Nokia N900 £499
4th Dec 2009 | 14:05
Bulky and blocky – yet could this be one of the phones of the year?
Nokia N900: Overview, design and feel
The latest addition to the Nokia family is the first device running Maemo 5, a new OS that takes the best of Nokia's internet tablet range and stuffs it into a phone-sized chassis.
Featuring a huge 3.5-inch screen and full slide-out QWERTY keyboard, it's also packing a seriously strong engine under the hood to power things along. Will the N900 shed the ageing image of Symbian and bring Nokia to the next level to match the likes of the iPhone?
The first thing you notice about the N900 is its size. It's certainly hefty at 110.9 x 59.8 x 18mm, and the weight of 181g means it's not going to win any slimming contests either.
But it's worth pointing out that Nokia hasn't once said that the N900 is a phone, a successor to the N97 or anything along those lines - it sees it as super-charged internet tablet with phone capabilities, rather than the other way around.
That's not to say it doesn't have its phone-related charms, but you need to know what you're getting into with the N900 - it's a hackers delight and it's got a huge screen for the internet, but compared to the likes of the HTC Hero it's a lot, lot bigger.
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But with great size comes great stability, and the N900 feels nice in the hand. Slide open the QWERTY keyboard and while it does feel like the key area should be larger, it's a pleasing motion with a very sturdy feel to it. The large screen dominates the device, and for good reason - the keyboard is an ancillary addition, rather than key to the whole experience.
The outside of the phone feels very stark - as mentioned, the domination of the screen is such that it doesn't leave any space for physical buttons - we're not used to a Nokia phone that doesn't have a call, terminate and menu button to keep us happy.
The outside of the phone houses the buttons (and we feel that a few of these may be in the wrong place). The top of the phone (when held in the landscape format, which you'll be doing 99 per cent of the time) has, from left to right, the up/down volume key, the centrally placed square power button and the camera shutter too.
And - we know you're going to love this - there's an infrared port on the N900 as well. Infrared! We haven't seen that in years, and we're not even sure if it was ever really needed on any phone, but couple that with the old charger adaptor in the box and the N900 has a very old-school feel to it.
But dig a little deeper and you'll see why. We've pointed out before how this is an 'enthusiasts' device, according to Nokia, and while the manual says that this port doesn't control any pre-installed applications, it can be used by third-party developers. This means the N900 has the capability to do things like become a universal remote, which is pretty cool indeed.
Scoot round to the right-hand side and you'll find the lock key, which is a little square slider button. This is where we have the biggest issue - finding this button with your finger requires you to shuffle the phone in the hand a little bit.
Below that there's the headphone socket, which is raised slightly to allow flush connections with the jack. Given the amount of phones these days that have a curved socket, leaving the headphone connection exposed, this is a welcome change.
However this did bring up one problem in that when holding the phone with the headphones plugged in, it was very uncomfortable, with the plug right in the way of where you would naturally want to hold it.
On both the right- and left-hand side sit the stereo speakers, which offer some pretty decent sound for such a device. Also on the left-hand side is the microUSB slot, which has no cover and will likely get easily filled with bits (we have no idea what bits are, but we know they live in your pocket).
Below the headphone jack is where the stylus sits, easily pulled out using a fingernail. We don't like its presence on the N900, and don't really see a need for it, but if you've got a resistive screen you might as well use it on the odd occasion you can't hit some icon or other.
On the back of the phone is the camera and stand. We'd prefer to see said stand (like that seen on the N86 and N96) more central, as the weight of the N900 always makes the phone seem unstable. However, the sliding lens cover for the camera is sturdy enough, and the camera itself well packaged and nicely flush to the chassis.
But in the hand, it somehow feels right. If you're a smartphone connoisseur (and we assume you probably are given that you're looking at the chunky-yet-powerful N900) then you're probably adept at using a touchscreen - and we're so used to such as well that we often forgot to slide open the keyboard.
