Nokia N900 – Definitely Geek

At last, Finally Nokia decided to come out from Symbian shell, at last we are talking about something that would be really Open Source and could be customizable, at last we are talking about a device that would be all; Top of the Internet Tablet with Flash 9 enabled full fledged browsing, Modem/ Wi Fi spot for your computer, Music player, Video player with resolution of 800x 480, Decent Camera (5MP) for still and video recording, Ebook Reader (PDF till now, but Doc viewer could be added soon.)

Earlier here in India, we heard a tagline for Bajaj Pulsor bikes, where they said “Definitely Male” for the killer look and feel the bike possessed. A superbike look with best of the features with affordable price for medium class suddenly changed the whole scenario and sure the tagline always stood tall and true.

Nokia bringing back the similar effect with path breaking Nokia N900 and itsmaemo-raised-the-bar new Open Source counterpart ‘Maemo’. Definitely Geek!!! were the first words in my mind after experiencing the test unit that arrived to me two days back. As I am learning about its features and capabilities, its fascinating me more and more. It stands in its own league and I really want to see till how much time techies will consider The Eye Candy iPhone (packed with all propriety things) something worthy to talk about.

Writing about something is tough, when already much has been written about. I have already read some excellent articles about its features and possibilities and by every hour more are being added, when as of now, its not released in all parts of world (not released in India, if I know right). Its a good sign that Maemo is getting all the deserving attention and many of tech experts rated the platform even more better and stable than Android itself about the features and flexibilities (iPhone not in category). Definitely, its moving well to push Symbian behind, if Nokia places its steps right.


Why its being called a complete tablet device?

Tablet PC was a concept for a lightweight devices, which could be used in environment that are non conducive for keyboard/ mouse usages and provides all kind of connectivity options.

Nokia N900 defines the Tablet PC with both the input options; physical qwerty keyboard and touch screen and continues to offer every kind of connectivity options ranging from GSM to Wifi. (Right now, its not shipped with Handwriting recognition like Nokia N97 or even my Nokia 5800, but its likely to be included in next updates). In addition, its equipped with excellent stereo speakers, a brilliant 800×480 screen and 5MP camera for stills and videos. All this in a package of 181 g.

What so special about Nokia N900?fm radio

Its not first pocketable Nokia device running Linux; N770, N800, and N810 already ran over Nokia’s Debian based Maemo Linux distribution, but what makes its special is updated hardware and most importantly addition of cellular connectivity. So, if you have a data plan or best if 3G one, then you have an always on and connected to internet device in your pocket, which wont make you feeling missing your iPod or Digital Camera. It has the hardware to support FM radio, but as they are still in process of building a perfect FM Radio app, currently no FM radio app is included.Nokia-N900-vs-iPhone-3Gs

It got the same ARM Cortex-A8 processor 600 Mhz with 256 MB RAM, 3D graphics accelerator with OpenGL ES 2.0 support and 32 GB storage as best of iPhone 3GS and arguments about accurate resistive touch screen Vs flashy multi touch capacitive screens will be continued, but real deal breaker for geeks is root/ssh access to the core of the OS (although for security reason, its not enabled by default and requires two packages namely rootsh and OpenSsh) and an open source already known OS to install all kind of apps.

“ Just imagine…. completely unlocked phones with sure better battery life than iPhone 3GS or Android, SSH access for accessing your servers remotely and running services like normal putty access and editing file via VIM, even viewing the desktop sessions via VNC Viewer, accessing even windows desktops in traditional ways with rdesktop, running apt-get to install all kind of software, customizing configurations, writing custom scripts for tasks, incremental updates, reading PDF manuals via PDF reader, watching movies on higher resolution … .. I have tested these all till now and ……. Ohhh!!! I am really excited about possibilities and same time sad that after two weeks this device will leave me 😦 Just check below; remote desktop for Windows/ ssh for Linux “

rdesktop to Windows ssh to Linux Server

Yes!!!! I have read somewhere that with more than 1, 40, 000 apps in iStore, one has same number of reasons to go for iPhone, but just imagine, you have a real Linux Phone in your hands. The operating system, we geeks already know much about, the OS which could customized in as many number of ways as we could imagine. Needless to say, 1,40,000 would be a much smaller number, once Maemo gets full attention of Linux Developer communities. Moreover, it already has many packages, which we were used to see on debian linux, just waiting for your apt-get and honestly tell me how many of those ‘140000 apps’ actually get used by people? Just check the link for the facts.

