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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.


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.


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 Responses to “With N900, Nokia Still Not Close to the iPhone”

  1. What an absolute biased article! If you try to use the N900’s screen as the iPhone’s than of course it will feel unresponsive and hard to use, because that’s not how you use a resistive screen! But you know thius very well, don’t you?
    It just WORKS DIFFERENTLY. It is the best resistive screen I’ve ever came accross. It’s very finger friendly but it does not work that well with you thumb but with you tip or nail. In this way it’s much mor precise than a capacitive screen where you can only use the flesh part of your thumb that covers out a massive part of the screen! The resistive screen works with anything! In gloves too. It’s -14 Celsius here in the UK now and I – just as many people – wear gloves! Also with the 800×480 you get much more detail in your webbrowser and the stylus comes very handy than and you don’t have to zoom in and out constantly. Stylus is a must for drawing too!
    I prefer a GOOD resistive screen to any capacitive screen so stop saying that it’s a negative because it’s quite the opposite.

  2. markzenegar

    The Nokia N900, which we used for a week, runs on Maemo 5, a lightweight version of Debian, one of the major Linux distributions that Nokia chose to Android. An ambitious strategy, even foolhardy for a Nokia is increasingly isolated on the front of the smartphone. But moreover, it was dealing with a telephone, an Internet Tablet or a Pocket PC? The manufacturer of mobile computer speaks and highlights the “extreme speed and unparalleled performance” of its mobile. The camera will be available in early December in The Phone House stores, for about 650 euros, excluding subscription promotion.

    For more detail you can move at :

  3. 6/10 is not only unfair but criminal.I am extremly sorry for bieng a bit rude ……for starters IPHONE lovers DONOT compare NOKIA WITH IPHONE both the companies make excellent products but have different approach which is their right and we smalltimers donot have a say on this issue.
    when you talk about smart phones dont talk about people who get confused by multitasking or multidesktop and moreover people who want to use such phones are the ones who want more and more possibilities from the device and they dont like RESTRICTIONS. the n900 is a device which is for those special people who are not looking at MMS and all these apple gimmicks of multitouch and stuff.You are entirely missing the point.If you get confused with the panaormic desktop in the first place you should stick to your iphone and PINCH AND ZOOM!!!!!!!

  4. Mark Peters

    I posted earlier on this thread, so I thought it might be interesting to post additional comments based on almost two months of using the device.

    The most significant comment I can make is that after experiencing what I think is hardware breakage, I found out exactly what is most important to me in a cell phone.

    About two weeks ago, I brought up the bluetooth control panel to turn it on before getting in my car, and found that the device name was gone. I re-typed it, turned bluetooth on and exited … and found that bluetooth was still off. I repeated the process, and still no bluetooth. Then I noticed that the list of paired devices was empty, so I tried adding my earpiece, but nothing happened when I pressed the button for doing that. When I got home, I did what I think was a hard reset, restored everything, and still bluetooth wouldn’t work. Given that, I concluded that the bluetooth hardware had broken somehow.

    Perhaps there is some other form of reset I don’t know about that would restore bluetooth, but I realized that bluetooth is the make or break point for me as far as using the N900 as a cell phone goes. I have to be able to make/receive calls while driving, so this forced me to switch back to another cell phone – this time, the N97.

    The N97 has it own set of problems, but once I switched, I really noticed the N900’s lack of polish as a cell phone compared to mature Nokia cellular products. The key bit of missing polish is voice dialing. The N97 has that, the N900 doesn’t. The N900 doesn’t really even have any kind of dialing via an earpiece. Pressing the earpiece button when using the N900 led to baffling results. Sometimes it appeared to dial the #1 speed dial number, other times it appeared to dial the last number called – which happened more than once while driving, basically leaving me without dialing capability unless I pulled over.

    I still use the N900 at home as an iPod replacement and internet tablet, but until I get bluetooth back, I can’t justify using it as a cell phone.