But when you do it simply feels right in the hand, both in one- and two-handed operation, although the pressure to use it in landscape mode for nearly everything is annoying as there are times when you want to scroll through a list or something with just a single digit, and it's not easy to do so.
While the depth might not be best suited to iPhone- or Hero-like singl- hand operation, it's no problem to use the phone in day-to-day life, even if it leaves a more than unsightly bulge in the trousers. But if you want to put a positive spin on things, think of it as safety - at least you'll know you haven't lost the phone.
In the box
The Nokia boxes are fast becoming fun-filled arenas of gadget extras, and the N900 is no exception. There's the now rudimentary microUSB connection lead, a similar charger (no environmental saving here for Nokia) and the so-so bundled in-ear headphones.
We say so-so as they don't match up to 'proper' in-ear buds, but compared to most others available in the box with a phone they're much, much better, with a range of tips for different ear shapes as well.
In keeping with the new Nokia high-end phone tradition, there's also a TV-out cable, allowing you to pump whatever you've got on the phone onto a bigger screen to share with your friends. And last but not least, a convertor for not only the newer single-pin Nokia charger, but also the older one from donkey's years ago. Whoever would have a Nokia from five years ago and then decide to move to an N900 is beyond us, but it's always useful to cover your bases.
Maemo 5 on the N900 is a whole new ball game when it comes to mobile operating systems - at least that's how it will feel for most people when they get their hands on the N900. However, what many will fail to realise is that the likes of the N810 internet tablet range from Nokia have been around for aeons (in technology terms) and have been the plaything of scores of developers in the past.
It appears Nokia has combined this with the usability of Symbian to create a hybrid system that works well for both the power and casual user, if you're prepared to spend a few minutes getting to grips with it.
And here's the very good news - it just works. We're talking Android levels of integration and usability, rather than just a simple Symbian touchscreen phone. The reason for this is twofold - the new operating system is built on a simple system of single menus and wide, icon-filled home screens, which means no more drilling down through countless menus simply to set an alarm.
The second advantage is under the chassis - the ARM Cortex A8 600MHz processor might not sound like it has the jazzy specs of the Qualcomm Snapdragon, but believe us it rarely fails to deliver when you're trying to move between applications and work the N900 heavily.
Power VR graphics are also included too, meaning a very eyeball friendly screen set as well. We mentioned how wide the N900's screen is earlier, but there is a downside - it's a resistive, rather than the more responsive capacitive, screen. This usually means slightly longer to register inputs and inaccurate touching.
However, this is one of the better resistive options we've seen on a phone, and if we didn't know from the start that this was such a screen on the N900 then there's a chance we wouldn't have worked it out. And while the screen's tech might not be the most advanced, it does have a glorious widescreen VGA resolution to cushion the blow - 800 x 480 pixels mean content looks amazing on the N900.
The main focus of the N900 is the simple to use screen. We're talking a wide home screen (three home pages and a separate extra screen for further customisation) with a wide variety of places to put your favoured icons. There's a choice between widgets and simple icons, with the former offering larger icons for applications like the calendar and RSS reader so you can interact with the phone's core functionality without having to open up the program.
While on Android you've got the helpful physical menu key, on the N900 we're not so lucky, with a drop-down menu at the top to guide you through the different applications' settings and extra functionality.
This is not always available in every application either, with often only minimal menu options offered when clicking it, whereas we'd like to be able to alter the setting and options for more applications within the N900.
Another weird navigation point is when you want to exit a pop up box. The N900 works by bringing the relevant window into focus and then blurring out the rest of the screen. This is cool, but the only way to move back is to strike that blurry section. It makes sense, but just feels a little amateur when we're merrily tapping on any part of the display.
But the thing we like the most is the multi-tasking screen. Not only is it nearly always accessible through the double-rectangle symbol in the top right-hand corner, but it also allows you to see thumbnail panes of each of your open applications. Shutting them down is as simple as hitting the cross on the window in its top right-hand corner, and the whole system works very, very smoothly.