What it offers and for whom?

Over the time, Smartphone users, their requirements and N900 could be classified in some categories like given below:

  1. Trendy Youth: A show off kind of trendy look, seamlessnokiayouth integration with Social Network Clients, IMs, fast typing options, smooth and consistent UI, stereo Music, FM, decent and fast camera, huge storage for mp3 and videos, big screen with high resolution and crisp colors, snappy browsing experience. 

    Nokia N900 offers a high tech and cool look (though a little bit heavier), social networking widgets could be kept on home screen to be always updated about happenings over them, in-built services of Gtalk and Skype, qwetry keyboard and auto complete typing options with intelligent learning dictionary makes typing experience brand new, a glassy UI like never experienced before with Symbian, Stereo speaker with excellent quality, FM Transmitter that will let you even transmit your own songs (FM Radio apps about to come, not yet included), 5 MP Camera with flash, 32 GB Internet Memory/ 256 MB RAM/ 1 GB application memory and option to add storage up to 48 GB more by cards, 3.5” resistive touch screen with 16M colors, 3D graphics accelerator with OpenGL ES 2.0 support and 800×480 resolution, added support of Flash Player 9.4 for exactly desktop like browsing (it runs even flash heavy farmvilla, which I dont think any other Smart Phone runs). Its support for video format could be extended by installing codecs. I was able to play various format movies (popular avi’s) by directly copying into it.

  2. Business Users: Push Mail, Connectivity options likenokia-n900-hands-on-11 Bluetooth, 3G, Wi Fi, qwerty keypad, flawless desktop like browsing, built-in VOIP and IMs, PDF/ Doc viewer, extra-ordinary signal reception and battery life. Top of that a much stable OS and decent backup options, convenient and accelerated charging options.

    Nokia N900 offers extensive mailing options as I found while configuring, push mail for exchange got upgraded by last update, connectivity options are maximized with all the options available, flash enabling, high resolution big screen browsing also got a big push by additional option of installing Firefox for Maemo, PDF Viewer is included, although I have to test yet, but installing Open Office must be possible with touch support, signal reception and battery life has been outstanding even when I was using it on always on Wi Fi and 3G connectivity, impressive is its handling of various connections automatically (it surprises me the way it handles switching between Wi Fi to 3G and then to EDGE), Maemo seems to be not only pretty and glassy but a rock like OS, there is also a backup apps included to take time to time backups, charging could be done by connecting to USB and mini USB charger has also been provided, more is a convertor that could connect older thick charger of Nokia or recent slimmer one to this USB model. Data transfer speed stands amazing. For transferring a 700 MB file in storage made, the time taken by it was less than a minute. 

  3. The Geeks: All the requirement set mention in above two categories, R & D and customization options, programmability of device as per needs, full IMs and uncompromised connectivity options, In all, a device which could be termed a complete in-control PC in their hands.

    Nokia  N900 offers root access for the OS, linux console, same architecture like debian means same way of playing with scripts and services, possibility of altering widgets at low level, possibility of configuring the logs in certain way, built-in VOIP and IMs like Gtalk and Skype could be kept always on, connectivity is automatically handled in very beautiful ways, its equipped with a full broadband speed provided with wireless, adding various apps and options to connect windows/ linux servers via telnet, ssh, scp, vncviewer and rdesktop makes this device something like never seen before. For me, in geeks section, no other cellular device in the world comes near to this one. In someone’s words “It’s a true mobile powerhouse in every sense of this word, wrapped in a very eye-candy and functional UI at that."

    You can see the following video for a glimpse of possibilities with it for geeks, the world is sure about to change:

Things which make me go crazy about it:

  1. Keyboard: Honestly speaking, I never liked Blackberry kind of qwerty keypads and just sight of landscape qwerty keyboard was a treat. Still I was doubtful that if my finger would be able to slide that comfortably on these small button, but the experience was quite amazing day by day. Now, I even could think of typing whole blog post over the same, something which never could have thought with some complete touch screen or somehow adjusted Blackberry kind of keys. Moreover, dictionary and auto complete typing makes your life much easier. I typed a name only once and when next time, I type a few words of the same… it completes the same.. impressive.

    Such a smooth experience with keyboard, I felt only once before with my Dell XPS M1530 Laptop’s keyboard. Although still I wish if I was having some Windows Key to come out of things (although Ctrl+ Back Space works to bring task Manager), some red key to kill all or some combination of keys to serve the same purpose.

