The Nokia N900 is a hefty device, but with all that power under the bonnet, we’re willing to overlook this. We’re not totally sold on the lack of hard keys though.
The speed of the processor definitely enhances the usability of the N900, but when it comes to actually making a call, this is easier said than done.
The internet features are top-notch, and Nokia should be applauded for including a five-megapixel camera.
The N900 performs superbly, and is the most powerful handset we’ve ever come across. It’s ability to run multiple apps and webpages continuously is very impressive.
Battery life was not the best, particularly when running continuous apps as this does drain the power quite quickly.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,12/12/2011 3:56:54 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
An exceptional multitasker, the N900 houses enough power to maintain the running of multiple apps to deliver a true PC-like experience
This is no Slim Jim and will leave a considerable bulge in your pocket
Nokia has been one of the main protagonists in the smartphone saga, with its N95 being one of the first all seeing, all doing mobile phones. Since then, we’ve been inundated with new characters from BlackBerry, Apple, Samsung and HTC all jostling for top billing. Perhaps tired of sharing centre stage, Nokia is aiming to take things up a gear, with its ‘smarter than a smartphone’, the N900.Nokia may well be waiting for the masses to lay a name on this and all future devices of this ilk, but until then, we’ll affectionately call it a ‘mini computer’, because the N900 is far more than a phone with some nifty features. So its form factor may bear a resemblance to the Nokia N97 (though we much prefer the piano black finish of the N900), but underneath the hood of this somewhat chunky device lies an operating system of PC-like proportions.
However, first things first, back to the bodywork. The N900 is a slider device that needs to be held horizontally to reveal the full QWERTY keyboard. The sliding mechanism is fluid and gives off a satisfying snap, though the screen of our review sample did feel a tad wobbly and Nokia has shied away from tilting the screen à la N97. The screen itself is a 3.5-inch TFT resistive touch-screen that can boast 16 million different shades of colour. The more beady eyed of you will have noticed from the press pics that there are no keys on the front-facing fascia. Even when switched on, no virtual keys magically appear below the screen to represent the call, call end and home keys. The only hard keys can be found at the top of the device when holding the phone horizontally. Here you’ll find the volume/zoom keys, the power button and a dedicated camera key. Follow the device round in a clockwise motion and you’ll also find a lock switch that is used to unlock the display when it goes into standby mode.Now if you’ve read our other reviews in this issue, you’ll be aware that our touch-screen of choice has always been the finger-swiping capacitive rather than the pressure induced resistive. While that remains the case, we are not too proud to admit that the Nokia N900 sports the most tactile resistive touch-screen we’ve encountered. With four home screens, a simple slide of the finger from one side to the other will change the view – though we do literally mean from one side to the other, as half a slide will mean the screen will simply bounce back to its original position. Each time you press the screen you’ll feel a vibration in response to your command.However, it’s not completely exempt from criticism. Pressing the various icons occasionally needed a second attempt, and the additional method of zooming in and out of webpages left a little to be desired. Scroll your finger in a clockwise position without taking your finger off the display and you’ll zoom in, while the reverse will zoom out. When it worked, it worked well, but too often the screen would recognise our movement as wanting to move the actual webpage. We found the use of the stylus, found inserted in the corner of the device, helped immensely.
We mentioned how the Nokia N900 is far more than a phone, but in truth, this function actually feels like an afterthought. Not that the call quality is bad, it’s just that there’s no immediate way of accessing the phone’s dialling capabilities. Due to the lack of hard call keys it’s not as straightforward as it is on other handsets, though you can customise one of your home screens with a call icon or access it through the main menu. In fact, using the N900 is one of only two modes when the device can be used in portrait, the other being when viewing your pictures.
The N900 is the first mobile device to run on Maemo 5, an open source operating system with close ties to the PC OS, Linux, and this is the reason for the device’s aforementioned PC-like prowess. Now there’s much to sing about Maemo 5, some of which we understand, and some of which is beyond our own technological understanding – the Nokia N900 is geared very much towards the ‘geek and proud’ demographic. We’re going to break it down into its two main plus points.Firstly, the Nokia N900 is a demon at multitasking. You can have application after application continuously running in the background and not notice one iota of difference to the speed and running of the machine. That’s right, we said ‘machine’. This is in part due to a healthy chunk of 1GB of RAM solely dedicated to this purpose. By pressing the tab in the left hand corner you will minimise the application you are currently using and then be able to open up a new one, or scroll between them simply by swiping from side to side. We particularly loved this feature as it also allows you to save specific webpages. Run your favourite websites in the background and you’ll affectively have live feeds, while the fact you can view flash content means you’ll be able to watch video embedded on selected sites. It is worth noting that your battery life will be drained considerably if you continuously run applications.The second benefit of Maemo 5 is that, like the Google Android platform, it is completely open. This means that both established and up and coming developers can create applications for the platform. Nokia hopes that a Maemo community will soon develop, with customers signalling what they want and then those needs being catered for. According to the Maemo website, there are already 19,000 members working on more than 800 projects. As with RIM’s BlackBerry App World and Microsoft’s Windows Marketplace it will take a while for it to find its feet, but there’s a good range of apps already available. One thing’s for sure, you’re certainly not limited to the number of apps you download – the N900 offers a mega 32GB of on-board memory. Not enough for you? OK then you greedy people, you can top it up with a 16GB microSD memory card (though this isn’t included) for a whopping 48GB of memory, more than any other mobile device to date.
With all that memory, the N900 can also be used as a library for any videos and music you wish to load. In fact, its video playback credentials were one of our favourite aspects of the device. The N900 supports all manner of video formats including WMV, RealVideo, MP4, AVI, XviD and DivX, while a somewhat flimsy kickstand sits underneath the camera lens that enables you to watch your films at a more convenient angle. However, if you’re at home and would rather watch the latest blockbuster on a bigger screen then you’ll also be able to hook it up to your television via the boxed in TV out cable. We were thoroughly impressed with the visual quality when we hooked our device up to a 40-inch screen, as there was no sign of distortion or pixelation. This feature also means you can use the N900 to conduct presentations or slideshows in front of a bigger audience, while gamers will also be able to enhance their experience.With so much firepower under the bonnet, it’s refreshing to also find a five-megapixel camera. Both the iPhone and HTC Hero have been criticised for overlooking this function so props to Nokia for not following suit. There’s a sliding lens protector that needs to be opened to operate the snapper, while Nokia has included Carl Zeiss optics and a decent dual LED flash. We did find that our snaps were somewhat drained of colour, but we’ll forgive this slight discrepancy in light of the fact you can crop, tag, geo-tag and upload your pictures direct to Ovi and Flickr.
The Nokia N900 possibly the most powerful handset we have ever come across. It’s got so much going on that we could write another three pages on what it can do. We haven’t even had a chance to tell you about the super accurate A-GPS via Ovi Maps – the N900 pinpointed our exact location to the door number even when housed inside our office – or how you can make Skype VoIP calls to other Skype uses over a Wi-Fi connection for free. We loved the multi-tasking abilities and the Maemo operating system (version 6 is already mooted for early next year) is a definite step in the right direction for Nokia, which has seen Symbian somewhat stagnate.That said, we can’t help but feel the Nokia N900 lacks mass appeal. While you are able to make and receive calls, the N900’s real forte lies with its internet abilities but there’s no escaping that it is a rather chunky device. A definite hit with early adopters but less tech-savvy peeps may find the whole thing a little daunting.
Reviewed by Danny Brogan