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Summary:

The biggest challenge for any touchscreen smartphone, no matter how good or great it is, is that it will almost always be compared to the iPhone. Some of them, like Verizon’s Droid and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry Storm, seek that comparison. Others are just going to […]

n900.jpgThe biggest challenge for any touchscreen smartphone, no matter how good or great it is, is that it will almost always be compared to the iPhone. Some of them, like Verizon’s Droid and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry Storm, seek that comparison. Others are just going to have to deal with it. Nokia’s new N900 device is in the second camp.

I’ve been a harsh critic of Nokia’s inability to compete with Apple and Google’s Android-based smartphones. No one can accuse me of not making it clear that I think Nokia is on a very slippery slope and unless it fields a competitive device, it will continue to see its share of the smartphone market erode. In particular, I’m not a big fan of the company’s multiple operating system strategy, but it is becoming clear: Nokia needs to move away from its aging smartphone platform, Symbian.

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Nokia apparently realizes that and has been spending a lot of time and energy building a modern, Internet-centric operating system, Maemo. The latest version of this Linux-based OS, Maemo 5, is the software that powers the N900, a $650 device likely to be released in the U.S. soon.

I’ve been playing around with an early version of this device for about three days and have some impressions. I’m breaking down the review into two components — hardware and software — because I think Nokia is getting a few things right!

Hardware: Why I wasn’t surprised

  1. The N900 resembles an old-fashioned cigarette pack; it’s not the prettiest device on the market. However, in comparison with its predecessors such as the N800 and N770 Internet tablets it is absolutely stunning.
  2. The 3.5-inch WVGA screen is actually pretty stunning as well; it’s easy to read documents on this phone.
  3. So how does it stack up against the iPhone 3GS? It’s heavier and thicker and is missing the sleekness of the Apple device.
  4. The keyboard on this device is cramped but still easy enough to use. I’ve always had problems with slider phones, so I’m not surprised that I find the keyboard on this device to be cramped. Despite the small keys, the keyboard is usable. I only wish Nokia made commonly used keys such as @ easy to access.
  5. I’m not a great fan of the resistive screen technologies and as such found interacting with the phone via touchscreen extremely painfully. Maybe it’s my brain, wired to look for an iPhone-like functionality, but N900’s touch features are extremely challenging.
  6. Nokia has a long tradition of providing the best mobile cameras in its phones and N900 is no different. The 5.8-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss lens is phenomenal.
  7. The device has all the modern hardware trappings: Wi-Fi, 3G, GPS and lots of storage. These are table stakes for any modern smartphone, so these features aren’t really much of a surprise.
  8. The battery power is adequate — better than any iPhone but much lower than classic Nokia phones.
  9. How does it function as a phone? It is unbelievably great and I experienced no dropped calls on the T-Mobile network. Not a single one. Furthermore, the N900 model I have is optimized for T-Mobile USA’s 3G network, which makes it far more reliable that the AT&T 3G network.

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Software: Why I was surprised

