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I've put my take on the Nokia N900 as an ereader up at Teleread.org. For books, I think the N900 fits better than

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an iPhone as a Kindle companion reader.

I'll post the same conclusion but from the perspective of a Nokia Internet Tablet user here shortly.

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'RogerSWhen I first encountered the Nokia Internet Tablet, I thought, “Gosh what a great e-reader!” I've

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used each NIT as an e-reader but I learned what it's great at is, well, doing the internet thing. As its name suggests.

I thought GPS was a natural win. The big screen made maps easier to read than on most dedicated devices. Still, I used my tablet for email more often than GPS.

The voip calls with visuals blew me away. Except no one with a tethered connection bought into cam-calling.

The 770, the N800, the N810 — these were all complete computers! They meant I didn't have to lug around a laptop just in case I had real work to do. But I did most of my real work on a real computer and my wife never got the hang of using a NIT. My son's friends found the iPod Touch easier for surfing and he never cottoned to it.

With its touch screen, I didn't need a keyboard, but I liked the N810 keyboard. The keyboard made apps easier to port anyway.

And Flash! Once it became clear that “internet” meant surfing without sideways scrolling, email, and videos on YouTube, the internet tablet excelled at giving me the internet.

Well, excelled in lots of circumstances. Without a cell-plan data connection the walkaround web had no impact on NIT users. The Apple iPhone has a minuscule segment of the smartphone market but generates 50 percent of mobile web use. Apple's genius wasn't in the interface but in browbeating AT&T into affordable web access.

Does the Nokia Internet Tablet have a real future? We have a $200 netbook and it's easier for conference notetaking than an N810. I have an Amazon Kindle 2 and I can get books for it that aren't available for FBReader on my NITs. Half the cars have GPS built-in now anyway. So what's the sweet spot for the Internet Tablet?

Doh!. The internet, same as it's always been.

Except these days, “the internet” means Twitter, too. With multi-tasking so I can tweet full-screen and use multiple screens to follow several hundred people (in more than one group). With keyboard and touch-screen and audio and photos too. And from anywhere I might be, um-m, walking around.

I can tweet from a phone now, thank you very much, but making sure it fits is no piece of cake. Tweeting means editing down to 140 characters without having to struggle. And reading (following), tweeting and surfing simultaneously? Hey, where's my computer again? At least Maemo was built for us to do more than one thing at a time.

I expect there will be lots of cellphones released this year that have keyboards and screens of a satisfactory size and cameras. Just having good specs won't draw much attention. But if the next NIT can ace the Twitter test and fly the Flash flag, it'll be very much in demand.

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In case you hadn't noticed, ebook sales are rocketing up and up and up. (Well, it is my field, so I have.) Just in order to buy an ebook from Amazon, you have to first buy a $360 Kindle; yet in little more than a year, 10 percent of Amazon's total book sales were ebooks. Of course, its book catalog includes millions of different titles, but only 300,000 or so are available as ebooks. For titles sold in both p and e, the ebook portion is already 35 percent.

This is relevant, I think, because the Internet Tablet — with its 225-pixel-per-inch screen resolution — has always suggested itself as a top-rank ereader.

Is this really viable or am I delusional (as often before about ebooks)?

French ebook maker Bookeen says three different ebook markets are forming: one for education (eg, must have big screen), one for general book reading and one for reading both book and newspaper-y content. These last two, for convenience sake, Bookeen dubs the “book iPod” and the “book iPhone.” A “book iPhone” necessarily includes a 3G or WiFi connection, else content can't be kept fresh.

'Kindle

Amazon, of course, straddles all three markets, with its 10-inch Kindle DX and free-3G, thin-as-a-pencil Kindle 2. Critically, you can read Kindle-DRMed ebooks on an iPhone as well; and Amazon just acquired the Stanza ereader, the hugely successful iPhone app.

It's easy for me to say the Kindle and Stanza apps belong on the Internet Tablet, but who here knows what Amazon will do?

The Nokia N810 fits in your pocket, already runs Flash, has a keyboard and that 800-pixel-wide screen, and includes built-in WiFi. It equals or surpasses the iPhone as an ereader in every respect except one — walkaround connectivity. But Amazon's success hinges in part on the synching between

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different ereading devices, and the lack of 3G could blackball the N810 as an Amazon platform.

