Nokia N900 review, part 1. First impressions. Things I really liked

Yesterday, around lunchtime, my test model of Nokia N900 arrived at the door.

And, with a few hours of sleep interrupt,  I’ve been playing with it ever since. For about 15 hrs. now. So I think it’s time to put it away for a while, and share some first impressions I got from playing around with Nokia N900.

The bottom line – I’m impressed. Very impressed. Really, really impressed.

On the other hand, I know understand why Nokia is insisting that N900 is more of a work in progress, “step 4 in a 5 step program”, that it’s a niche device and should be sold mostly to early adopters, who like to push the limits, but won’t mind  a bug or two, or some common elsewhere, but missing in N900 feature.

And Nokia N900 is certainly not a phone. While you can feel that most Nokia smartphones are designed as phones, with “smart” functions added on top and around, N900 feels the opposite. Like a small screen computer with a phone functionality added on top.

I will also mention, that the device I have is a pre-release handset, and Nokia is still ironing out minor bugs, so there’s a good chance that quite a few of the bugs/shortcomings I noticed, will be fixed/resolved by the time N900 hits the streets in a week or two.

Nokia N900 first impressions. Starting-up

Just like any new handset, when you boot it up, you are greeted with a screen to enter the things like time, date, language, regional settings, etc. After that, N900 launches, with a screen looking something like this:

Nokia N900 review FI P1 1

and lets you play a “Get started” video, which does what it says pretty well, and quickly takes you through the main features and functions of the device.

Then it’s time to actually start exploring and playing with the handset. The 4 available desktop panels on Nokia N900 are somewhat filled up with the preinstalled widgets and shortcuts.  To find my bearings around N900, I just started sliding from panel to panel with a swipe gesture, tapping around and checking out what each shortcut or widget does.

The problem is, I managed to, unintentionally, but  very quickly, wipe out all the preinstalled shortcuts and widgets away from all the panels. I did it by simply by deselecting and then selecting again the active panels in “Desktop set-up”–>”Manage views” menu.

Which left me with a screen like this:

Nokia N900 review FI P1 2

Completely empty spaces, without a single shortcut, widget or any other indication what to do. And remember, there is not a single physical or soft  key on the front of the device. Which, at first, confused and pissed me off a bit, but then turned out to be for the best.

Filling things back was pretty intuitive and easy. Just tap at the top of the screen a couple of times to get  to “desktop settings” menu, and start adding things back. Doing that without any hints and pre-conceptions of Nokia engineers of what’s important to me, allowed me to customize the 4 available desktop panels of Nokia N900, exactly the way I wanted.

Nokia N900 review FI P1 3

Nokia N900 first impressions. Touchscreen, navigation and usability

It’s a conventional wisdom that resistive touchscreen will always be inferior to the capacitive one. Nokia N900 has a resistive touchscreen, so,  no matter what, it can not be very good.

And, like most conventional wisdoms, this one’s is also dead wrong. The touchscreen on Nokia N900 is very responsive, fast and easy to use. I did not have any problems with it so far.

Overall phone navigation is pretty well thought out too.

You have 4 desktop panels, where you can place any installed widgets, shortcuts to various apps, functions, or contacts. You can move through panels with a swipe gesture.

At the top left corner of the screen there is an “Applications menu”.

Tap on it once and it brigs up a dashboard where active/running  application thumbnails and notification about missed calls, messages, e-mails, etc; are displayed.

Nokia N900 review FI P1 5

Tap twice, and you are taken to the application menu.

In the first open window of app menu, only main default N900 apps and functions are displayed. And the non scrollable area contains only 15 icons, so it can be a bit confusing at first – I got an impression that there’s only very limited amount of apps available. However, when you press the bottom right “More…” icon, another , bigger/scrollable page opens, where various installed and ready to be installed apps are displayed.

Nokia N900 review FI P1 6

Tapping anywhere at the top of “app menu” screen, takes you back to active app dashboard. Taping anywhere outside active apps, takes you to the main desktops panels. Tapping on an active up,  of course, brings up that app.

Overall, it took me between 15 to 30 minutes to get used to it, and then I was able to navigate anywhere in the device extremely fast, with a few intuitive taps and swipes.

