Posted by: Lee | April 2, 2010

The N900…It’s not a Phone it’s a Computer

Ok let get this one out of the way first, the N900 is not a phone, it’s a small(ish) portable computer that happens to be able to make phone calls.


For the past 2 weeks I’ve been trialling the N900, in particular I’ve been running it side by side with my N97 and comparing the two. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the specs or do an unboxing etc as this has been done quite exhaustively already by other bloggers so instead the following is my thoughts on this little power house of a device and why it isn’t the “Flagship” device.

Initial Impressions

The first thing I noticed about the N900 (well 2nd) is the raw speed of the device. Under the hood it has a 600Mhz processor, 256MB of physical RAM and 768MB of virtual RAM (plus 32GB of storage, of which some is allocated to the Virtual RAM). All this power in such a small device means the N900 whizzes a long at a very nice pace.

The actual first thing I noticed about the device is the software and it’s the software that makes me see this device as a computer rather than a phone. Whilst most Nokia devices run an iteration of Symbian the N900 runs Maemo which is a Linux base that has been built upon to fit a mobile phone size device.

Now whilst Symbian is purposefully designed for the phone arena Linux isn’t, Linux is a computer Operating System. This is very apparent when using Maemo, this is not a bad thing though it’s just different and that’s the whole point. As referred to by Nokia, the N900 is an Internet Tablet, not a phone and as an internet device it’s superb, as phone…..well…’s not a phone.

Application wise it’s packed out with all the apps you’d expect in a Nokia phone but with a few twists thanks to Maemo. The built in web browser is amazing, it’s fully featured (Flash support etc) and coupled with the N900’s large screen the user experience is extremely pleasurable and probably the best out there in this form factor. The messaging client integrates threaded (at last) text messaging and instant messaging into one single app. The email app supports the usual array of services including Exchange, however there is currently no home screen widget from which you can preview your inbox. The music player is very quick and there is also Nokia Maps. As it’s Linux there is a download repository too for getting more apps, both complete and test versions and there are plenty available thanks to Linux being such an open platform. In fact it appears that Nokia actively encourage the tweaking and even hacking of the N900…..another point I’ll go into later

The default menu orientation of the N900 is landscape (i.e. as in the picture above) which means to use it you need two hands. All the buttons are laid out with this orientation in mind. The power button is located on what would be the right hand side if you held it vertically like a normal phone. The lock button is at the bottom (again assuming you held it vertically). Personally I hate the default landscape orientation, it drives me crazy, I like to be able to pick my phone up with one hand, reply to a text or email quickly and put it back down. You can’t do that with a phone in landscape mode as it’s too wide to fit your hand round. This is not helped by the fact that the N900 is also a little chunky

It should be noted that the device does swap to portrait orientation when in phone mode. It can also rotate in the web browser but if you are using the web it’s more logical to have it in landscape anyway. There is a hack available to make the N900 run in portrait mode but this does lend itself to various graphical issues as Maemo for the most part is not designed to run this way.

I’ve been using the N900 side by side with my N97 throughout the duration of my trial and despite the fact that the N900 is faster, has more RAM, a bigger screen and multi tasks better I find myself turning to my N97 more…I’m sure a lot of you are screaming why at the moment. Put simply, it’s because I actually want a “phone” not a “computer”. Now I’m quite a technical person, I work in IT for a living so use my fair share of gadgets. To me the Symbian based N97 is a slimmer, portrait orientated “phone” that suits me better than the N900 in my day to day activities. It’s also blessed with a greater support and an array of apps such as Gravity and Spotify for which there is currently no N900 version or suitable replacement.

Why is it not the “Flagship”?

So why not the flagship I hear you ask? Well that’s quite easy to answer and is highlighted by my earlier point. Nokia actively encourage the tweaking and hacking of the N900. You see the N900 is actually an experiment, it’s not meant to be a mainstream phone, it’s a way of getting Maemo tested out in the real world.

Nokia flagships are always featured rammed devices, like the N900, but they are always something that can be easily used by the masses (and have more of wow factor to their design). I don’t think the N900 is at this stage yet and I don’t think Nokia intended it to be…..the recent announcement of MeeGo I believe supports this. The N900 also lacks the application/support eco system of Symbian which to a new or novice users is one of the main advantages of the Symbian platform. Basically I think it’s a bit too techie for the general masses

Now this is not to say the N900 is a bad device, far from it, it’s a superb little beast of a machine, the openness of the Maemo platform lends itself to all sorts of possibilities. Recent reports have shown people using their N900 to fly remote control helicopters. you couldn’t do that with an N97. The speed, resources and stability of this device also really does put the N97 to shame. My biggest issue simply comes down to the fact it’s a computer first rather than a phone  (plus the lack of equivalent applications). The way you interact with the Maemo interface compared to Symbian does not suit me as well. To others this won’t be an issue and they may even see it as the perfect gadget due to the fact that it can be customised so so much.

In conclusion I like the N900, it’s impressive, very very impressive just approach it with the following caveat: If you are looking for a portable computer that fits in your pocket which is a phone second go for the N900. If you want a device which is at its core a phone first and computer second go for Symbian (N97 Mini or X6 etc).




  1. […] at becomes the latest to wade in on the ‘Is the N900 a flagship device?’ […]

  2. Dude u have a Nokia N900? I’m so jealous right now lol I hope its better than the N97 that i am having issues with.


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