The 3.5in resistive touchscreen was also a bit of a surprise, since we'd rather been expecting iPod-style capacitive version. Again though, it worked surprisingly well, proving itself to be nicely sensitive to the distinction between our brushes and presses. It doesn't do multitouch, but we didn't really miss it for reasons that will become clear later. As for the stylus, we only really fell back on it when we were browsing, as the Maemo 5 menus feature nice, big, thumb-friendly icons.
Big, thumb-friendly icons
And speaking of Maemo 5, it looks like Nokia has made a very promising move here. Based on the open source Linux platform, it manages the trick of looking similar enough to Nokia's Symbian phones – so as not to frighten its core customers – but adds additional usability and style. Even so, there's a bit of a learning curve involved in getting the hang of it.
The menu button, for instance, is in the top left-hand corner, but once you're in the menu, there's no obvious way to get back to your home page, until you realise you need to press the power button on the side – or top, if you're using it in landscape mode. Similarly, there are Windows-style ‘X’ markings in the top right-hand corner to exit each app, but they're not always clearly visible, although we discovered they always seemed to be respond when we pressed in that spot.
The Maemo 5 OS is no doubt helped by the powerful ARM Cortex-A8 processor and OpenGL ES 2.0 graphics acceleration, since the N900 always performed in a sprightly fashion whether skipping through the menus or viewing videos. No modern smart phone is complete without its App Store equivalent, and with the N900 it's the still thinly populated Ovi Store, which has only a few dozen apps to choose from at present, though we'd expect to see a lot more soon.
The Facebook widget caught our eye though, since it amends your updates in real time on your home screen, allowing you to see your latest Facebook action as it happens. Unfortunately there's no equivalent app yet for Twitter, though you can set a link to your Twitter page as an icon on one of your four customisable your home pages.
The inevitable Facebook phone app
Messaging is easy to set up with most of the big providers catered for, including Microsoft Exchange. The Qwerty keyboard makes writing e-mails second nature and, usefully, you can send HTML versions as well as plain text, with a variety of fonts and colours available. Instant Messaging is well supported too, with Google Talk, Skype and Jabber all available.
Next page: Sample Shots
Happy N900 owner
I've had a N900 since Tuesday and I'm loving it. Yes it's a bit of a brick because of the slide-out keyboard but no worse than the N97, in a handset that is more versatile than the good old Communicator phones.
In terms of hardware, it feels very responsive thanks to the Arm processor and the GPU. The touch screen is very nice to use, a lot better than the N97 and on a par with the HTC Tattoo. The stylus is useful when browsing web sites set in small size fonts as it's easier to hit the links with it than with your thumb, but the rest of the interface doesn't require the stylus. In fact, the only hardware snafu is that the headphone socket is located such that the headphone jack interferes with typing on the keyboard when you have it plugged in.
As a phone, it's the best one I have owned for a very long time. The sound quality is excellent and crystal clear. Signal reception is also very good. The past 3 handsets I've had would be unable to get a signal if I strayed more than a few metres away from the windows in my flat. The N900 shows maximum reception throughout the building. I suspect this is because it's very good at switching back to stronger 2G or 2.5G signals when it is out of range of a 3G signal.
In terms of connectivity, Wi-Fi also works flawlessly and the phone will automatically switch to Wi-Fi for internet services as soon as you are in range of a known network. In my case, as soon as I am back home, it reconnects to the home Wi-Fi and disconnects 3G services. This can have an interesting side effect as the N900 can also work as a Skype phone: configure your Skype account and it will give you the option to call Skype contacts through VOIP rather than a standard call. I haven't tried that yet though so I don't know how well it works.
Push email is very easy to set up and it knows the defaults for a number of well known providers, including Google, in which case you will get a simplified wizard. Calendars can only be local at the moment but the interface suggests that shared calendars are on the roadmap and should be available at some point.
When it comes to software, Maemo is indeed based on Debian and you can add more repositories to get access to more software. In particular, you can enable the Extras repositories to have access to admin tools such as an ssh client and server. What this also means is that, contrary to a lot of network branded handsets out there, whenever an update is available in the Maemo repositories, it will offer you to update your system. So any bug fixes or new features will make their way down to your handset.
If you want to develop your own apps, there is a whole development kit that you can install on Debian, Ubuntu or Fedora and that enables you to write Python or C++ apps (sorry, no Java). Or you can simply write good old Python (2.5), Perl (5.8.3) or shell scripts. You can even do that directly on the handset: it comes with a terminal app, it's got vi installed and if you really miss syntax highlighting you can get vim or PyGTKEditor from the Extras repositories.
The N900 is not for everybody but it's a geek's dream, in addition to being an excellent phone.
It's not a smartphone!
I'm sorry, but that review missed the main point completely, it's not a smartphone. It's a portable computer running with a flavour of Debian. You can run any program on it, provided it's availiable for ARM in one of the repositories or you can compile it yourself.
This is not meant to be a traditional PDA whoose only purpose it is to sync with Outlook. Neither is it a media player. It's a device you can install openvpn on, and log onto from another computer. Or you can mount shares via NFS, SMB or even sshfs. Or you can sync a directory with rsync.
It's a computer with a UMTS modem built-in, not a phone.
No one will write apps for it?
I must be imagining these oodles of applications in my application manager, as well as the thousands of existing Linux FOSS projects that can be ported with minimal effort then.
Moving to Qt
Maemo 5 is GTK based, the next version will use Qt.
Ceded to iPhone, really?
In what sense has Nokia "ceded its dominance of the smartphone market with the arrival of the iPhone"?
They are still, by a distance, the biggest supplier of smartphones by volume. I think RIM are second with Apple languishing in third place.