Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thoughts on the Nokia N900

This is the first blog post I've written about a specific mobile device. It's also the first post I've written on a mobile device. "There's an app for that" it's called a WEB BROWSER:

This device's browser combined with the 800-pixel wide screen (800x600 screens were common on desktop PCs until quite recently and so most web sites are still designed to fit that size) make for by far the best mobile web experience yet. Even Javascript and Flash-laden sites like Facebook, Google Finance and Youtube "just work". So 90% of the apps you'd use on an iPhone are unnecessary. Just as well as there are very few Maemo apps at present. If you want you can even install real Firefox, but I've been happy with the built-in browser (also based on the Mozilla code). The N900 is sold unlocked in the USA and is a GSM-only device. We only have 2.5G GSM here so I'd love to have a CDMA version that worked on Verizon's network but sadly that device does not exist.

The top 10 things about the N900

  1. Works well with NuevaSync (after we spent a few weeks spent studying its sync client and writing special code to accomodate its wily ways).

  2. The command prompt (bash shell of course), which Nokia quaintly calls the "X-Term". (I don't think I've heard that since the 1980s...). Old friends like ps, df, awk, grep, top are all there and after installing an extra package you can gain root access in seconds.

  3. Deep integration with Skype and Jabber. There's no Skype app: you just call a contact with skype.

  4. WiFi works when the device is sleeping so you can be available on Jabber and Skype and receive push email without cell data service.

  5. A VNC client (great for that quick sysadmin task on the run).

  6. Very open platform. You want to write an app? No problem. A quick script? Sure. How about a Kernel module? Yep, that's just fine. No need to ask permission from a black turtleneck-wearing person.

  7. Best slide keyboard. Big improvement vs. the Droid.

  8. Excellent movie-watching device. Using legally downloaded DRM-free video files, of course.

  9. I can listen to KQED while driving in my car here using the built-in FM transmitter. Hopefully nobody from my cell carrier is reading this.

  10. Tetherless experience. Firmware updates are over-the-air. Backup to memory card. scp your media files.

The not so good

  1. It's impossible to use the keyboard when the headphones are plugged in.

  2. The device gives the impression that it's sometimes engaged on much more important activities than responding to user input (calculating Pi to a million decimal places??).

  3. The user interface is...well the best word I could come up with is "zany".

  4. The touch screen is horrid. You'll need the build-in stylus for many tasks.

  5. There's a front-facing camera: great for videoconferencing. But the Skype client doesn't support it.

  6. The map application can take a minute to start, which I find limits its value considerably.

  7. The calendar app doesn't sync multiple calendars like the iPhone does.

  8. Composing HTML email is cool, but otherwise the mail app is quite limited and quirky.

  9. VPN client support is limited at present, but you can create ssh tunnels.

So although the N900 is not perfection in your pocket, it's the closest I've seen and rates a solid A-