The Nokia N900 is …

I’ve had a Nokia N900 for a couple weeks now. Initially the idea was to try it out and share my thoughts and experiences but with the understanding that the N900 would not be available in South Africa for sale. That changed shortly afterwards and I received word from Nokia’s Tania Steenkamp that the N900 is going to be on sale in South Africa in the second quarter of 2010, thanks to efforts by Nokia SA’s general manager, Mathia Nalappan, to have stock allocated to SA.

I adopted an Andy Ihnatko approach to the N900 and switched to it from my N97 completely for the first few weeks. I put my N97 back in its box and did everything on the N900. I posted my initial experiences to a FriendFeed channel which I embedded in my first post and, as you can see, using the N900 was a mixed experience. Rather than using devices like the iPhone or Android devices as a comparison, I used my N97 which is/was Nokia’s flagship device. If you are familiar with the current Symbian UI, this video is a great introduction to the much improved Maemo 5 UI:

As you can see from the video, the N900’s interface is pretty different to Symbian devices. In fact, it is a real improvement and one of the reasons I am really going to miss the N900 when Nokia prizes my fingers open and takes it back.

From a hardware perspective the N900 feels solid (I’m not going to rehash the specifications so take a look at thedetailed specifications on the N900’s site). Its viewable screen area is roughly the same as the iPhone/iPod Touch and wide than the N97’s screen. The N900’s screen resolution is fantastic. Everything looks sharper and richer on the N900’s screen (according to the Nokia blog, the N900 has a 267 pixels per inch pixel density, compared to 165 PPI on the iPhone 3Gs and 210 PPI on the N97).

The device feels more substantial than the N97 and, as small as it is, you can definitely feel it in your pocket. It feels compact and substantial. I think about the E71 when I think about the N900’s build quality.

Like the N97, the N900 has a fold out keyboard but unlike the N97, the N900’s keyboard is flat, relative to the screen, and a little more compact. I had the usual finger confusion when I started using the N900’s keyboard and kept typing the wrong characters because my fingers were used to a different layout. I eventually got used to the keyboard and while I don’t think I type as fast on that keyboard as I do on my N97, it works pretty well. You can also enable an onscreen keyboard if you prefer not to slide the physical keyboard out all the time (or at all) but I found the onscreen keyboard a little confusing (it isn’t very intuitive).

The camera is important to me because I tend to use my mobile phone’s camera a lot. It is, after all, the camera that is always with me. The N900’s camera is almost the same as the N97 (5 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss lens/es) and easily a replacement for your little point and shoot.

A rose in our garden

One aspect of the device that really impressed me is the GPS capability. The N900’s GPS locks pretty quickly and while I don’t know if this is due to the N900’s ARM Cortex-A8 600 MHz processor doing the necessary work behind the scenes that much faster but it is a welcome improvement over my experience with the N97. The GPS ties in with the camera and geotags photos really nicely. The only time I had a problem with the geotagging was when I had no network signal at all! When you take a photo, it will be tagged with your location on a local, regional and national level. You have the option of limiting the geotags or removing them altogether.

On the subject of photos and sharing, the N900 has much improved sharing options over the Symbian Share Online app. There are configuration options for services like Evernote, PixelPipe, Flickr, Ovi and other services for the N900. The Evernote option particularly appeals to me and it doesn’t seem to be available on the N97 (strong possibility I just haven’t figured it out or found the configuration file). The N900’s share functionality works really well to boot and its very easy to use.

One of the N900’s best features, from my perspective, is the Conversations app. This is the N900’s messaging hub and it combines sms and instant messaging updates into a single conversation for each contact. It is brilliant and it annoys me that the Conversations app isn’t available for my N97.

You can connect to a number of popular IM services including Skype, Ovi, Google Talk, Jabber and SIP in Conversations and both sms’s and IM messages from your contacts will merge into a single contact-based conversation. You can also set your availability status in the N900 like most IM apps and, when you are online, you can also see which of your contacts are also online or available. IM integration extends to the address book where you have the option of contacting your friends via sms, email, IM and good old voice telephony (oh, if you use Skype, you can also call them via Skype from your N900 – haven’t tried this though).

Another favourite is the N900’s Mozilla based web browser. It is a full browser, not a pared down mobile browser and that, oddly, takes a little getting used to coming from my N97. Instead of loading mobile versions of some sites, the browser loads the full web page. This makes it possible to access your favourite sites on this little device and have a pretty good experience at the same time. You can also install a Firefox beta version but I found myself going back to the Maemo browser for most of my Web browsing. Take a look at this video, below, for an introduction to the browser:

Real geeks are going to love some of the geekier apps like the terminal app that comes with the device. There are a couple other geeky apps you can install which I don’t really understand or appreciate nearly as much as a geek who believes that Alpine is the best email application on the market today.

Overall this device is a great device although it isn’t without its shortfalls. I will write about some of those shortfalls in a follow up post in the next day or so.



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