Handset Review: Nokia N900

Nokia N900

It’s been a while since my last substantial review but I’m back with something a little different for you today. I’d like to talk about the Nokia N900 Linux-based phone I’ve been testing for the past 6 weeks. It’s the first Maemo powered device to feature phone functions. Does this move signal a new direction for Nokia? Nobody seems quite sure just yet, but the hardware and software are causing a lot of interest in the Linux community. Here’s my thoughts on the experience so far.

Vital Stats:

  • Processor: ARM Cortex-A8 600mhz, PowerVR SGX graphics
  • RAM: 256mb
  • Storage: 32gb internal memory, 16gb MicroSD slot for expansion
  • Camera: Carl Zeiss, Tessar 2.8/5.2, AF 5MP
  • Operating System: Maemo 5 (based on Debian)
  • Kernel: 2.6.28-omap1
  • Connectivity: GRPS, EDGE, HSDPA, HSUPA, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, DLNA, Infra red, microUSB v2.0
  • Other Features: FM Radio transmitter, GPS, TV-out

Introduction:

Back of Device

In the interests of full disclosure I should start off by pointing out a couple of quick things. Firstly this handset was sent to me for trial by Nokia, I didn’t buy it and it has to be returned at some point. I’ve had it 6 weeks at the time of this writing. Secondly I’m no phone expert. I haven’t used a lot of smartphones, so I can’t compare this directly to Android devices or others. I’ve only used them in passing. I do know a thing or two about Linux though and hopefully that will balance this out.

With Google Android making weekly headlines at the moment it’s an interesting time for Nokia to bring out their first proper Linux-based phone device. Of course you’ll never hear them refer to it as a phone. They strictly only call it a mobile computer and they’re keen to differentiate between this and their Symbian smartphones. Exactly where a smartphone ends and a mobile computer begins I’ll let you decide, I’m not sure I know. Whether Nokia like it or not though people will compare the N900 to the iPhone, Palm Pre and various Android handsets on the market. I’m not convinced this attempt to brand it as a mould-breaking device will work for them. However, the thought of Debian on a proper working phone certainly excited the kilt wearing geek within me. I’d seen a lot of N900 reviews online and I was very keen to get my hands on one. They’re quite expensive handsets at £500 from Nokia Direct in the UK. The best deal I’ve seen on contract here was £35pm for 24 months on Vodafone (handset included), but it did come with a good amount of phone minutes, SMS and “unlimited” data. As much as any of these contracts are ever truly unlimited. Vodafone is the only network officially carrying the N900 here in the UK right now. There are rumours that it will be available on other networks in future. I guess we’ll find out.

Hardware:

Keyboard Open

Let’s begin by talking about the hardware you get for your money. The handset is heavier than most other similar devices I’ve tried but only slightly, and it does include a slide out hardware keyboard. It’s solid and well built. It feels very similar to the HTC G1 in form. You get a pretty impressive 32gb of internal storage and this can be expanded to 48gb with a MicroSD card slot. The card slot is located under the battery cover though, so you can’t swap cards easily which isn’t ideal. In practice this hasn’t been a problem because I tend to just put a card in and forget about it. With 48gb of memory to play with it’s not as if I’m going to run out any time soon. It’s a generous amount by any estimation. The processor is an ARM Cortex-A8 which runs at 600mhz and there’s also 256mb of RAM. Even when running 4 or 5 applications at once it doesn’t seem to struggle. You do get the occasional slowdown when a particular application hangs, but think is a software error in those applications rather than hardware. The experience has been very smooth and slick overall.

