With N900, Nokia Still Not Close to the iPhone

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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.

209 Comments

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Why does everybody have to argue about COMPLETELY different devices?

It’s like arguing about a house or an apartment… there’s people who prefer one to the other…

WE (the customers) are just buying the device… We’re not entitled to argumentative privileges…lol
IF anything, then the founders and workers of the device can argue which is better.
Can you all just please buy your device that’s convenient to your purpose and keep those immature opinions to yourselves?…

I, as a customer of NOKIA…will buy the N900, because it matches my criteria.

the iPhone is all good and dandy, as so is 100 other devices, but just not for what I need/want it for.

Peace out, make love not war. <3…it's never late for human evolution…

Anon

This won’t destroy the iPhone – no phone ever will.

Simply because majority of iPhone users have the IQ of a ant, and using a more complex and powerful device would be too much for them.

In fairness, the iPhone web browsing is THE best, and it brings apps to the mass market. iPhone is not a power users device.

This IS a power users device. So if you want more from your phone – this is what to get. And if you just want it to be easy to use. Get an iPhone.

Thang

“In fairness, the iPhone web browsing is THE best”

It is not true, as Iphone does not support flash and java, it loads the website faster. If you change the setting in nokia web browser to exclude all the flash and java content, the speed would be the same.

Teee

I’m a Nokia boy 4 life. Additional reason why i love the n900 is beacuse i can boycott the at&t’s data plan. Stay w/ me on this 1.

Amazon.com has the n900 for $582.99. the n900 has multitasking and even the “unlocked” freedom to use it w/ any network. So You buy the iphone for $100 and have to pay extra $30/month for two years and thats the end of the iphone except you buy another two yr contract. in the long run you end up paying $30x24months= $720.00 plus additional $100(the actual handset) giving a total of $820.00. WHAT THE F***, ONLY RETARDS DO THAT SH*T. PLEASE BUY THE N900 AND BE HAPPY.

H3llb0und

I’m wondering if half assed articles like this only serve to give your website a few more views.
If that was the objective, Mission Accomplished.

But now I also know to never come here again for objective information / comparisons about anything.
It was the first and last time.

moin495

My god. This article is so biased! Om Malik, you sadly are an example of a huge apple fanboy! Sad that you are actually allowed to write articles that are published.

Rational Person

“Apple makes its things great by leaving features out; Nokia somehow believes that adding more makes its products great.”
You sir, are a brainwashed retard.

abby

I might seem out of place here….but while i adore smart phones….i hate those bloody touch screens…i’m sorry…but quite frankly…i probably get the wierd ones, but it stalls and gives me a headache…nokia…who has been my sidekick since i was allowed to have cell phones, in my opinion, and yes it is biased, has come out on top….thank god they put regular buttons.

mobi1e

LOL 6 out of 10! i don’t think you like smart do you ? your a guy who only thinks what apple thinks. sorry this phone is going to destroy the iphone.

melba

Ah yes, Another in the long list of phones that have/has/will destroy the iphone.
One thing I’ve learned is that i’ll believe it when i see it.

Wayen

The iPhone is HUGELY overrated. The interface is clunky and cluttered looking, the firmware updates are far too regular (reflecting its rush-to-market development methodology) and its big brother style of application management is a slap in the face to anyone who is sick to death of the proprietary locks that have held back the cell phone market for too long now.

That said, I am reserving judgement on the N900 until I’ve used it myself, but this “review” smacks of someone who is emotionally invested in Apple products.

rumeo

I don’t like Apple because of there politics, so this would be a reason to not buy iphone. Of course I admit the 3GS with it’s UI. On the other side I’m questioning if you are not bored of the stupid static homescreen finally.
Just another awesome feature of N900 beside others on posts here is the deep Skype integration into the OS. No opening the one and only app and try to make a skype call with another contact list in the skype app. Also you see the history of SMS, Skype calls and others all together. It’s just perfect made on the N900. Incredible phone, another league though.
This guy did scratch only on the surface, not more.

sudeep bhattacharjee

hi hello,,

Having seen N900 only in T.V.

Nokia N900 is the best device,

compared to other devices

N900, is a stronger device not less than a Note Book or a PC.

iPhone campared to N900 is a Toy, or an ordinary Cell phone.

ceroberts75

oh, and remember, this is pre-production versions of the software.

i hope your iFinger is doing better after you over-abused it using the resistive screen. :/

pleeeease!

Dans

“Nokia Still Not Close to the iPhone”

Strange that you would compare the N900 to the IPhone, they are a different class of device and comparison are difficult it seems.

“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. ”

Symbian S60 5th needs a rework, thats for sure and its coming but why would they abandon such a strong brand? Multiple OS’s give Nokia flexibility to address different sectors easily and is surely a good idea, no?

ceroberts75

6 out of 10…right.

pull my left leg, it plays jingle-bells!

when a company believes that its customers cannot make decisions on thier own and feel compelled to make those decisions for the user, what is the difference between communism and that?

apple constantly dummies its users into being just like everyone else on thier equipment.

actually, apple products can do anything you want them to do…they are quite remarkable….