  1. I have been a long-time user of Nokia Internet Tablets and as a result I have been highly skeptical of Nokia’s claims that this phone could be turned into a nice modern Internet-centric smartphone OS. Well talk about being wrong!
  2. The Maemo OS used inside the test model of the Nokia N900 that I received was an incomplete version of the software, and despite being rough around the edges, it surprised me with its nimbleness and robustness. It didn’t at any point feel like a Linux-based device, and thanks to a hefty processor the N900 feels as crisp as the iPhone.
  3. The UI of Maemo is crisp and clear, though it does look dated in comparison to Apple’s iPhone. I’m going to go out on a limb here and claim that the UI is marginally better than that of Android. Both operating systems have one common fault, however: They look very much like a PC-inspired OS. That said, I think Nokia has still not mastered the art of “no.” Apple makes its things great by leaving features out; Nokia somehow believes that adding more makes its products great. Maemo suffers from that, but it isn’t something Nokia can’t fix — quickly.
  4. The biggest problem I had with the Maemo UI is that it isn’t unique enough. It’s coming late to the market, and as a result it looks somewhat like MotoBlur — a screen with a lot of widget-styled apps. It uses multiple desktops and also multiple screens, which makes the user experience a tad confusing. That’s one of the only knocks I have on the OS.
  5. Mameo’s most stunning aspect is the tight and seamless integration of the Firefox browser. As I wrote yesterday, Firefox is perhaps N900’s single biggest standout feature. It works just like it does on a desktop and, thanks to the seamless integration of AwesomeBar, a smarter version of a URL bar that uses Mozilla Weave, I can get access to all my bookmarks, my browsing history and other preferences. (Related Post: “Coming Soon: A Mozilla App for the iPhone“) You can’t overstate the importance of this feature, especially on a device with a cramped keyboard and a challenging touchscreen.
  6. Nokia is betting big on web-styled widgets. Some of the sample apps it’s included in the phone — Evernote, Twitter, Dopplr, and YouTube — all worked well. I’m sure more will follow. I’m also ambivalent about Nokia’s OVI services, which are pretty tightly integrated into the phone.
  7. It is the basic features on the N900 which are the most impressive: an easy way to get connected to Wi-Fi, an instant messaging app, a great SMS messaging application and built-in VoIP are among the good things about this device.

Bottom line:

I was conflicted about the N900. I don’t want to give Nokia a hard time about it: The company has made tremendous progress and with the N900, is on the right track. This phone gets a 6/10 from me: mostly because of the progress Nokia has made on the software front. If you’ve never used an iPhone, this is a pretty good device. In fact, a lot of folks in many parts of the world are going to find this device much more useful than, say, the N97.

Like a great home-run hitter who has lost his swing and is only one double away from getting it back, I think Nokia is a device or two from posing a strong challenge to its competitors.

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  1. You are to biased to review other smart phones. I have the Iphone and I will be the first to confess the OS is getting old. I’m tired of unlocking and seeing all these apps staring me in the face. You did not touch on the fact you can run multiple applications, I cant tell you how annoying it is running one app at a time on the Iphone. Dont give me “well you can listen to your ipod while you surf the net man,” that is all well and good unless you are trying to run a business from road. I am seriously considering switching from Iphone to one of the many options out there that can multi-task. P.S. Maemo has been around since 2002… do your research. And your complaint about the n900 letting users do to much was classic… that was the point I realized you are an Apple fanboy… they are the only people that would say things like “Ugh this phone suck, it runs to many applications in the background and makes life more efficient in a bad way,” or “Man I can’t stand being able to load every web page on the internet and don’t get me started with being able to view flash from my phone…??” Are you semi retarded? PS Im writing this from my Iphone which I will be selling for a phone that can do more. (I have owned all three Iphones since day one) Next time get your head out of your @!# and report the facts in a non biased way. This was like watching Fox news or CNN…

    1. @John

      I would like to buy you a beer. Actually, more than one. I want to get drunk with you for telling it how it is.

      This piece was so poorly written it was ridiculous. It’s the same blatant crap we see on Cnet.com and PhoneDog.com.

      This statement reminds me of Apple Lovers: “A device that does more that costs less? We don’t want that.”

      What helps me sleep at night is knowing that iPhone owners know they got screwed over. I refuse to buy anything Apple because of the company’s tight grip on all their products. Even Apple fans were complaining on Apple’s own message boards. There were a few posters, with thousands of post, defending Apple’s decision to leave out MMS, video recording, and multi-tasking.

      To defend something with valid points is one thing. To even compare the N900, or any N Series devices, to an iPhone is a sin. It shows lack of knowledge about technology in general, not just cellular phones.

      Apple is known for two things: Charging a lot for its products and then using all the revenue for advertising. Studies have shown people pick products that cost more because they think they are “better.” Apple has consumers right where it wants them.

