Random rants


Nokia N900 - Initial Review

, posted: 7-Jan-2010 22:41

Well, I have had the Nokia N900 for over 1 week now and I feel I have got a good enough grasp of the device to post this initial review.

The Nokia N900:



This review, I have purposely written in such a way that it covers my experience with the N900 and thoughts, and as such does not detail every feature as they can be found in a thousand other reviews out there. Also, having come from the Nokia N97, I will make a lot of comparisons.

So lets begin...

Hardware:

Build:
The Nokia N900 feels solid and looks smart, but on closer look, one does feel some of the parts feel and look cheap. The volume rocker and camera key look and feel cheap, and the plastic cover covering the infrared port moves and does not appear very secure.

Keyboard:
The keyboard keys are small, but slightly bigger and better than N97 keys, and definitely do feel nicer and more responsive, although using the top row of keys can be annoying at times depending on the angle you hold the N900, while trying to press a key on the top row, your thumbs may also be pressing up against the side of the screen that is slide up...it's quite annoying.

The slider itself feels good, while it's not 'snappy' like the N97, it still feels solid and secure.

Screen:
The screen, regardless of what people say about resistive technology, the N900 with it's resistive screen is a joy to use. It is far more responsive than that of the N97, and requires virtually no pressure at all.?

And with the WVGA resolution of 848 x 480, it is a joy to view photos and videos and browse the web with.

Battery:
The battery life on the N900 is a mixed bag...

It was a surprising decision by Nokia to use a smaller battery than that used by the N97, considering this device is more powerful hence should require similar if not more power reserves.

In the short time I have had the N900, the battery life started out with a lifespan of a woeful 2.5- 3 hours, which was really concerning...but luckily, this has substantially improved and the battery lasts almost 1 full day now, with my heavy use.

My initial poor battery life could possibly be attributed to the following:
- When I first got the device, I could not put it down, and was installing everything and running everything, so hence I was chewing though the battery
- It reportedly, does take a few full charges and discharges to get the most out of the battery
- I installed apps found in the Devel repository, so I may have installed apps that are inefficient and chew threw the battery life.

I am now up to about 18 hours, which could be attributed to the following:
- Removing some of the desktop widgets helps, as some of them auto refresh, constantly using battery, such as the Facebook and Conversations widgets
- Disabling the 'launch by turning' setting of the phone app. (which was actually quite irritating as it was always launching when not wanted)

As you may notice, I have not removed any of the Devel apps I installed.
I must also point out, at the time of writing this review, the battery life was still improving and continues to do so.

Accessories:
One disappointment is that with such a nice piece of hardware sporting a large screen that is prone to scratches, Nokia did not include a protective carry case, like they did for the N97. Not even a screen protector.

OS:

The good:
Maemo 5 is a joy to use. It looks pretty with plenty of animations, it's functional, and it's fresh.

Having multiple customizable desktops are fantastic and the Dashboard makes multi-tasking not only a breeze, but also fun.
I currently have 3 desktops enabled out of the maximum 4, as displayed below:

My online & updates desktop:



My contacts & conversation desktop:



My multimedia desktop:



The Dashboard: (with 8 programs running in the background)



Can you guess who the Shelia is in the photo?

The Dashboard: (with 6 programs running in the background)



As you can see, the Dashboard adjusts every time to fit all the apps running in the background.

What really makes this device though, is the ability to extend functionality within the default apps, with the best example being the address book; It starts as a basic phone book, but with add-ons for Twitter, MSN, ICQ, Skype and so on, it becomes a communication powerhouse, turning the address book and Conversations app into a multi protocol chat client, no need for 3rd party dedicated apps.

Another fantastic feature built-in is the auto updater, which will flash in the status bar whenever there is a newer version of firmware or 3rd party software available, it's so easy.

At this point, mostly everything works, it all just works with no issues which is what the end user wants, but I believe this partially due to the fact many features and settings are currently missing...it's as if Nokia made the decision to only include what they had working 100%, and exclude the rest, so to avoid negative reviews  feedback of buggy, half baked software.