End View

The main data connection is through a MicroUSB port on the top of the phone. If you’re on Windows you can install the Nokia PC Suite software for syncing your calendar and contacts, but I’m not keen on that. Besides I’m a Linux desktop user anyway and there’s no Linux version. Perhaps this is a blessing as much as a curse. I am pleased to say the device works perfectly as a mass storage drive on any platform via USB. You can also charge it from this port using the standalone wall charger or a computer. The 5 mega-pixel camera seems very good for a device of this kind. It’s a Carl Zeiss optic and while I know nothing about photography, I’ve been assured by friends that this is a good make. The way I take photos I need all the help I can get. There’s also a standard 3.5mm mini-jack connection which is a must for me. I hate proprietary headphone connections with a passion. Then there are the usual power, volume, camera and lock buttons you’d expect around the periphery of the handset. You also get a stylus tucked away at one end. At first I expected to hate using the stylus, but it’s actually quite grown on me. The touch screen is good enough to use with your fingers, which I do 90% of the time, but occasionally when doing something that requires more fine accuracy I pull out the stylus.

n900 with pen for size

Size Comparison

I’ve heard many friends complaining about the battery life on their G1 or Hero and I wasn’t looking forward to charging my phone every 8 hours. This hasn’t been the case at all though. I don’t use the device heavily for phone calls but I am always using data for email and other things, playing music and even using the FM transmitter. Despite all this I get well over 24 hours out of one charge. I’ve been very happy with that. I get a solid and quick 3G connection with O2 UK. I downloaded a 52mb podcast file over 3G to test this. It came in at 600kbps all the way. That’s almost as fast as I get on wi-fi, impressive! You can also use WLAN, BlueTooth and even the Infra Red port for connectivity if you want.

The GPS seems pretty good but the mapping application is let down by the lack of decent maps for me. OVI maps don’t contain the same amount of data as Google Maps from what I’ve seen. You also don’t get turn by turn directions when using the GPS in the car. This may well be fixed by software updates in future. I’ve heard more 3rd party GPS apps for Maemo are in the pipeline.

Overall, the hardware is one of the most impressive things about the N900 for me. I love being able to jump in the car, start a podcast and then just press the FM transmitter button to play it back through the radio. You could of course use an external FM transmitter with any device, but having it built in just feels cool. Every time I switch it on I half expect Q to pop up and say “pay attention 007”. Nokia have always made good hardware and this is certainly true here. Most people’s issues with them over the years have been more with their software. So let’s discuss that next.

Software:

One Of 4 Desktops

One Of 4 Desktops

As I mentioned earlier, the N900 is the first Maemo device from Nokia with phone features. More precisely it comes with Maemo 5, the latest iteration of their Debian-based operating system that won many fans on Internet tablets like the N800 and N810. I’ve only used those devices in passing, but I’ve always heard good things about Maemo from friends. I’m a big Debian fan, and the ability to install a .deb package on your phone has always appealed to me. There are many Maemo repositories containing thousands of packages Linux fans will know well from their desktops. Gpodder, Pidgin, Firefox and Vim to name just a few. Ok, so maybe Vim is more for the hardcore geek I admit, but it is in the repos along with QEmacs, which made me laugh. You can get root access to the N900 any time by typing one command in the X terminal window. A handy feature which in turn means you can run “apt-get install <package>” to install things. A feature to make any Linux fan need a change of trousers if ever I’ve seen one. Of course the first thing I did when I got the N900 was jump into a terminal and install Nano with Apt-Get. That’s pretty damn cool on a phone.

Multiple Apps At Once

The Maemo 5 interface works well with the touch screen and proper multi-tasking is a big bonus. A lot of other phones will run more than one app simultaneously these days (iPhone users look away now), but this is really well implemented. Switching apps is easy and the visual effects on the desktop are almost Compiz-like. The menu system is intuitive enough but I do have one slight problem with it. There’s no obvious way to close some things at first. You have to tap on the desktop outside a menu to go back a screen. It’s easy once you learn how but some clearer instructions would be nice.

