Nokia N900

What's Maemo? Never mind. The N900 ditches the "internet tablet" moniker of its predecessors and stands out as one of the most impressively featured handheld devices of 2009.


9.1
CNET Rating
8.5
User Rating

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CNET Editor

Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies. Twitter: @Joseph_Hanlon


Nokia fans, don't disappear! We know it's been a hard year; Nokia's Symbian v.5 upgrade was a fizzer, and the flagship N97 suffered as a result. We know the Ovi Store really hasn't taken hold like it should have and that its other services, like Music and Maps, still need refining. But the Finns have an ace up their sleeves, a little system called Maemo running on a not-so little handset called the N900.

Design

They say that one in two people in Australia are obese, so maybe the N900's gut-busting waistline will go unnoticed when it's released in the land down under. At 16mm thick, the N900 feels like a PDA of days past, even though it looks like something considerably more modern. It also seems heavy, at 150g, but we seriously doubt this will upset too many users.

In terms of the hardware, the N900 is a home run. The 3.5-inch display is sharp and colourful, and is probably the most responsive screen we've used that works using resistive touchscreen technology. Push the screen up and you'll reveal a three-row full QWERTY keyboard. This keyboard isn't as roomy as some we've seen this year, but it does the trick for tapping out long emails and messages.

Around the edges of the phone you'll find volume keys, a 3.5mm headphone socket, a screen-lock switch, a resonable-sounding external speaker and a stylus. On the back is a 5-megapixel Carl Zeiss camera lens, with a software-activating sliding lens cover and a bright LED flash. Around the lens cover Nokia has chucked in an old favourite, a plastic kick-stand for sitting the phone on a flat surface and watching videos. Under the battery cover you'll find a microSD card slot, but it's likely you won't need it considering the N900 comes with 32GB of internal storage.

Maemo = multitasking

In truth Maemo means a lot more than just the ability to multitask, but it's this particular function that has left the strongest impression on us during our review. Without going into a complex description, Maemo is based on Linux and has been used by Nokia in the past to power its internet tablets, the N800 and N810, for example. Using Maemo is considerably different to using any other mobile OS, and it may take some users a few days to figure out how to best navigate the various menus.

In a way, this is a fault of Nokia's design. There is, for example, no "Home" key on the keyboard, but there is two ways to get to the desktop view by using the touchscreen, neither of which are properly sign-posted in the UI (either hit the "Task Switch" icon and then select the blurred out background, or press and hold the "Task Switch" icon for a few seconds). But once you get the hang of using the "Task Switch" icon you'll be zipping back and forth between active applications.

Aside from the learning curve, the one noticeable shortcoming of Maemo compared with the other smartphone systems is a distinct lack of apps to download. The N900 has software called "Application Manager" which guides you to a shortlist of some very good apps, but there are huge holes in this catalogue, noticeably social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter and some sort of streaming music service. There is ZouTube for (you guessed it) watching YouTube videos, and we found a cool app "gPodder" which we used for downloading our favourite podcasts.

Media and the web

Multitasking is great, but only if you have multiple tasks you want to perform. The N900 has exactly that. Whether it's watching videos, playing music, browsing the web or sending and receiving emails, the N900 covers all bases and the fact that you can do everything all at once is a major advantage. Web browsing in particular is fantastic, the pre-installed Mozilla browser is fast, easy to use and includes finger gestures to rival similar on the iPhone. And did we mention this Mozilla browser supports Flash? Well, it does, though watching a video in the browser can be a bit jittery.

The 5-megapixel is a minor let down, its Carl Zeiss optics don't seem to be able to compensate for less than perfect software and we have issues with both the auto-focus and the cold colour palette we've seen in the photos we've taken. With a little care the N900 is probably quite a capable camera, but we prefer our camera phones to shoot quickly and process accurately on the auto modes.

Performance

If its heavyweight specs haven't bowled you over already, the N900's stellar performance surely will. Whether you are swiping across its multiple desktop workspaces, using the task switcher or working within an app, the performance never lags. It's really quite amazing to watch an app download and a web page render simultaneously in the miniature thumbnail windows on the task switcher.

You'll be happy to know that the N900 also makes clear sounding voice calls, and includes threaded SMS (called Conversations) to help you keep track of the messages you send to friends. If you swipe your finger from left to right in the Conversations window you bring up a cursor which you can use to copy and paste text from a message to anywhere else in the phone.

