Nokia may lead the pack in the mobile handset race but when it comes to their smartphone market share, it’s totally a different story to tell. Nokia has evidently struggled to keep pace with the growing competition in the smartphone space but is trying their best to gain some lost ground.
It has the aging Symbian OS that currently powers few Nokia smartphones like N97, N97 mini, 5800XM and they’ve Maemo, a linux-based platform that has often been undermined by the Finnish giant. Maemo OS is responsible to produce some decent tablet devices in the past but it’s the N900 that is the first device from Nokia to marry the internet tablet with cellular capabilities. But does N900 deliver? We delve to check out.
Network: Quad-band GSM EDGE 850/900/1800/1900; WCDMA 900/1700/2100 MHz
Dimensions:110.9 × 59.8 × 18 (19.55 at thickest part) mm
CPU and 3D accelerator: TI OMAP 3430 ARM Cortex-A8 600 MHz, PowerVR SGX with OpenGL ES 2.0 support
Memory: Up to 1GB of application memory (256 MB RAM, 768 MB virtual memory)
OS: Maemo 5 software on Linux
Display: 3.5-inch touch-sensitive widescreen display (800×480)
Camera: 5 megapixel camera (2584×1938 pixels), CMOS sensor, Carl Zeiss optics, Tessar lens, 3× digital zoom, Autofocus with assist light and two-stage capture key, Dual LED flash
Memory: 32GB Internal, expandable up to 16GB via microSD card
Music: Formats supported – wav/mp3/AAC/eAAC/wma/m4a
Video: Formats supported – mp4/avi/wmv/3gp; codecs: H.264/MPEG-4/Xvid/WMV/H.263
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11b/g, Micro-USB connector, High-Speed USB 2.0, Bluetooth v2.1 including support for stereo headsets, FM transmitter, GPS with A-GPS, 3.5mm AV connector, TV-Out
Email & Web: Supported protocols -Mail for Exchange, IMAP, POP3, SMTP; Maemo browser powered by Mozilla technology, Adobe Flash 9.4 support, Full screen browsing
Battery: Nokia BL-5J (1320mAh)
Nokia N900 package includes the handset, battery, charger, TV-out cable, earphones, user guide and attachment to convert ‘thin pin’ Nokia charger to support N900’s micro USB port.
The first thing that comes to the mind that Nokia N900 is a solid device. Its heavy – weighs 181g – and although it may feel like holding a brick, the phone has a solid build quality. The front side is covered with a large 3.5-inch display and has a sliding form factor that reveals its QWERTY keyboard. The phone’s left side holds the power button, volume and camera keys. The left side integrates the micro USB port, speaker; the right side with key lock switch, 3.5mm headphone jack and another speaker. The back side of the phone houses a 5MP camera surrounded by a kickstand.
The N900 boasts a 3.5-inch display with WVGA (800×480) resolution. The display is one of the best displays from Nokia stable. The color reproduction is good, is legible in direct sunlight and has a resistive touchscreen that is very responsive. Of course, a capacitive display would have done wonders, but that’s a story for another day.
As I mentioned earlier, the keyboard is hidden beneath the touchscreen display that can be revealed by sliding horizontally. It’s a 3-row keyboard and has keys that are different from what we had seen on N97 or N97 mini. The keys are not spaced out but are large enough so that even people with large fingers (like mine) can type in comfortably and most importantly, error free. The only issue I think with the keyboard is the placement of the spacebar key. Nokia may have done an extensive research to validate their decision of putting the key on the right but could prove to be a pain for some since there’s a fair chance of hitting the wrong key while reaching for spacebar.
N900 also offers an on-screen QWERTY keyboard. The on-screen keyboard takes over the whole screen while typing, thus giving larger keys and more accurate typing experience. There have been instances where I typed faster on the on-screen keyboard than the physical one.
Maemo5 and User Interface:
N900 is the first phone to be based on Maemo5 and will probably be the only one since the next Maemo platform will be integrated with Intel’s Moblin to become MeeGo. However, Maemo5 as an OS has advantages. Maemo is a Debian-based linux distribution, which means Linux users will feel very much at home.
Just like the platform, the UI is different too. It has four home-screens that can be used to fill with app widgets, contacts that will give up an option to call or SMS and bookmarks to open in the web browser. Unlike S60 Nokia phones, N900 does not have any physical button to access the menu. The only way to access it by clicking on the 6 rectangle icon located at the top left. The initial menu is restrictive, mostly with Nokia functions and to access installed apps one needs to click on the ‘More’ icon. Exiting the menu can be done by clicking anywhere in the inactive area.
You may not find many apps initially but you can get more once you add repositories. Repositories are places from where different applications can be downloaded. Moreover, most .deb files work due to Maemo’s nature but is recommended to download only from trusted sources.