The only really negative experience I’ve had so far with the N900 was updating to a new firmware using Nokia’s NSU software. I wrote about this at length on the blog, so I won’t go over all that again. For me the update process needs to be significantly improved if Nokia want ordinary users to buy into the N900, both literally and metaphorically. There are some other areas that could use a little polish. The built-in email client for example isn’t great, it needs to be improved. You can supplement it with other 3rd party apps but this isn’t a long term solution. The dialler on the other hand is very good and has pretty much all the features you would expect. It’s cool to have Skype and Google Talk integrated too. You can call people on Skype directly from your phone book if they’re online, or to a phone if you have Skype Out minutes. I don’t know many other phones that do that at the moment. The included web browser is also excellent. You get full flash support and the full web experience on the device. Nothing is missing. You can also install Mozilla Fennec and have a choice of browsers, which I’ve done.

My pyGtk App Running

My Python Gtk App Running

One of the most common digs I hear from Android users is that the N900 is tied to the Ovi Store for new software. I certainly wouldn’t argue that the Android Market is a lot bigger and more popular, but the N900 is in no way tied to Ovi for getting software. There are 1000s of packages in the Maemo repositories and you can also run any Python software with a Gtk or Qt interface. Pretty much everything on the Linux desktop then. I was even able to run some Gtk applications I wrote myself just by copying the source code over to the device. The next stop is to look at packaging this into .debs for easy sharing with other N900 users. For hackers and Linux geeks alike I think this could make a very interesting prospect. The software is still evolving though and I’m keen to see what’s planned for Maemo 6, the odd rough edge is apparent at times. For the average person in the street the convenience and simplicity of the Android Market is probably a winner right now, I can’t argue against that. One of the big buzz phrases you hear from all these companies is “developer mind share”. Basically this means getting developers excited about coding on your platform. I suspect giving these devices to developers and sending them to bloggers like myself is intended to achieve that. For a developer wanting to make a living purely from selling mobile apps it’s hard to see the attraction of the N900 right now. Ovi doesn’t have the user base of the iPhone App Store or Android Market. With so many handsets already running Android and more in the pipeline, I think this is the place for mobile developers to be right now. I really like Maemo 5 and there are already plans for Maemo 6. It has the solid base you would expect from Debian and they’ve built well on this in adding polish. If Nokia put more weight behind it we may see it grow, but with only one device running Maemo 5 and only one more planned for 2010, it’s not going to be easy.

Conclusions:

Getting A Feel For It

This has very much been a Linux users experience of the N900, rather than a phone expert or an average end user. But then I think this is precisely the core market for the device. In many ways it feels like what we all hoped the OpenMoko project would become before it petered out. A really good Open Source Linux-based phone with slick hardware, root access and the ability to run your own code without restrictions. It’s not quite as open as the Freerunner admittedly. You can’t get schematics for the hardware but this is as close as I think you can get right now. Lots of people tell me they can do the same things on their Android devices and this may well be true. I’d need to compare how much effort it is to jailbreak an Android phone.

The biggest barrier for the N900 at the moment my well be Nokia itself. Many people disagree with me on this point, but I think they should be pushing it more. It’s an exclusive hacker device right now both in price and visibility. It’s still new so perhaps it’s a bit early to judge their promotion efforts yet. Developers may get excited by the full Python implementation and ability to use familiar Linux toolkits. My advice to Nokia right now (not that I doubt they worry about my advice) would be to release a rapid application environment for Maemo. Something akin to Quickly on Ubuntu. You could even port Quickly over to the device. It would speed up the appearance of new apps and fuel demand for the handset. An easy to use virtual machine for testing your applications on any desktop would also be very handy. It all depends how much effort they want to put into it. Android developers can already target their apps at devices from within Eclipse. (EDIT: Apparently the Maemo 5 SDK includes a VM, I haven’t tried it yet though)

Threaded Conversations

The question everyone is asking me now is “will you buy an N900 when you have to send that back”? I honestly don’t know for sure yet. I use a lot of Google applications and the integration offered by Android is appealing to a freedom hater like me. I’d like to try an Android device properly for a few weeks to really compare them. £500 is a lot of money for a handset, but then this no ordinary handset. I can almost see why Nokia insist on calling this a mobile computer now. It’s half netbook and half smartphone, whether there’s really a market for that we’ll have to see. If the next model (presumably the N910) makes as much forward progress I think Nokia may yet surprise a few people who’ve written them off. The hardware is excellent and the software feels 90% there, it just needs to cross that final hurdle.