The bad:
Not much really, I am really impressed with Maemo 5, but there has been two issues that stand out for me:
- The Accelerometer stopped working for one day, I do not know why...I reset the settings, rebooted several times and uninstalled apps to try to get it working again...in the end, it sorted itself out. The Accelerometer affected the photo gallery app and the Phone app, with its 'launch by turning' setting.
- Battery life was initially appalling, but whether this can be attributed to the OS, the installed 3rd party software or just the battery itself taking some time to become fully functional, I don't know.

The Missing In Action:
As great as it all is, there is a downside, that being Maemo 5 being so new, some settings and features you would expect to find are simply not there...
- Portrait mode
- No Wi-Fi of Infrared settings
- No ability to make, modify or personalize the folders, or move apps into different folders
- The camera and video recorder have only very basic settings available, very limited?
- No default apps or the OS utilize the front facing camera, the infrared, or the FM receiver...they start as ghost hardware

Browser in portrait mode, via a known bug: (very unusable but proof of concept)



I am sure all this will come in time in future firmware updates, so I am not concerned.

Pre-installed Software:

Browser:
The browser is much better than the one on the N97, and has great useful features such:
- Text zoom and re-flow
- Google search (which is unfortunately not changeable)
- The ability to open links in new windows (no need for tabbed browsing, it does the same thing in just as many clicks)
- The ability to save pictures
- Kinetic scrolling
- Flash fully supported

Browser: (I have text set at large to read easier, but it can be made smaller to fit more on a screen)



Browser in full screen mode:



But the browser is also the buggiest piece of software on the N900...

Unfortunately, in the short time I have used it, the browser has been the one program that has crashed on me regularly, which is probably not surprising considering it the program I use the most, and I power-surf, opening multiple windows, chopping and changing between them, really testing the app and the power off the device itself.

Being that I use the browser so much and load new pages so quickly, I have also noticed the that while the browser can be fast to load pages, it is often slow to respond to commands, taking time to think before performing a command, many times leaving a blank black screen for 3-10 seconds before actually loading the web-page.

As for speed, having no simple 'back' and 'forward' buttons available is a pain...while there is a back button, it takes you to the history, which from there you can select the last page, but that's and extra step, an extra click that should not be necessary. It also does not appear to revert to the cache when going back (as Opera Mini does), so instead reloads the page again, further slowing down the on-line experience.

Overall, while the usability is an improvement over that of the N97 browser, it is still far slower than Opera Mini.

Another buggy or difficult feature to use is the 'Gestures', which is basically a mouse for the browser...I have read the instructions over and over and still cannot get the 'mouse' to function.

Phone:
With the N900 being a tablet, the phone is merely an application rather than the basis of the OS as is the case on other Smartphone's, and it is one of the only applications to come with native portrait support on the N900...

Phone app:



The downside to this device, is that Maemo 5 being so new and being the first Maemo OS to support phone capabilities, the features and settings within the phone app are initially limited.
- Can not manually set up groups and add contacts
- Can not send group/multiple txt's
- Can not video call
- Can not MMS

There are reports of these features coming in future firmware updates, and I have also found 3rd party developers coding solutions, so there is nothing to be concerned with, these issues will be dealt with in time.

Conversations:
Conversations is a great little app...simply it is multi protocol messaging client, supporting SMS and IM.

Conversations app:



Notice in the photo, it shows conversations with people using Twitter, MSN and SMS, and the green and grey dots display the online/offline status of the person.

With the addition of a few plug-ins, this app can support virtually any IM protocol out there, including MSN, Skype, ICQ, even Twitter.

While I can not fault this app, it would be nice if Email was also integrated within this app, so one could follow emails like a conversation, as well as Facebook chat...but that's another story (covered below)

Ovi Services:
Nokias' Ovi services are non existent on the N900, and it is strange that Nokia did actually include what appears to be a Ovi Store app, but actually does nothing but links to a website which says it is not yet available.

