N900 – 3 months on

My last post on this blog was a review of the Nokia N900, and that was a whole quarter ago. The last 3 months have been hectic to say the least but I now have a lot more free time!

So how has the N900 turned out?

In short, OK.

My conclusion still stands – the N900 is not a suitable phone for most people, and it probably isn’t the best phone for me either. For developers of applications for Nokia’s QT platform it’s the reference device and thus an essential piece of kit. But the general public are better served by the existing Symbian range.

So what’s good and what’s bad?

The Good

  • The full Linux experience. An example – a friend of mine uses mac address filtering on his wifi. On a closed phone I would need to download an app to get the mac address (a chicken/egg dilemma), so he could allow my device access. On the N900: ‘sudo gainroot’ followed by ‘ifconfig -a’. SSH access is handy too.
  • Quake 3. OK so it’s not something I use often, but running what was considered cutting edge graphics 10 years ago (requiring high end 3d hardware) on a device that fits in my pocket is plain cool.
  • Skype. This is still the best phone for Skype bar none.
  • Contacts – I’ve yet to see a mobile OS do this better than Maemo (although by many accounts Palm’s WebOS is a possible contender). Being able to aggregate contacts from multiple sources (Google Talk, MSN messenger, Skype) and treat them as one is really powerful, and the Hermes app which updates the info from your social networks is just icing on the cake.
  • The openness of this phone will ensure that the device will be useful long after it stops being a cutting edge communication or my primary mobile device. Future MeeGo versions will probably be backported by the community (ala MER), and failing that I’m sure one of the generic Moblin/MeeGo distributions will do the trick.

The Bad

  • Absentee PR1.2. This update was meant to be released a month ago with many improvements, but it still hasn’t been released (due to a late problem in the QA cycle according to a unknown source on the maemo forums). And a little boy waits!
  • Music stuttering. Apparently they improved this in PR1.1, but high cpu usage still causes media playback to suffer.
  • Video calling is still missing, although this is apparently coming in PR1.2 (rumor has it that Skype will work with it too).
  • The touch screen hardware is accurate and works really well, but the software sometimes doesn’t register touches properly. Two examples are the media player desktop widget, and the close button of some notifications on the dashboard.
  • Problems syncing calendar and contacts with Google – apparently it works if there are less than 5 changes… The fault is probably Google’s ActiveSync implementation which is known to be quite poor.
  • It’s a brick – almost as thick as an N95, but much wider and heavier.

The Ugly

  • Being a tester for Nokia
  • Obsoleting Maemo for MeeGo just a month after I bought it

So my recommendation would be to avoid this phone unless you’re a QT developer or open source enthusiast. I don’t actually regret the purchase due to the long term utility, and it was still significantly cheaper than the best alternative (Nexus One). MeeGo is going to be a Johnny-come-lately in a crowded mobile OS market, but being the most open I hope it gains traction.

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