  2. Display and touch innovations: Nokia used an interesting way in touch UI navigation. under any screen, if in place of clicking any icon, if you click next to that then it will bring you back on the earlier screen (might be confusing to few in start, but its really convenient style in deed). Its bigger display actually make it possible viewing webpages without compromising anything, a true out of the box browsing experience. I also learned a trick that if you move your finger clockwise, then it zooms in the screen and same way zoom out, if you move anti-clockwise. Smart. Big screen size makes this device a handy ebook reader, while you are travelling. I just come to re-read Three Mistakes of My Life from Chetan Bhagat over it in a journey.


  3. Connectivity and accessibility of the same: Although all the touch screen device from Nokia started the same way that we could access them by tapping on battery icon, but Maemo provides options to change the connection at your fingerprint always in easiest way. If not enough then it automatically switches between connections beautifully to keep you focus on your tasks only.
  4. Multiple desktops, multiple widgets: It was new and stylish feature with Maemo, which comes very handy in situations. There are four different desktop and any of them could be bring in or out by just sliding finger left or right. As many widgets could be added to each one of them (limited by widget size) and arranged accordingly. Like one desktop for news, RSS feeds and social network related apps,  other one for music, clock, calendar, temperature etc and so on..  

    Screenshot-20100220-220937 Screenshot-20100220-220805 Screenshot-20100220-220931 Screenshot-20100220-220925

  5. Easy, familiar and very capable apps: It was amazing to play a 700 MB movie copied from PC into it without thinking about format of it. Similarly found and installed many apps is very easy way, which I will cover in next phase in details (e.g. FM Radio app)
  6. Windows/ Linux like usability in your pocket: Its kind of panacea for we sysadmin’s and I bet it would be hard to resist many of us from not buying this considering its still maturing phase. With this, I am always live anywhere for handling any emergency related to my office servers. Just will stop the bile, will look for nearest coffee shop and will be sitting their to handling Windows related issue with help of rdesktop and linux related issue with traditional ssh and scp. qwerty keyboard don’t let you miss your lappy. Travelling much lighter now without laptops.

Things that Nokia N900 still lacks doesn’t has out of the box:

  1. MMS not supported as of now: Yes!! we thought iPhone out of question as it doesn’t support MMS and here we face with Nokia. Shocking!!! Reasons as Nokia people call it “Its first an internet device and second a phone, so was it was not not needed”. They are not clear about adding the capability later on, but there should be some serious reasons behind it. Although a little Googling landed me on the page, which figures out the way out with a package name fmms, although have not tried as it asked for four dependencies, so skipped it. Will try soon.
  2. FM Transceiver is here. Good!! But where is my FM Radio App: As I mentioned, its still under development to make it a perfect one, but again why not to launch a decently working one at least. It has the hardware and FM radio could be run by third party apps even now. But still we are in waiting to get some official app from Nokia. Checked out the app store, just needed to search FM Radio and its already there. Surprisingly amazing in clarity and performance with intuitive looks. One just need to slide right or left to change the frequency. Really Wow!!! Still headphone required to be plugged-in, why so?
  3. Be ready for bugs like other open source products: Although tested well by Nokia, but still the transition from a Tablet Device to a cell phone seems to be missing a few points here and there. We seen the earlier two issues are due to non development of official apps and here is a bug, which seems to be crucial for Indian market, it does not support USSD numbers like *141# or many like that.  Sometime likely to be resolved in next updates.
  4. Switching between Landscape mode and portrait modes: After being used to of other devices since Nokia N82, it was surprising to see that Nokia N900 remains in Landscape mode always, accept in case of incoming, where it changes to portrait. This feature is not only a style but is handy in cases. Have to see that when it will join back the road.
  5. No Support for Google Apps as of now: Being a new platform makes you suffer a few things. There are almost no Google apps for Maemo, though all apps supports (Google Docs etc) full functionality in their web versions.

The 1012 essential apps (possibilities are infinite though in few days, I figured out these a few), one shouldn’t forget to install on Nokia N900:

  1. Firefox: Although Nokia N900 already provides excellent browsing experience like Firefox and itsfirefox that good that I am not missing Opera 10 Beta here, but still those ones, who wish to have the almighty with them with complete sync with Firefox on their desktop, here is the Firefox for Maemo. Note that its around 12.8 MB.