In fact, we had to open nearly nine windows before the phone began to slow down, which was an excellent result. Should you want to go further, tap the same button in the top left of the N900's screen again and you're taken to the full menu screen, when you can begin your navigation quest again.
Nokia N900: Calling and contacts
Calling on the N900 is almost a secondary consideration, which makes sense when you realise this is a phone second and an internet media tablet first. This means that when you want to make a call it's not as simple as just pressing the green button and bringing up the dial pad, you have to go to the menu screen (which can take a few clicks) and open the 'Phone' icon instead.
From here you're asked whether you want to open a contact, or use the dialling pad to make your call. We're once again big fans of Maemo in this instance, as not only can you make the call 'normally' (ie through the mobile networks) but also via your IM clients to which you're signed in.
While you can't do really cool things like speak through VOIP with Skype to any mobile number (thus saving you money), you are able to make calls to your IM contacts (through Google Talk and Skype and the like) direct from this dial pad. This is simply accessed by pressing the top button, which says 'call type' and choosing from the available options. It's neat and we really like it.
UPDATE: We're told you can call through Skype over a 3G or Wi-Fi connection on the N900 - and that makes sense given the menu offering it to you when looking up a contact.
However, whenever we tried it, the message 'unable to establish a connection' came up time and again - whether this is T-Mobile not letting it through, we don't know, but it appeared to be the same over WLAN as well.
On top of that, the dialler is one of the few times you get to use the N900 in portrait mode. You can do the same thing in landscape, but it's much easier to type numbers and make calls with just one thumb (and the rest of the hand holding the phone, obviously).
And there's a doubly cool function in there too – you can set it so whenever you tilt the phone into portrait mode, it opens the dialler. That's the kind of trickery we'd like to see more of from Nokia.
While the dial pad doesn't support smart dialling (ie pressing the numbers and the phone offering your names in the phone book based on the predictive text words associated with those keys) you can simply type the person's name into the phone using the QWERTY keyboard, and the list of names will be instantly offered for you to call to.
Call quality is pretty good on the N900, even if it does feel like you're holding a huge brick to your head at times. Very rarely did we experience dropped calls, which is a novelty for us these days as most phones appear to have been built with a radio antenna made of rubber bands instead of things that actually pick up a signal.
We tested the N900 on T-Mobile, and we found that call quality and coverage was excellent. What was most pleasing was not only does the N900 'sniff' for new signals rapidly (ie it will re-connect to the signal as fast as possible) it will also default to 2G very quickly when 3G isn't available, and return when it is. The likes of the Sony Ericsson Satio did not manage this feat as well, so it's good to see it working well here.
Contacts are fairly basic on the N900, we'd say, and that's no criticism. There's no need to be all fancy about listing a load of people in your phone, and we especially like how Nokia has followed others in allowing you to type a name into the phone from the home screen and be taken straight to the contact.
When in the contacts menu however, there's no way to scroll through names by letter or something unless you want to break out the physical keyboard (when sometimes you just want to use the N900 in touch only mode). However, should you turn the phone on its side, the whole issue is somewhat resolved, but it's still annoying having to make extra gestures.
When looking at a contact, there are a number of fields you can add in, with the pertinent information displayed at the top (ie phone number, email and so on). This is flanked by a large contact picture that appears when the phone rings too. We imagine that in the future Facebook applications will be developed that allow integration of the social networking site to the contacts list, and the picture will automatically update, as it already does with Skype.
You can perform any action you desire from the contacts page, simply by clicking on the field to do what you wish, be it email, message or call. Should you have Skype installed, you can also choose to call that way too.
Nokia N900: Messaging
Messaging on any phone with a QWERTY keypad is always a lot nicer than other touch-only phones, and the N900 is no different in that respect. The keys on the QWERTY are nicely sprung with a decent amount of travel, allowing speedy typing throughout. The space bar is still on the right-hand side rather than central, meaning the layout is similar to that of the N97.