      1. You may refuse to buy anything Apple because of it’s tight grip on all it’s products but you probably seem to purchase anything Microsoft because it has control, not only of its products, but of chip manufacturers, software vendors, OEM’s and retailers? Microsoft has infinitely more control of the PC industry than Apple will ever have in the foreseeable future. A corporation like that I will not support.

        Microsoft has you right where they want you to be. Take a step and look at what you wrote.

        BTW: When is it a negative for a company to have control over its own products?

      2. Atleast the iPhone does what it supposed to very well. The same cannot b said for many nokia devices. By stepping into the touchscreen realm it is expected to compete with the best touchscreen device. Once again, the iPhone easily multitasks with a simple jb. The article however was made to generate attention. Hopefully the nokia does well so I can finally get something different.

      3. @Zac

        Mate, maemo in the N900 is Linux – open source – has nothing to do with MSoft

    2. Poor article for people like “easy” phones like iPhone. More practical and skill people will love N900, these phones are for different people!

    3. 100% agree with you.

      I had Iphone 2g then got 3g. It is ok, but using it was really boring. Nokia makes their phones forever, maybe it is not what today’s fans of Iphones looking for, but it is what advanced users need. Thank you NOKIA for exist. :)))

    4. good memory, a hefty amount of storage 32GB + 16GB external micro SD – qwerty keyboard – 5MP camera .. Quad Band. :D

      Ovi Maps instead of Google Maps? Where are the precious facebook and twitter apps? :(

      detailed sources: http://bit.ly/nokia-900-full-specs-details-best-or-worst

      Its good to see Nokia finally release a new breed of their communicator series, I just hope it won’t turn out to be another “average” phone.

      1. you do not need twitter or facebook apps. the web browser is so powerful you can run them from intertnet browser. when they say a desktop experience they mean it.

    5. @John

      You are an idiot for using an iPhone for serious business communications. A business machine absolutely must have rapid accurate text entry either via keyboard for westerners or a stylus for asians. I’d bet your iPhone has cost you clients by inducing you to send terser less informative emails.

      Apple sells sexy feeling consumer electronics, not business machines. You’ll also notice how Apple actually bans business oriented apps like VoIP and tethering. iPhones handle games pretty damn well however.

  2. Never ever compare iphone with this monster.

    1. Touché.

      iPhone = smartphone training wheels compared to this thing.

  3. Hey Pal, protip: The iPhone isn’t the greatest thing in the world.

    1. only 6/10????? c’mon it imposible

  4. The Crypticum Keeper Monday, October 19, 2009

    Some nitpicks:

    “Maybe it is my brain, wired to look for an iPhone like functionality, but N900’s touch features are extremely challenging”

    After using the device myself for a week, I find your remark above hyperbolic. Chalenging at times, yes, but extremely??? Come on.

    “Both these operating systems have one common fault: they look very much like a PC-inspired OS”

    I can’t speak for Android, but Maemo is intended to power MOBILE COMPUTERS. That’s what the N900 is, with a phone wedged in (admittedly awkwardly in some ways).

    “It uses multiple desktops and also multiple screens, which makes the user experience a tad confusing”

    Flick the desktops a few times, start customizing each one with unique “personalities”, and your confusion will diminish. ;)

    Overall though you were very fair!

  5. I have been a nokia user for a long time,and with minimal usage of iphone I can say that iphone and nokia smartphones are aimed at two different markets. The iphone is stylish, gives you that “premium” feeling in the hand and it also has a superior UI, but it ends there. nokia users (including myself) will never accept sleekness by losing better camera with better zoom and better flash, losing two stereo speakers or losing better antenna for GPS and/or FM transmiter ( you lose all these and probably more with decreased depth !!!).
    Regarding the N900, I think the purpose of this device has been misunderstood. Yes “The N900 resembles an old-fashioned cigarette pack” but it is also the most capable pocketable (if that is a word) mobile computer today with telephony functionality.

    1. @George, obviously the Nokia users are diminshing then as Nokia hit an all-time low on their smartphones – only 35% marketshare. And guess who took the lionshare of the rest? surprise, surprise: iPhone.

