Nokia N900 review
We review the Nokia N900, the first device to run on the new Maemo 5 OS and has been designed to compete head on with the market-leading iPhone
Verdict: Nokia's latest handheld computer is a pocket wonder, but still struggles a little with usability.
Price: Free with contract or £440 SIM-free
Pros: Large 3.5mm touch screen, slide-out QWERTY keyboard, WiFi, A-GPS, 5-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss lens, 3.5mm headphone jack
Cons: QWERTY keyboard on the small side, social networking functions could be better integrated
Design: Minimalist gloss black
Operating System: Maemo 5
More Info: Nokia website
Faced with the powerful dominance of the iPhone among smartphones, Nokia has responded by throwing everything, quite possibly including the kitchen sink, into its latest handset. The Nokia N900 has a large touch screen, slide-out QWERTY keyboard, WiFi, GPS, a 5-megapixel camera and with Maemo 5, a brand new operating system that's designed to grow and grow.
It ain't no slimline device, at 111 x 60 x 20mm and 181g, but then Nokia has managed to pack a lot in, including a Carl Zeiss Tessar lens for the 5MP camera. Style-wise it's minimalist chic, with the front appearing uniform gloss black with no visible buttons, just the name and model number, until you hold it up to the light, when the screen becomes visible.
On the right-hand side there's a volume rocker, power button, camera shutter button and infrared port, while top and bottom features a stereo speaker each, micro USB power/sync slot, 3.5mm headphone jack, standby switch and a slot for the sturdy plastic stylus. On the back is the 5 megapixel camera lens with dual LED flash and sliding lens cover, surrounded by a fold-down kickstand for video watching.
The large 3.5in resistive touch screen offers WVGA (800x480 pixels) and looks terrific. It's sensitive too, easily distinguishing between our brushes and strokes and responding quickly to anything we threw at it. It's not multitouch, and though most of the icons and menus are perfectly thumb-friendly, we did occasionally find ourselves falling back on the stylus for assistance with some of the deeper, list-based menus. Not a disaster, but we know how some people really can't abide stylii.
The slide-out keyboard is a cut-down version of the kind we've seen on the E75. The buttons are on the titchy side, and there are only three lines of them, though there are a few extra keys squeezed on to the sides (38 keys in all, only one less than the much larger, four-line E75). In practice though, it's not as bad as it looks, with the raised, rubberised plastic buttons responding well under the thumbs.
The Nokia N900 is the first device to run on the new Maemo 5 OS, a Linux-based system which, as an open-source platform, in theory anyone can modify and develop apps for. It won't frighten experienced Symbian users either, since the icon layout looks very similar to what we've seen on recent Nokia smart phones, albeit with a new 3D-style sheen.
There are four separate home screens which you can populate with widjets, shortcuts, contacts and bookmarks, so that you'll hardly feel any need to visit the menu after your first day or two, which incidentally can be accessed by pressing the power button. There are a few dozen free apps available for Maemo so far from Nokia's Ovi Store, though this is certainly likely to increase over the next few months.
The ARM Cortex-A8 processor and OpenGL ES 2.0 graphics acceleration ensure that this is a fast device to use, whether you're skipping around the menus or browsing the web. You exit functions by pressing an 'X' in the corner of the screen and another icon on the opposite side allows you to see which of your apps are open at any one time as little windows within the screen. Each of these remains in use too, so you can watch your Youtube video playing out while you're checking your other apps.
Messaging and social networking
Email isn’t as easy to set up as we've been getting used to with recent smart phones. You'll need to establish your server settings and security protocols rather than simply inputting your address and password.
The Facebook widget allows you to view your latest messages in real time on your home screen, which is marvellous, and while there's no equivalent app for Twitter at present, though it surely can't be far behind. There's plenty of support for instant messaging too, with Google Talk, Skype and Jabber all on board.
The browser is fast and efficient, and you can twirl your finger on the screen to zoom in or out (or double tap), or use the volume rocker if you're more old school. Pages render well and there's support for Flash video too.
The 5 megapixel camera starts up surprisingly quickly – ready to go in two seconds after sliding back the lens cover. Picture quality is really very good too for just 5 megapixels, with nice sharp edges and little noise so long as you use good light. You can geotag pics as well, though for the moment you're stuck with Nokia's Ovi Maps for you’re a-GPS needs, and it's still a poor cousin to Google Maps.
Movies look superb on the large 3.5in screen which is sharp and detailed. It can handle H.264, MPEG-4, Xvid, WMV, H.263 and comes with a TV out lead for connecting the Nokia N900 to your telly to show off your pics or vids.
The music player looks good too, showing cover art and track info, though there's no graphic equaliser and no option to connect to the web to find related tracks. The supplied earphones come with noise-isolating gromits and sound okay, with impressively punchy bass, though the mid and upper reaches have a tendency to sound a bit shut-in.
It will play MP3, .WMA, .AAC and WAV files and there's a hefty 32GB internal memory on board which can be boosted by up to 16GB with a microSD card.
Battery life was a bit of a disappointment, barely delivering a day of admittedly fairly heavy use. There are energy-saving options available though, such as reducing the screen brightness and adjusting screen saver time.
The Nokia N900 is an interesting if slightly confusing piece of kit. The Finns have obviously worked hard to simplify the OS but it's still not as intuitive as it could be. We really missed having a back or home button to help us get our head around the menus, especially since the 'X' didn't appear on all pages, and the applet menu offering time, signal etc disappeared from some apps.
It's not quite the iPhone killer it wants to be just yet, but by leaving the door wide open for development, one day soon, it could be.