Revisiting the Nokia N900, Two Months Later

4 May

I originally reviewed the N900 back in early January. A lot has changed since then, both in my honest opinions of the device and what’s out there. So how has the N900 fared? Let’s find out!

Thoughts on Hardware

I was initially impressed with the N900′s build quality. I still am. I’d put the hardware as one of the N900′s biggest strengths, along with multi-tasking and customization. More on that later.

The keyboard, which I noted was “pretty much average”, is slightly better now. My typing speed on the keyboard has improved, although I still find myself making mistakes from time to time. And while the keyboard isn’t as tactile as I’d like it to be, it’s one of Nokia’s better QWERTYs. The ability to change your key layout in Maemo (aka hacking the config files) is also a bonus.

Thoughts on Software

If I could best sum up Maemo 5, the user interface, and the N900′s feature set in one word, that word would be unfinished. And the first reason I say this is because of a number of basic features that still haven’t made it to production. For example:

  • Portrait mode
  • MMS
  • Front camera support
  • Custom ringtones for contacts

Portrait mode is a great example that illustrates these shenanigans. Portrait mode is obviously doable, since the Phone application includes the option to run in portrait view, effectively rotating the screen and everything. But that’s only limited to the Phone app. PR1.1 also brought a new “easter egg” that activated a hidden portrait mode – but that was only for the browser.

To be honest, portrait mode really wouldn’t interest me too much IF there wasn’t an annoying bug associated with it. Occasionally, the phone will get confused and stay in portrait mode after switching from the Phone application to something else. And while this might sound cool – hey, portrait mode at last! – it’s broken (ie, the screen gets cut off). And when it happens, you also can’t activate the main menu. Real weird stuff.

I’ve managed to reset it most of the time (reboot fixes the problem 100% of the time, but that’s annoying), but I haven’t come up with a real tried-and-true method other than trying to continually switch to and from the Phone application.

Is it really that difficult to implement a full portrait mode option?


That bug, along with several other gravity-defying bugs, are another reason why I consider the N900 unfinished. There’s a weird one I’ve been trying to figure out lately For some reason, when I receive a call and select Answer, the phone goes blank and locks itself. I realize that it’s probably assuming that the phone is next to my ear, but most of the time I’m actually trying to turn on the loudspeaker. I don’t know if it’s a proximity sensor issue (due to my screen protector, maybe – but this has never happened to me on any other Nokia with similar screen protectors) or a software issue, but other people on the talk.maemo forums seem to be having the same problem.


There is one bright spot on the horizon, however, and that is customization. The N900 is absolutely one of the most hackable phones out there. I’m always pleasantly surprised by some of the stuff that people have managed to figure out – things like modifying the keyboard keys so that they suit your tastes, changing the pattern and colors of the LED notification light, switching system fonts, hto hook up PS3/Wii controllers to the N900 – the list just goes on and on.

These mods aren’t done lightly though – messing with your system files can potentially brick your N900 – but in most cases you can always reflash and start back at square one.

Thoughts on Apps and the App Store

I wish I could write about how the Ovi Store is taking off and hitting 1 billion app download miletones. Unfortunately, it’s not. Let’s see what’s currently available at the N900 App Store:

Number of Free Games: 11
Number of Paid Games: 0
Number of Free Apps: 43
Number of Paid Apps: 0
Number of Themes: 9
Number of Ringtones/Videos: 34

That is truly pathetic. While I can’t speak for the applications, most of the games are crappy demos (except for Angry Birds).


On the other hand, the number of free apps on the repositories grows every day, thanks to the efforts of some dedicated developers. There’s a nice range of software available, even though I find that only a small percentage is really practical or useful for me. But overall it’s still an excellent alternative to the Ovi Store.

I’m still surprised by the lack of a decent Office app that allows you to edit .doc and .xls files. I would think this would be a priority for a “pocket computer”. Guess I’ll have to settle for Google Docs.


What’s the difference between the iPhone, the Google Nexus and its Android clones, and the N900? Polish. And the N900 still feels like a diamond in the rough.

I hestitate to recommend the N900 to regular users. It’s just missing some of the things that users take for granted these days – a couple of basic features, a loaded App store, and there’s still a number of bugs that would probably turn off newbies.

But for those who are willing to brave the waters and dive into phone customization (or patiently wait until some of the kinks get ironed out eventually), the N900 is potentially one of the most rewarding devices out there.

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