However, while a lot of people have moaned about this, we don't have a problem with it, and assume Nokia MUST have done some sort of research that suggests it's a good place to put it.
The main areas of messaging are divided into email, SMS and instant messaging, so we'll deal with each in turn:
The N900 is great in the fact it can take a variety of email accounts and also has support for Mail for Exchange right out of the box. Sadly, while the N900 does pretend to offer communication history, the phone can't mimic Windows Mobile in the way that emails appear as threaded conversations on the phone - with this feature reserved exclusively for SMS and IM chats.
However, email is centralised to one application, which is nice, meaning you can choose to access your webmail and Exchange accounts separately but they are also within easy reach of one another.
Push email from Exchange is available, and you can set the periods of the day you want the N900 to look out for new messages, as well as change the settings to only check for email every so often.
Webmail is a little more basic, but the N900 does download extra folders to the handset as well, so you don't have to sift through a huge pool of correspondence to find one message.
Email + push/Exchange + QWERTY keyboard for quick fire replies = a winning combination.
The thing with SMS/texting is that there's really no place to go with it these days, so it's just about getting it right - threaded conversations, easy movement from normal SMS to MMS and offering an easy to use view of all your messages. Well, the N900 only manages two out of these three, with little regard for MMS.
You can start a new SMS from the Conversations window, but beyond adding a smiley emoticon there's not a lot more that you can do - should you want to send a picture you'll have to do it directly from the application on the phone.
But we like being able to fire off a text or two with ease, and at least these communications are put into your history with a contact.
The range of IM clients on the N900 is excellent (and will only get bigger) and the integration of them is very nice. Be it Skype, AOL or Google Talk it's very easy to simply see who's online and click to start a conversation with them.
Despite being able to link contacts details for a person all into one account on the phone (be it phone number, Skype ID and email address), you can't simply switch between methods of communication mid-conversation, which was a feature we much admired in the Palm Pre and hoped would pop up on Maemo 5.
But the threaded conversations and history are a nice touch, and you can even set the phone to notify by LED light when you get a new chat request, which is nice when the phone is left unattended for a while as you'd easily forget to check this part.
Nokia N900: Internet
While we've been fairly positive about the N900 so far, the internet browser on it is even better. Built with tools from Mozilla, it's a great experience and in our opinion matches the iPhone for speed, ease of use and beats it in terms of functionality.
The main winner for us is the implementation of Flash video - something the iPhone can't/won't do (for some Jobsish reason). 'That's nothing new!' we hear you cry, and you'd be right - the HTC Hero had Flash playback too. But here's the kicker - on the N900 it actually works! We know!
Basically this means if you navigate to the BBC site and wants to see a related video, it will start up when you want it to! Should you want to head on over to YouTube and watch something from the full range on offer - you can!
One problem we did have was with BBC iPlayer - while we could navigate around the site with ease, the videos were a little choppy on playback, which was a real shame as native iPlayer will be a killer application for a mobile phone one day.
But general web usage was pretty darn good in our opinion, with the rendering speed the main positive point. Zoom options came in the shape of double tapping to smart fit the text on the screen to the display and also a weird twirling-your-finger action on the screen to zoom in.
Presumably Nokia looked at the pinch and zoom options used on the HTC Hero and the iPhone and decided to go in a different direction, just to be different.
While it does work, it's a very strange option – especially as the first two rotations of your digit make the display fly around like a rag doll.
But that aside, the resistive screen (although not as responsive as capacitive) is very good, allowing you to pan and zoom through the web pages as fast as you'd like - content rich sites were especially impressive, as they loaded as fast as the iPhone and HTC Hero, if not faster.
However, one gripe we do have is the zooming is a little laborious and unpredictable at times, meaning that we often had to move the page around once zoomed in to find the section we're looking for. And it's not like we can try and click on the hyperlinks from fully zoomed out, as they're just too hard to hit.