Installing an application can be done through the Application Manager or via the X-Terminal. Application Manager is obviously the easiest option and can be used to update, install or uninstall applications. Repositories can be added or edited from here as well.
PowerVR SGX530 handles the graphics duties of the phone and as it is evident, it does a very good job. Nokia has tried to make the UI an eye-candy and the SGX530 takes it pretty well. You won’t see any lag while swiping through the homescreen or scrolling through the menu. The graphics doesn’t disappoint on the gaming front too. The fact that it can play Duke Nukem 3D and Quake (both PC versions) at decent frame rates is a testimony how well it handles the graphics. Oh, and don’t forget to install Angry Birds from the Ovi Store. It’s one addictive game!
Calls & Connectivity:
You’ll find calling is the only thing that is done in portrait mode. The onscreen numbers are big enough for large fingers to type in and when it comes to calling quality, it is topnotch. Nokia could however done something with the earpiece volume which is bit low when you’re talking in a noisy environment.
N900 offers multitude of connectivity options. It has 3G and Wi-Fi to suffice your internet surfing needs whereas USB 2.0 and Bluetooth 2.1 for short-range communication.
Web Browsing, Email & IM:
N900 offers one of the best browsing experiences. It comes loaded with a browser based on Mozilla engine and supports full web, along with Flash support and latest web standards.
Mozilla and Opera both have their browsers now but could only try Firefox, which seemed too heavy for a tablet-cum-mobile phone.
Just like most smartphones today, N900 also supports IMAP/POP3 and Microsoft Exchange. The email client does a quick check of the country and retrieves settings of widely used email services in the region. Setting it up and running is a no-brainer if you’re using pre-configured services. You may need to tweak if you’re trying to set up a work email id.
N900 also allows users to set Skype and Google Talk accounts for VoIP calling and chatting. Talking or chatting with the contact is as easy as calling from the cellular network.
Multimedia & Camera:
Nokia has integrated widely used formats to enable a decent multimedia playback. The pre-installed media player allows user to access music, videos or even internet radio all from one place. The music player is a bit limited but the audio quality on the earphones is pretty good. As far as loudspeakers are concerned, they’re loud enough to be audible in a room with about 5-10 people.
Watching videos is a treat on the N900. The most interesting addition is the support for DivX right out of the box. Just pop in a DivX file or play it directly from the wireless network, it plays effortlessly. The kickstand is an added bonus.
N900 features a 5 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss lens and dual LED flash. The sliding camera cover can be used to activate the camera or can be started from the menu itself. As a special note, you may want to check the camera’s resolution since the phone selects 3MP resolution to accommodate the widescreen resolution of the screen. The still image quality was decent, to be honest. It was nothing to be proclaimed as mind boggling or below par but did its job well. The camera also allows to geo-tag photographs.
The video camera is somewhat restrictive that does not give many options while recording. It can record to up to WVGA resolution but the end result is somewhat disappointing and not what you’ll expect from such a shooter.
The N900’s feature list doesn’t end here. N900 features A-GPS and Ovi Maps as the GPS software. It took about 3-5 minutes to find a fix without any data connection whereas took under 2 minutes with data. The fact that Ovi Maps with voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation (edit: coming soon) will make it more awesome.
There’s also an FM Transmitter to quickly share music. Set the frequency and enjoy your favorite music with any radio-equipped device. Another plus of FM Transmitter is that it allows to transmit Internet Radio music.
The phone comes with a BL-5J 1320mAh battery and while it may seem big enough for smartphones today, N900 is an exception here. N900 was created to be connected 24/7 and the continuous use of data and of course, the multitasking is what depletes the battery usage. I was able to drag the battery till the end of the day but more heavy usage will make the phone attached to the charger more often.
While I didn’t get the chance to try out the N900 with PR 1.2 update but the new update that will roll out globally today will bring lots of features that improves N900’s usability. The Facebook chat support, 2-way video calling and portrait internet browsing are some of the new features added in the firmware.
Summing this up, N900 is undoubtedly one of the powerful devices in the market and with Maemo as the OS, it opens a lot of avenues to tweak the system to suit the users. Nokia has confirmed to not bring MeeGo OS to the N900, which could act as a deterrent to its uptake but since they’ve promised to provide support with existing Maemo platform, not all hope is lost.
All in all, N900 is a solid device and though it won’t be able to budge the market share of currently reigning smartphones, the control which the phone gives will surely make power users happy.
It is currently retailing for $479.99 in US and £419.99 in UK.
As for India, we’re expecting it to be released but the guys only at Nokia know when. Nokia has announced the N900 for India. It retails for Rs. 30,639.
Pros: Build Quality, Maemo platform, multitasking
Cons: Battery life