Review: Nokia N900
Nokia’s N900 is not a phone, OK
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.
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.
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
Value for Money: 7/10
Overall score: 8/10
Review written by Sandra Vogel. Originally published in Smartphone Essentials magazine.