    Mark Peters

  5. according to my experience i am using Nokia mobile phones from last 12 years and i used many mobile. So now i don’t like other companies mobiles to use (even these companies are good).
    why you preferred I-phone because i think you don’t like to use or you don’t like the style of mobile (this is the reason). This is a human nature when we don’t like any thing we showed its negative point we forget what’s positive in it.
    according to the my experience Nokia N-900 is one of the best mobile.
    In terms of price, the iPhone is cheaper to buy than the Nokia N900. However, the iPhone is locked to certain networks.
    Another Nokia N900 fact is that it’s better at multitasking. As we all know, the iPhone can only run one app at a time, which is a tad rubbish. Unlike the iPhone, the Nokia N900 will let you run as many apps as you like, so you can listen to, browse the web, download tracks, talk on the phone, and keep 10 games running in the background, which again, if we’re honest, is pretty sweet!

    • you know i think that iphone is much better then n900 as it has many more downloadable applications and also the n900 looks like a packet of cigretes. infact it also has a crappy querty style keyboard that makes the phone even more heavy!. i think that nokia should totally cancell this project and try to think how to copy and ipod.
      yours faithfully
      sherjeel khan

  6. You are definitely an isheep “N900 resembles an old-fashioned cigarette pack”. WHAT?
    What does a new fashioned cigarette pack look like, hahaha. I will tell you, it doesn’t have the word “old” in it when you describe it and that’s what you wanted to do here.

  7. I found this while googling for a comparison of the N900 and iphone. Needless to say, after reading the article I was disappointed. But the comments have really helped me make up my mind. I think the author is right in the sense that the N900 is not an iphone killer. I’ve had several iphones and I’ll admit there is something slick and cool about the whole iclone world but it’s sad in a way too. It reminds me of the ad where the guy says he travels his own path, that’s why he buys a dell. I find it comical that after all the years of listening to the talk of the irrelevance of market share by Apple lovers when talking about the Microsoft monopoly, market share is now suddenly cool in the iphone world. Anyway, I have decided to get a N900 and the article and comments are a very big reason. The article helped because it was obvious the author was biased and if your biggest knock on something is that it has too many features. I would rather integrate my cellphone into my life instead of integrating my life into my cellphone.

  8. You say…

    It’s heavier and thicker and is missing the sleekness of the Apple device.

    What else was negative but your subjective preference for a capacitive screen? I saw no negative comments besides those! Where is the critical thinking? Does appearance mean do much to you? If so, you might be shallow…

  9. You have totally misunderstood things here or, maybe more correct, are a apple fanboy. When you say MAEMO isnt unique enough then how do you mean? In iPhone. it looks all the same, apple decides how it looks, you cant make it personal. In MAEMO you can change it yourself and make it…what?..U N I Q U E !! cmon, did you miss that?

    iPhone is like disneyland…everything so princess lovely and made right for you…. android is like a theme park…. MAEMO…is like the real world… you can make it disneyland or you can make it the slum and become robbed… whatever you do, you have one thing… freedom and the power to decide for youself. if disneyland is more unique than the world in change i must be nuts…. or you be so wrong.

  10. This article is extremely biased. Ask Apple to become popular in 3rd world countries where 3G services are mere dream and sell phones without contracts. Nokia on the other hand gives many better features with lesser price than iPhones. Nokia has been successfull in maintaining quality, durability and offcourse service in most parts of the world. iPhone is just an American craze for 3G.

  11. Rajan Saxena

    Having been a Eseries Nokia user along with being an iphone user. I find that the N900 would be a great bridge. I have been reading up on various people who have been using the N900 to power their 37 inch TV’s and adding a bluetooth mouse and keyboard !

    Voila’ you now have a nice desktop/laptop/phone all in one. I can see this device being used in this fashion, With a full web browser and all the cloud computing apps out there, even Microsoft Office online or Google Apps you won’t need to lug your 6 pound laptop anymore. You will be connected all the time, facebook / twitter running constantly, all your chat messages and GPS.

    Just be carefull being online all the time will have your Girlfriends/Wives and Mistresses wondering…..”I thought he was online all the time blah blah blah”

    Enjoy !


  12. Out of all seriousness. The iPhone is a childs toy in the world of gadgets. Sure, it looks good. But that’s because it lacks a lot of features that it should have. Sure it’s easy to use. But that’s because it’s designed for those people that need ease of use without all the functionality.

