Nokia N900 – Initial Impression

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It’s been a few days (almost a week) spent with the N900, and I have to say it’s been used as a 2nd device predominantly. Mainly due to one issue – at this current time it will not work with a new 3G only 3UK sim card, but apparently there is a firmware update coming which will fix this issue. I think that would be a wise decision 3UK are very much like the N900 – open (well more than their competitors) so it makes sense to make it widely available.

Nokia N900

Whether using the N900 as my 2nd device has affected my opinion of it so far I have to say is unlikely. The main issue I’ve found currently is the N900 is very much a work in progress handset, it’s one for the early adopters and keen gadget enthusiasts, which I have to admit am one myself. Having it with me does fill me with joy, although there’s also some extra weight that comes with it – literally. This brings me onto my first point; Physical Check-up.

Hardware
The N900 is by no means slim or small, but it’s not alone in that category, the issue with it is it’s both not slim or small. Where other devices are slim or small the N900 is neither, which is going to be an issue for the mass market appeal – If it is being touted as a “handset”. The slide on the N900 is acceptable, there is no slick springy mechanism similar to what’s found on the N97, or the thud with which the T-Mobile G1 opens up. But it feels very solid and there is a satisfying click with opening and closing the device.
The keys are very easy to get used, much better than the N97’s from experience. In comparison to the N97 it has quite a few things that’s a lot better – the camera is extremely impressive, both in bright and lowlight conditions. (see examples below), although there is still that hint of colour loss, especially in very bright conditions.

Note: Both of these were taken at 3MP resolution – mainly because it captures them in Wide-screen.

The CPU on the device is very quick and handles many multiple applications at once, it doesn’t distinguish between light-weight apps or very big memory hungry and CPU intensive app either. It handles them all with ease, whether it be a 3D game, video, flash playback, full HTML browser – all at the same time, all handled with ease. It would put most Netbooks to shame.

The screen is bigger and much more sensitive and responsive than the N97, all thanks to the software running it, which brings me to my 2nd point; Maemo5 and applications.

Software
It’s very refreshing picking up a Nokia device and not finding out it’s not Symbian, that being said it’s still feels like a Nokia device, which fans will find comforting. The OS is very slick, very much optimized for touch and pretty intuitive once you figure out that tapping on the top of the screen is the way back / cancel – this needs some sort of icon at the top on ALL screens, I’ve noticed it in some, but it’s definitely not universal, this a KEY issue from a UI point of view as there is no physical back button or a home button. The main desktop can be customized by up to 4 screens, which much like the iPhone and Android can be accessed by swiping left or right. The great thing here is, there is no restrictions on space and alignment on where icons, widgets and short-cuts can be placed. Anything really does go on the N900!

So far I’ve found myself customizing my desktop mostly with contacts and a few short-cuts, bookmarks and the odd apps I’ve found in the Maemo repository. I know it’s very much early doors and development will be accelerating (one hopes) for Maemo and the N900, I find the current available apps somewhat lack the wow factor to impress. The widgets are pretty average displaying minimal information and with minimal UI candy – something that has plagued S60 since the iPhone turned up. Applications like Mauku which might be still in development, do a job but feel like something out of Windows 95.

Another app I installed was Zoutube – this I think is fairly new in development and the UI and features show this. The videos don’t play in full-screen, it doesn’t seem to have access to the higher quality streams (the N95’s Official Youtube app has better quality) which make the video look even more pixelated because of the resolution and size of the screen.

The Future and Potential
So far the availability of applications and the UI and experience offered from them in comparison to the already established and ever growing numbers of iPhone and Android developers leaves something to be desired. I don’t necessarily think it’s down to the Maemo team, the developers or the lack of ability in the future of Maemo and Nokia’s N-Series devices which will be running it. It’s more to do higher up board. Nokia is still pushing OVI and it’s services and intends to merge Maemo into the OVI pie, which in my opinion is yet another wrong move. Why they want to meddle with a promising “independent” platform and mash it with a hardly impressive service and go back to trying to support multiple platforms with multiple device specs via one channel – something they did with S60, leaves me confused and puzzled.

What I think should be happening with Maemo is a more liner approach, keep it visibly away from Symbian and OVI. As Nokia has control over the hardware and the Software it’s a great opportunity to follow the Apple model and enable a more easier and unified platform for both users, developers and support team. It’s a great opportunity to move away from what is perceived by most as a failure which is OVI, and a brand that no one understands or actually has the time to do so. Nokia is trying to become a services company, so it should start learning from it’s mistakes and stop being so stubborn about it’s approach. The N900 and Maemo has a great future ahead of it, the only obstacle than can stop it from dominating is Nokia itself. Here is a fresh start, try taking a fresh approach with it, please Nokia.

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