Tag Archives: maemo

Nokia N900 Buyer Review

I’ve had to think long and hard about this review. The N900 is unquestionably flawed, but it’s a leading edge device, and prescient in so many ways. It shows promise of things to come, and that promise is exciting. So does one knock it as a failed attempt at reclaiming the smart phone crown, or praise its foresight and anxiously await N900+1? Considering Nokia’s stance on the device it would perhaps be unfair to call it an attempt to retake the smart phone crown, as they never positioned it as such. But it does not deserve unreserved praise either.

To get my own personal bias out of the way – I want to love the N900. It’s a Linux-based smart phone built on open source software that doesn’t try to hide its roots. I’m a Linux geek and open source enthusiast. I dislike walled gardens such as the iPhone App Store and the artificial restrictions placed on the iPhone, so a 3GS was never an option. Android is a bit too tied to Google’s services (a company which already knows much more about me than I would like to admit), and while Nokia are certainly trying to push their Ovi suite of services, they would be foolish to make it difficult for you to use competing services. My credibility as a reviewer drops somewhat given my lack of experience in using Android, and quality time with an iPhone. I’ve had a play on devices owned by friends, but that’s not enough to get to know the ins and outs of a device.

So it’s with a bit of trepidation that I review the N900. My only real frame of reference is the aging Symbian S60 – an OS that has served us well, but is now past its use-by date and hardly the ideal operating system to compare it to.
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N900 w/ Maemo 5 – this will be my next phone

At the risk of turning into Engadget, I just have to say that I want one of these. And I mean really really want. But calling it a phone is a bit like calling a desktop PC a word processor.

Aside from being a true mobile computer which leaves the iphone for dead, it is powered by a completely uncrippled, unrestricted Linux distribution – Maemo 5 (which was released just 4 days ago, announcement here, more at gsmarena.com). This means there is no need to “jailbreak” your phone to run the applications you want – you are encouraged to do with the hardware whatever you like. There is no one whose permission you have to ask to write or install software on Maemo, you can just do it. Unlike Android, Maemo runs native code which should theoretically allow higher performance.

Currently my phone is a Nokia N78, a nice and simple Symbian S60 device. I call it a phone too, as while it can do other things, it’s primarily a cell phone and the interface is geared that way. Symbian has served us well, but was conceived in a time where phones and PDAs had a pretty narrow range of use cases, and it shows. Now days the traditional cell phone has evolved into a general purpose computing device, and this requires a much more powerful operating system.

In my opinion the N900 is a huge step towards the future of computing. Maemo devices won’t be replacing desktop PCs any time soon, but this is a huge step towards it happening, and many people have no need for anything beyond the capabilities of this device. The release is set for October, and assuming the price is in line with previous Nokia tablets I’ll probably get one fairly quickly. The N800 was already a solid if somewhat “nichey” product, and its main limitation was the lack of 3G / cell wireless. So given these ingredients, how could Nokia stuff this up?

Skype was supported on the N800, but its last update was December 2007. It could be the killer app for these devices, which will finally relegate network operators to the dumb pipes they should be. But if we see it blocked again as it was for Symbian, or crippled to only work over wifi as on the iphone, there’s always Google talk.

Personally I think Linux usage overtaking Windows on personal computing devices is inevitable, and this is how it’s going to happen (although the capabilities of the N900 will have to move down to a much lower price point first). We’ll see if I’m right in 5-10 years time.