      I am a big Nokia fan myself and N900 is a good attempt but what Nokia often misses is that cramming the phone with a lot of functionality that is nearly impossible to discover and use, it actually turns away users – as it is it too complex, too much and Apple found a sweetspot in given the users what they mostly need – not everything they can possible need.

      I am really looking forward to next gen N900.. this was the first. second should be far better.

      1. Apple has taken about half the market share drop of Nokia smartphone. Who took the rest, can’t say yet, but it was probably RIM.

      2. update, update, there is a new definition for “smartphone”

        smartphone-to have or NOT HAVE the ability to mutli-task on a cellular phone.

        remember, Nokia is the 1st company that came up with the “smartphone” with thier 9000i communicator, in 1996-97.

        then, a smartphone touch screen with the 7700 series, which was scrapped and then the basis was used on the 770, 800, 810 tablets.

        also, lets take a look at what the overall expansion of “smartphone” really is?

        just the 5800 Xpress and the N97, which were both harshly criticised, even by nokia users, sold over 2 million units in 5 months…and how many other phones have they sold with thier complete N and E series handsets which are all smartphones? then take that number and compare it to what the iphone has sold wtih thier late-night-television wonder gidget that does everything you want it to do so long as you only want to do…

      3. this is not about marketing wars, market shares, and who can sell more. nokia devices are more capable. nokia users who have switched did not appreciate that. iphone users are just too ignorant to see. with the N900, nokia is not getting close, it is actually pulling away.

      4. mrD,

        You might actually want to look at the sales numbers and not ‘market share’ given that Nokia’s alleged reduction in market share is largely because of the expansion of the US market in which Nokia doesn’t compete.

        Also, given that the US market has now been bought up to speed, Nokia actually increased YonY market share.

        http://www.canalys.com/pr/2009/r2009112.htm

        It’s also worth noting that the Apple’s growth could best be described as ‘sort of OK’ given they only shifted an extra 500K units from launch quarter to launch quarter. RIM given them a sound spanking in terms of growth.

        Finally, AAS have a graph charting Q by Q sales which show why Om is basically talking out of his backside by predicting Nokia’s doom.

        http://www.allaboutsymbian.com/news/item/10696_Q3_Smartphone_Sales_figures_no.php

      5. As a smartphone, the iPhone is very watered down. So much so, it’s not “taking the smartphone market share.” It’s creating it’s own.

        People who have no practical need for a smartphone can get an iPhone, because it’s simple to use, and learn, and watered down so it’s cost effective. They sign a 2 year contract and get it for cheap.

        I think Nokia is doing exactly the right thing in not trying to compete with them. Make it more functional, and robust, to target a different market. A real smartphone market, not some internet hipster twitter/facebook generation who wants to watch funny videos on youtube while they travel, and keep their net friends up to date on there experiences.

        Currently, this device has no carrier, so you have to buy it full retail. Without subsidy, I’d say they are obviously not targeting a normal consumer market, but a more business market, people need a serious smartphone.

        It’s just like home computing. Apple makes computers for people who don’t know anything about computers, why not do the same for a smartphone? They are good at it. Leave other company’s to make the real functional devices.

      6. Well, I really do not know your sources for the “market share” information. Hit up google and google for Gartners detailed info on Marketshare. Also check Wikipedia. Same info.

        http://ronnie05.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/g7-2/

        I hate the fact that people see all their mates buying iphones and then stating, Apple has the most market share. Oh come on gimme a break. I hate Nokia. Yes i do to the core coz of their OS “Symbian”. The worst OS Ever. Also I hate Apple iOS4, the hyped update of Apple Inc. Brings nothin extra to the table. the same damned UI. No possibility for creativity. And in such a time pops in Maemo 5, the thing that most techies out there marvell upon. The phone with a Command Line Terminal…. How wicked is that? I make up; scripts and do all kinds of wierd and geeky stuff. to be frank, my colleages, the iphone freak, had his mouth opened when i dual booted Android with Maemo. How much more can this device do, much much more, and the Maemo Devs are amazing when it comes to creativity. Apple Fanboys, we don’t wanna hurt your feelings but, guess the iphone 4 again has nothing new to make mouths drop.

