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The Nokia N900 - a class of its own


After using the N900 for a week now and the first enthusiasm is gone - I’m still stoked by that little tablet.

Where should I start? The questions I’ve encountered so far include

  • apps (of course)
  • battery life
  • overall usability.

The first surprise: you don’t need apps anymore. Not particularly. In general, if there’s some web site you’re using via the browser on your laptop and feel comfortable, you won’t need an app on the N900.

The limiting factor is the web service itself: if it’s a full blown site like Facebook or tumblr, you’ll find the N900’s built-in browser very handy. It’s a Mozilla Fennec fork as far as I can judge, but compared to the “real” Fennec, it has one killer feature that you’ll miss in the “original”: you zoom in & out by drawing a little circle on the screen if you face some parts of the website you have to magnify.

If there’s a site like twitter that is let’s say a bit stripped down to the necessary and you’re using an app on your laptop anyways, the same will be true for that tough little tablet. Did you try to use Foursquare via browser? Exactly, you need an app here.

The overall usability is quite decent - nice 800x480 touchscreen plus a smooth little keyboard. Coding is a little bit of a p.i.t.a., but your usual tweets & status updates are typed very comfortable. Oh, and you can even send sms with the N900 ;-).

Wait - did I just write ‘coding’? Yes, I did. The N900 runs a debian based linux with apt-get support which runs smooth after enabling gainroot-support. By the way, you also have an X-Terminal waiting for you. I knew the N900s Maemo OS is linux-based, but I was totally stoked when I typed the first “uname -a” on the phone’s terminal.

But back to the coding topic: my girlfriend couldn’t share my excitement after I told her “NO WAY! There’s a packaged ruby interpreter available!”. But I am really excited about this little feature. The N900’s declared main language seems to be Python - but I’ll see if I find some time to explore the GTK & Qt-possibilities of the Maemo OS during the next couple of weeks.

One thing that indeed convinced my girlfriend is the ability to stream the latest news via flash video on the go. Got her ;-). Of course, it’s not limited on the news, but I wanted to get hold of her attention. You can watch youtube or any other flash based video stream on the internet. Nice.

This little tablet/phone - I can’t decide yet where to put it - has also a very handsome point and shoot auto focus camera built in. After taking a pic, you may instantly share it via various networks like flickr & facebook.

The computing power of the little fellow became obvious after I played Duke Nukem 3D on it. I repeat: you are able to hear “Peace of cake!” and “Shake it, baby!” while chewing gum & kicking a**. What is really ridiculous is the fact that back in the days when I played the original game, you were amazed by the 320x240 first person perspective on my big standalone pc. On the N900, it runs fluidly with 800x480, which is the full screen. Wow.

The battery life is very good for a tablet, but a little short for an “oldschool” mobile - I charge it every night and I’m actually thinking about getting an replacement battery. This is partly due to the nature of the N900 - it’s a tablet you can phone with, not vice versa. But I remember when I switched my business phone - a Nokia E71 - from conservative internet use to the “be online all the time” approach. The battery life sank from a week to two days, so UMTS & HSDPA play a major role in the lowered battery time.

The other big issue is the fact that you can’t sync with your mac. That’s a Nokia decease & I hope they fix it with a isync plugin as they did for the E71. Of course, you can bring your calendar online & sync that way. But I’m a bit on the traditional side and like the fact that my personal stuff is stored locally.

So what’s the bottom line?

If you’re a bit nerdy and like the thought of potentially having a rails server in your pocket - go for the N900. But be aware of the fact that it also consumes some power.

If you’re searching a device to stay connected to the social media world and aren’t too enthusiastic about technical aspects like a debian based operating system - go for it, too. But check out the iPhone & the Milestone as well, since they are more mainstream concepts that have less potential of need let’s say “a little nerdy tender love and care”.

If you’re looking for a phone, and you are not planning to go online, you’ll be better of with a phone than a tablet anyways & you probably won’t consider this class of device.

My opinion after the first week of using the N900 on a daily basis as my primary phone:

It’s an awesome device, it’s a social media feature monster since you don’t really need apps anymore. You have support for VPN & VNC, so if you combine your N900 with a keyboard & screen, you can get some serious remote work done with that little fellow.

There’s already a variety of packages available via the software/package manager, and I think there’s plenty more to come.

People react in different ways - but it surely is an attention getter.

The nerdy type is already stoked by the thing he/she read about it. The iPhone-user is surprised that you don’t need apps that urgent anymore. And the Nokia user is utterly amazed that - after messing up Symbian OS - Nokia finally managed to develop a decent system software.

The N900 is somewhere between a very powerful smartphone and a netbook: you can’t really categorize it yet. That’s due to the fact that it’s a class on its own.