    I am finding a lot of people are using the iPhone these days. A lot of people with a lot of know how. But I know these people. I know that up until now, they thought a windows mobile phone was great because you could check your email on it. These same people never ventured down the path of digging deep into the phones guts to completely modify the OS. They never even cared about having a decent camera on their phone. Most of these people still can’t understand why you would want one device for everything let alone even realize that they can, and it can fit in their pocket.

    The N900 is the current epitome of mobile technology. Sure it may be a bit complicated for you to use. Sure the keyboard may be small (yeah, it’s on a phone, not a laptop). But keep in mind these things address issues that you may not see. Some people do want a fully functional phone that acts as a personal computer day in an day out with real multitasking capabilities. Some people may actually want to type something on their phone without having to stare at a flat piece of glass. Some people might even want to take photos with their phone that they can save for generations without their grand kids wondering what sort of barbaric picture capturing device they used to take them.

    The deal here is people want simplicity. They want something that takes the work out of brainpower and actually being a geek. I know, 100 different fart apps are certainly going to be useful to you someday. Perhaps you need to watch Idiocracy again instead of buying an iPhone.

  13. Well… I can’t agree with you…
    I agree with “The company has made tremendous progress and with the N900”, and I think they could make it better… but I think that it can’t be compared to a smartphone like iPhone. It’s primarily a tablet with phone features…
    Next time you’ll compare Vaio P’s to iPhone? (just to flame a bit :P).

    it isn’t perfect, but surely more useful for a devel than iPhone (and it doesn’t need 99$ tax every year to “play” with it as developing platform…).

  14. Very strange how almost exactly your impressions are to mine as you seem a loyal follower of nokia like i am…

    But in reality this is soon to be 2010 and they are always one step behind somewhere maybe if they were not so concerned on their profit margin as they would be in making a great device they could come out on top but the overall hard headiness of them will soon set in if it hasn`t already.

    3rd party makes the phone use-able so that needs to be there focus for now but they are on the right path but wrong approach. Symbian needs to just r.i.p now not 2012.
    The touch will be soon and they are fighting Apple over so said copy right infringement and vice versa.
    I have seen multi-touch on a soon to be possibly snapdragon device with 1gb processor with capacitive but will be no muti-touch till they sort out legal issues with apple. (top secret) NO B.S will be 3rd quarter 2010. Keep an eye out and remember i said it first even though i can go to jail for doing so. The balls i have.. LoL

    The Nokia x6 will release soon with capacitive screen but guess what it is running symbian no maemo. but is a very sleek device.

    you do seem a bit fanboy of the i-phone but your opinion to me is honest they need to just team up and say the hell with it and watch the money pour IN!

  15. Very strange how almost exactly your impressions are to mine as you seem a loyal follower of nokia like i am…

    But in reality this is soon to be 2010 and they are always one step behind somewhere maybe if they were not so concerned on their profit margin as they would be in making a great device they could come out on top but the overall hard headiness of them will soon set in if it hasn`t already.

    3rd party makes the phone use-able so that needs to be there focus for now but they are on the right path but wrong approach. Symbian needs to just r.i.p now not 2012.
    The touch will be soon and they are fighting Apple over so said copy right infringement and vice versa.
    I have seen multi-touch on a soon to be possibly snapdragon device with 1gb processor with capacitive but will be no muti-touch till they sort out legal issues with apple. (top secret) NO B.S will be 3rd quarter 2010. Keep an eye out and remember i said it first even though i can go to jail for doing so. The balls i have.. LoL

    The Nokia x6 will release soon with capacitive screen but guess what it is running symbian no maemo. but is a very sleek device.

    you do seem a bit fanboy of the iphone but your opinion to me is honest they need to just team up and say the hell with it and waitch the money pour IN!

