Review: Nokia N900


Nokia’s N900 is not a phone, OK

Review: Nokia N900

Nokia’s N900 is not a phone, OK. Well, it is a phone, in that it has a SIM slot, and you can use it to make voice calls. And it supports HSDPA and has a front facing camera so you can make video calls. But actually it is more a mini computer than a mobile phone.

The N900 runs a new operating system, Maemo 5, which is based on Linux and so is open to application development by third parties. No, Symbian isn’t going away, and no, it doesn’t look as though Nokia will push out a slew of Maemo-toting devices during 2010, but yes, Nokia does think there is a place for very high end, very capable mini computers with telephony. And the N900 is its way of showing us that.

At first glance the N900 looks like a fairly large ordinary mobile phone. Chunky (110.9mm x 59.8mm x 18mm) and heavy (181g), all screen, but a phone just the same.

Review: Nokia N900

The shiny black livery and 3.5-inch, 800 x 480 pixel screen aren’t out of kilter with modern touch screened handsets, nor is the 3.5mm headset jack or slide-out keyboard (which is small and a bit on the fiddly side to use, incidentally).

Wi-Fi and GPS are both here. TV-out is here too, it is rare in smartphones but not unheard of – and you get a set of cables which is a bonus. A 5 megapixel camera and kickstand which pops out of what looks like a large frame around the camera lens aren’t exactly novel, either.

But there are no Send/End keys on the front facia. No keys at all in fact. To make a phone call you need to call up the dialler from the applications menu. No great inconvenience, but a clear indication that telephony is not at the heart of this handset.

However it is only when you switch on that the real difference between the N900 and your average high end mobile becomes apparent.

The N900 is designed to be used almost exclusively in landscape mode, its interface is based around desktops and you can have four of them. You fingerpan between them. Each can be personalised with application shortcuts, widgets, bookmarks and individual contacts.

Tapping an icon at the top left of the screen brings up thumbnail views of all the applications running at any one time so that it is easy to switch around quickly or even shut applications down. And there is a main menu of applications arranged in a 5 x 3 grid with a More icon at the bottom right.

Review: Nokia N900

The apps list is quite comprehensive for smartphone users with calendar, maps, email, PDF reader, RSS feed reader, Facebook client and plenty of games.

The Web browser supports flash and happily streamed the BBC news channel. Zooming with the volume button lets you bring media streams up full screen, which is nice, or you can draw circles on the screen with a finger to zoom. And when you go to the thumbnails screen, you can see a mini version of your streaming video which is very cool.

The screen is resistive and the N900 provides what a lot of touchscreen handset avoid these days – a stylus, tucked away in a corner of the casing. We didn’t need it but some people might like its presence. And we found that the screen was very responsive to our taps – fast and accurate.

The N900 is not a smartphone, then. But it has a lot that smartphone owners will recognise. With the PC-like approach it does feel like more of a niche product than Nokia has produced before. It has been designed for developers to fiddle with, and so long as they get behind it, the device – and the Maemo OS – has bags of potential.

In the end the N900 presents a very different experience to your average smartphone user but one that many will recognise. You’ll need to be hospitable to the novelty of the N900 to really enjoy it, though.

Price: £450 SIM-free
Web: www.nokia.com

Essential Verdict
Performance: 8/10
Design: 8/10
Features: 8/10
Value for Money: 7/10
Overall score: 8/10

Review written by Sandra Vogel. Originally published in Smartphone Essentials magazine.

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    • Dulwithe said:

      A nice introduction, but far too little “meat” in your article to call it a “review”.

      Please continue…

    • paai said:

      Sorry, I don’t like your review. It is superficial and makes me wonder if you even tried to use the software that comes with it. I will try to make up for it.

      I have the N900 for six weeks now, and I am in two minds about the thingy. It runs Linux and gives you almost total control for development. That is good. You even can open the N900 from your PC and have a terminal window or even the Maemo desktop on your computer. That also is good.

      However: the PDA applications that come with it: Calendar, Contacts and memos are abysmal both in functionality and in interface design. I feel that a reviewer should have noted that and commented on it, in the interest of your readers. And if such flaws are not reported, how can you expect the manufacturer to take note and improve it?