This is especially annoying when viewing flash video, as not only is it hard to hit the 'full screen' option on something like YouTube, it also makes it very difficult to play and pause the video, as you need to have razor sharp fingernails (and no, we're not using the stylus out of principle) to pause and play.
But you can also use the volume key to zoom in and out, and despite the way the phone trend is moving towards touch control, being able to do things using physical buttons is a nice feeling.
Another gripe with the internet comes in the shape of the history list (although we should point out this is displayed in a really cool manner, with the panes all lined up to be swiped through - again, not original, but it works well enough). Well, it works OK - there were a few occasions when it took a few seconds to load up, which was a little too long.
But other treasures on the phone include automatic RSS feed sniffing, with a simple tap of the cross bringing up all the options to with that web page, be it RSS or adding a bookmark to the phone, or widget to the desktop.
Multi window playing is supported in this Mozilla-powered browser and also word scanning on a page just like on a PC - enter whatever you want into the box and the phone will scan the site for you.
Another cool thing is the integration of Google into the web address bar (Firefox leanings once again becoming apparent), where the N900 can recognise when you're not typing in a URL and will automatically send you to Google instead (although it's the mobile version, it still has all the relevant features and works just as well, but with bigger hyperlinks.
We're also a fan of the bookmarks on this phone too, with each being listed in an easy-to-scroll format, and a little tile showing a snapshot too.
It's not clear how text is highlighted on the web browser, meaning we found it impossible to execute copy and paste - however, holding on a web link does bring up a dialogue box where you can copy the address, so at least that's something.
One problem we did encounter (and this was systemic throughout the N900 we're sad to say) is that we often found that moving too quickly between Flash-heavy sites forced the web browser to give up, asking you to close as it wasn't responding. This is likely early bugs in Maemo 5, but we're not sure that it will be fixed before launch.
We know this sounds a lot like the iPhone and Android browsers, and that's mostly because it is. But anyone that's used the Symbian and Mobile Internet Explorer browsers will know how tricky it can be to get this element right, so that's why we're a fan. It's not the best on the market, but it's certainly best of the rest.
Nokia N900: Camera
The camera on the N900 is pretty much standard fare for a mobile phone these days - 5MP lens with dual flash LED, and a nice little slidey lens cover to keep everything safe.
However, despite the range of picture taking options, there's not a whole amount of pleasure to be found from snaps taken using the N900.
The main thing we quickly realised is that this isn't a phone that's designed for the mobile photographer (mo-pho), as while there are modes such as macro, landscape and action, these are pretty much useless in our opinion.
For instance, the macro mode captured the detail well enough, but when a reflection came in, that whole area on the snap became pixellated and looked thoroughly rubbish.
Similarly, the dual LED flash in low light - nice to have, but it's certainly no Xenon. And, in fact, the main selling point of the camera appears to be being able to take the resolution down from 5MP to just over 3MP, in order to take a widescreen 16:9 picture. Thanks, but that's not as important to us.
Picture taking was speedy, with less than five seconds taken between each snap - that is unless you add in a spot of geotagging, when it will be about double that. Our tip - don't do that.
You can change the exposure and white balance on the phone, but we've only ever really seen this feature as a gimmick that we'd anticipate 95 per cent of users will never, ever touch. That said, for the five per cent that do, it works well enough and it's always nice to have other options in these situations.
Video capture and playback is a bit disappointing as well, as although QVGA capture is promised (which takes it to near DVD quality) the N900's framerate lets it down, with choppy movies not really what you're looking for in a phone like this.
And for that reason, we'd suggest you don't pump said shootings out through the TV cable - they don't look good on the big screen and that's going to make people think this good phone isn't much to shout about at all.
It is nice to have a few photo-editing options, such as being able to rotate and crop snaps straight after taking them. There's also the opportunity to tag photos as well, where you can assign a label (or more) to the snap and then when it comes to viewing it in the photo gallery (which is basic, but rockets through photos when swiping along) you can then filter by tag, which is pretty nice.
