First update on the N900

by Volker Weber

After playing with the device for six hours straight, there are things absolutely brilliant, and other things lacking. So here is a first update.

The N900 has zero navigation buttons. The iPhone has one. While the iPhone is easy to understand, the N900 is not. A beginner will have a steep learning curve. The first thing you have to learn is that the Maemo 5 UI has four distinct layers you need to be aware off:

  1. The first layer is the canvas. By default it has four pages where you can layout icons (shortcuts), bookmarks, widgets and so forth. There is a useful calendar widget, you can place your favorite contacts on the canvas, and there are some less useful widgets like the scrolling Facebook widget.
  2. The third (!) layer has all the icons for your installed programs. On the canvas you hit an icon with six squares in the upper left corner to get there. Once in this layer, there is no obvious way back to the canvas. What you need to do is to hit somewhere between the icons to make them disappear.
  3. When you start your first program, things change. The six squares icon is replaced by a two square icon. Now you get to the second (!) layer from the canvas. There you find a small window for each program running. You can either go to one of the programs by clicking on their small window, or you hit the six squares icon in the upper left corner of the switcher. If you need to back to the canvas from the switcher, you hit the background outside of the small windows to make them disappear and let the canvas fill with its normal content.
  4. The fourth layer is the currently running program. It will usually display the two squares icon in the upper left corner to get to the switcher on the second layer below. Unless it is running in full screen, like the web browser does by default.
Imagine you are in a web browser and want to make a phone call. What do you do? Well, you take it out of full screen by hitting the lower right corner, you take it to the switcher by hitting the upper left corner, then from there to the programs icons on the third layer and then hit the phone icon. Would be easier if it had a green button, right?

If you have a phone shortcut on the canvas, you go to the switcher from the program, then hit the background to get to the canvas. Simple, eh? This is the first phone where I am kind of nervous when one of my friends picks it up and wants to try it out. It is almost impossible to have a good experience if you don't understand this concept.

On to the brilliant stuff:

These are early days. There is even less software than for the Palm Pre. No Facebook, no Twitter. And I am not counting a widget with no interaction.

Comments

Funny, how easy they make it for Apple to gain more market share. :-)

Karsten Lehmann, 2009-12-11 19:07

I especially like the 'merge contacts' functionality, for example merge your Skype contacts with your phone/e-mail contacts.

Vince Schuurman, 2009-12-11 20:48

Regarding "Imagine you are in web browser and want to make phone call. What do you do?". I found it annoying too, but there's quicker way: press power button and a menu with "Phone" button will pop up, which will obviously take you to the phone app.

Dawid Lorenz, 2009-12-11 21:49

Much functionality is available through 3rd party apps. For Facebook there is Hermes, for Twitter there is Mauku, for example.

andre klapper, 2009-12-12 01:14

Dawid, that is a good one.

Andre, Hermes does not do anything for me. Mauku is a nice attempt but very very basic.

Volker Weber, 2009-12-12 01:36

You can also get to the phone just by straightening the device to portrait mode (and wait a second or two). This behavior is configured in the Phone application settings, I believe.

Nevertheless I normally either click a portrait in the dashsboard (canvas) or start typing the name once in the dashboard. It's a lot more interaction than a regular phone but I have no complains with it. In a regular phone I'm not able to do a conference call in speaker while doing a presentation (showing PDF with device connected to an LCD TV) :-P.

Cláudio Gil, 2009-12-12 02:02

Cláudio, I saw this orientation switch, but I am actually quite happy that the N900 does not do anything when changing orientation.

Volker Weber, 2009-12-12 11:36

Or use the keyboard shortcuts : ctrl backspace brings you to the running task view, then tap outside any task and start typing the name or number of the person you want to call. And yes, the N900 feels like a computer with phone functionality, but that's exactly what I want.

Peter De Schrijver, 2009-12-12 15:27

Fast phone access?
Simply press short time the power bottom and choose "phone" - not that hard ;-)

Thorsten Schnebeck, 2009-12-13 00:45

Dawid has already explained that. But it is far from obvious.

Volker Weber, 2009-12-13 01:11

Why does every discussion board compare the n900 to the iphone? The iphone is not the benchmark for smartphones. Do a little research and you will discover that two years before Apple introduced the iphone, Nokia was offering a smartphone with true GPS, 3G, 5m camera, expandable to 16g. There is no question that the UI of Apple is amazing. However the strategy of locking the phone, having it subsidized by a carrier, a battery that is inaccessable, are all restrictions that made it unattractive to the discerning. Why should you pay $80 a month and be locked and restricted by Apple and AT&T? Is the iphone a sexy piece of technology? Yes. Has Apple been successful in it's limited market?(again, do the research..Nokia dominates the world market, not just America's affluent cities) Yes. There is no challenge here, but that is the point.
Most of the iphone users cannot even tell you the basic specs of their phone or how they use them, besides making calls...because iphones are more about status than functionality.
It is not iphone vs. every other smartphone. It is iphone for the average direct marketed lot. Early adopters would never embrace such restricted and limited access technology. Therefore, when genuine, unrestricted technology that is shared, open source, built on innovation enters the marketplace, don't compare it to your mom's iphone!

Brennan Walsh, 2010-01-28 00:35

Oh, look, a Nokia evangelist. :-)

Volker Weber, 2010-01-28 00:49

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vowe.net is a personal website published by Volker Weber a.k.a. vowe. I am an author, consultant and systems architect based in Darmstadt, Germany.

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