When we first held the Nokia N900 in our hands we started questioning whether the N900 was a mobile device or a mobile computer. Nokia has finally produced a device that can compete with the best devices in the market.
Being honest, Nokia hasn't produced any interesting phones since the launch of the N95, which was their first mobile with a multimedia experience (eg: Apple, Google and to more or less, Palm).
Whether they can actually stay at top of the market is questionable. Nevertheless, the specifications of the N900 create high expectations: a 3.5 inch touch screen, QWERTY keyboard, 5 mega pixel camera, 32GB internal memory and Maemo 5 OS. We especially look forward to Maemo 5, the new operating system for Nokia smart phones, from the Nokia Internet tablet.
The Nokia N900 comes in a stylish black box with silver print and a printed board of the N900. There are a lot of accessories and this explains the very large box. It could also refer to the size of the device, because - we won't deny it – the N900 is pretty huge. Besides a manual and a battery, with 1320 mAh, the box furthermore contains the following accessories: a charger, a connector that allows you to use older versions of the Nokia charger as well, a micro USB cable, a TV-out cable, a headset including ear buds and a cloth to clean the screen. You're really going to need this cloth, since the screen is a magnet for fingerprints. The quality of the accessories is just like we're used of Nokia: there's nothing wrong about it and the accessories will last a long time. The quality of the headset is good, since the In-Ear headphones reduce the outside noise to almost nothing.
The N900 is entirely made of plastic and the glossy front and robust rear make the N900 a pretty descent mobile phone. This is not easy, because the phone is really a brick, with a size of 111 x 16 x 18 mm and weighing 181 grams.
If you slide the phone open, a QWERTY keyboard of 3 rows emerges. The buttons are made of plastic and the distinction between two keys is easy to feel, because of the differences in height. The keyboard is quite broad, given that you keep the unit horizontal. People with smaller hands and fingers may find it somewhat difficult to text, since they have to somewhat reach out for buttons. The N900 does seem manageable when slided in, because of the fancy design and few frills.The front consists of a 3.5 inch touch screen, a secondary camera, speaker and a LED light that will blink, for instance when you have received a SMS. Moreover, the phone has a light sensitive sensor and a proximity sensor. The slide mechanism of the touch screen is solid and it works smoothly. The entire device feels solid indeed.
On the right side of the device you find the stylus, microphone, 3.5 mm audio jack plug-in, switch to lock the screen and a stereo speaker. There is no spare stylus, so you better be careful with it. The left side of the device has an opening to attach a wristband, a micro USB connector and a stereo speaker.
On the top of the device you'll find most of the buttons. Here you find the zoom, volume, power and camera keys. Moreover, the top has an infrared port. The bottom of the device has no buttons, plug-ins or connectors.At the back of the device you'll find the battery cover with a camera cover, that activates the camera when slided open. Furthermore, at the rear the camera with dual LED flash is placed. It also has a kickstand that is easy to use for instance when you want to watch movies in the train. The battery becomes visible after removing the battery cover.To place the SIM card the battery must be removed. This is not necessary when placing a microSD card; the card slot is placed on the right of the battery and "hot swappable”. This means that you can remove the memory card at any time.
Nokia promises three days standby time and five hours of talk time. This is a fairly accurate estimate at normal use, since the device has quite a weak battery. During our test period in which we intensively used the device, it happened that we had to reload the phone during the day, because otherwise we wouldn't make the end of the day. We used Internet for about three hours (3G and WiFi), simultaneously played music in the background, were texting and even made a call. Normally, a battery should last for at least one day. Well, not with the N900 and as a result you will probably have to recharge the phone every night.
We've experienced no problems when making calls with the N900. The voice quality is good on both ends. The earpiece sound is clear and there were no problems whatsoever. It's even easy to stop incoming calls thanks to the accelerometer. You just have to lay down the device with its screen down on the table.
You have several options during making calls; you can for instance activate the speaker, mute the microphone, bring out the keypad or hang up. But actually you can use all the options the device has, since you have access to the entire menu.
The logbook only remembers which contacts you called on what day, but does not remember how long the calls lasted. The timer remembers the number you have called and for how long you've called in total, but is does not keep a track record per call. This is fairly limited and can use some improvement to our opinion.