Ovi Store app:



Instead, there is the Application Manager, which is basically the Linux/Maemo version of the Ovi Store app, without the pretty interface, which does the job nicely.

Application Manager app:



Application Manager app download section: (broken down into categories)



Application Manager app: (displaying All apps)



A big disappointment with having no Ovi services available for Maemo 5 and the N900, is no ability to sync contacts, events and mail etc...for me, this meant manually entering everything from scratch, rather than what should had been a quick sync with my on-line Ovi account to get my contacts etc onto my N900.

Photo viewer:
The default photo viewer app is quite basic as present, and while it does have the ability to zoom, it does not do what most other photo viewers do, such as:
- No double tap to zoom to full size
- No auto resize to fit screen when in landscape mode


Video player:
The N900 has the ability to play videos transferred straight from your computer, without the need to convert it, supporting such codecs as divx...but this is unfortunately a a hit and miss affair, as some divx files will play, and some wont...

Media Player app:



Media Player app video section:




Luckily, all one has to do is install 3rd party codecs and your away laughing.

My only complaint is there is no ability to make categories for the video section, they are currently automatically assigned, either videos or camera.

Facebook:
At the moment, this app is a waste of time and system resources, as it does nothing more than offer a rolling feed of your friends updates, and link to the main website.

Twitter:
Twitter, what Twitter"? there is no support for Twitter by default, no desktop widget, no Twitter app, and the current choice of Twitter apps available are poor, they are horrible...very disappointing.

3rd Party Software:

There is plenty 3rd party software already available for Maemo 5 and the N900, just the majority of it is still in testing phase, and no smart-phone or tablet is complete without a selection of 3rd party apps to compliment it, so here is a list of my favourites.

I immediately took the risk of enabling the 'Extras-Testing' and 'Extras-Devel' repositories, so I could view all the apps and try those I wanted...

There is an obvious risk to installing beta software...it may not be bug free, and may use much resources such as battery life, or worse, could harm your device.

Hermes:
Hermes is a fantastic app, importing a contacts details, such as numbers, addresses, birthdays, websites and photos, all from Facebook and Twitter.

It fills in the blanks in your contacts, making your contacts fully detailed and easier to contact. 

Probably my favourite app, being it's the most useful and least buggy.

Extra protocol plug-ins for Maemo 5 (dev)
By default, the N900 supports only a few IM protocols, this app adds more.

MSN, ICQ, AIM etc, it allows you to sign into any of these services and chat using the Conversations app.

It also allows the on-line/offline status of a contact to be shown in the Contacts book, which is really handy.

Being an app that is still in development, it does have some bugs though...
- No ability to select/deselect which contacts are imported into the Contacts book, including 'blocked' contacts
- No ability to remove contacts (you can, but they come back)

The biggest protocol I think that is missing which would be fantastic if included, is Facebook chat...
One thing I have noticed over the years, is everyone uses different IM chat clients, which is a pain...
But now everyone is using Facebook, which has a built-in chat client, meaning it's easier to chat using this IM medium.

Still, this is a great little app that allows one to chat to friends via their favourite IM...it just needs a little refining.

Twitter plug-in: (dev)
This app is still in development, but simply it adds some Twitter functionality...

It adds the following:
- All Twitter @, DM's etc are displayed in the Conversations app, which has the added bonus of the pop-up notifications
- All followed Twitter contacts are imported into the Contacts book
- One can send a general Tweet via the status updater

Again, being that it is still in development, it does have some bugs or changes required:
- No way to read/view your Twitter timeline, so you cant read what others have tweeted (unless directly to you)
- Using the status updater to Tweet is not convenient, is a hassle.
- No way to select/deselect who you want imported into your Contacts book, so if you follow hundreds or thousands, this app can make a mess of your Contacts book.

But the potential is there.

Pixelpipe Upload and Share:
An app for uploading photos and video to ones favourite social-networking websites.

