So this is my first in depth review of the Nokia N900, a device I have gotten to know quite well since purchasing it back in November 2009. So here is my review, as a long term user.
- 3.5″ resistive screen with 800 x 480 resolution
- Maemo 5 OS
- Mozilla based web browser
- QWERTY keyboard
- ARM Cortex A8 600MHz CPU with Graphics accelerator
- Quad-band GSM and tri-band 3G support
- 5 MP autofocus camera with dual-LED flash and lens cover
- Wi-Fi and GPS
- 32GB onboard memory
- microSD card slot with microSDHC support
- 3.5 mm audio jack and TV-out
- FM Radio receiver and transmitter
- microUSB port (charging)
- Deep integration of Skype
The N900 is chunky and significantly thicker than many devices around now, including those with slide out keyboards. It’s made using sturdy hard plastic that feels solid in the hand. All back with no buttons on the front it looks very austere. In the middle of it is a 3.5 inch resistive touchscreen. A shame it’s not AMOLED or capacitive as that would have increased the appeal of the device and the gaming capabilities with it. Still, it’s a good, responsive touchscreen at 800 x 480 resolution so it looks clear too.
Pushing the screen up reveals the QWERTY keyboard with small back keys which have a curve to them so they are easily visible. The keyboard is easy to use although the top row may be a bit close to the edge of the screen area and the off center space bar is an oddity.
The top has the volume rocker, power button and Camera button, all of which are raised slightly and easy to find. There’s also Infra-Red thing there but does nothing initially – Nokia hoped developers would look at ways to use it and a few TV remote type apps do exist in the Maemo Community. The bottom has nothing.
The back has an engraved Nokia logo and camera with lens cover. The housing around the lens cover also flips out to act like a stand for the phone. The lens cover is used to start the camera app by opening it. The camera is a 5MP Carl Zeiss lens with autofocus and dual led flash and in general takes decent pictures.
The N900 runs Maemo 5 which you can see a bit more about in my comparison to Symbian. Maemo 5 is a one-off operating systems that came through Nokia’s range of internet tablets and the N900 is the first device in that range to add phone capability. It has 4 desktops which can take variable size widgets, icons, and shortcuts. It has a wall off apps type menu, an excellent multi-tasking screen and excellent IM integration including Skype. You can get apps for it from Ovi or the Application Manager which uses the Maemo communities application repositories. Nokia won’t be making any more devices with this platform and updates are now being organized by the Maemo community.
Phone and Communications
As a phone it works pretty well, though with no call and end key you have to find the dialer app or open a contact to make a call. Call quality is good although the speakerphone could be a little louder. One nice option is to answer with text which effectively hangs up but opens up a text message window so you can tell the caller you are in a meeting or whatever quickly and easily. Skype is well integrated and included video chat in the last update and you can get messages from various IM services in with your texts in the conversations app. It supports a variety of email services including MS Exchange 2007 support. The major missing feature is MMS.
Music and Media
The 32GB on board memory, stereo speakers and TV out make this a nice media device. The music player is simple and intuitive and the speakers at the sides of the phone are decent, if a little quiet. It can handle a good variety of audio and video formats as well.
The camera on the N900 is fairly decent and I have used it as a reliable point and shoot device often since I bought it. The camera interface is simple and intuitive, and the media gallery is too. When viewing photos you can use the volume buttons to zoom in and out.
Other Apps and features
A few other apps worth mentioning single out the uniqueness of the device. How often have you seen X-Terminal ass an app on your phone? It is here and for those who know their Linux shell commands this increases the power. There are also apps in the Application Manager for VNC (remoting in to network computers), Python code editors and apps for root access, overclocking. Thankfully, there is also an app for MMS as it doesn’t support them out of the box. But you see where this is targeted – technical early adopters and developers.
Games on the N900 vary a lot, but unfortunately there isn’t a big range to choose from. It comes with 4 pre-installed: Chess, Blocks (Tetris), Majong, and Marbles – all OK in their own right but as single screen puzzle games, not very challenging for the phone. Bounce evolution give a better idea of what it can really do and there are a few nice looking games available, plus, for those who don’t mind using the keyboard, a few versions of old PC classics in the Maemo community such as Doom. It’s a good device for gaming in many ways, but the resistive screen holds things back, and ultimately, the game selection is pretty poor.
It does have offline mapping and navigation through Ovi Maps. However, this isn’t the Ovi maps you love in your Symbian devices, but a simpler one stripped of voice navigation and various mapping modes. If all you want it an Arial street map or route map, you are in decent shape though.
Largely very good and I’ve hardly ever seen it lag or perform slowly, even with many apps open, though I have seen apps crash occasional, though very rarely, and occasionally I’ve seen it refuse to load a web page over WiFi. Battery life is about a day or so of reasonable usage.
The N900 is a good solid device, well built and has an OS on board which is/was in some ways, a refreshing change from Symbian. It is nice to use and highly customizable and for users of Skype, i doubt there is a device with better integration around at all right now (we’ll see if this changes with Windows Phone after Microsoft recently acquired Sype). It has a huge amount of on board memory and can take more via the SD card slot, and it really si a bit of a computer.
However, there will be no more Maemo 5 devices and likely only one Maemo 6 / Harmattan device, and updates are now being built by the Maemo community, rather than Nokia. I wouldn’t say it was worth $500+ but It’s still a good device and a cheaper one on Ebay could give a user a good few years of enjoyable mobile communication.