The touch screen of the Nokia N900 has a WVGA resolution of 800 x 480 pixels. The screen displays 16 million colours and is the first Nokia device with a wide screen VGA display. The N900 has an excellent image quality, just like we expect from Nokia. The colours are bright and clear. Also, even when you are outside you can still read the texts and information on the display. The contrast is also fine, for instance black is really black.
The accuracy and sensitivity of the touch screen is really impressive. Sometimes when you brows on the Internet you'll sometimes touch a button you did not mean to touch. Fortunately, the stylus is a great tool for this problem, although we preferred not to have to use it at all. You have to push the screen instead of touching it. This is partly due to the resistive screen, although there are devices with a resistive screen that react even by the smallest contact.
The N900 is the first mobile phone equipped with Maemo 5. Maemo 5 is a so-called open source operating system and has been made in cooperation with many large open source projects like Linux, Debian and GNOME. Open source basically means that the source code of the operating system is free to use and that it can be copied and / or modified without any sanctions resulting from it. The operating system was originally created for Nokia Internet tablets and is currently also suitable for mobile phones.
Maemo 5 is not an operating system like Android or the OS of the iPhone. With these OS's you soon find out how they work, but when starting the N900 you have to get used to the OS. It seems that LG hasn't looked at any competition when making the N900. You really have to take some time to figure out how the system works. This creates a whole new user experience. Moreover, the OS is especially made for internet tablets, because the N900 has many resemblance to a computer.
The device has four desktops in total that can be customized. This allows you to add shortcuts to applications, contacts or favorite Web pages. And you can of course place widgets on your desktop. The standard widgets are Google, Media player, Ovi Store (that actually did not work for the N900 during the test period), Location and RSS feeds. The Maemo 5 has a large community. The expectation is that more widgets will be produced the next months, because of these developers.
Moreover, the way the N900 controls the notifications for a new text message or an e-mail is discrete and fine. You will not be interrupted abruptly, when for instance you're surfing on the web. A message will appear form the bar in the left corner with the first words of a SMS or mail and will disappear after a few seconds. This enables you to continue what you were doing. You do not have to be afraid that you might forget to answer a text message. The button in the left corner that enables you to enter the menu will glow until you have read or answered the text message.
It almost seems that there are no improvements of the Maemo 5, but the OS is still not finished. First, the phone only works in the landscape mode, except for the menu and the Game Blocks. We do understand this choice, because you will probably use the landscape mode most of the time, thanks to the physical QWERTY keyboard. Yet, we would have appreciated it if we could also use the phone in portrait mode. Nokia did state that they will add this to the next update. We have also experienced that an application suddenly crashed or that it did not open at all. Also, the device was sometimes a bit slow. Maemo 5 also misses the intuitive the iPhone OS and Android have. The fact remains that even we, as being used to using different OS's, applications and devices, had to get used to the system and had to figure it all out.
Furthermore, it is quite annoying that when you have opened an application and you want to open the menu you will always first go to the multi task menu (task switcher). Therefore you have to touch two buttons before you get into the menu. To exit the menu you only have to press next to an icon or a sub-menu. This is quite handy, although it is quite easy to actually press on an icon and then you have to start all over again. Moreover, the icons in the menu can not be ordered and arranged manually, and you cannot add extra or additional icons. The fact remains that the OS does have potential to become a fierce competitor of the OS of the iPhone and Android.
We also have quite some criticism about the phonebook of the N900. When adding contacts you can only add the first name and sur name, number and email address. When you choose for ‘add fields' you can add all other kinds of fields, like work phone number, an extra email addresses, birthday, home address, web pages, gender, nickname, function or company. If you think that this is still not enough you can also add a note. We believe that this is more than enough, but we have to admit, we do expect a bit more of S60 devices.
When opening the phone book an alphabetical list of all your contacts appears that you can sort by first name or surname. You can also organize contacts into groups. The N900 has a kinetic scrolling bug, where you ‘flick' on the screen to scroll, or by typing the first letter or the entire name of the contact you're looking for. An alphabetical row of letters, on the left or right of the screen that enables you tap a letter that then shows you the contacts that start with this letter, misses. It is also possible to get a list of recent contacts that shows you all the calls and texts you have send and received with these persons.
To import contacts you have several possibilities. You can transfer contacts by synchronizing with another device, from a VOIP or chat account or by importing a file with contacts. In the VOIP or instant messaging accounts, there's support for some of the most used providers, namely: Ovi, Skype, Google Talk, Jabber and SIP. The N900 can also use vCards or files offered by Google. It is also possible to copy contacts from a SIM-card.
