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Nokia N900 Review

03 Apr 2010

Nokia's N900 is unique, as it's the only phone to run Nokia's home-brewed mobile Linux operating system, Maemo. It may be the only phone ever to run Maemo, as Nokia has announced that Maemo will merge with Intel's Moblin to become MeeGo. Being a fully Linux-compatible OS, that means that you can theoretically use any Linux application on it, so it's no wonder that developers love it.

 

There's also a unified messaging application that pools SMS texts and instant messenger conversations into one interface, and an app called Hermes which checks online for more information about your contacts. Hermes searches for more information and photos from your contacts on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

 

For the average user, there are plenty of interesting and useful features. It's the only smartphone with a mobile version of the Mozilla web browser (which is a joy to use, and it supports Flash too). It has good social aggregation features, such as the ability to merge your contacts from a variety of services, including Google Talk, Skype and Ovi, as well as any Jabber or SIP service, into one address book.

 

Then there's the camera, a 5-megapixel sensor with Carl Zeiss optics and twin LED flashes. The camera starts automatically when you open the lens cover, and there's a dedicated shutter button on the top of the phone. The camera has auto-focus and a wide range of settings, including ISO and exposure, and takes excellent photos, with accurate colouring even in artificial lighting, although there's still noise if you zoom in. It can also take videos at the screen's full 848x480 

 

With 32GB of internal memory and a microSDHC card slot, there's space for lots of multimedia files, and the N900 even comes with a TV-out cable that lets you watch movies on a big screen. Music lovers will find a decent set of sound-isolating headphones in the box, with a ribbon cable and a full in-line remote. The media player is excellent too, offering internet radio and automatically finding network media servers so you can browse their contents.

Speaking of which, the N900 uses resistive touchscreen technology - it reacts to pressure rather than the electrical current of skin contact - and when you tap the screen, you get haptic and audio feedback. The screen is bright and clear, and the touch element is really responsive and a pleasure to use. Battery life of nearly 16 hours is typical of a smartphone, and you can expect to have to charge it every night.

 

Tapping on an empty space at the top of the screen brings up the home screen, where you can place widgets, shortcuts, bookmarks or individual contacts on up to four panes, which you flick from side to side as on Android phones. Widgets are limited (at present) but include a Facebook status feed, calendar, RSS feed and an Ovi shortcut bar.

 

Thankfully, it's a powerful phone - its 600MHz processor and dedicated graphics chip help it to really fly along. Even with multiple applications open, we found it snappy, and the multi-tasking is well implemented, much like Palm's WebOS on the Pre. From within an app, you tap on the icon in the top-left of the screen to show tiles for each open app. If you tap again, you get the full app listing.

 

 

Within an app, or on the home screen, there's a small notification area at the top of the screen, where you can view the time, and icons for battery, wireless and signal as well as your current status. Tapping this area brings up a small screen where you can quickly change volume, set alarms, sync with an Exchange server, set up a connection, or change your status or profile - a very useful tool.

Apps are a weakness: developers are more keen to write apps for flashy new operating systems such as Android and iPhone OS, and although they might get excited about MeeGo, Maemo seems destined become a curiosity. Nokia says that Maemo apps will run on MeeGo phones, but remains silent regarding MeeGo apps on the N900.

While Nokia has done a lot with its Ovi Store, it still can't compete with Apple or Google's app stores, not only on quantity but on quality. Of the top ten "Recommended" apps, three are games, one is a movie video trailer and one is an app that displays a candle on the screen.

There aren't any of the clever, innovative web service-based apps that you'd find on an iPhone or Android device. While there's support for Exchange, the N900 only ships with a trial viewer for Office documents and a PDF viewer, and no editors are currently available. Ovi Maps is arguably as good as Google maps, but doesn't offer turn-by-turn navigation.

 

 

 

It's best to think of the N900 in much the same way as Nokia's Communicator line of large smartphones, as more of a mobile computer than a phone. Indeed, it actually feels more like a laptop, especially as you predominantly use it in landscape mode - the one notable exception is in fact when you open the dialler to make a call (you actually have to tap an icon to open the dialler, as there aren't any buttons on the fascia).

The problem with being such a powerful device is twofold: the most obvious problem is the price, which will put off most users. Secondly, despite Maemo's touch-friendly interface and intuitive controls, MeeGo's shadow hangs over it.

Nokia won't make a definitive statement regarding the N900 and MeeGo. "With the MeeGo partnership announced only recently and the Nokia N900 released in December, it is too early to confirm compatibility between the two at this stage," was the firm's response when we enquired. The obvious conclusion from that statement is that the N900 won't get an upgrade. Power users may be able to manually install MeeGo when it's released, but the average customer isn't going to get over-the-air updates

We must admit we loved the N900, but at this price it's beyond most consumers, and its future is uncertain. While powerful, it doesn't have the app support or upgrade potential of other phones - unless you're willing, and able, to handle manual installation in a Linux environment.

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