Overall

For users who don't mind spending a little time getting to know a new system, the Nokia N900 is truly outstanding. We wouldn't dream of giving it to mum for Christmas, but it's definitely a phone we want to spend more time with ourselves. We've waited a long time to find a phone with the N900's capabilities matched with its stellar performance. The N900 is pushing smartphones to genius levels. If Nokia can convince software developers that Maemo is the next big thing this could be the system that both Apple and Google have to worry about.

Although it's not officially confirmed, the N900 should be officially released in Australia in 2010. If you can't wait till then, the N900 is available now through online vendor Mobicity.com.au.

In answer to your questions

In a first for CNET Australia we gave you the chance to ask us questions during the testing phase to make sure we covered everything in this review. Below we answer the questions we didn't cover in the review above.

Phone fanatic: Could you please advise as to the quality of sound from the music player — without using the headphones?

Compared to other mobile phones, the sound through the external speakers is good. It's quite loud, clearly audible, but still tinny sounding.

Jonny: Please answer whether the media features, specifically the music player, are good enough to replace my iPod Touch.

The media menus are cool-looking and easy to navigate, but one thing that did irk us was the lack of gapless playback. If you're a fan of mix electronic albums you'll probably be put off by brief pops of silence between tracks.

TonyL: Can you download/backup photos directly from your camera to the phone? With this capability the traveller with a smartphone could really leave the laptop behind.

Unfortunately not, but you're right, if they intend to make smartphones that are like tiny computers this sort of syncing feature really should be included.

i4u: Does the N900 have a DLNA server, renderer and composer functionality?

No DLNA here unfortunately. I have to agree, I love phones with DLNA. Hopefully we'll see plenty more next year.

doppelganger: Is it crashing like crazy? Did you buy the test unit from a store? How many apps are there? Can it send and receive MMS? Is it supported by the Ovi Store?

No, it didn't crash at all during the review process. We received the unit from an online store, so it's the same as you'd get if you bought it. The Maemo download site says there is currently 80 apps, and apparently the Ovi Store will hold Maemo apps soon. And no, it doesn't send and receive MMS, apparently it's something to do with Maemo.

joe355: How does Maemo/N900 stack up against the competition?

In our opinion it stacks up very well indeed. Out of the box it performs all of the same functions as well as or better, and once you start multitasking like you would on a PC you'll wonder how you ever did without it.

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Troopa
9
Rating
 

"One of the best smartphones- if you take your time to use it"

Troopa posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Customizablity, smooth experience, speed, memory, camera

The Bad:Not always usable for the average Joe or Jane

Let's go through my experience. I went through an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S, and an N8 till I got to this one- and I'm keeping it.

The phone is more like a personal computer than a phone.

Internet:
This is by far the best experience of any handset when it comes to internet. The built in web browser blows my expectations out of the water- I can chat within the web browser of facebook, as well as have full flash support (this needs the update of PR1.3 though- make sure to update)
it supports Pidgin messenger with notification lights- I can walk away from the phone and know I have an IM waiting based on the lights, AMSN is also available, allowing me to draw in msn. Video Skype is better than the iPhone 4, allowing you to skype directly from the handset- and you can also mirror it onto the TV using the inbox cable. You can fake coming from an iPhone so you can see the banking websites. Tether is possible.

Hardware: watching movies is great, the supplied headphones are amazing! It played every format I threw at it (except for MKV) speed of the handset while having very intensive tasks- is lacking. You can speed up the proccessor using a power kernel (don't ask) and that fixes it.

Apps: initially, I was disappointed. THEN I INSTALLED ANDROID ON IT. AND MEEGO. AND UBUNTU. You also have to enable something called a repository to get more apps than what nokia allows.

To sum it up. It can do everything, if not more, than an iPhone or an Android phone can do, with the best of Nokia. However. It takes a lot of time to learn how to use, and it is very heavy compared to the other phones. the hardware could be upgraded, but other than that, this is the perfect phone if you don't mind stickin' around to learn how to use it.

