N900 - Conclusion

by Volker Weber


I don't want to dance around the most important question, so without further ado: do you want an N900? Probably not. Not yet. And it's not winning the editor-refuses-to-give-it-back award.

The N900 is different from all other smartphones I have. Maybe because it isn't a smartphone. It's a mobile computer. The smallest one I ever had. Your mobile computer lets you make phone calls. Over SIP, over Skype, over Google Talk. So does the N900. It's just much more convenient to hold to your ear. Plus, you can call over GSM and text messages, like a smartphone would do.

You have to keep this in mind. This is not a phone that happens to also be a computer. This is a computer that happens to also be a phone. Which actually matches my usage model much better. I hardly ever use a smartphone as a phone. Most of the time I use it as a computer.

Other than most of the other phones you buy, the N900 comes without strings attached. You own this phone. You are 'root'. This comes with a responsibility. You break it, you own all the parts. Nobody to complain to when you installed that one application you should not have.

Out of the box, the N900 plays more audio and video formats than any other device. It has Flash support in the browser. It has multitasking that works. And it has a powerful chipset to drive the whole thing. Plus a good camera with a great lens.

Sound like you want one? Bear with me.

Let's get to the parts that will drive you nuts. Battery life is a joke. Much like the G1, or the Pre. With the added bonus that it will drive itself down until it's dead in the water. No more "power up, make one important call". Remember, it's a computer. You sometimes wish there would be a hibernate mode, were it shuts everything down besides alarm clock and receiving phone calls.

Then, it's the early days. There basically is no interesting software yet. And not a lot of buyers who would create a market for software to be built and sold. So it's for enthusiasts, and if you are looking for the most requested features, you will find Ogg Vorbis support. Very geeky indeed.

Email is working. Exchange ActiveSync with Google not so much. Throws a lot of error messages, although it seems to be partially working. If you ask me, one of the problems is that you can't say "[ ] Mail, [X] Contacts, [X] Calendar, [ ] Tasks". You can only say "[ ] Mail, [X] Contacts, [X] Calendar & Tasks". Google Sync only supports contacts and calendars. Won't sync with Exchange 2003, only 2007. Traveler? No idea.

There is a very basic Twitter client, but no Facebook client. Xing, Linkedin? Nope. On the other hand: Skype (IM and calls), Google Talk (IM and calls). So it depends on your preferences.

The one thing that the N900 demonstrates is 'Nokia is not dead'. Maemo gets the network stack right, unlike Symbian. You can use this thing without a data tariff and live happily ever after. It will assume you only want Wi-Fi until you tell it to also use the mobile network, at which point it explains this might be expensive. The N900 is on your side, not on the operator's. And that makes a huge difference.

At Nokia world, Anssi Vanjoki, the top brass at Nokia as far as devices is concerned, said that Nokia needs five generations to get a platform right. Let's count: N770, N800, N810, N900.It's not only that the N900 is missing software. Its hardware is also not up to task. Like all other Nokia touchscreen devices it suffers from the resistive digitizer. Touch needs capacitive. And that means that Maemo needs to get finger friendly. Currently you have to use the stylus a lot.

Nokia needs another year. And they are quite able to make that. The propaganda says that Nokia is firmly behind Symbian. They have no choice, because that's the only card they can play today. You won't see (many) Maemo devices in 2010. That's 2011 and beyond.

So, do you still want one? I am not so sure. If you want something that works, and you are not afraid of the chains you have to wear, go with BlackBerry or iPhone. If you want a glimpse of the future, get an Android. Or maybe, wait until Feb/Mar and then get an Android. If you want sleek integration and you have some patience for software to show up, maybe you want a Pre. There are two more platforms, but you don't want any of those. :-)

Only if you really want a computer that is also a phone, you want an N900. Prepare to want a new one a year from now. The fifth generation.

Other posts:

Habemus N900
First update on the N900
Second update on the N900


I find it more and more amazing how the iPhone seems to be lagging behind as months go by.

Paul Mooney, 2009-12-12

Nokia had lost me as a customer after they dropped the software support for my Nokia 770 quite quickly after its launch. I couldn't here the phrase again "not for nokia 770, nokia 800 only".

They will never regain my trust in maemo devices.

Gerald Schmidhuber, 2009-12-12

Hatte das N900 nur kurz in der Hand und nicht viel Zeit zum 'Spielen'. Ich habe als nützliches Gadget empfunden, aber auch mehr in die Richtung Multi-Funktions-Tool.

Rene Hellmann, 2009-12-12

Personally, I'm delighted that there is now a variety of phones that can appeal to any consumer.

More choice = happier customer. This, of course, only works if customers are well-informed.

Now, if only telecomms providers managed to make their pricing more appealing.

Stephen Mooney, 2009-12-13

To, me this all sounds like a want one :-) Now, and next year :-)

Ragnar Schierholz, 2009-12-13

Thanks a lot for your review Volker!!!
How usable are Facebook and LinkedIN through the browser? How easy is it to kill all open tasks?

Andre Hausberger, 2009-12-13

Usable. Just not convenient. It's a Mozilla Browser.

You can close apps from the switcher. If all else fails there is always xterm. :-)

Volker Weber, 2009-12-13

Volker, how would you rate the WAF for this device?

Hanno Zulla, 2009-12-13

Very low. Unless she is an ssh user.

Volker Weber, 2009-12-13

It sounds like a "I want one" to me as well, but then, I'm that kind of user.
If I'll need a new one in 12-18 months time just to get the "Multi-touch" screen, then so be it. I've been switching phones at least once a year for the last 15 years anyway. The only phone I've still got as a backup (i use it as my portable Spotify client) is my trusty old N95 :-)

Most of the things I miss on mye phones today is naturally in place on the N900 (SSH client/server, real web-browers, lotus of little Linux-tools)

Dag Kvello, 2009-12-13

Indeed, Dag. You will also love the big keyboard.

Volker Weber, 2009-12-13

I agree with Ragnar, to me 'choice' is not a disadvantage, as it seems to be to the iPhone users. The N900 is far from perfect, but it leaves you a choice :) Good for geeks, not good for iMasses.

Hubert Stettner, 2009-12-13

do they still have time enough for a 5th generation?

Armin Roth, 2009-12-13

You don't think so?

Volker Weber, 2009-12-13

I love my N800, but the application support from Nokia has been very poor, everything is still really a Beta. I dont mind too much as I kinda like the fact it is a bit geeky, but until they sort this out they will never shift many..

Neil Gower, 2009-12-13

Just an FYI Traveler works for mail and contacts on the device(though it isn't supported). Don't attempt to sync your calendar though. Really just don't.

Cormac McCarthy, 2009-12-15

I want the N900 so badly it hurts. Well, that might be my seasonal sinus pressure talking ...
I'm an example of one who still uses their very first mobile (Nokia 6820, from when it was first released ... I was late to the mobile party). I'm very excited about the N900 and I'll purchase one as soon as I figure out how to pay for it. Do they still buy hair down at the wig store?

Pat McGroin, 2009-12-30

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