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17Oct/093

A week with the Nokia N900

The Nokia N900 is probably the hottest new mobile device out there right now. I received my N900 a little over a week ago at the Maemo Summit 2009 in Amsterdam. As you probably already know, Nokia was kind enough to give an N900 for a 6 months loan to every summit attendee so we got our N900s well before anyone else. You can only imagine the amazement in the crowd when Vice President of Maemo Devices in Nokia Mr. Ari Jaaksi announced the news in his key note. Nokia just got 300 very happy community member friends!

I was never a fan of the Symbian OS or the S60 UI. Since early 2000 I only used Ericsson or Sony Ericsson phones, which at the time had in my mind superior UI (they still are nice!). I gave the S60 version 5 a bit of a hope since it looked nice when Nokia introduced it at Nokia World 2007. I thought that Nokia finally got it and could compete against the iPhone and others. Sadly Nokia 5800 XPressMusic wasn't up for it, and still the current flagship model Nokia N97 isn't really in the same league as the iPhone with its UI.

Maemo 5 and the N900 are here to change the game. I can honestly say that this is a device that people start to compare next generation smart phones to and the iPhone looks completely outdated compared to the N900[1].

The conversation
If I had to just pick one thing why the N900 blows my mind, it would have to be the conversation metaphor that the device implements as the messaging application. All SMS, and also IM chats, are grouped be person/receiver in a conversation. Yes I know the iPhone does this too, but the implementation is much nicer. The landscape mode is much more natural to read the conversations in. And as the N900 has a physical keyboard, it feels so nice to reply to an SMS by just sliding the keyboard open and start typing!

Related to Conversations, the built in Email client is very good. I can easily setup GMail account, read my emails from it and reply to them. I also use the Mail for Exchange feature for corporate emails. No problems setting up that either and it works like a charm (without a device lock, thanks Maemo!)

The Browser
The web browser has become maybe the single most important application in today's smart phones. No need to repeat that the browser in the N900 is based on the Gecko engine that powers Firefox too so naturally the page rendering is top notch. But the speed is the thing that is overwhelming. Page rendering is so fast that you can't believe it. And it has kinetic scrolling and will scroll the page, as the iPhone does, while the page is loading.

Also the connectivity implementation has been done in good way. You have the option to automatically connect to cellular data if no known WLAN is in range. If a known WLAN network is in range, the N900 will automatically connect to it and use it for any connectivity needs. Now remember how Symbian implements the connectivity thing. Gee!

Multitasking
I know you probably already know about the multitasking in N900. But no N900 review or blog post would be complete without mentioning it. I could not imagine a smart phone again without at least similar multitasking experience. Really, this is how multitasking should work and it works well. I like it a lot and would call it after the browser the N900's killer feature.

The Media player
There are of course two sides to the media player; content and transfer.

iPhone does the transfer pretty nicely with its proprietary protocol (which Apple also defends, which sucks). The N900 has solved this issue with a way cooler, and IMHO better, solution. You connect the N900 to any PC in mass storage mode and you are ready to go. You drag the files you want to the device, unhook the device from PC and the meta crawler in Tracker will find, index and extract meta data from your files! It is very fast so as soon as you open the media player all your new files will be visible in the UI.

About content. Well, it plays MP3s and that's about as much as I have tested it. No surprises there :) UI is intuitive, but I won't go in any details about it as you probably can read and see the UI screenshots somewhere else.

But the video playback will blow your mind. The device supports, out of the box, DivX video playback which means that this is the ultimate portable video player! The Tracker will index and extract data from the files and you can watch them right on the device without any conversion needed. Wow! Did I mention that the screen is gorgeous and you won't have any problems watching the videos on the screen.

And you will also be surprised that after I watched 1.5 hours of DivX on the device, it still had 2/3 of its battery power left!

Compared to S60 v. 5.0?
So what about S60 then? No matter how much Nokia would like us to believe that the N97 is their N-series flagship device, this baby will outperform the N97 in every way possible.

The home screen(s) are much more configurable and developing new widgets for the home screen is quite easy if you know C programming (no need to learn a mystical breed of Symbian C++).

The keyboard is superior to the N97. It has so good tactile feedback that I have no problem writing emails with it.

But foremost the UI is intuitive! No more miles deep menus with the features hidden behind some odd Options-button. No more settings hunting behind several applications or setting menus. No more idiotic, useless dialogs ("Are you sure you want to visit this secure web page?" "YES! I just entered the URL myself!" "Are you sure you want to leave the secure web page?" YES!!!"). No more unresponsive icons or scrolling. Gaah, I hate S60 UI.

Final thoughts
This is a very good device. Overall sleekness shows everywhere, the UI is very polished, UX has been given a lot of thought and last but not least, it is very fast and responsive!

Even though I got now one for free for 6 months I would have bought one for myself anyway. And also, after the 6 months are out and I will need to return the device to Nokia I will buy one for myself. I can't find myself using the 5800 XPressMusic phone anymore after this.

This is a game changer in so many ways as the iPhone was. Although people will still continue praising the iPhone over the N900, I can only say that one phone is not for everyone but for true mobile device hard core users, the N900 is the way to go.

[1] "It completely kicks much of the iPhone 3GS experience into touch. It makes the iPhone look like a Fisher Price ‘My First Phone’ with it’s multi-tasking brilliance." - http://www.mobileindustryreview.com/2009/10/absolutely-blown-away-by-the-n900.html

Disclaimer: I work with Maemo but not as a Nokia employee. I have not worked with Fremantle in any way nor have I ever owned, extensively used or had the chance to explore the N900 or its UI before Maemo Summit 2009.

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  • Franklin

    Wow great review. I like you also own the 5800 & have had to suffer the s60 UI pain and will also buy the N900.

    ps
    you write very well. Consider starting a tech review site.

  • Kypeli

    Thanks Franklin for the nice feedback! Yep, I have had my moments with S60 UI so I think I can compare Maemo UI to the S60.

    Thanks also for the suggestion of starting a tech review site – I would love to do it if Nokia and others send me stuff for review, but unfortunately I don't think I have the time to do it :)

  • Texrat

    Very nice review Kypeli!