Opera Mobile 10.1 Beta on the persistent Nokia n810 tablet

I know it is strange to be reviewing software put out for a tablet computer made in 2007, but the Nokia n810 is an amazing bit of kit that has an incredible degree of stickiness. I had no trouble getting rid of previous gadgets on eBay including my precious Psion series 5mx and netbook (the original), when obsolescence greeted them. The n810 is clad in brush aluminum and has the build qualities one associates with Apple. It runs a tiny variant of Linux, and if you don’t mind taxing your eyes, there are ways of running full blown X11 applications on it just like you can on your Mac.

As I was toying with the idea of parting with this, I did two things. I plugged it into a speakers to play the BBC World service, and got a wonderful earful of the Queen’s English. A moment later, Radio Free Asia Korea is streaming in clear 96kb. The other thing was I discovered Opera Mobile 10.1 in the free app store where open source applications seem to pop up despite the apparent obsolescence of the platform. It is a wonder -it’s touch optimized and allows browsing the full web, but the mobile web is where it sings. The mobile sites of Gizmodo, NYTimes, and others just pop on this browser. The icons are all fat, allowing for finger navigation despite the resistive screen. Scrolling has an iOS Safari like inertia and in full screen, the browser turns the 4 year old tablet into a modern window on the web.

It speaks to this one thing in our disposable lifestyles -with appropriate care and the right software, there is no reason why technology has to be abandoned every two years. If done right, even the 4 year old technology can sing. Apple understands this ultimately adds value to your line when people can count on being able to use their device beyond its shelf life -that is why my iPod Touch 2nd generation can still run most of the games and apps that show up on the App store. Before you toss that plastic Dell laptop in the dustbin of history, try loading Ubuntu Linux on it or Chrome OS when it’s available again (and it will be).

The tech companies that survive and thrive offer a perfect alignment of form, function, hardware, and software, but also have the market awareness to adapt their offerings to what people can actually use in a meaningful way in their lives, and in this aspect, the n810 is a failure because it’s really a geek hobbyists niche toy. It never played nice with Microsoft Exchange Server, and its screen is too small to comfortably read a full web page. Pinch to zoom is not possible with a resistive screen. It offers a front facing camera, but the video calling feature was never allowed to bear fruit. The Skype client is voice only, and the Gizmo app no longer allows new accounts since their acquisition by Google. Even so, the n810 is keeping its value because of the perfection of form and function. The n810 has taken on the status of a beloved shortwave radio and bespoke web reader. I even bought a new battery for it. Do you feel the same about that plastic Dell box from 2006?