If you’re looking for a consumer-ready, fashionable Linux-based phone platform with a big app store I’d direct you towards Android. However, if you’re a Linux user interested in trying something more like the desktop platform you know and love, the N900 is perfect. I’m really happy with the N900 and each day it moves a little closer to the centre of my heart, is there a doctor in the house? I hope we see many more devices running Maemo in the near future and much development. That’s what it’s going to take for the Android crazed public and media to notice it in the wake of things like the Nexus One.

Upcoming:

I’ll continue to test and write about my experiences with the N900 of course, but I should really get back to distro hopping on my laptop. It’s been a busy start to 2010. I do have a few potential targets for the next hop in mind. If you have any suggestions or requests please feel free to send them to me or leave a comment. Also if someone wants to send me an Android phone to compare with the N900 feel free, it’s not likely but no harm in asking hehe…

About Dan

Hi I'm Dan, I'm the nutter who creates the content here and oversees things. You can read more about me on the biog page if you like. Thanks :)
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32 Responses to Handset Review: Nokia N900

  1. oscillik says:

    great review, certainly from the perspective of a Linux user. Just a few points i’d like to add, as a commenter:

    while the N900 does indeed have 256MB of dedicated MobileDDR RAM, it also has access to an extra 768MB of virtual memory giving it a total theoretical of 1GB RAM. i’m not too sure about other phones but from what i remember i don’t think any other handset out there has access to virtual memory, and certainly not 1GB of usable RAM!

    as you know Dan, i used to have an Android Dev Phone 1 and while i did enjoy having a Google experience phone, i largely refrain from referring to it as a ‘Linux Phone’ anymore (quotations for good reason). like it or not, in the public’s mind the term “Linux” has become a brandname akin to “Windows” – what we, as knowing individuals will call a Linux Distro, the lay person will just call Linux. yes, Android runs a Linux kernel. but the applications are as we know a special kind of Java. it’s not like you can very easily port over a lot of existing apps that are available for Linux Distros.

    i had a lot of preconceptions about Android, and those preconceptions weren’t entirely synchronised with reality. the N900, however, is totally synchronised with what i would deem a ‘Linux phone’

    /me waits for the flames of “Linux is the kernel, not the distro!”

    just a question for you though Dan – has the N900 made you more or less likely to go for a ‘smartphone’ as your main mobile comms device in future?

  2. jezra says:

    The device definitely seems more developer friendly than anything else on the market. Regardless of programming language, if it can be compiled on Linux, it will run on the N900. Compare this to the language restrictions of developing for the iPhone(Obj-C) or Android(a Java subset), and the barrier for entry is greatly reduced for the casual code hacker as well as the seasoned developer using the programming language of their choice.

    Due to the form factor and functionality, it might be more appropriate to compare this device to phones and tables as opposed to netbooks.

    Regardless, I very much enjoyed the article and hope to do some Maemo programming in the future.

  3. lauren says:

    nice review dan

    the problem with nokia at the high end (and i do speak from some experience here) is it’s always “almost there” but they never quite get there and you are left with a device full of potential that never fully realizes it while they launch another device and move on

    hardware-wise nokia really good … the software and integration features are, however, abysmal imo … for instance, how in gods name can you ship a high end device like this without a killer email app???

    anyways, i have finally given up and am awaiting my first android device this coming week … very excited i am too … hope it works as well as i think it will
    :)

    • Dan says:

      @lauren – Thanks. I can understand your frustration. I have no real history with Nokia so I’ll have to judge them on future performance. They have slipped up in the past and I can see why you’re not confident. I think Android has the market share and attention right now. It is also on a lot more handsets as I said in the review. Who would have thought 2 years ago we’d have this many Linux-based phones to choose from though? Android, Maemo and Palm’s WebOS.