Overall, it's a camera that is a little less impressive than other Nokias, and certainly one that's bettered by most of Samsung's range, such as the Samsung Jet.
Nokia N900: Media
As you might guess for a phone with 32GB of onboard memory (with up to 32GB more through microSD) the N900 is clearly designed for media, and it's pretty good too.
The media player is a simple affair, with the options to listen to music, watch videos, use internet radio or quickly shuffle all your songs the main icons thrust at you when started up.
Music is probably the main reason you'll pull out the media player on the phone, with the tracks listed nicely and viewed by album cover when you start up. There's no cover flow option here, but seeing as every phone other than the iPhone that tries this struggles terribly, we're not sure that's really a bad thing after all.
Music quality is pretty good too, with tracks starting promptly and having a little sparkle to them as well. We're fans of the music interface, as it has dual modes - there's the slider to let you navigate through the song, with basic track info, and if you tap the album artwork it takes you back to the track list of the album you're listening to.
Beyond that, it's pretty basic - there's play and stop and fast forward and all those gubbins, as well as another volume slider (on top of the physical key on the phone) and despite the fact they could be a bit bigger, it works well.
As you can imagine on the N900, video looks superb on the WVGA screen, and is also simple to navigate, supporting WMV, RealVideo, MP4, AVI, Xvid and DivX codecs, although it can't seem to recognise the M4V file format for some reason.
Video does take a little bit of time to load up on occasion, and there were instances where the phone juddered a bit when beginning a movie.
But whether listening through the headphones or speakers, the sound was more than adequate (although not stellar) and there's also the option to share the video through Bluetooth, email and via built-in services like Flickr (although we couldn't find YouTube support anywhere, which was thoroughly odd. Ovi by Nokia is there, but we're only interested in the big names for a phone like this).
Internet radio was a real damp squib in our eyes, as not only did the 46 listed stations not work over 3G barely at all (we accidentally started one up once and that was it) it's nigh on impossible for the average user to add a radio station to the list unless their favourite site has express instructions on how to do it and the specific URL, and we couldn't once manage to find that.
It's a real shame, as an easy-to-use FM transmitter is included as standard, and we like the thought of pumping internet radio out in the car (as long as we have a good data plan and an understanding provider).
But the main saving grace is DLNA. Savour those letters - D. L. N. A. Before, they stood for a real diabolical time trying to get your sodding phone to connect to your sodding computer, with the likes of the Samsung i8910HD refusing to accept there's any such thing in the room even though it's RIGHT THERE, WHY CAN'T YOU SEE IT?
Nothing like that with the N900 though - simply turn on your PC (which needs to be part of your home network - Windows 7 does this automatically for you) and then lo and behold, an option to connect to that PC appears at the bottom. In the words of a popular mammal: simples.
However, there's one really annoying issue – pop in a memory card and the Nokia N900 will simply refuse to read the files on there until a restart, and even then it can sometimes still ignore them. This is really frustrating if you're trying to quickly pop a new album onto the phone, as you don't want to have to keep messing around with switching on and off and changing things around just to do so.
Nokia N900: Applications
Now, here comes a tricky situation for any reviewer. The N900, being based on Maemo, is a relatively nascent platform, and, as such, doesn't have the Ovi applications store behind it yet. This means you're forced to head to the likes of Maemo.org to dip up the treasures yourself, rather than having them handily categorised and suggested and geolocated, and so on and so on.
The problem is this - we can easily gaze into our crystal balls and see that Nokia will have a thriving community of apps within the year for the N900 - so if you're reading this then when it's turned up with your provider or you're thinking about it on contract, then it will be fine.
But now, it's just annoying that all those users of the substandard N97 get a full (well, sort of) applications store, and the N900 hasn't, so it's with a heavy heart we have to mark it down for such.
However, the inbuilt applications are pretty swish by themselves, so it's not all bad news.
