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Nokia N900 – That Tiny Little Powerhouse

26th April, 2010

Strange world, this is. I got my hands on the Nokia N900 all because of this one tweet. But that’s a long story, probably another blog post. For now, lets analyze this Nokia N900, a mobile device that brought the Linux platform to a super-charged touchscreen gadget.

Ladies and gentleman, this is the boy-toy.

Nokia N900A Little History, Shall We?

Lets face the truth: Nokia has been losing its smartphone market share. Competitors like the Apple iPhone, the Blackberries, even the Palm Pre have been eating away Nokia’s pie. It’s hard to tell why, but I’ll make a guess at one reason: the Symbian firmware. It’s a little old, rustic, and doesn’t make use of newer OS technologies developed in recent times. Did I mention its painfully slow?

The problem is that Nokia can’t easily dump Symbian: they bought it in 2008. Instead, they started parallel development on the Maemo platform, designed to run on their new line of internet tablets.

The Internet Tablet Era

The N900 had been preceded by a series of internet tablets – the N770, the N800 and the N810. All of them ran different versions of Maemo (previously called Internet Tablet OS). Maemo itself is based on Linux (the Debian distribution) that makes this platform extremely versatile.

Previous models were larger and bulkier, but had big 4.1″ screens that made internet browsing a breeze. While each model upgrade kept improving on the processor and RAM, the N900 added a key difference: cellphone capability.

A Phone You Say, Huh?

Processor: TI OMAP3 600Mhz + GPU + DSP
Display: 3.5″ touchscreen TFT with 800×480 resolution
Memory: 1 GB (total, virtual)
Storage: 256MB NAND flash + 32GB storage
Camera: 5.0 megapixels f/2.8 (back) + 0.3 megapixels f/2.8 (front)
OS: Maemo 5

That’s right. The N900 comes in a smaller package, but is still a powerhouse. Its processor is a system-on-a-chip, which combines the processor, the graphics unit and the sound processing unit into one package. With upto 1 GB virtual memory, we’re touching new ground in mobile phone capability.

The display screen, (*gasp*), is still huge! This is very useful for browsing the web, but you see its true capabilities while watching a movie or SMS-ing under direct sunlight.

While the N900’s 5 megapixel camera is good, I have this inner bias against phone cameras: inevitably they stink. That’s because their CMOS censors are chosen for minimum size and power consumption, resulting in photos that don’t capture enough colour and depth. The on-board flash is really good amongst its competition. But, really, I suggest you use this (or rather, any) phone camera as the last alternative.

Other smaller hardware features like the back-stand and the 3.5mm headphone jack are very useful indeed!

What about the firmware?

As mentioned before, the Nokia N900 runs on Maemo 5. This beast has been in development since 2005, spanning multiple versions, and has become very adept at multi-tasking and displaying rich graphics. The phone feels fast, quick and loads applications in milliseconds.

Web browsing is a breeze! The browser loads full sites with Adobe Flash without showing any problems. The N900 has, possibly, the most desktop-like browsing experience amongst all mobile phones!  Its easy to “flick” your finger to scroll, though I find Apple’s multi-touch capabilities are more intuitive.

But I must say this: the phone is not user-friendly. Seriously. The multi-pane desktop experience, the default “home” screen, has a steep learning curve. It still takes me a few taps before I’m able to do simple things: make a call, send a message or fire up the web browser. I’ve had to install some applications by firing up the Terminal, gaining root access, and typing commands of the Debian package management system.

You need to be a geek for that.

On the other hand, its totally hackable! Control your uTorrent, or replace your PS3 controller entirely! This is a mini-computer with Linux on it, people, and you can convert your mobile into a portable command center for almost anything.

Final verdict

Summing everything up, it seems like the N900 has a set of goals quite different from its competition. It’s a computer, period. While you do pay the price, its versatility and capability to accomplish almost anything kind of even things out.

Still, they need to work on usability. That is if they intent to garner a consumer audience that hasn’t been brought up on Linux terminal shells. In that matter, the competition is far ahead!

Photo Source: tommie_braxton

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 26th April, 2010 2:53 AM

    Ok, I hate you for having had this opportunity of reviewing a phone. It is only in dreams that things like these happen. Nevertheless without losing sight of the main theme, I think your review is very pertinent and is in a way very similar to what N900 really stands for, it is not your daily-use or business-use phone. I love your in depth analysis of the machine that runs this beast, but I feel you could have also been a little more detailed regarding other aspects of the phone. All in all a great review, something which will help serial-phonetalk-addicts like me in gauging how good or bad a particular phone is.. 😀


  1. N900 is a ‘powerhouse’ « WOMWorld/Nokia
  2. 9 things to do before buying N900! « My 15 days with Nokia N900

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