Looking ahead to the UK launch of the N900 in late October, I wanted to collect my thoughts on the N900 whilst taking into account my previous ruminations on the N810 release, and making comparisons where appropriate (although unfortunately this article was lost with my absent-mindedness).
In the time between the N810′s launch, two years ago, and the N900′s announcement the mobile market has changed. This falls largely into two strands: infrastructure and consumer demand. One could easily argue that the concept of an ‘internet tablet’ has always been an oddity, and a very limited market. However what has been made clear by the ascendance of iPhones and Blackberries is that people are demanding internet everywhere. We have also seen further convergence amongst these devices, smartphones are becoming more ubiquitous and so the capabilities of a fully fledged computer are entering our pockets, backed up now, quite often, by an _always on_ style internet connection. The customer’s aversion to long and expensive contract terms has been negated at least in part, they’re according to the sales figures of Blackberries and iPhones among other high-end devices, becoming the norm. So a device in the £500 SIM Free bracket is not an odd price to pay on a two-year or eighteen-month contract plan.
It seems like the natural course then, for Nokia, a phone company, to incorporate cellular capabilities into their internet tablet line. Much has been spoken of by Nokia representatives that the N900 is the enjoining of a computer and a phone, in that order, and not a phone and a computer – putting great emphasis on the ‘full internet experience’ (Flash 9/10, multi-tasking etc) supposedly provided by this device.
Indeed, some have commented that Nokia has been a bit late in adding this function to this line of products and indeed reacting slowly to the increased competition from Apple and RIM’s devices. I can only agree; this is the first of Nokia’s devices to be truly competitive with the iPhone in terms of features and software originality.
I am pleased that Nokia is seemingly putting a lot of money and marketing behind the N900, at least advertising it to developers, which will hopefully in turn carry into consumer’s hands as well. Developer interest certainly seems very active, according to Nokia’s statistics on website hits to http://maemo.org . Let us hope that they follow through with an ad marketing-campaign fit for this prestigous flagship device.
The presentation of the device’s hardware and software is markedly improved over the N810, which in turn was a significant improvement in aesthetics over the plastic-looking N800. The sleek black form-factor, dominated by the 3.5” high resolution touch screen is a step down in physical size from the N810, but what should be considered a measured compromise for a phone sized device. Indeed the size measures favourably with other smartphones, but as I have said previously, the device’s lineage is more from the computer than the phone.
The continued inclusion of a hardware keyboard is welcome to many, as touch screen is still not suitable for all types of fast input (Although it does unfortunately add to the depth of the device). Hopefully the problem of the top-row of the keyboard being too close to the device’s bottom, as on the N810, has been solved. Although small, the keyboard is better than nothing, but with all keyboards one has to try it out for an extended period of time first, in order to form a proper opinion. In general, many have commented that the build quality is good, for example the resistive touch screen is of N97 quality or better.
The real headline feature of the device however, is the inclusion of the latest version of the Maemo operating system, Maemo 5. It is on the whole more user-friendly and more touch-oriented. Indeed, at a glance it is infinitely more presentable, dare I say cool, than earlier iterations of Maemo which look cluttered and unfriendly for a lay user. Maemo 5 includes some unique and re-thought-out usability features like the dashboard and scrolling home screens, which on their own aren’t very unique but the way they have been implemented is a core part of the OS and not just a tacked on gimmick. Home screen widgets aren’t just trivial things, they’ve become important: shortcuts, status updates, news feeds – all provided through the 3G connection.
So why then would a user want the N900 over an iPhone 3GS for instance? Well I must admit that Apple’s cult-like following cannot seemingly be broken. However the N900 continues a recent trend, along with the N97 and N86, of Nokia bringing out more fashionable devices that a normal style-concious user might choose in store. The N900 may be a geek’s device, with function still coming before style, but all that power and flexibility is there if you want it, not imposed upon you; you don’t have to run the x-terminal, you don’t have to delve into all the configuration that you can, you can feel fine just running the default applications (which for the first iteration of Maemo with a phone, is very mature if lacking in a few areas e.g MMS, FM Radio).
What I suggest is that you head on over to YouTube and watch some videos of the interface; it is worlds apart from Symbian OS 9.4 5th Edition which powers the Nokia 5800 and N97, amongst others.