….so long as apple thinks they should be able to do it! :P

here is the most in-depth, open review that has been written on the web.

http://my-symbian.com/other/preview_n900.php

and if you want to see some of the decent videos on youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_WlpCpwVq4&feature=related

be sure to watch the very end of the video and then let me know about your “6”

Zoltan

You see the difference is that I never liked Nokia but the N900 totally excited me, so I’m the last to be called Nokia fanboy. Actually I don’t think there are many so called hardcore Nokia fans. As I see it Nokia is just selling very very well because people like their products, they are simple and they just work. So Nokia doesn’t need fanboys while Apple has hordes of fanboys, it’s like a sect… :|

daniel wilson

you haven’t got a clue have you i have used both for a while now and the n900 is far better device

Avneesh S Balyan

Wow.. so many comments…
And people who are calling Om a fanboy of Apple, are nothing but the part of Nokia herd (and may be, Om is part of Apple herd…)
Comments like, “xxx is nothing but a small computer in a pocket…”… C’mon guys, except very small crowd, no one wants computer… people want “sexy” and useful device… period… Thats what Nokia used to make (before current small computer and after toilet papers business)..
Nokia needs to go back to basics how it became a prominent player in telecom (when it launched Microwave MUX in early ’80s, which was about half the price of available MUX and sleeker than other boxes)… When Nokia launched its mobile phones, it was its UI which differentiated it from other’s aged text only screens phones.
Nokia is simply evolving and confused between tablet, computers and phones UIs…. Is Apple good, havent owned; but after using for few hours (multiple times), Nokia needs to do lot before even becoming a real NOKIA of ’90s and early this decade. Just gaming is enough for Apple to keep beating Nokia..

lixy

Do you realize that the N900 can multitask? Do you know that Maemo is Debian-based and runs Qt now? That, for some people, a physical keyboard is a prerequisite to getting any real work done?

Mike Bowen

How original? Another website comparing the iPhone with a Nokia phone. If both phones were “like for like” then one could compare the two phones, but they are no where near the same.

Display Resolution iPhone: 320x480px Nokia N900: 800x480px
Input / Navigation iPhone: Touch Screen Nokia N900: QWERTY Keyboard Touch Screen
Internal Memory iPhone: 16GB Nokia N900: 32GB
Camera Resolution iPhone: 3.15 Megapix Nokia N900: 5 Megapix
External Memory iPhone: nothing Nokia N900: microSD
OS iPhone: Apple Nokia N900: Maemo
FM Transmitter iPhone: nothing Nokia N900: Present

Those are just a few of the differences between the two phones, there are many more, so how you can possibly compare the two phones is beyond me?

How many iPhones have been returned to Apple with broken screens or cracked screens versus Nokia 5800 phones??? I use the Nokia 5800 as a similar phone to the the iPhone (not direct comparison) only because it is 95% touch screen. I bet NO or very few 5800’s screen crack when dropped on concrete. From personal experience I’ve dropped my phone many times and it just works.!

The Nokia N900/Nokia 5800 can multi-task (can run multiple different applications at one time). Right now my Nokia 5800 is running 7 applications (PowerMp3, Gravity, Web, Mobbler, Nokia Messaging, Google Maps with streetview and Calendar and I am sure I could open up a few more without it stopping.

How many of those 50 000 applications be opened on the iPhone at any given time?

:-)

Economyst

Apple single greatest achievement is they made a “smart phone” for the general public who never had the need to buy smartphone’s before.

Setting the benchmark as the Iphone is setting a poor benchmark. The Iphone is great for multimedia and internet browsing but with its poor security features would any business use it ahead of Blackberrys that you can manage remotely? NO.

Everyone wants a piece of the Apple cachet and the Iphone will continue to sell well. The only way to beat the iphone is something disruptive rather than Nokia approach which is akin to trying to build a better mousetrap.

Zoull

may be its big than other smartphone.. but its doesnt mean that it dont have their own market.. i believe Nokia fan will get it.. but for me i’m much prefer that one which is small.. its easy to bringing along/.. :)

Source

THE Nokia N900 is the best device at the moment. Or at least the most COMPLETE.

Stop comparing devices with eachother, every decive has its own purpose…

As for the N900, it’s aimed to be a strong device, which you could compare with a netbook, or PC platforms.

But the iPhone is compared to nothing, because it’s in its own league. It’s basically aimed to be a stylish phone with basic, premature features. But that’s all it offers.

Patrick

Yep, they are hardly in the same ballpark let alone in the same league.

Zoltan

Yeah iPhone is for the “simple” or “convenient” users like kids, girls and pensioners. Oh an the so called “Stylish” people.

fred

Just a fan-boy I’m so getting the n900 I had a iphone and hated it same boring square icons Apple its my phone I bought it if I want to customize why not ? Anyway seeing the comments I do the math and more and more people see the truth iPhone sucks.

specter

in My opinion the IPHONE is stylish, easy to use and a great for everyone who has never used a real smartphone before or prefers style over functionality. that being said IMO the iphone is not all that.
hey 6 out of 10?? you got to be kidding me. that doesn’t feel like this is a fair review. you can list pages of things this phone can do and the iphone cant. the browser alone should get it 8 out of 10. that is just my opinion. the only thing i don’t like is that it has a 3 row keyboard and the price. i guess you have to pay for all that functionality somehow .

Strange

Strange review. Makes comparison to iPhone, but doesn’t even mention the biggest selling point versus iPhone: multitasking.

timjones17

Wow, this is where smartphones are headed and I’m impressed. Power, ability to take whatever and from where ever apps the user throws at it. This is no toy. Truly a computer-in-a-phone, this is the start of the netbook killers.

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