Next generation then. If people at Nokia think the billion-dollar ebook market could boost the NIT too, I hope they get Amazon on the phone.

Some 2.2 million people are going to be buying an awkward monochrome, monopurpose device like the Kindle — this year and next — just so they can feed their reading habit. Think how many would be happy paying their money for a full-color, Flash-capable, pocket-size Internet Tablet. It's got to be a lot, I think.

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For the last ten days I've been putting an Amazon Kindle 2 through its paces, wondering how desirable a dedicated e-reader is.

The resolution of the Nokia Internet Tablet screen is 225 pixels-per-inch; on the Kindle 2, it's 167 ppi. In a one-inch square, that means there are nearly twice as many pixels on the full-color NIT screen; too, video plays marvelously there. “White” on the 16-level-gray-scale K2 screen is, well, light gray; animation is not possible; and video doesn't even enter the realm of speculation.

Yet the K2's 6-inch-diagonal screen encompasses wonderfully more text than pocket-sized devices. And that is no small thing. In these electronic times I have re-subscribed to the print edition of the New York Times, added magazine subscriptions and now carry NYPL and Montclair library cards in my wallet; still, 90 percent of my reading is done on-screen. The pencil-thin K2 capitalizes on our need for reading to be mobile beyond any previous device.

As for portability, the K2 doesn't just talk the talk. Native-born to the walkaround web, its purchase enables you to browse all the non-moving-pixel parts of the internet from anywhere within reach of Sprint's 3G wireless network, for no cost whatsoever. And buy books at any hour, with immediate access.

In so many ways inferior to an Internet Tablet, but not without charm. However,

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that's not a Kindle 2 pictured below, but a prototype of the so-called CrunchPad, Michael Arrington's quest for a $200 “Macbook Air-thin touch-screen machine that runs Firefox and possibly Skype on top of a Linux kernel.”

'CrunchPad

The more you learn about the CrunchPad, the more it justifies the same label put on the K2, “monotasking hardware.” Continue reading ‘A device for every situation’

In the New York Times this morning, a longish article about e-books begins with discussion of the Sony Reader, a proprietary, monocolor, non-WiFi, non-programmable e-book reader that nowsells for $299.

Or you can read e-books on your Nokia Internet Tablet using the open-source FBReader. Price: $359.

David Pogue, the Times' star technology columnist, writes about internet radio devices, single-function handhelds enabling you to listen to music over the internet without being tethered to a desktop or lugging around a huge laptop. Prices: Revo Pico $350, Terratec Noxon $330, Roku SoundBridge Internet Radio $300, and so on.

Or you could listen to the same stations on your NIT. While reading an e-book in FBReader.

The devilishly well-executed iPod seems to have misled everyone into regarding single-function devices as viable — single-function e-readers, single-function internet radios. But when you see how poorly every single-function music carryaround fares compared to the iPod, you realize that execution — usability, design, stylishness — carried Apple over the single-function barrier and not that no such barrier exists.

Then there's the opposite phenomenon: the companies that treat you like all you want is a phone or PDA and everything operates from there.

Different misconception: that we love every single thing we do being monetized by greedy mega-companies.

In Pogue's column about internet radio, he points out that it's so hard to tolerate commercial radio because of all the commercials. “These days, it seems as though AM radio has 52 minutes of ads an hour,” he writes.

So one of the lures of the single-function internet radio device is simply to restore the balance of pleasure against monetization of music. The New York Times is preparing to abandon its Times Select pay service because it has discovered (finally!) that

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If there's a course to be charted between the Scylla of single-function and the Charybdis of one-device-for-everything, Nokia seems to be following it: The internet tablets do several related things really well, with the form of its devices (no hard disk, super-high-res screen that's 800 pixels wide, under 8 ounces) rigorously matching the real needs while keeping every possible subsidiary use available (e-books, chess, even spreadsheets and word processing for goodness' sake) without charging for it.