      I hope this does not sound too harsh, but I feel it should be mentioned.

    • Jack said:

      I thought your review was fine. Sure, it was a bit on the light side. Maybe we should call it an overview for those that are finicky. But, you highlighted the most important aspects of the device, the fact that this device is not your regular phone and the unbound potential offered by this device. Personally, I love it. Check this out for something no other phone can do:


    • Pieter said:

      I also have had a N900 for about 2 months and love it. Best complete mobile experience ever. The browser is the real thing – full flash and javascript. The convergence of communication options is also amazing. Skype, call, email, IM… its all there seamlessly. But the best bit is the free applications – it being open source.

    • ian said:

      I’ve had mine for 3 weeks.
      It is chunky, but then I don’t like the “fold me in half” look of the iPhone, so I’m definitely not complaining about that. The keyboard is definitely cramped for those of us with fat fingers. the top row sits about 4mm below the screen edge; I’ve yet to meet someone with fingers that thin.
      The camera on the back is a 5 MP; pictures are good enough, the best thought about it being the slide protecting the lens that also serves as an auto start for the camera app.
      The base apps are a bit on the light side, but the real bonus with this toy is the outlook. Maemo is open source, so if you want something bad enough all you need is a friendly (or broke) programmer.
      Porting apps from Linux is possible with effort. There’s a smattering of them already. Hackers have managed to run a complete Debian install on this machine; it’s processor and memory (32GB + up to 12GB microSD) are good enough, and there’s talk of openoffice possibly being ported. You don’t mention it uses synaptic to install; the Maemo OS is a real gem (OK, so I came from a windows mobile phone- it was a pretty low base), and the security is almost as good as a Linux laptop.

      One very impressive feature is the multitasking. Half way through a note when another phone call or SMS comes through; no problem. The OS opens your apps full screen, but moving between them is easy with the screen switcher, accessible either through Ctrl-Backspace or the top left button. Delays opening programs are next to nonexistent, and the graphics are smooth.
      The resistive screen is apparently “old fashioned”; however, it both requires and tolerates a firm push well, and doesn’t need warm fingers. I like it; capacitive screens are often a bit prima donna; this one doesn’t have the mouse jumping all over whenever I look at it.
      It’s connectivity is excellent, as mentioned. Particularly nice is the ease of setting up internet via wifi; the screen has a denser pixel rate than the iPhone and images and websites are sharp, so browsing is easy. Skype is installable; I haven’t used it but there’s apparently no difference in quality between skype and the phone. Bluetooth is a cinch.
      The contacts and calendar integration/ operation is OK, but some bits are evidently still a work in progress. Copying appointments doesn’t work at present, for instance. Notes; the installed version is minimal, but there’s an app called Conboy available from the Maemo store that is a port of the Linux app, and it’s got all the features of a full- fledged note app.

      Ovi maps is installed (Ovi being the Nokia app store); the maps are fine, and it does the basics OK.

    • Disco Stu said:

      I have read many a review of this device now and having owned one for a little while it is my humble opinion that this is the best smartphone on the market. Even though Nokia has not labelled it a smartphone, more a portable computer with phone functionality. Which I do agree with but the add on phone functionality is more than adequate to say the least, it has everything you would want from a mobile phone:- fully customisable contacts with photos and loads of options and extra fields for loads of info on each person or company.

      Also you have complete freedom with the phone as to how you want it to look and how you want it to function. Which in this Apple I phone era is a breath of fresh air, nothing is locked down which is quite a rarity these days, you will struggle to find a handset that is not throttled by the network company, holding back certain features and settings.

      Another thing I’ve heard people say is that it is “big and ugly” which I do not understand. In my opinion it is quite a refreshing and unabashed design, not wanting to look too flash but at the same time creating a somewhat mysterious and intriguing dark, monolithic look which I find quite appropriate for what could be the big device for 2010.

    • olegyins said:

      Great site!!! Bookmarked.

    • Nokkyboy said:

      I still love my N900 Nokia phone. There are some great apps on it too. Far superior to the other smartphones around.


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