  6. The author of this article is an idiot. period. iphone is just a toy. nokia n900 wins hands down….iphoe has no mutitasking, camera cannot take photos and videos in the dark, bettery sucks on the iphone, browser sucks, apple controls everything meaning platform not open….nokia 900 is a pc in your pocket…iphone is like a touch PSP with phone added.

    1. your a goof if u think the iphone cant do all that stuff. Browser is THE BEST on the market hands down (some are close), multitasking is done simply by jailbreaking and the battery will be pretty much the same if not better on the iphone. As for the whole “toy” thing, isnt a wanting a camera on a phone a “toy” in the first place?
      Dont kill the guy cause he is taking a different prespective on a phone you are hoping will take u away from your shitty n97. I have an phone but im personally sick of it. So why do i still have it you ask? CAUSE IT IS THE BEST RIGHT NOW! Im seriously hoping this phone turns out like the other reviews say it will…but this review was interesting to look at too.

      1. Let’s go over that again, shall we?

        1. – Browser: The iPhone browser supports neither Flash nor JavaScript. Claiming Flash is only used for banners is a pretty lame excuse – More pages than not use Flash and/or JS and those can’t be rendered correctly on the iPhone. Period.

        2. Multitasking: So voiding the warranty and incidently run the risk of having a useless phone should Apple decide to have a jab at disabling jailbreaking is “easy”? Maybe for you, but not for everyone I assure you.

        3. Battery: Most phones on the market actually best the iPhone. You know why? Because when your battery runs dry and you have to charge it for a couple of hours, others can just break out a second battery and continue untethered by the charging cable. Built-in battery = fail.

        4. Camera = toy: I doubt anyone in the world will buy a N900 because of the camera. There are much better cam-phones on the market (at better prices), but having one regardless of the quality is a good feature compared to none at all. Hopefully nobody has bought the iPhone because they needed a digital camera either.

        5. Different perspective: That’s notwhat he’s doing, but instead overlook most of the advantages of the N900 and bash it for just not being more like the iPhone.

        6. N97: What? Believe me, the N900 is going to cater to many more than just some odd Nokia fans.

        7. Best right now: Sure the iPhone 3GS is the best right now – if that’s what you need. If you want a hi-res screen there are more powerful options. If you like Spotify and would want to listen to it while doing something else on the phone the iPhone is plain bad. – Or stay online on your IM client while checking out a web page, no multitasking sure is a deal-breaker, isn’t it?

        Maybe you require an “pocket office” and need to be available on the go for several days without access to an outlet – guess that built-in battery was a bad idea, right? Of course, not everyone will agree a new phone without warranty is “the best” but I guess we already covered that one as well.

      2. Break it down however you want but the whole jailbreaking voids warranty thing is easily taken care of by a simple restore achieved in minutes. As for the multitasking, easily and effectively done. Battery is just as good as any other smartphone. Yes, the battery can’t be replaced mid-day but for those looking for a smartphone suited best fo a business environment usually have an office-often those offices carry WALL PLUGS!!! Do u have a car charger? Probably!!! So not really an issue.

        Once again don’t get me wrong, I want this phone to be good so I can sell my phone and have something new but the mindless bashing of a phone that really did bring out the best of the competitors and make them wake up is getting annoying. The comparisons to the iPhone must be getting old too though. I don’t know about u guys but I like reading the negatives of a phone I really want.

      3. UPDATE!

        Well, i wasnt lying about wanting to get rid of my iphone 3gs! I have the nokia n900 in my hands now for about 2 days and im very impressed. Very quick software, excellent interface, iffy camera and resistive screen but the phone is amazing. More customizable than anything i have ever seen. Well done nokia…hope this one breaks the slump!

