For example you can only get the light to blink on new e-mail if you're using the tablet's own E-mail application.

If you are using the built-in apps, simply tick the boxes on the LEDs menu that you want to activate and click OK. To deactivate them just untick them and click OK.


Does the blinking light use much battery life?

No, not very much. It only flashes very briefly and it's just a small LED.