9 points for the camera (with blessn900, most of the mentioned app issues are gone) the speed, the internet experience, the customizablity, the internal storage, the notification light, the keyboard, and the software.
1 point lost for ease of use and battery life.

bfd
1
Rating
 

bfd posted a review   

The Good:nothin

The Bad:everyfin

it sux

rusty
1
Rating
 

rusty posted a review   

The Good:memory size

The Bad:where do i start

i tried to put up with this phone but after sending it back to nokia 2 times i will never buy another one it was laggy it rang ppl by itself charged when it wanted to battery life was horrible screen used to keep flipping between landscape and portrait in all its probably one of the worst phones ive ever had!!!

 

n900forlife posted a comment   

The Good:everything

The Bad:nothing

the best phone ull ever buy, sold my iphone 4 for this and it hasnt diappointed me once, NOKIA, ONE LOVE!

jkfkkd
10
Rating
 

jkfkkd posted a review   

The Good:qwerty keyboard, powerful hardware fast cpu sweet multitaking sound quality 32g

The Bad:bit big get use to the size mameo is alright i upgraded to android on it

this is a pretty good phone and is probably faster than more phones out there. The fast responsive qwerty board makes it easy to type. If you get bored of the opperating system, updsate to android like me

Will
5
Rating
 

Will posted a review   

The Good:nice desktop

The Bad:Slow, unresponsive touch screen, useless without a stylus

I wouldn't buy one

 

n900forlife posted a reply   

what better phone on the market have you seen? maemo is the best system to ever come out dude

I want a longer warranty
3
Rating
 

I want a longer warranty posted a review   

The Good:Camera, keyboard, touch screen, usabilty, multitasking, internal memory.

The Bad:Bugs, defects, lack of apps, ovi maps.

The specs are great and at first the phone seems amazing. I was quite impressed with the camera, for what it is it takes great photos, better than my 5mp olympus digital camera, I am quite happy with the camera (not so great in low light though). Unfortunately this does not redeem it for it's bugs and defects. After having the phone for just six months, it has returned to the repairers twice. My first n900 rebooted automatically, randomly and without warning about ten times a day, erasing all my unsaved data, very annoying. After putting up with this annoyance for three months I had it sent off. The customer service was much better than the phone and they replaced it with a refurbished n900, which worked well until the sharing feature wouldn't work and day light savings arrived, causing all my events to move backward an hour as well as the clock. This meant I spent hours changing the times on all my events (standard for all n900s). I had gotten over this and dealt with it until recently when I plugged it in to charge, the metal inside the slot dislodged, so I couldn't recharge the phone or back it up to a computer. Currently I find myself without a phone as I wait for my second replacement.
But wait, I'm not done, don't be misguided by their statement of 'Ovi Store with more than 1000 apps' for the n900 they only have 100 or so (this is gradually increasing however). Third party apps are handy, but often don't function correctly so you can find yourself uninstalling them just after you've downloaded them.
The phone is extremely bulky, I prefer this as it is harder to lose and makes it feel less fragile, but for some this is a negative.
Ovi maps is awful, it has been beneficial a times, but it is slow and has to download, so if you use it a lot you could find yourself out of pocket in download fees.
A friend of mine also bought the phone and within two weeks the paint had worn off the keys.
Nearly done... overall the n900 has the potential to be a great phone if they designed more apps, improved the maps, sorted out the bugs and fixed cosmetic issues. I still believe the n900 has potential and is better than anything apple has to offer, but I won't be recommending the product to any of my friends.

Jamez
8
Rating
 

Jamez posted a review   

The Good:Big screen, Internet browsing,

The Bad:Bulky, doesn't swim very well,

Took a few months to get used to but now it's pretty awesome. You can customize most of the phone, including installing a flashlight which i use all the time. Shame it couldn't be built into the phone though. Battery usually lasted 2 days, but i usually charged it daily so was no issue. GPS takes a while to load but still works fine. Occasionally laggy. The software is fairly behind, only recently are they getting it upto date. Applications are fairly limited aswell. Youtube Videos are pretty choppy sometimes.

Looking at getting a new phone now since this one went swimming. I'm gonna miss it.


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User Reviews / Comments  Nokia N900

  • Troopa

    Troopa

    Rating9

    "Let's go through my experience. I went through an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S, and an N8 till I got to this one- and I'm keeping it.

    The phone is more like a personal computer than a phon..."

  • bfd

    bfd

    Rating1

    "it sux"

  • rusty

    rusty

    Rating1

    "i tried to put up with this phone but after sending it back to nokia 2 times i will never buy another one it was laggy it rang ppl by itself charged when it wanted to battery life was horrible scre..."

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