It can upload to multiple websites automatically, and does so all in the background.

A huge time-saver, and a must have.

Qik:
A legendary app, it enables live video streaming to the web.

Of course, should one use this app all the time, be prepared to blow your data quota.

No smart-phone should be without this app.

FM radio: (dev)
The FM radio app enables the use of the FM receiver within the N900...

Nokia, not wanting to release buggy half implemented software with the N900, decided to not include software at all for certain hardware features of the N900, with the FM receiver being one of them.

This is a simple little app with a GUI that looks like an old-fashioned dial radio.

The only shame, is it requires the headphones plugged in to use as an antenna, which is a pain should you not have them and just want to use via the speakers.

eCoach:
This app is the Maemo/Linux equivalent of the Nokia Sports Tracker app...

It is used for training/exercise purposes, including many stats such as the distance you travel, your speed, even your heart rate should you connect your heart rate monitor.

It's not as good as Sports Tracker, as it's less developed and has less polish and it does not have a website to upload results to, but it still does the job.

Irreco Ir Remote Control:
This app simply turns the N900 into a remote control, using the built-in infrared...

Highly configurable, a user can make their own remote by adding buttons with the command they require, using codes downloaded from an on-line database of remotes controls.

This app gives a user another way to chew their battery.

Extra Decoders Support:
While the N900 lists codec support for a variety of media formats including divx, the reality is it will not play all formats, or even all divx encoded videos...

That is why Extra Decoders Support is needed, it provides support for many of the codecs not already included.

Simple, does what is says.

Summary:

I love the Nokia N900, without a doubt, it is everything I hoped my old Nokia N97 would be, and more.
It is a powerful device with endless ability to customize, including a fresh and functional OS with plenty of bling.

There is no doubt it is currently lacking many features and settings which normally would come standard with a device such as this, but I think Nokia did the right thing by omitting certain features until they were fully ready for use, rather than including everything but in a buggy half implemented state.

My biggest annoyances are the lack of portrait mode, the lack of a decent Twitter app and the browser which is slow to respond and crashes frequently.

But I have little concern regarding the missing features, as I know updates are already in the works, and there are plenty 3rd party developers out there attempting to fill the gaps.

Comparing the N900 to the N97...there is no comparison, the N900 is more powerful, more stable, has more bling and potentially far more productive.

While I have tried to be as critical as I can by listing every fault and shortcoming I have found, there is no doubt I love the N900 and would recommend it to anyone wanting an all-in-one device in their pocket, without having to forgo power or quality.

End.



Other related posts:
Motorola Nexus 6 Review
Kiwibank 'heaps'
100% Mobile Broadband - 1 Month Later REVISED & EDITED








Comment by Donkey, on 8-Jan-2010 10:45

Thanks Euan - great review!

May I enquire where you go the N900 from? (I assume it was not Vodafone NZ). Do you know if Vodafone are going to be bringing it in to the NZ market?

I currently have an iPhone - which is very nice but frustrating at the same time (means I need to have a Windows VM to sync it etc).

I'm am really interested in either the N900 or an Android device of some description. Though, at this stage, more leaning towards the N900 to be honest.


Author's note by euanandrews, on 8-Jan-2010 13:39

I imported it from USA via Amazon, usimg a company called Shipito.com to ship it from the US to here. as Amazon do not allow the N900 to be sold/shipped ougtside the US.

A few others on this site have used the same method...I made a thread which explains the process. called 'puchasing and importing from US residens only websites - instructions here'

Hope that helps.


Comment by JasonDarwin, on 9-Jan-2010 22:16

can't guess who the sheila is
please tell


Author's note by euanandrews, on 9-Jan-2010 22:31

It's Paris Hilton


Comment by Foo, on 14-Jan-2010 00:14

Great review - it looks like this phone really is what the N97 should have been. It seems like it's more or less game over for Symbian on high end devices.


