How-To: Do Just About Anything on the Nokia N900

29 May

The definitive how-to/FAQ for the Nokia N900.

Getting over the Nokia N900′s learning curve can be a long, arduous process. I’m here to make things a little easier. Essentially, this how-to/FAQ is a collection of all the things that I’ve learned so far, so expect it to get bigger in the future. And if you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to add them in the comments.

First Things First

Get the Nokia N900 Manual

Nokia has the N900 manual available in PDF form here.

Do Stuff in Maemo 5

Make a Call

You need to launch the Phone application. This can be done in two ways:

1. Press the Power button, then select Phone from the drop-down menu.
2. Tap the Phone icon at the Menu (tap the shortcut key twice to get the standard Application Menu)

You can also add a Phone app shortcut to any of your desktops.

Switch to Silent or Airplane Mode

Hit the Power button and then select either Silent, or Offline Mode (airplane mode). You can also tap the clock on the desktop, and then select Profile to switch to silent.

Change My Ringtone or Other Tone Settings

Fire up Settings (available in the main Menu), and select Profiles. It’s the top-right-most option.

Lock the Screen

There are three ways to lock the screen:

1. Use the hardware lock/unlock switch located on the bottom of the phone
2. Press the Power button and select the Lock screen and keys option
3. Press the Power button twice.

I prefer the third method because the lock switch is in a pretty awkward spot.

Switch To Another Application

The N900 is all about the multitasking. Simply tap the Application menu icon (top left corner, it’s the icon with two boxes stacked on top of each other) or hit Ctrl-Backspace on the keyboard. This will show you a list of current running applications. Tap the Application menu area again to access the main menu.

Change a Contact’s Information

Believe it or not, you can’t do this from the Phone application. You need to run the “Contacts” application instead, found in the main Menu. The Contacts app also allows you to merge phone and chat contacts.

Find My N900′s IMEI and MAC Address

Launch the Settings application, and scroll all the way to the bottom to About Product. You can also see your phone’s current firmware version.

Check the Total Memory Available

Launch the Settings application, and scroll down to Memory. Tapping the Details button will give you a breakdown of the sizes of different file types.

Change the Desktop Theme or Background

At any desktop view, tap and hold for 2 seconds or tap anywhere on the screen and then tap the gear icon that pops up. Then tap the “Desktop Menu” title bar to bring up the “Change background” and “Themes” menu options.

Turn On/Off Bluetooth

At any desktop view, tap the clock/status area. From here you can turn on/off Bluetooth, quickly navigate to the Clock application, and disable/enable the current internet connection.

Activate the Landscape/Portrait Sensor For Phone Calls

Launch the Phone application (Power Button -> Phone or select Phone from the Menu). Tap the “Phone” title bar and select Turning control. This option allows you to automatically launch the Phone app whenever the N900 is held in Portrait mode.

Turn off Automatic Word Completion and Auto Capitalization

Open up Settings, and select Text input. Word completion is the third option in the menu. You can also turn off auto-capitalization here too.

Switch Keyboard Input Languages

Assuming you set up dual languages in Settings -> Text input, you can hit Ctrl + Spacebar on the keyboard to quickly switch input languages.

Change the Shortcuts in the Main Menu

You can’t change the shortcuts at this time. Most likely a bug.

Restore Factory Settings

Open up Settings, and tap the title bar. The “restore original settings” will appear.

Do Software-Related Stuff

Install New Software

Open up the Application Manager. This app will let you uninstall, download, and update your software. To start installing new software, tap the second option,Download. You’ll see a list of different categories – tap on one or All to browse the applications in that category. From here, tapping on an application will bring up the install window, which allows you to install the app or get more detailed information about it, such as what packages get installed.

Add New Repositories

Open up the Application Manager, and click the title tab:

Hit the Application Catalogs button. This will bring up a list of current repositories that you’re linked to. To add a new one, just tap the New button in the bottom right corner.

By default, the Extras repository isn’t enabled – just select it and toggle the enable switch to get it working.