    Download | Info

  2. FM Radio*: I already mentioned that this app not included in the shipped model as of now. Don’t Screenshot-20100221-112453know what are the exact reasons, but find this app just flawless and like never before. Just check the pics in upper section of this article. Really innovative. I also found the reception even better than my existing Nokia 5310 XpressMusic, Nokia N82 or Nokia 5800.

    Download | Info

  3. rootsh*: In console of Nokia N900, you can run a command “sudo gainroot” for gaining root access, but that requires that you should have enabled R & D mode. A work around is Rootsh package, which allows you to quickly run a command on the same command line without using a root shell (like sudo). Without this, I was not even able to do ping and after this, I am God. That’s what makes Maemo special.

    Download | Info

  4. OpenSSH*: As a surprise to me, SSH package was not included. I searched the app store and found OpenSSH Server and Client. Simple to install and now you are in command of your web servers or other Linux Servers remotely. Note that OpenSSH server will ask you to set a password, set it but don’t forget it.

    Download | Info

  5. rdesktop*: Its just awesome. I thought to have some way to remotely access and recalled my old mate rdesktop. Its here in app store. Install it and it was unbelievably smooth to operate on even 3G connections. I have given a screenshot in upper part of article. Its so cool to see mouse cursor moving along with your finger.

    Download | Info

  6. vncviewer: As I see, its just about recalling our Linux apps and finding their maemo ports. vncviewer vnc is an excellent application to interact/ show with user’s desktop on Windows/ Linux (provided vnc server installed and configured on other side) at the same time, when user is working. You could only watch or could yourself take control of the same or both of the side could work one by one. A must have for specially we Sysadmins.

    Download | Info

  7. JoikuSpot: As I discussed earlier, this is an application, which turns your Nokia N900 in a powerfuljoikuspot Wi Fi spot for your Laptop or even your friend’s at the same time. You know that how handy is that in Indian Scenrio even if 3G not fully available till now.

    Download | Info

  8. Recorder: Till now, I have not been successful in finding something could keep on recording your calls automatically, but this one could be handy to record the calls, although needs you to manually push it while talking.

    Download | Info

  9. OMWeather: Although there is number of widgets, which one might find handy for adding on any omweather of the home screens, but I find this one quite handy. Didn’t got accuweather one, but this one works well. Shortcut to install ForecaWether already there in applications, but I find this one very customizable and efficient.

    Download | Info

  10. Zoutube: The brilliant YouTube Client, which I would be trying to find for Symbian as wellzoutube . Amazing UI and I find it even better than Official YouTube Client. It even provides option for downloading the video being viewed (could be deal breaker for many).

    Download | Info

  11. KOffice: Yes! that’s the beauty of Open Source Products, they can’t let you deprived of convenience of alternatives. Finally, we got KOffice Document Viewer here. Although its a huge 9 MB App and you needed to create an Extras-devel Repository for that. How to do that? Simply create a new repository with web address and you will find it there with name of FreOffice.

    Download | Info

  12. Google Latitude Updater: Another huge size app, with size of 5.8 MB around. But it brings my beloved Google Latitude to me. May be rough and naive kind of in front of Google’s one, but at least there is something, I could think of updating my location and keep myself tuned in. Like many other useful apps, you will find it right there in your Nokia N900 app manager after enabling Extras-devel.

    Download | Info

I could keep on talking about this amazing set for so long as set of possibilities are just …. but making me stop here. Will update more things like shortcuts, screenshots about it later on.

I am sure that iPhone might be history in front of it due to its openness in Geek community at least. Its not easy to lure, we Indian buyers on basis of EyeCandy only, we want something really solid that’s where Nokia always ruled. Thanks Paul for providing me this set for review. Its already an forgettable journey.


15 thoughts on “Nokia N900 – Definitely Geek

  1. great support for various linux apps.. many already there..Exciting is VNC and Zoutube.. Indeed great technology development..

  2. Abhimanyu,

    Maemo is linux itself, based on Debian, so the things work in same manner. Its kind of providing a mini computer power of cellular network…. amazing technology…. hoping it to change the scenario

    1. Inder,

      A 1320 mAh battery is sure lesser than some 1500 mAh battery that Nokia E72 has. Touch screen devices usually come in range of 6-7h talktime and so is Nokia N900. But I have played three movies straight over it easily, so it has a sound battery for sure.

      Nokia N900 as per specification is not a business device in nature. But still full desktop level browsing, processing power and always IMs make it an interesting option for techies. The way it switches over wifi and 3G connections and keep your experience consistent, makes it in own league.

      But if you are looking for battery life and Maps, then currently the best option is Nokia E72

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