It is very easy to send a text message or an email and the physical QWERTY keyboard makes sure typing is very comfortable and easy. When you have typed a message, but you did not sent it, the text editor will save the message when you exit the application. Moroever, the editor shows how much characters you still have left during the typing of a text. It starts at 160 characters. The N900 has a dictionary, but it is not working that well. The device gives suggestions for words as you write, but this is often not the word you are looking for. This happens mainly because the device only gives one suggestion.
Strange enough, there is no support for MMS. Nokia probably did not think that this was necessary since sending and typing emails goes smoothly. Nevertheless, this can be a loss for some users. Setting an email account is not really difficult, but it does not go fully automatic. The N900 did not know the POP settings from Hotmail (Live), but using Gmail was no problem. The device also perfectly copes with various email accounts.
Verder is er ook ondersteuning voor Instant Messaging, wat bij het telefoonboek al is duidelijk gemaakt. Toch wilden we nog even kwijt dat er in het toepassingenbeheer een instant messaging cliënt beschikbaar is die met alle gangbare messaging protocollen overweg kan, namelijk de applicatie Pidgin.
The N900 also supports Instant Messaging, what already made clear at the section about the phone book. We also wanted to make clear that an instant messaging client is available, the application Pidgin, that can cope all major messaging protocols.
The slogan “Online as it happens” promises a lot. All possible ways to connect with something or somebody seems to be present in the device. HSDPA, Bluetooth 2.1, WiFi, a FM transmitter, GPS and even an infrared port are not missing. Making connections and sending files through Bluetooth is no problem and this also applies to WiFi connections. The phone remembers the networks and their passwords. Also, an automatically connection to the networks the device is familiar with is made.
You need a browser to go online and besides a standard browser, you also have the broaser of Mozilla, named ‘Fennec' on the N900 to surf the web. Fennec supposedly is going to take over the top of the browser market of mobile phones, like Firefox did at the PC market. In this review we are talking about Release Candidate no 1, so the browser still needs some adjustments. The added value of the Fennec is still quite unclear to us, because standard browser to us is a variant of the Mozilla Firefox. Nevertheless, it seems to work fine.
The first thing you notice at the standard browser is that it opens very quickly and smoothly. Striking at the UI is that the address bar is placed at the bottom of the screen. Several shortcuts can be used to add or open favorites. This can be easy since the homepage is a list of favorites during the opening of the browser. You can navigate to the next or previous page with these shortcuts. After a couple of seconds the interface disappears and you have the entire display available. You can go back to the interface by using the icon at the bottom right of the screen.
The browser almost equals the loading time of Safari for the iPhone and it even has a big plus: flash support! Although, we have to say that the N900 has difficulties with this and it even slows down the browsing. You do get a full internet experience. Navigating on web pages is even possible when the pages haven't even loaded fully. You can do this by swiping up or down. You can zoom in two different ways. If you want to zoom in on an object you can double click on this object. You can also zoom by making little circles on the screen with your fingers. This is a good alternative for resistive screens and screens without multi touch in stead of the ‘pinch' movement.
The UI of Firefox Mobile Fennec is synoptic with the address bar at the top of the screen and a refresh button. It was quite obvious that we were dealing with a version that has not finished, because the browser crashed quite often during the startup. Moreover, the startup takes very long. The loading of web pages is very slow and you cannot scroll the webpages during loading. When the page has loaded the navigation over the site goes smoothly. You can double click on the screen to zoom and the objects you want to zoom are being shown perfectly.
Firefox for the PC has made "tabbed" browsing big and this is also possible at the mobile variant. And this does the browser in its own unique and imaginative way. When you for instance scroll at the left side outside a page a bar appears. This bar shows the websites that are open at that moment in the same screen. By clicking on a icon at the bottom of the bar you open a new, empty web page. This is cleaver and safes you the time and trouble of having to open extra screens. When you scroll at the right side of a web page another bar appears. This bar shows the shortcuts to make bookmarks, the previous and next web page and settings.
In short, it's just like Firefox for the PC but than on a mobile. But, with a lot of bugs and improvement. When those are removed, Fennec might just become as big as Firefox.