You may want to add some of the following repositories:

Catalog name: Extras-dev
Web address:
Distribution: fremantle
Components: free non-free

Extras-dev is where you’ll find all the alpha stuff. Warning: this is where you could find software that could potentially brick your phone, since the apps here aren’t really tested. That’s the standard disclaimer, anyway. In practice, I’ve found that extras-dev has most of the “cool” stuff. But you’ve been warned.

Catalog name: Extras-testing
Web address:
Distribution: fremantle
Components: free non-free

Extras-testing is the next level up from extras-dev. Apps here aren’t fully tested, but they’re getting pretty close to full distribution.

Catalog name: Maemo emulators
Web address:
Components: main

Found this one randomly (not sure where). Basically, it’s a repo for Maemo emulators like iNes.

Install Debian .deb Files

There’s two ways to install a Debian file on the N900: either activate Red Pill mode (a la Matrix), which adds a permanent option to your application manager, or use the X Terminal.

Method 1: Red Pill Mode – only works in stock N900 firmware

Load up the Application Manager, and tap the title bar (where it displays “Application Manager” and a down arrow). Select Application catalogs, then tapNew in the resulting Catalogs box that pops up. This should bring up the “New Catalog” template – all you need to do here is change the Web address from http:// to matrix. Seriously. Now, instead of saving, tap outside of the box to quit – your N900 should ping and pop up a new box: “Which pill?” You want the Red pill.

Once you’ve successfully selected the Red pill option, if you tap the Application Manager’s title bar you should see a new option “Install from file”. Just navigate to your .deb file and you should be golden.

Note: I am not responsible for any damage that may occur as a result of installing any rogue Debian files.

Method 2: X Terminal

Fire up the X Terminal client. Type sudo gainroot, and navigate to the directory where your .deb is located. The command to install a package is:

dpkg -i name_of_package.deb

And that’s it!

Force an Application to Close

While you’re in the application, hit the Power button, and select End Current Task. This will work most of the time. If not, continue:

Open up X Terminal. To force an application to close, you use the kill command. However, you’ll need to know the application’s process id (PID). If you know the exact name of the process, you can use the following command to get the pid:

pidof process_name

If you only know a part of the name, or can guess a part of it, you can try this command:

ps aux | grep part_of_process_name

(note: the | character is the pipe symbol, you can find it by accessing the Sym. menu on the keyboard – press the blue arrow then Sym)

Using the ps command will give you a bunch of numbers and other random stuff. The PID is the leftmost number.

Once you’ve got the pid, executing the kill is as easy as:

kill pid

Take a Screenshot*

There’s no way to do this from within Maemo – you’ll need to install a separate program called load-applet. Once installed, tap the clock at any desktop view and select the camera icon. You’ll then have 20 seconds to get your screenshot ready – fully press the Camera key to take the screenshot.

Get Help With X Terminal Commands

You can add “–help” (that’s two dashes, no quotes) after any command to get a list of options. Basically the substitute for the “man” pages.

For example: dpkg –help

Optimize Stuff

Find CPU-Hogging Applications and Processes

The top command in X Terminal allows you to view all running processes, along with how much CPU and memory each process uses. Great for checking to see what’s wasting your battery.

To use, simply open up X Terminal, and type “top” at the shell.

Maximize Your Battery Life

The N900′s battery life is fairly decent to start with, but you can get more out of each charge with a couple of simple tips:

1. Lower the phone display brightness and change the backlight time-out to 10 seconds. Also, disable touch-screen vibration and enable Power saving mode. Located in Settings -> Display.
2. Turn off the notification light. Settings -> Notification light.
3. Turn off all key and touch-screen sound effects. Settings -> Profiles.
4. Turn off Bluetooth. Settings -> Bluetooth.
5. Force wi-fi/WLAN to only connect manually. Settings -> Internet connections.
6. Change your wi-fi/WLAN transmission power to 10 mW. Settings -> Internet connections -> Connections -> (select access point) -> Edit -> Next -> Next -> Advanced -> Other -> Wi-Fi Transmission Power.
6. Close any running applications that aren’t necessary.
7. If the E-mail application is set to automatically update, increase the Update interval. E-mail application -> Settings.
8. If the RSS feed reader is set to automatically update, increase the Update interval. RSS application -> Settings.
9. Turn off the GPS and disable network positioning. Settings -> Location.

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