      Good luck with the new Android device, I hope it turns out to be great!!

  4. Dan says:

    @oscillik – I think you’re right that in the minds of the general public Linux just means Ubuntu, or whatever distro they happen to have seen. Trying to explain distros and the kernel to people can be difficult. There is only one Windows or Mac OS which they may know, so it’s hard for them to understand. I use the term Linux in explaining things to people rather than GNU/Linux not because I don’t appreciate the work of the GNU Project, but because it’s become accepted and most commonly used, it’s also easier to open the conversation with. I’d rather spend my time telling them about the principals of sharing and Copyleft that arguing about semantics, especially if you have limited time to talk to them. So I agree with you on that.

    To answer your question, I was always interested in a smartphone but couldn’t justify the cost before. Fashion items like the iPhone never interested me, once Android and other Open Source options appeared I became interested. I was planning to get a Hero on contract after Christmas. I’ve put that off now obviously. If I can get one at the right price I’m very tempted to stick with an N900. Or maybe see what the N910 turns out like. I like having a smartphone yes :)

  5. Dan says:

    @jezra – Thanks. You make some good points about development and the openness of the platform. I wouldn’t directly compare this to a netbook. That wasn’t my intention. I think that might be what Nokia want to do in calling it a “mobile computer” and not a phone though. I’d rather see it as a very powerful smartphone.

  6. klanger says:

    Great review!

    After reading, in my mind I’ve heard – “I WANT N900!!!” ;)

    It is good to see well done phone (mobile comp.) with well known Debian on board.

    Looking forward for next reviews.

    Have nice weekend!

  7. oscillik says:

    @Dan

    oh i totally agree, the intricacies of the GNU/Linux world are not for the “normals” and although distributions such as Ubuntu have made great strides in pushing itself as a brand-name of GNU/Linux, the fact remains that people would still rather refer to it under the umbrella term “Linux” (i know i do, but simply because i’m lazy and can’t be arsed saying GNU/Linux distribution)

    good to hear that you’ve had a positive experience. i wonder how your opinion would be, had you jumped onto the smartphone era a few years back – i myself have been a smartphone user since the Nokia 7650 (the first Symbian based handset) and i was a Psion user before that…i still am to an extent! i like my N900 a lot, i think it has a lot more “coder” potential than the Android handsets in the sense that it really is open. but what Android has going for it is the level of integration of the features. for example, ShopSavvy (an application that i have blogged about in the past) is the best of it’s kind amongst any platform, and i beleive this to be because of the seamless integration of features in Android. it is a level of integration that Nokia have never really been able to do before. the N900 is a step in the right direction, but as you’ve said yourself…it needs a final push. unfortunately it seems like that final push might only be realised in Maemo6, and there are rumblings that the N900 will not be supported.

    even so, the N900 is a great choice for the discerning ‘hacker’ who wants a no-holds-barred handset. Maemo already has a flourishing community. and using extra packages you can download from the Maemo-extras repository, you can even run The GIMP on your N900! how many phones can you say that could do that?

    all i have to say is: eat shit, jesusPhone :p

  8. Martin says:

    Hello Dan, Great Review, until reading this I never knew the phone you had was just a review unit.

    You’ve really made me want to get one of these phones, I have been following the development of the N900 since I first heard about it over the previous year.

    When they came out, I really couldn’t justify £500 for a mobile phone though.

    Anyway, take care, I look forward to reading your next review, what distro do you have in mind? Martin.

  9. Dan says:

    @Martin – I agree £500 is definitely a lot for a phone. That’s why I say I’m not 100% sure I’d have paid that for it right now. Lovely as it is. I hope more networks will pick them up in the UK. The contract deal on Vodafone isn’t bad, better than the iPhone deals, but I don’t think they have exclusivity. Originally I heard Orange and O2 would have the N900. Not sure if that’s still a possibility.

    For my next distro hop I’m thinking I should really live up to all my promises and run a BSD on my laptop. I’m thinking FreeBSD 8.0 or the pre-release version of PC-BSD 8.0. Not sure which yet.

