While many of my mobile cohorts have been fawning over or hating their iPhone, I have been spending a lot of time getting to know the Nokia N770 I bought on Woot.
Russ wrote a great post today about a remote desktop client for the N770 that you can find here. That served to remind me that I had an overdue post. Fyi - blogging and startups don't mix, but I digress...
I almost titled this post "The emergence of the wifi device" which seemed like a bit much, but it is what I have been thinking about since playing with this device. In the last year there has been a marked increase in the number of devices I carry that have wifi connectivity. My PSP, P990, Mylo and now the N770. What is the significance of wifi and what promise does it hold from my perspective?
To begin with, I am not a converged device believer. There is no one device that will have the features that I want. I believe that when one device tries to do everything it doesn't do anything well. I think there are devices that can hit a wide range of functions and do them well but at some point it starts to fall over. As I have stated previously, I carry my P990 and the Sidekick 3. The P990 is just an awesome device to me but it doesn't do Instant messaging very well. It also doesn't do a very good job at playing games or playing video, at least not in my opinion. The Sidekick is an amazing IM device. I don't use it for anything else. I know that there are a lot of Nokia users who swear by the N95 the same way that I fawn over my P990.
So broadly speaking, how does wifi improve my communication experience? The obvious things are fast downloads, possible voip usage, circumventing my carrier network charges, and in some cases the ability to share files locally. The downsides? Poor handoff, fixed perimeter usage, encryption set up for some networks and in some cases speed degradation when too many users are present(although in most cases that isn't a concern).
There are many who are brighter than me who can elaborate further but in a nutshell the above describes how I think about it. In any case, I have gone down the wifi road with my devices and am increasingly thinking about where it all leads. While I want to talk about the Mylo and the N770 in particular I think that it makes sense to walk through the other devices as well to give context.
The PSP. I love the PSP. I max mine out every chance I get. I do a ton of things with it that I wont elaborate on. Wifi is very important for a couple of reasons and is completely useless in others. Wifi is the mechanism to browse the web. The input mechanism is terrible so I don't do that much. To upgrade the firmware, I use wifi. This has been by far the best use of wifi and I have seen revision after revision of firmware upgrade the device since I bought it. One of the coolest firmware upgrades gave me 6 months free wifi at Tmobile hotspots. A very tasty treat that I didn't expect.
Putting content on the PSP. Sorry, wifi isn't able to do that. This is a major travesty and one I cannot fathom. Instead I am left connecting cables to laptops to transfer Tivo shows, pictures, and other stuff. I can't imagine that this will remain like this but in the meantime that is a tragic gap in what you can do with wifi on this device.
The P990. The P990 has wifi. I almost never use it. The first best use case of wifi with this device for me was email. I could quicky download email and in the case where some god friend or coworker sent me some kind of megabyte size file I could switch over to wifi and grab the offending item quickly. Unfortunately for me, when I have the WAN/wifi enabled and I leave the local area, I find that my GPRS tends to barf and timeout when fetching my email. When I disable the WAN, everything woks fine again. Beyond email and the occasional web browsing (which works very well) I don't really use wifi. What would be really cool would be some kind of voip client or the ability to use wifi to tap into the video conferencing capabilities of the device which doesn't work on my US EDGE network today.
The Mylo. I bought the Mylo when it came out as it reminded me of some kind of cross between the Sidekick and the PSP. Admittedly it was an impulse purchase at the time and I wasn't properly informed about what it could/couldn't do. I do recall vaguely some review that mentioned the emergence of wifi devices that started with the N770. I spent a fair amount of time with the Mylo over 2 or 3 months and came to a couple of conclusions. Awesome Skype phone. And not much else. The media capabilities are good. Great speakers and great sound. Getting music in and even worse, video, is a nightmare again requiring cables and PC connections. Web browsing is certainly better than the PSP. While traveling in Europe I was pumped to get to use the Skype capabilites at Hot spots but the Tmobile free wifi service was North America only so I was very bummed by that.
The N770. The N770 has none of the style or class of the Mylo. The Mylo looks slick and has a great slideout keyboard that is usable. The N770, although it lacks the Sony design edge is a monster. Most critically, it isn't strictly tied to wifi. You can use Bluetooth to connect to a phone when you aren't near a hot spot. While traveling in NYC a couple of weeks ago I could pull out the N770, connect to my EVDO phone and check email, surf the web and generally do a lot of the things I do on my laptop in a much smaller package. The single network piece is a serious Achilles heel of the PSP and the Mylo. No doubt that will get fixed in the future.
As I spent more time with the N770 a really important distinction became apparent to me about the inherent nature of this device versus the Mylo. The Mylo is a communications device at it's core. The preinstalled IM clients and more importantly Skype drove both the major use cases as well some of the design considerations (QWERTY keyboard and general phone form factor). The speakers and display also speak to the media aspects of the device.
The N770 on the other hand seems firmly rooted in business productivity type applications, at least in my opinion. There is extensive support for email, web browsing and contact management. The extensive Linux application support is extremely impressive although it isn't as user friendly as a simple business person would like. I am sure that the N800 takes it up a notch in usability. There is audio and video support, as well as support for VOIP via Gizmo project but those features seem underpowered in device form factor and audio output.
I have to say that I actually use the N770 and am excited to try more things like the remote desktop application Russ mentioned. In general, I don't use the Mylo except for the occasional Skype call when I don't want to be tethered to my PC. I imagine that the next generation of the Mylo will see some upgrades along the line of the N770 / N800. I am actually getting an N800 now to see what the next generation of Nokia device does well and where they have migrated to from a technology perspective.
So Mas macho? The N770, although I think that there is a future for Sony in this category especially as they see continued growth and movement in their handset joint venture with Ericsson and their vertical focus on camera and music with the Cybershot and Walkman lines.
With the recent announcement by Tmobile of their wifi/phone offer, it appears to me that the walking the line between wifi and actual carrier networks is about to be crossed/blurred and mashed up. As that starts to occur I think that finding the right and best applications of the various networks will be a challenge for all the manufacturers and will be the key to success. I like where Nokia is at but I suspect that the winners will be vertically tied to specific use case or consumer group like gamers/productivity, etc.