July 9, 2007

Maemo 3.2 update brings Skype, kernel improvements to Nokia tablets

Author: Nathan Willis

With little fanfare, Nokia released the latest upgrade for its N800 Internet tablets this weekend. Known officially as Internet Tablet OS 2007 Edition version 4.2007.26-8 and to open source patrons as Maemo 3.2, the new download features long-awaited changes to the Linux kernel, improved battery life, and some flashy updates to the application software -- including the popular Skype softphone.

For months, tablet owners have had access to a third-party patch to the N800 kernel to enable use of Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) memory cards. SDHC cards come in sizes up to 8GB, but although the N800 card slots were physically compatible with SDHC, without the patched kernel it was impossible to format or read more than the first 2GB. That patch is now included with the default Maemo kernel, bringing the total available storage capacity of the device to a whopping 16GB.

Although the official line is that only SDHC-compliant 4GB and 8GB cards are supported by the new kernel, reports on the maemo-users mailing list are that other varieties of SD card in larger sizes are working, too.

In its release announcement, Nokia also mentions two system-level improvements that should result in a better user experience. The first is refined sensitivity in the touch screen driver, allowing for more responsiveness during "intensive use." This fix should alleviate problems that caused some users to have to tap forcefully on the screen in order to get a response.

The second system-level improvement is reduced power consumption, particularly when using a WiFi connection. The release notes assert that these improvements will result in "remarkably longer" battery life. Thus far, no real-world reports have come in about how great the battery life improvement is.

The big application-level enhancements are Flash 9 support and Skype. Flash 9 arrives courtesy of an official update to Adobe's Flash plugin for the N800 Opera Web browser. Reports from users at planet.maemo.org are that the updated Flash plugin improves the smoothness of YouTube video playback.

Skype is a stand-alone application. It does not yet support video calling with the N800's built-in camera, but it integrates nicely with your existing Skype account, thus giving N800 users yet another option for voice chat. You can watch a video demonstration of the Skype client at Daniel Gentleman's Tabletblog.com.

Additional details about the update, including changes to existing applications, can be found in the release notes. In addition to the Maemo 3.2 update itself, new developer tools were released in the Maemo Software Development Kit.

This release is limited to the N800 tablet, but the Maemo project's Quim Gil announced that an update for 770 tablets is forthcoming.

As was the case with Maemo 3.1, installing this update requires downloading a firmware image and then flashing it to the device. The process does write over all customizations made to the tablet's software -- including installed applications -- but should not affect data files stored on the SD memory cards.

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