The main one we love is the RSS reader. Not only can you populate it right from the browser, but you can refresh it as often and as automatically as you like, and a little home screen widget will show you the top stories without even having to open it up. It is a bit annoying that you have to have all the feeds blended into one list, but we like it anyway.
The games section is pretty good too, and harks back to the days when Nokia actually added content to its phones before you bought it, rather than making you pay lots of dollarpounds to pick up Snake 3 or something.
Chess is much as you'd expect, Blocks is such a rip off of Tetris that you think the Russian Mafia will be visiting Finland (although we do think the D-Pad control is pretty good) and Marbles is your basic strategy game that will either frustrate you enough to give up or keep you amused for hours on end.
Other little snippets of fun include Sketch, which is essentially paint using your finger (although doesn't support finger painting, unless you want to get your N900 VERY messy) and doesn't really work that well. We often wonder at the point of including such things, as it does have a tendency to show off the frailty of a resistive screen.
There are the aforementioned applications available to download online too, and these are handled by the natty little applications manager, which basically starts up whenever you want to add a program.
And of course, we have to say hello to Ovi Maps, once again included as Nokia tries to make us feel comfortable with the term Ovi (and stop us feeling like it's another word for a womb).
We're not sure about the effectiveness of the GPS on the N900 - sometimes it locks on harder than a bored bear trap, other times it relies far too heavily on the mobile signal to triangulate your position and stay there.
However, it does come preloaded with city maps, and you can plan routes from the phone itself, following your progress merrily on the pin sharp screen.
But there's something eminently unusable about this application that we can't put our finger on - in the case of the N900 it doesn't help that it lags a bit, but it's more than that - either we're Google brainwashed (mmmm... different coloured logos) or Ovi Maps needs to get a bit slicker before it can rival the overlord Master G's Maps effort.
Nokia N900: Battery life and organiser
Battery life on the Nokia N900 is only so-so, we're sad to say. And the main culprit for that surely has to be the push email and constant Wi-Fi and 3G connection sniffing the phone performs so well.
We found that when the phone was charged up at noon on one day, it was dead by early morning the next. This is without excessive usage; that rate goes up when constantly browsing, listening to music, watching videos and generally poking the phone a lot.
We'd imagine you could get through day to day charging the phone at night, but the 1350mAh battery bundled with the N900 could do with a bit of work in our opinion. It's the same battery used in the much less powerful Nokia X6, so that should tell you all you need to know really.
Despite the presence of push email, we're not sure that the N900 really is a business phone. Take into account things like the office software being only offered on trial (you have to PAY for the full version, what an outrage) and the basic calendar, and you can see what we mean.
We're not saying it's rubbish or anything, but the calendar could do with a bit of work. However, it not only syncs well with Outlook but it collates the birthdays of those friends you become a bit too obsessed with by adding in the date of their birth on your contacts list too. There's no Google Sync for Maemo as yet, but that will hopefully change in the near future.
There's also a PDF reader, which does what it needs to do with aplomb - that's all we've really got to say about that, other than well done Nokia for popping that in there.
Notes are also offered, but there's no handwriting recognition here - we're talking plain old boring typing to help you remind yourself about something or other.
And there's a clock with an alarm - but it's a phone for crying out loud - of course it has that.
If you've just bought the N900, we suggest you head online to check out the apps available to make your life richer - just don't get your hopes up that this phone will rival the iPhone and its relationship with the App Store.
One problem we did have is with File Manager - while it quickly zipped through the sublists in the phone, it sometimes couldn't find the on-board memory card, which was annoying when we were trying to shake the N900 into registering that there's a music file we want to be added to the library and listen to.
Nokia N900: Connectivity options and PC software
Connectivity on the Nokia N900 is beyond par - we can't think of anything else that should have been included. First of all, as we've mentioned countless times before, the N900 is great at sniffing out networks, meaning if you need data connectivity when out and about, you're likely to get it.
Data connection is OK as well, although it does drop out a little too often - however it rarely failed when we needed it most, so that makes it a positive point in our book.