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  11. Patrick says:

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for the review. Very interesting and informative.

    I’m curious as to whether you know if Nokia will release the N900 with front and rear cameras (for video conferencing).

    I have an N95 8G and while I’m quite happy with it, I love the keyboard on my wife’s Blackberry (she answers lots of e-mail for her business and so the N95 8G she has is purely for home/family related stuff) and have wanted a proper keyboard ever since :)

    The N900 sounds more like what I would really like in a phone (yes, it’s quite funny when one says this out loud).

    How does it go with viewing/managing photos etc in terms of such things as viewing those held on the phone? For instance the N95 has a ‘gallery’ for vids and photos which isn’t too bad.

    Does it also automagically change from portrait to landscape when rotated?

    Does it have an accelerometer onboard? (N95 has one)

    What is the file browser like?

    Just some questions :)

    Again, thanks for the review. Personally it’s the type I really like. For example it: lacks hype, lacks a reality distortion field, fails to make apologies for short comings, fails to explain these as ‘making the phone/device simpler to use’, fails to criticise those who may complain about these short-comings.

    Hmmmmmm. I’m wondering if I’m trying to make a point about another device???

    LOL

    Looking forward to seeing the updates.

    • Dan says:

      @Patrick – Glad you enjoyed the article. I’ll try to answer some of your questions. The N900 manages media very well. The in-built media player and catalogue is very good, it shows music videos and radio stations, you can also install other players and even a media centre if you want from the repositories. The photo manager has a gallery and the file manager also works well. There actually is a small low res camera at the edge of the screen I neglected to mention, but I haven’t seen much software using it yet. There’s a program called Mirror you can use to play with it but I don’t know if there’s any video conferencing stuff yet. The device has accelerometers and rotates menus, displays and photos with ease. There are also some games based on it. Rolling balls around the screen and so on. The sort you get on the iPhone. The hardware has everything you would expect to find on a top of the range device like this, and even a couple of other tricks up it’s sleeve. I’d say see if you can get to try one in a shop and then decide what you think.

  12. Tinku says:

    Some ethical comments…

    What I have understood from different reviews so far is that N900 is a mobile computer preloaded with a GNU/Linux distribution based on Debian.

    I completely agreed with Dan’s comment that N900 is the only commercial device attracted the maximum Free Software enthusiasts since its ‘truly open as compared to Android and Palm WebOS based devices. I am basically a web developer and developed few applications for Palm WebOS.

    Most people in the Free Software community had much expectations about Android platform. But at the early stages of development itself many got disappointed due to Google’s closed development procedures and decisions to remove GNU variants of Java stack from the platform. Palm WebOS was also not different since its wasn’t an open platform and intended for Palm built devices only.

    We had OpenMoko from many years.. but it wasn’t in to the main stream. Thanks to Nokia. They pushed Maemo developments. In between they acquired Qt and started integrating Qt with Maemo for rich user experience. Don’t forget.. Nokia has some other platforms as well. Qtopia (know by some other name at present) and they ported Qt to Symbian platform.

    N900 may not be a success. But certainly its not going to be a disappointment since it was true main stream GNU/Linux phone so far released. If N900 can have these much good Hardware and 90% perfect in software, there is no doubt that upcoming releases will have more things to feature and attract both end users and developers and also true Free Software lovers.

    • Dan says:

      @Tinku – It remains to be seen how Maemo develops as a phone OS but I am hopeful. I’ve seen quite a few updates already in the 6 weeks I’ve had the device. With 3rd party developers updating their packages in the repos it’s also quite exciting. Then there’s Maemo 6 on the horizon for next year. It doesn’t have the momentum or attention of Android, but it is a great platform.

  13. paai says:

    Hi all,
    Thanks, Dan. I will repay your efforts with my own two cents.

    I also have a N900 for six weeks now (bought it in the store) and like you I am a fervent Linux user. That is why I bought it.

