An N800 Power-On Bug Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma

On February 21st, Nokia quietly released a new version of the firmware for their N800 and N810 Internet Tablets. (So quietly that I can’t find an appropriate Nokia page to link to). The new version, officially “Software Edition 2008 version 2.2007.51-3″ is about 140M in size, but oddly just 259 bytes larger than the previous version. What do those extra 259 bytes get you? Not much, based on Nokia’s brief description: “This release fixes the power on (boot) problem only.”

And so ended what is commonly referred to as the “N800 power-on enigma“, a problem experienced by many, many users (including yours truly) who bought their Nokia N800 or N810 in late 2007 or early 2008. It made for a rude introduction to the device: bring it home, charge it up, and stab futilely at various buttons wondering where the Finns hid the power switch. It turned out that the device wasn’t dead-on-arrival, just playing hard-to-get, as users found that if they ignored it for awhile it would happily power on later. While it was up and running the device showed no indications of problems with the battery — it would discharge normally, recharge normally, and keep chugging along faithfully until the user powered it off. Then it would play dead for a bit.

As far as I know, the problem was never formally acknowledged or documented by Nokia support. Even the above one-line description is nowhere to be found on Nokia’s web site, though it is displayed briefly by Nokia’s “Update Wizard” Windows software that you can use to update the firmware. If it wasn’t for 3rd party web sites I wouldn’t have known that this fix was available.

Like others who bought a flaky device, I found Nokia technical support less than forthcoming. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected much, since Nokia is probably used to letting cellular providers deal with customer technical problems. In response to the support problem I submitted to Nokia Canada Customer Care, I received an e-mail which, along with the inevitable “Thank you for choosing Nokia” niceties, contained a couple of sentences specific to the problem: “Dan, if your Nokia N800 Internet Tablet does not power on, we recommend contacting Dell to see if they offer any replacement, repair, or refund options. If Dell are unable to assist, we recommend having it evaluated by a trained Nokia technician.”

Fortunately, I already had a handle on this problem thanks to various Internet forums and blogs. The consensus seemed to be that 1) the defect was limited to a power-on problem — the units were otherwise fine, 2) there was no fix other than returning the unit. Since the N800 has a sleep mode which is generally preferable to powering it off, I decided to live with the problem rather than letting a “trained Nokia technician” have a go at it.

So, after letting us dangle for a few months, and presumably footing the bill for a lot of returned units, Nokia proved our 2nd assumption wrong and quietly fixed the problem. I’ve been powering down my N800 a regular basis for the past week to confirm that the fix works, and it does. I haven’t decided whether I’m more impressed with Nokia’s programmers for fixing what was almost certainly a flaw in a supplier’s hardware component, or annoyed with Nokia’s tech support for abandoning their users to devise their own explanation for the problem. No, wait, I’ve decided. I’m annoyed!

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2 Responses to An N800 Power-On Bug Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma

  1. Jorge Callejas says:

    I have this problem , I have DIABLO, how can I fix It

  2. Dan says:

    Jorge,

    If you mean that your N8x0 often won’t power on, but the problem isn’t that the battery is drained, then I wish I had a better answer for you.

    Until Nokia released a firmware fix I was ready to return the unit to the store for a replacement, and that might be your best bet. You might have a bad piece of hardware that can’t be fixed, only replaced. That sucks, but it happens. :-(

    If returning the device isn’t an option, then you should consider working around the problem by just leaving your N8x0 powered on all the time. That’s what I do — I find that if I use the power button to select the “Offline mode”, then “Lock touch screen and keys” options, my N800 barely drains the battery when not in use.

    If you want to try a more aggressive approach to fixing it, then perhaps you should reload the OS2008 image and use the device for awhile without any add-on apps or special settings. (If your unit worked fine with OS2008 before you upgraded to Diablo, then this is definitely what you should do.) You can either use Nokia’s Windows installer or follow the command line instructions here: http://fosswire.com/2007/12/30/n800-users-flash-to-os2008/

    Dan.