The fact the Wi-Fi kicks in whenever you enter your home network is a real boon, as you suddenly find that internet browsing has increased in speed quite considerably when using it.
GPS is a similar beast, although we're not sure how accurate it is, as we mentioned earlier in the copy, because the phone seemed to rely on aGPS a little too much for our tastes - however geotagging is an odd one as we couldn't find a way to add it to photos beyond tagging it with the city you're in at the time - doesn't feel very intuitive to us.
We're fans of the Bluetooth on the N900, as headphones connected up nicely to the device, as well as being able to transfer files wirelessly to your PC in a fairly speedy fashion.
Connection to the PC is performed by a microUSB cable, much as is becoming standard on all mobile phones these days. It allows you to use the phone in mass storage mode and on the PC suite, but nothing else.
Nokia has also taken the odd decision to use Nokia PC Suite 7.1 with the N900; meaning limited options when it comes to things you can actually do with the phone.
This means although you can reformat video files for the phone and back it up to the PC, (although in both cases it's not necessary, with all manner of video supported and backup possible to memory card) it's a little redundant when these days all you want to do is pull content on and off a phone.
Ovi Suite is a lot more advanced and offers some more compelling software too, so we'd rather have seen that bundled instead. However, being able to use the phone as a modem is a boon we didn't expect to get with the N900, so it's not all bad on the PC connectivity front.
Nokia N900: Hands-on gallery
Nokia N900: Official gallery
Nokia N900: Verdict
Let's just lay this out on the table - Nokia designed the N900 for the mobile phone/developer enthusiast rather than for every man and his dog. It's not a phone that everyone will feel comfortable using, with a very heavy and wide profile making it a little pocket unfriendly.
Nokia clearly sees this as an ultra mobile computer and, as such, we shouldn't try and fight against it, just say 'well done' for what it is.
It's not positioned at someone looking to ditch their iPhone - it's for those that might want a powerful device to develop new applications on, or who simply want the latest gadgetry - and to that end, Nokia must be commended for such an action when the world is desperate to finally call this the Nokia iPhone slayer.
But, if we're being honest, it does actually do some things that at least match, if not better, the iPhone - not least the fact it has a physical keyboard and the ability to play Flash content. We very much liked this phone, especially the internet browser developed in part by Mozilla. Pages rendered at blistering speed, the navigation was seamless and you feel you can lean on the N900 in a way not many other phones could withstand.
We also liked the chassis in a guilty pleasure way - yes it's big and thick, but at least you know it's in your pock... hey, where did it go?
We liked the simple-to-use menus, we liked the way you simply needed to touch a blurry bit of the screen to exit a menu, and we especially love the multi-tasking that appeared to know no limits.
However, every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction - the phone is not without its flaws. The size is a real issue and will be a deal breaker for some people.
For all the grunt under the hood, there were times when the Nokia N900 slowed down to an annoying degree, especially when trying to use the history function on the web browser. At one point the phone actually crashed for a minute - we don't know what was happening there but it was very annoying.
The battery life needs to be picked up drastically, and we'd like to see some support for MMS in the future, as well as an FM radio in there for good measure.
This is a great phone/mobile computer if you're into this kind of thing. If you wanted a Nokia Internet Tablet but were put off because of their size and the fact you need a mobile as well, this is the answer you've been looking for. Well designed, easy to use and intuitive, it's everything Symbian should have managed by now, yet it still hasn't managed to do so.
It's a shame Nokia has said there won't be another Maemo device until 2010, so we'll have to wait and see what the next one will look like - will it have shed the pounds?
We would have liked to have given the N900 a higher score today, but sadly there were too many niggling faults that irked us somewhat. The fact Nokia has two touchscreen platforms worries us slightly, seeing as it didn't manage to crack it with Symbian despite being a very mature platform now.
Considering the N900 costs the same as the N97 when launched, there's no contest between the two - the N900 wins hands down, and actually works in the way you'd want it to.
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