    I am still in two minds about the phone (yes, I consider it a phone, or PDA if you like that term). The good news is that I have not many complaints with the hardware or stability. There sometimes is a blue haze in photos with flash, and it is reported that the usb slot is very fragile, which worries me. The battery life is more than 24 hours. I am extremely happy with the possibility of opening an ssh connection on my PC and explore the phone from there. I even can have the N900 graphical desktop on my PC, but havn’t figured out yet how to stop it from timing out.

    So far the good news.

    The bad news is that Calendar, Contacts and memos are rudimentary to say the least. I expected that there would be alternatives to install, but have not yet found suitable replacements. Also, there is no PC suite for Linux (!!!), so no syncing to the desktop! I had to open a Google account to keep my calendar safe somewhere, and I don’t like to have my data in the cloud. Syncing of contacts with Google is broken and while I can copy memos to and from the PC, I have to do that by hand (scp).

    So its PDA functions are seriously flawed until better software comes along.

    I do not understand the GPS. If I open Ovi maps, I get a good fix when in a moving car: stationary however it always is off by a hundred meters.

    As a handsfree phone in the car, I miss several options. There is no voice dialing (I knew that beforehand), but also I have not yet figured out how to easily select contacts and call them without endangering traffic.

    The manual and other information straight from Nokia is absolutely insufficient, as is post-sale customer support. Luckily there is a community always ready to help out with questions.

    Paai

    • Dan says:

      @paai – I agree, there is lots of work to be done on Maemo as a phone OS. I’ve never bothered with desktop syncing software but you’re right that there is no PC Suite for Linux, or Mac either actually. Same for the Nokia updating software (which failed for me anyway). I’m not sure Nokia will bother to bring out Linux versions of these apps to be honest. They never did with the N95 or other phones. It always required a Windows PC which is very annoying. The SDK and other things are available and wokring on Linux, so perhaps this shows where Nokia see Linux users in the eco system. More as developers than users. I don’t know if that’s a good approach or not.

      I rarely ever connect the N900 to my machine, with it syncing my mail and calendar over the air and downloading podcasts directly I have little need, but I’m not an average user I admit. Voice dialing and better contact management are things they do need to add. I think the phone functions work well considering this the first attempt but they still need to be improved to compete with other advanced phones.

  14. Fab says:

    Nice review. You are correct in saying that Carl Zeiss generally makes good lenses, although in an optic this size it can’t make much of a difference. All mobile device cameras are horrible if you’ve ever used a DSLR. That’s mostly due to the laws of physics, I’m afraid…

  15. Dan says:

    @Fab – The way I take pictures it doesn’t make much difference anyway. I know what you mean though, camera phones are no use for proper photography, more for fun I’d say.

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  17. edcarsky says:

    @dan – This is truly nice review, you got me!!!

    Let’s say I am not well-defined knowledge inside the program of Smartphone’s, but I certainly believed that this Maemo Nokia device is truly promising in the market. I was been reading many, as in too many blog before I bought my N900, and I certainly attested that N900 is truly amazing. Before I was fall-in-love in iPhone,,, especially when 3Gs came out the market,,, but I was really keen to get Nokia but iPhone touch screen features,,, I’ve been reading many blog and comparison through on-hand experiences like your article, and when the device is in my hand,,, truly unbelievable experience,,, I read in one blog that I absolutely agreed that “the more you use N900 the more you will like it”.

    Right now, I am truly inspired using it and I feel everything is in my hand through my N900. Thanks to your article, it’s really catchy!!! Hope to see more article in N900, I love Nokia and now I love Maemo,,, thanks guys!!!.

  18. Andrew says:

    With respect, I take issue with the dismissal of cameras on mobile phones.

