Nokia N900

HEAD

The Nokia Nseries is fraught with ups and downs, from the excellent N95 8gb which still fetches more at Cex or on eBay that any of its follow up phones, the N96 & N97. The N97 in particular has been criticised for its inability to run its own software, a lens cover that scratches the lens, and a keyboard that could only be used with tooth picks. Whilst not techically developed under the Nseries line, its best to look at the N900 as an evolution of this line as it has more in common with the aformentioned devices than the devices in its own linage, like the overly clunky (read: massively ugly) N800.

Nokia has the market share when it comes to mobile phones, they are the largest manufacturer of mobile devices in the world by a huge margin. They have the high end smartphones, but they also have the low-end functional phones like the Nokia 1100 which still stands as the best selling phone ever. For the most part they all run on Nokia’s secret weapon of a operating system Symbian S60; their triumph and their curse all in one. Nokia threw all their eggs into one basket and made S60 a market staple; for which they reaped the rewards. But the eggs slowly started turning mouldy; Google’s Android platform, Apples revolutionary iPhone OS and a revived Palm grew and grew to dominate much of the public’s comprehension. The N900 looks to shake things up with the introduction of Nokia’s new Linux based operating system; Maemo.

So lets dive right in. The N900 has a massive 32gb internal storage with space for another 16gb memory card, full web browsing and email integration, full media player functionality for both music and video, as well as Nokia’s always impressive tv-out (via headphone socket) facility. It features both full touch screen functionality (although resistive touch screen; which I’ll touch on later) as well as a slide-out keyboard. It has an impressive 5mp camera with Xenon flash, which doubles as a fairly competent video device, and as this is designed to be a strongly web-enabled device, it includes as expected full Wi-Fi access, impressively fast 3G and Bluetooth.

Now all those features rack up to be one impressive media/internet device, but sadly it’s the actual phone aspect of the N900 that lets it down. The phone is huge, it’s weighty and bloody thick. It’s constantly in landscape mode, which for me was always massively awkward when pulling it out of my pocket for the 2 weeks I’ve been using it. The keyboard only features the qwerty set up so that first number you dial always involves a shift key press first and if you opt for the touch screen dialer you will have to grab the stylus before you start because…

The touchscreen is resistive. If you dont know, there are two types of touchscreen; resistive (responds to how hard you press) and capacitive (responds to static in your fingers). The latter is used in the iPhone series, most of HTC’s devices, as well as some Windows Mobile phones. So why opt for the resistive option? It’s alot cheaper, it allows greater profit from each unit, and it’s easier to repair. The N900’s touchscreen is probably the best resistive screen this side of the Nintendo DS, it functions well, but only when using the stylus. When deep in the throws of reading what’s going on in the election on the BBC’s site, the stylus/resistive combination works perfectly and the overall experience is brilliant. Secondly, when flicking through photos or playing music the stylus led controls work perfectly, but it all comes back to the lack of functionality as a phone.

The look and feel of the phone is very Nokia and anyone thats used one over the years will be familiar with its setup and design. The outside of the phone houses the buttons, quite a few of which don’t feel like they’re in the most natural location. The top of the phone (when held in the landscape format, which you’ll be doing 99.9 per cent of the time) has, from left to right, the up/down volume key, the centrally placed square power button and the camera shutter.
And – we know you’re going to love this – there’s an infrared port on the N900 as well. Infrared! We haven’t seen that in years, and we’re not even sure if it was ever really needed on any phone. Ever.

Head round to the right-hand side and you’ll find the lock key, which is a little spring-loaded slider button. This is where we have the biggest issue – finding this button with your finger requires you to shuffle the phone in the hand a little bit.

Below that there’s the headphone socket, which is raised slightly to allow a flush connection with the jack. Given the amount of phones these days that have a curved socket, leaving the headphone connection exposed, this is a welcome change. However this did bring up one problem in that when holding the phone with the headphones plugged in, it was very uncomfortable, with the plug right in the way of where you would naturally want to hold it.

This review is pointing to one thing, great device, poor phone. For the latter half of my experience with the Nokia I removed my sim and placed it back in my HTC Hero/G2 Touch, utilising the N900 as i see it, a mini iPad. I found my self using it to browse news or check Facebook over breakfast, instead of booting my laptop. I sat with it on my lap on train journeys watching Youtube, playing games and viewing films on its large screen. I never felt like it was a phone and started to view it as a more open and customisable iPod touch or a mini iPad.

The N900 is available now from free on selected tariffs on a variety of carriers. You can also buy direct from Nokia here. For more information on the Nokia N900 check out its dedicated page at the Nokia site here.