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Usually, I steer clear of PDF files, especially on the Nokia N800 and 770 Internet Tablets. Documents are almost always designed for letter-size pages, and I don't read text where I have to scroll sideways as well as up-and-down. This week, however, the N800's PDF Reader was my salvation. The app is better — faster, more stable — than I expected but ignores hyperlinking.

When I read text on a Nokia Internet Tablet, I prefer FBReader to the alternatives. Usually I'll be able to convert my text to the FB2 markup (this is simply XML, not a proprietary or binary format), and FBReader lets me pick fonts and sizes by XML element, so I can arrange this to my finicky satisfaction. And I prefer to page through text using the + and – keys on top of the NIT.

I had chapters of the book in html files, but no time for an html-to-fb2 transformation. So I grabbed a pdb I'd made a while back, since that's the prime alternative among the many formats that FBReader will display.

The book is entitled “How to Think Like a Computer Scientist: Learning with Python,” written by Allen Downey, Jeffrey Elkner and Chris Meyers. I was skimming through the text when I was stopped by a code example. Here's a screen capture from the N800:

In FBReader

Well, the code example isn't stylable by FBReader in pdb format, but if you can't see the indents in Python examples, then you're missing something.

I found the book online at ibiblio.org and then used Adobe Acrobat's feature for making a PDF from web pages with one key setting — making a custom page size 6 inches wide by 3.6 inches tall.

Opening this PDF, I set the page zoom to “fit page width” and got this sort of thing instead:

PDF with code example

As you can see, not only are the lines indented, the code is in a different font and keywords in a different color. All that's been lost in the quick-and-dirty pdb.

I experimented with a few different ways to make the PDF. I found my most successful result by downloading each html chapter, modifying the css stylesheet to choose Trebuchet MS as the font and 16 pt as the font size, then making a PDF of the chapter. (When I did the whole book from the website, the font size wasn't consistent throughout the chapters, why, I don't know.)

That experimentation led me to discover one flaw in the PDF reader — the Open dialog doesn't display enough characters in a file name. Here are two screen shots showing my chapter file tests in the recent files list and in the Open dialog:
Recent files list
Open dialog

To be honest, I figured a 1135-page PDF would be too unwieldy for the reader to manage, so I started out making individual chapter files from my local html copies. Since the links weren't relative, I used the complete online version to make a single PDF of everything, with the Table of Contents and Index linking to different chapters.

To my surprise, the progress through the pages of this huge document was no slower than through the small single-chapter documents.

The links worked fine on my laptop, but not at all in the NIT's PDF Reader. Navigation in such a huge document is really awkward without being able to use the links or bookmarks. Anyone know more about the linking issue with PDFs?

— Roger Sperberg

For those who are interested, the PDF can be downloaded from here


Added later: Translations of this text into Portuguese and German are also available, as is a paper version from Green Tea Press. The first version by Allen Downey was written with Java examples and then a version rewritten by him for C++. The same clear-headed text was then modified to introduce Python and Logo. I like this book and as its title indicates, in order to learn to think like a computer scientist, you will need to learn to think like a computer and also, hopefully, simply how to think.

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Why I don't want to synch

For me, the 38-minute train ride from Montclair into New York City is my prime personal time for computing and writing. And fast or slow, the WiFi-ization of America won't reach that zone for a long while I'm sure.* That means the commute is offline for now and hereafter.

So I diligently worked out a plan to pluck information off the web every morning, put it automatically into my preferred reading format and transfer the info to my internet tablet to read in FBReader.

Since FBReader gobbles up the Plucker pdb format rather handily and Plucker desktop efficiently automates the webpage plucking, I thought this would work nicely.

I was wrong.

Too much me

The process involves me too much and requires two computers. It's a system that was designed to use a person's desktop computer for the plucking and processing, synch to a Palm PDA, and utilize the Palm for reading.

But why should I have to synch? My internet tablet has WiFi. It will run a python program. It's got a great e-reader already.

Ah, the Linux version of Plucker desktop uses wxWindows. I can't run it on my internet tablet. Plus it has all the synch-to-Palm conduit stuff.

What's needed is an interface written for the internet tablet that sits on top of the already-written Python plucking code.