    Exhibit A:

    http://acurrie.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/nokia-n86-best-camera-phone-evar/

    Exhibit B:

    http://openattitude.com/2010/01/08/camera-phones-are-the-new-guns/

    Great review of the N900, though : )

    • Dan says:

      @andrew – Your pictures look great but they don’t even look close to that when I take them. I’m not much of a photographer and I find they tend to look grainy and crap. Might just be my fault as much as the camera, I have no idea :)

  19. becki26 says:

    @ dan
    hi i agree with you this phone is rather an unique handset. i used nokia many years ago the 3310 to precise and a couple of models after that but eventually got board of the same old thing then this phone came out and caught my eye.
    admittadly i only got the phone for linux as my laptop is on linux ubuntu.
    the only problem i seem to be having though which is extremly frustrating is my media player doent work properly it plays music and videos i record myself but wont play any other videos and i canr upgrade my fremantle. you see as im on vodaphone and they use 2.2009.51-1.205.2 not 2.2009.51-1.203.2 i have a huge problem.
    you see for some reason when i updated from 42 version to 51 version the update i was sent was 2.2009.51-1.203.2 and the vodaphone version so my fremantle is mp-fremantle-205-pr and i cant update it i have looked all over the net for solutions but cant find anything im going to phone vodaphone i think to have the phone swapped as i cant go on using a phone that does not work the way it suppose to but before this problem occurred i could not have faulted the phone in fact i still cant with a new phone that has not been out long i suppose they cant help the flaws that are there

  20. Dan says:

    @becki26 – That’s a strange media playback problem. I find my N900 will play anything at all music or video. I’ve yet to find a format it won’t play for me. The problem might be because yours was a Vodafone model and it’s somehow different in software or hardware, I’m just guessing. Hope you get it fixed. Good luck!

  21. coolfx35 says:

    I have been the proud owner of the N900 for nearly a month now. I also own an HTC Magic and think the N900 is a far superior phone. I am a Linux user (Linux Mint and Sabayon) on my computers and love how open this phone is.

    I am still playing with the phone and learning but am getting to grips with it. I have added the testing repo which has opened up a lot more to play with.

    Look forward to chatting to all the other N900 users at http://www.NokiaN900Forum.net this really does feel like an enthusiasts phone, not just another run of the mill handset.

    • Dan says:

      @coolfx35 – Gland you’re enjoying the N900. You’re right that it’s definately a hackers phone, it’s incredibly open which l love

  22. Greg Zeng says:

    Just followed url’s on reviews of the N900, espec. Wikipedia.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maemo#Future

    N900 seems out of date, to be replaced not by Naemo, but now officially by MeeGo. I’ll be trying this new op sys on my Asus 1005ha netbook.

    http://meego.gitorious.org/

    Meego seems even more open source friendly than any other operating system yet. So new, that seems few apps. I don’t have the cpu power to convert Linux apps – ($$$ poverty).

    Retired (medical) IT Consultant, Australian Capital Territory.

    • Dan says:

      @greg – There is great doubt over the future of the N900 now you’re right because of the change to the software and lack of commitment from Nokia. I don’t think you can say Maemo was less Open Source friendly than MeeGo though, Maemo was (and still is) a full Debian OS on a phone, totally Open Source. MeeGo has potential but a lot of N900 owners and developers are rightly annoyed with Nokia for launching this device and then effectively killing it after a couple of months. They didn’t give it any chance at all to become established, it’s like they wanted it to fail or they just didn’t care. They don’t seem to know what they’re doing, what direction to go in. They need to pick a product and stick to it for a least a year to give it a chance. All the developers who’d been won over to Maemo just dropped it once the MeeGo bombshell was dropped. Developer buy-in is massive to a platform’s success and now all those developers have decided to go elsewhere, probably Android which isn’t going to be killed in 2 months. I’m sad because the N900 is still an amazing device and Maemo is a great OS, MeeGo seems to be targeting tablets and netbooks rather than phones. I think they’ve given up that market to Android personally.

  23. Francis says:

    i have never been enriched from reviews until now; just three wks old with the new device and to LINUX generally.
    So far so good it has been wonderful, not a problem with it – not that i envision one though.
    Keep up the good work, will keep tabs on this forum.
    Regards
    Franc’

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