Comment by KillahInstinct, on 7-Mar-2010 04:07

Read your comment about the lacking back and forth buttons and annoying history screen, just wanted to say you can use the Backspace to go back one page - didn't sound like you knew. It is still slow though.


Author's note by euanandrews, on 7-Mar-2010 22:30

Cheers KillahInstinct, I did not know that. Although, still not the most ideal solution, especially when using the device via the touch screen only. Opera Mini has the best, most simpliest and logical controls, and is much faster too.


Comment by UnrealWarCheek, on 25-Mar-2010 13:23

Awesome review, thank you.

I've just looked at Amazon, and the price converted to NZD (xe.com) comes to $744 (similar price to the N97!) The current cost of the iPhone GS is around $1,100. Very compelling argument for buying overseas!

I'm sad to hear about the build quality. One of the main influencies regarding my next smart phone purchase is build quality. The battery cover on my N95 broke off despite me keeping the phone in a padded neoprene pouch.

None of the cons are deal breaking for me, but as this is the first generation (early adopters beware), I'll hang back for now, or untill $744 becomes available :)


Comment by Soooook, on 1-Nov-2010 13:24

Nice review bro, Was wondering since reviewing this N900, has your attitude towards it the same or changed in some ways? Reason I've ask is that I'm dying to get one and trying to find the cheapest deal, eking.co.nz has it at $630 including delivery. My friends been telling me to get an Android phone, not really a fan cos I've used XDA before and didn't really like the all touch screen even though cant compare to the phones of todays, currently using E72, thoughts?


Author's note by euanandrews, on 1-Nov-2010 15:28

Cheers Sooook

My attitude towards the N900 has not changed, only improved with each update...

Android is a nice OS, no doubt, but is targeted more at mainstream public....while the N900 and Maemo, is targeted more at the geek market.

No point compaing the N900 to the E72, they are completlely different beasts...the E72 runs on Symbian, and the form factor is completely different

The hardware qwerty on the N900 is great, although does take a little getting used too...

The biggest selling points of the N900 has to be seamless intergration of various protocols into the address book which does everything, it's the multi-tasking king, and that you can run code at root level in xterm so it's more a computer than a phone.

As for recommendations....if you like Symbian and a hardware qwerty, I would recommend the E7, real nice peice of hardware...

But if you want to try Maemo, I would definately still recommend the N900, although it's hardware is getting a little outdated now....
May I suggest actually waiting a month or two, and then grabbing the N9 instead, which will have far superior hardware specs and the all new MeeGo OS, which is a new OS that combines Maemo and Intel's Moblin OS's....it looks really good.

Hope that helps with your decision.


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euanandrews's profile

Euan Andrews
Lower Hutt
New Zealand


I'm a 32yo male, living and working in the Wellington region.

I currently work as a manager for Interislander, having worked in the Hospitality industry for about the last decade.


I have interests in computers, gadgets and information, and love to be 'in the know', hence I read vasts amount of information online, anything from tech news, gadgets to current events and history.

Being a movie buff and having an interest in computers, I setup a wiki about Home Theatre PC's, and have recently built my own HTPC.

I was also heavily involved with the setup and design of the NZ Connections Wiki, having been invited by Cokemaster to help, as a result of my extensive and ongoing interest in ISP's. 


NZ Connections Wiki
My profile (TheBartender)



Gadgets:
Desktop:
Compaq Pressirio 5000
HTPC:
Case: Silverstone LC16M, CPU: Intel Quad Q9400 2.5GHz, Motherboard: abit IP35 Pro, PSU: Corsair 520HX, Optical Drive: Samsung SH-S203D DVD Writer, Graphics card: Leadtek WinFast PX8500 GT TDH HDMI, Hard drive: 2 x Western Digital Caviar GP WD7500AACS Hard Disk Drive, 750GB, 5400rpm, Wireless: D-Link DWA-547 Rangebooster N 650 Desktop, TV tuner: Blackgold BGT3540, Keyboard: Microsoft Remote Keyboard for Windows Media Center
Mobile:
Nokia N900