Then every morning (and afternoon), the stuff I want to look at would be grabbed, streamlined and made ready for me to read on the train.

Python-meister available?

Would that I could develop this on my own.

But, besides not being a developer, I found Python unintelligible in my two attempts to learn it (and then found Ruby the complete opposite — clear, elegant, intuitive). I realize I need someone who knows what they're doing to guide me when I get stuck, which is often, even at my noice level (or: because of my novice level).

Still, the Python tools available for the Maemo are so powerful and give me a real reason (and platform) to develop that I look longingly at this project and wonder, What can I do to make it a reality?

If there's a Python-meister who sees in this a project not too complex and which could be incredibly fruitful for the internet tablet community . . . well, I'll sign on as chief cook-and-bottle-washer. Tester, UI guide and documenter. Evangelist.

I'll do everything I can to make the project succeed, apart from the, um, Python part. We await only the emergence of a true code master.

________

* I could connect to a phone's data plan and surf — I've done that, it's great! — if I chose to squander my discretionary income on that instead of extravagances like children.

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Here’s my review of the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet, the gosh-darned most revolutionary device around, smaller, lighter, better-screened, less-expensive and capable of see-me phone calls at voip prices — what do you think, will I like it?

But first, let’s get the formalities out of the way. I’m a fanboy of anyone who shows egregious genius. The makers/builders of the internet tablet twins qualify on several counts. My attitude shows in everything I write about the 770 and the N800. Secondly, speaking my opinion and wanting to further the development of the scene has qualified me to purchase both a 770 and an N800 at steep discount — 58 and 68 percent, respectively, as one of 500 participants in both the 770 and the N800 developer-device programs. (Of course, I know people who got them free!)

So, here’s my review:


The Nokia N800 Internet Tablet
came as a shock to observers of the web tablet scene. No one expected Nokia to expand its line and push the tablet envelope so soon and so far, considering that widespread distribution in the U.S. occurred only 12 months ago.

But the strength of the 770′s appeal apparently persuaded Nokia to capitalize on its first-to-market advantage and hug the internet tablet to its N-series, smart-phone bosom. (Hence the “N” prefixing the name.)

Anyone who uses one of these tablets soon experiences a glowing recognition that, holy cow!, the internet doesn’t have to be confined to a desk or laptop-friendly chair. Now you can surf standing up, walking around, riding the train and so on, just as you can use a phone untethered from a phone jack.

This comparison to the cellphone’s liberation of movement comes from Ari Jaaksi, the head of Nokia’s open-source software group and the internet tablet team specifically. And it’s critical to understanding why the N800 and the 770 don’t fit into any neat categories that other reviewers seem to want to force them into.

Nokia N800 is one-sixth the size of a UMPC

The Nokia N800 is one-sixth the size of a UMPC (graphic from sizeasy)
Oh, hey, this review is over 2000 words long! It won’t all fit on the front page!
Continue reading ‘My review of the Nokia N800 – when the walkaround web meets the see-me-anywhere call’

DotReader from Osoft has entered the public beta stage. You can download Windows and Linux versions. This is an open-source ebook reader (source code here), written in Perl with the wxWidgets GUI.

I’m partial to FBReader, but I really like the idea of another Linux ebook reader.

I’ll report back what I learn about dotReader as I work with it. My question to the Nokia 770 community is whether dotReader’s use of wxWidgets might make it an unfriendly or large application on the 770.

— Roger Sperberg

Springer, a major publisher of “high-quality STM journals, book series, books [and] reference works,” has just introduced its own portal for its collection of scientific, technical and medical works. Already there are about 11,000 titles available, including journal articles, book chapters, monographs and atlases. About 3,000 titles are expected to be added annually.

The big news here is that Springer is not requiring subscribers to submit to some system of digital restrictions management. The works are available in html and pdf form, libraries own ebooks they purchase in perpetuity, and everything is readable on the Nokia 770 Tnternet Tablet. Yes, you can use FBReader to read these works.

Smart move for Springer. Good news for Nokia 770 owners.


Thanks to Teleread for posting on this, having picked it up from the Hectic Pace blog by Andrew Pace.



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