      4. Even the jailbroken doesn’t do MULTITASKING!
        When you send the app in the “background” it saves a screenshot of it and closes the app, then you get a list of these screenshots – like a visual bookmark really – and then when you tap on it it opens the app.
        But none of them are actually running in the background so stop claiming that you can multitask on the iPhone please!

  7. Well apparently you didn’t like my post that shot holes through your entire biased article b/c you deleted it. In short you didn’t mention multitasking as well as your faulty research missed the fact that maemo has been around since 2002. Sorry the truth hurts apple fanboy. Written from my iPhone. Oh and your comment about nokia should limit what their phone dies like apple does makes absolutely no sense. You’ll prob delete this because you need to keep this page as slanted towards the iPhone as possible and your shotty article can’t stand up to the scrutiney that people who actually know what they are talking about are sure to give it.

  8. From someone who HATES the iPhone interface your review gives me hope. You seem to hold the iPhone as *the* Gold standard. Frankly it has a terrible radio (compared side by side with my Bold on the same AT&T network) and I’m one of the folks who simply cannot type on it’s on screen keyboard. I *prefer* a real keyboard. I have big hopes for the N9000.

  9. “Apple makes its things great by leaving features out, Nokia somehow believes that adding more makes its products great.”

    for some reason i find that statement of yours very funny. its like saying a 1 dollar bill is so much better then a 100 dollar bill since 1 dollar is so much smaller in amount and no problem to use as to a 100 dollar bill is a much bigger bill which carry more problem when using 100$ dollar since people always test for fake bills.

    1. Damm that was a good metafore. I totally agree with you. Saying that an eletronic device is better because it’s has less options is just retarded. Because while the iphone has his good points. It lacks more then a few and the people that tell you 2 jail break (your OWN) phone just so you can use more options are missing the point. And that is that this phone gives you total freedome without you losing your warranty.

  10. Surprisingly partial review, with no analysis at all, very surprised at your lack of knowledge.

    The N900 may not score on some user interface aspects, but you fail to mention how it has features the iphone can only dream off.

    DId you mention the phones main selling point? The multi tasking? Which the iphone can never do, the seamless integration of IM, texts, emails…you cant just compare it to things the iphone does well.

    THis is thicker with a keyboard which is a booon compared to the iphone, AND is a desktop class UI which is far more functional and quite slick.

    Disappointing review showing your lack of knowledge.

    1. If the main selling point is really a multitasking, than Nokia has serious trouble. Do you believe that majority of the cell phone buyers even recognise how does it influence their user experience?

      1. funny, nokia and sony ericsson and htc (a few) have had “apps” for years before the iPhone was even thought of.

        but that seems to be thier montra…we have an app for that…

        iphoney didnt have mms (as the n900 is not going to at launch) and they all justified that who needs it anyway…then they added it 3 years later…and it was like a holy grail had come out of the ground!

        believe me, when apple finally gives in to multi-tasking, it will be yet another ground-breaking, earth-shaking, got-to-have because apple finally invented it…and it will all be the marketing..which are paid for by the over-pricing they do on ALL of thier products.

      2. Hey guys stop crying for multitasking on Iphone, Install Backgrounder on 3GS and run as many things as you want in parallel

      3. @ Faadoo: Backgrounder is far from ideal isn’t it?

        http://code.google.com/p/iphone-backgrounder/wiki/Documentation

        I quote:
        “Applications are not designed to be run in the background (as Apple does not permit it). Thus some applications may not behave correctly when placed in the background. Also note that applications may use the suspend/resume methods to perform important tasks, such as saving preferences. If the application is not properly terminated, these tasks may never be run. For such applications, if your phone crashes or if you force power-off (by holding the power and menu/home buttons), your settings/information for that application will not be saved. Always make sure to properly shutdown such applications (by disabling backgrounding when the application is no longer needed). While this extension should work for all applications, it is recommended to use it only for background-enabling AppStore applications (which, again, are not allowed to include backgrounding code). If you wish to run a non-AppStore 3rd-party application in the background, it is suggested that you contact the author of the application and request that proper background support be added. “

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