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Nokia N900

The Nokia N900 is the first Nokia tablet that’s also a phone. It’s also the first (and probably only) Maemo5 device. Maemo5 is a debian based mobile OS with a Gtk+ based custom desktop called Hildon.
If I were to be droped in the wilderness with just one phone, the N900 would be it. Actually, it would be an Iridium but you get my meaning.

note: a limited number of first run N900 have what I gather is an arcane hardware problem which results in frequent reboots, specially when sleeping/resuming. My first unit had this issue, swaped it for another one from the same batch and the second one is ok. A number of other owners are reporting similar experiencies. Maemo talk thread

The N900 isn’t a brilliant phone as phones go but makes up for it by incorporating skype, google talk and generic sip into the phone app. Same goes for sms which is actually [telepathy] and can handle anything from msn to irc. Odly there’s no mms support out of the box but if your carrier allows access to the mmsc from the internet apn you can just fire off mms as email if you really need to communicate with 2004. That being said the phone app does the voice done and once you realize you can just type contact names on the home screen to find them in the address book everything just flows pretty easily.

The builtin browser is Fennec, Firefox mobile as oposed to some variant of webkit in iphone, android and s60. Firefox plus the 800x480 resolultion gives the most desktop like browsing experience you can get on a mobile. It even comes which Flash9 which means not only annoying ads but also full featured youtube as opposed to the digest version you get on a iphone. There’s also some extensions being ported like adblock (life saver on 3g), evernote and geolocation which s actually usefull on a mobile. Fennec can render the desktop version of google wave if that gives you an idea about the engine.

The UI is interesting and snappy enough if you don’t overdo the multitasking. One interesting feature is the expose-like window view which takes advantage of the 3d hardware and tiles the actuall windows instead of app icons. That’s particularly usefull while waiting for a page to load or something to happen on some app to do something. The model alert interface helps here too cause its a yellow line across the screen, can’t miss it even with a lot of windows open.
The top bar borrows a lot from s60 but the notification system could do with a bit of androidization. While messages flying across the screen are snazy they’re not the best solution. Something more like growl would be much better.

The 32Gb of storage (plus microSD card!) begs you to dump tons of media into the N900 and the media player does a pretty good job. It plays most avis out of the box and if you enable the extras repo you get even more codecs. The TVout is good enough to use as a standard def media player. The only disapointment is the lack of support for the xpressmusic heaphones but there’s no reason for the hardware being different and I’m sure support will come along.

But the fun part is it’s Gtk+ so if you’re a Gnome developer you’re right at home. People are also starting to port desktop stuff to hildon and it’s showing up on the extras repos. The plumbing is what you expect from linux: init, dbus and X11 (no, seriously, X11) so porting stuff over is a matter of redoing gtk_ UI elements as hildon_ elements.

Nokia clearly missed the mark with placing the N900. It’s being marketed as a high end or flagship and people are complaining about stuff like the lack of mms cause people just assume the features will be there. However the N900 is mostly a palmtop computer, a really small netboot if you will. Being a phone is the “oh, just one more thing” of the N900.

Useful stuff

More repositories:

  • SDK Tools: deb http://repository.maemo.org fremantle/tools free non-free
  • Extras Development: deb http://repository.maemo.org/extras-devel fremantle free non-free
  • Extras Q&A: deb http://repository.maemo.org/extras-testing fremantle free non-free

Extras follow the debian lifecycle, start in devel, move to testing and then graduate to extras. Beware of enabling testing and specially devel cause you may update to buggy versions of installed apps. Extras have a number of usefull stuff like more protocols for IM (telepathy plugins), ssh/vnc and media codecs so you might want to enable it even if you’re a casual user.

Documents, Sounds and Videos live under ~/MyDocs as .documents, .sounds and .videos.

Google Latitude browse to http://www.google.com/maps/m?view=data&mode=latitude&source=mog&gl=uk which is the webview the iPhone uses. If you have the geolocation browser plugin (extras-testing) it will even automatic updates.

/mobile | edited on 2009/12/20 -- permalink, click to comment
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