  16. American mobile users never saw the smart phone experience till Iphone came out. So lets put it this way….Iphone came out looking pretty and external beauty is wshat attracts buyers that only go for looks and not its features…… 1000s of people lined up outside to buy the 1st generation Iphone not knowing that it wasnt 3g, didnt have video recording, bluetooth data transfer was restricted……so one can see who buys Iphones…People that have owned Nokia smart phones since 2004 like the 6600 symbian and have gone through the whole N series experience, will find hard to switch over to an Iphone 3gs simply because of the fact that Nokia doesnt has no restrictions……take the N95 for example probably came out 2 years ago and still has features that are still missing in the newer cell phones……built in GPS reciever for one (hardware) Nokia 91 was the first phone in 2005 to have a 4gb hardrive……that was 4years ago….Nokia never marketed their phones in the US because American customers werent ready to pay the price of Nokia…….Nokia is probably the only brand that holds its residual value ( go check Ebay) Europeans were using VOIP on Nokias 2 years ago which just now became avaibale on the the 3gs…..
    Dont comepare the Iphone 3gs to the N900…….Nokia N900 doesnt look pretty but its bundled up way heavier than the Iphone 3gs…….Who ever will buy the N900 would only buy it if they are technologically inclined……majority of the iphone users buy the phone because it is the IN thing in cellualr phone market here in the US……..majority of the Iphjone users dont know crap about smart phones as they go for looks …

  17. There is one thing that the IPhone has done and that is stimulate innovation in the phone market, the IPhone FORCED nokia to make changes to it’s products. Which for consumers can only be a positive.

    The only thing that really grinds my gears about nokia is the TERRIBLE customer support when comparing it to Apple, being in the UK we have the best of both worlds so one can easily compare these two companies. But as a consumer I think its useless trying to be customers loyal, as a consumer you should think for yourself and weigh the products up and decide which is best for you, instead of becoming a consumer whore. These arguments are getting old ATI vs Nvidia, Apple vs PC, AMD vs Intel etc we have seen it all before and its nothing but very good marketing departments manipulating customer perception…

  18. Not a bad review but i wander at times whether apple pays for or at least influences these reviews. I own an iphone but i want the truth not some biastly negative review cleverly dressed up with a few positive comments in order to avoid suspicion.

  19. 6 out of 10 is appalling. I haven’t even seen the phone and I would give it an 8 out of 10 just on the specs alone. And if it lived up to what it decribed in it’s features: fast web browsing, stable connection, no drop calls, I would give it a 9. I am reserving 10 out of 10 when I actually test one myself. The more tech savy individual would be able to realize that the author is skewed / biased in another direction and is not giving an honest review of this phone.

    I have used the Iphone and Itouch and regard it as a beautiful work of art, and I have enjoyed many hours on it but the practical side of it, ie: no expansion slot, no access to battery, must send it to Apple to change the battery (to name a few) is annoying and frustrating. I would want choice. I would think consumers would want choice. Iphone gives you no choice.

    I plan on buying this phone when i switch carriers in Jan.

  20. Om, i think you have just disturbed the crowd a lot, in a bad way of course. As a new audience here, i’m totally doubtful about your journalism. This article had earned you a very bad reputation.

  21. Apple makes toys. Big boys toys, but still toys. It appeals to supposedly understated yuppies. Their act is getting old not because their phone is not competitive but because of how annoying the people who carry it is. It’s just way too cute.

    Kudos to Apple for this revolution they started, their software is getting old.

    If you don’t believe me just see how many times this reviewer proclaims how stylish Apple is compared to everything else. Sigh.

  22. It makes me sick to see how every single tactile screen phone is compared to the iphone.N900 has a 5 mpx camera,and so many more capabilities than the iphone,i dont deny that the user-friendliness of the iphone cant be found elsewhere,but its not the best phone ever.The lack of real keyboard makes life difficult

  23. I hope it will be available in Australia for 850MHz UMTS.

    Yes, N900 and iPhone are two different markets at the moment.

    The iPhone maybe lacking in features and specs but it is a joy to use and hold. It is easy to use, with absolutely nothing to read or to check how to do this. You can put the iPhone down for a couple of months, pick it up again, and no thinking ‘where was that feature now, can’t find it’. The iPhone is designed with this in mind and that’s what ‘tech’ people don’t want understand.

    But for me, the N900 suits me. I hope they get the portrait feature addressed and add MMS. Also I’m hoping it will sync with my Ubuntu Linux system.