The N900 has a 5 megapixel camera with a maximum resolution of 2584 x 1938 pixels. Furthermore, under the lens a dual-LED flash is placed that is helpful when you want to make pictures with little light. We can already give away that the flash is not doing much to help this problem. The camera settings are very standard, just like the UI. There is only one bar at the right where you can change the camera mode settings (macro, portrait, landscape, action and automatic). There are also settings for white balance, ISO sensitivity and resolution. There are only two options: the high resolution (5 megapixel) or widescreen resolution (3.5 megapixel). Besides, the bar has the flash settings and a shortcut to the photo album. Moreover you also have the opportunity to ‘geotag' your photos.
The pictures made with normal lighting are reasonable. The colors are portraited realistic and there is plenty of detail shown in the picture. However, the phone did face some difficulty with the snow, because a glow showed on the pictures. When the conditions are less favorable, the camera scores below standard. There is a flash, but LED has a limited range so it actually does not help you . Therefore, the pictures are sometimes unclear and the colours are not great either. The colors seem brighter than they really are.
The N900 comes with the following package of pre-installed programs. Web Browser, Media Player, Calendar, Photos Contacts, Phone, Maps, Camera, E-mail, Conversations, Clock, Calculator, Shop, Settings, Notes, PDF reader, File manager, RSS, Drawing, Application Manager, Blocks, Chess, Mahjong, Marbles, Back-up, Getting Started, X Terminal, Amazon, AP News, Docs To Go, Facebook.
In the Application Manager, additional programs can be downloaded. Thanks to the open source concept everything that is offered here can be downloaded and installed for free. You have for instance, a Twitter Client (Mauku) and an Instant Message client (Pidgin internet). People who are familiar with Ubuntu will probably recognize the applications and the way they are made available.
With standard 32 GB of storage, the N900 is also an ideal media player. And here satisfies the N900. It is easy and it goes smoothly to play music and when the music is tagged correctly, the screen will show an album cover when it plays the music. Besides this, there is nothing interesting to report. There is a shuffle and playlist function, but this is all. The large screen and kick stand make the phone excellent for watching movies. Moreover, the device supports a huge amount of file types so you do not have to convert a lot.
There are some pre-installed games on the N900. First the game Blocks, that has quite some similarities with the well known game Tetris. The game can be played in portrait mode and with the QWERTY key pads. This is especially quite difficult in the beginning, but after some exercising it will go just fine. Besides this game, a chess game has been installed. You can play chess against the computer or against another human being. The third game is Mahjong, another well known game. You have to look for two of the same stones, until there are no stones left. At last, our favorite, Marbles. You have to puzzle to get the balls in as few moves as possible in the right formation.
Of course the N900 also has a GPS receiver and with the Ovi Maps you will never get lost again. The first time we opened Ovi Maps we had a lock within the first 20 seconds, which is quite impressive. The device even kept the lock inside the house. Ovi Maps has a beautiful, clear interface that has the option to search for cities and places or the option to go from A to B and design your own route. There is no voice-guided navigation in the program, so will you have to keep an eye on which way you go. There is also the option that activates night colors. And this is all free!
During the review the N900 gave us the feeling that we were using a PC with the ability to make calls, in stead of a mobile phone with functionalities of a pc. First of all, this is a result of the size of the device. The device is thick, big and heavy and you will always feel it sitting in your pocket. Second, the OS is only available in landscape mode and that does not make the phone easy to use and control with one hand. And third, we miss certain things in for instance the phone and log book. This gives you the feeling that the focus is more on the quality of the internet than on the device itself.
But this is not surprising, because with the slogan: 'Online as it happens' Nokia already gives a hint. And the device certainly has internet qualities, the standard browser is great and is just as good compared to the browsers of iPhone or Android. And thanks to the full Flash support this is simply the best there is. You can just as easily send e-mails, use Twitter and chat on the N900, thanks to the good physical QWERTY keyboard.
Whether you are going to buy the phone of course depends entirely on your own interests. But the N900 is according to us perfect for the real gadget freaks, who also know their way in Linux. This is because of the fact that Maemo 5 is not completely finished, and not as intuitive as the iPhone or Android OS. Therefore, the N900 does not seem a device that is going to work its way to the top of the market. But, Nokia does show that it is still actively participating in the market of the mobile devices and is still a producer competitors have to keep their eyes on.