Next to the “Applications menu” you have a “Status bar” , where relevant connectivity/phone status symbols are displayed. Things like  – on-line offline, connected to 3G Networks, Wi-Fi data connection, remaining battery power, time, etc;.

Tapping on a status bar, brings up “Status menu”, where you can quickly adjust things like time/alarms, internet connection options, availability status on IM services, phone profile, Bluetooth, USB, etc;

Nokia N900 review FI P1 7

Tapping anywhere else at the top of the touchscreen, brings up the set up options/menu for the active Window. If it’s the main desktop panel, options to add, delete and move around various icons and shortcuts, change background and themes,  appear. If it’s a browser window – you get various options for the browser, in phone app – telephone app set-up and so on.

Nokia N900 First Impressions.  Phone, SMS, VoIP/Skype and IM integration

Contrary to most of the other traditional smartphones, Nokia N900 is not centered around the phone function. There are no “Answer”/ “Hang up” buttons or menu keys on it, no default/compulsory phone access from the home screen. On Nokia N900, telephony is truly just another application. Not much different from Skype, Google Talk, Jabber and other instant messaging clients.

In fact, Google Voice, Skype, Nokia IM, Jabber and SIP clients are natively integrated in the phone  app. For now, I had a chance to try only Google Talk and Skype on N900. But those two worked like a charm inside the main phone/contacts app.

To get GTalk and Skype running on N900, I only had to add  them as “New accounts” with my login details. That’s it. All the contacts from both services were imported into my address book and the services are active whenever I am online.

When I want to contact a person, I just select a person and decide how I want to go about that: make a phone call, send an e-mail, send Skype/GTalk instant message or make a Skype call. There’s no functional difference, friction or difference in the telephony/contact app between any of these options. So you just select whichever is the most convenient mode of contact at this particular moment, and do it.

Nokia N900 review FI P1 8

I already see my Skype (both free and paid) usage going through the roof with this, while at the same time reducing mobile phone bills too.

Well, there was one small inconvenience with all those multiple accounts merged into the phone book. Since I’m not too careful or diligent in maintaining contact lists on those services, the merged phone book got kinda messy, and required some manual cleaning and record merging. But it was worth it. And, also, with the option to delegate a desktop panel or two exclusively to the contacts I communicate with the most, I’m now in touch with them much better then I was before.

Nokia N900 first impressions. Internet browsing and multi-tasking.

Internet browsing and multitasking are probably the coolest features of Nokia N900.

For now, I think, the internet browser and overall Net browsing experience on Nokia N900 ,is probably the the best one among the mobile devices of similar size.

It is almost a full fledged, touch optimized Firefox browser with complete HTML,  Flash, Javascript and other  Web standard support. Simply put, websites on Nokia N900 look  the same (if only with a smaller symbols and elements) as they would look on a desktop PC with 800 pixel wide resolution display.

Nokia N900 review FI P1 9

It takes a little time to get used to Nokia’s strange clockwise/counterclockwise finger rotation gesture for zooming. But once you get used to it, Internet browsing experience on N900 becomes the best,  compared to any other device around (iPhone included). Of course, it is still not a complete desktop experience, there is only so much you can do on a 3.5 inch screen. But it is the next best thing for now.

And Nokia N900  does a true, almost PC level multi-tasking without breaking a sweat.  Here’s a screenshot of of Nokia N900 dashboard with 6 open browser windows, 9 active applications (File manager, Phone app, Conversations app, Ovi Maps, E-mail app, Chess and Blocks games, PDF reader with an e-book open, Gallery app) and an mp3 podcast playing in the background.

Nokia N900 review FI P1 11

And, with all that stuff running,  there was no significant slowdown in overall speed of the device.

Well, this first impression thing starts running pretty long. I think I’m gonna take a brake for now and will be back tomorrow with part 2. Today was all praises of Nokia N900, tomorrow I’ll talk about the things that piss me off about it and some conclusions.

Stay tuned.

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

Share This Post On
  • http://www.rpcutts.co.uk rpcutts

    Thanks for this. I'm pleased to hear the screen is responsive.
    I'm eager to hear if the battery makes it to the end of a day…. I'd like not to have a spare batter in my other pocket.

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    No, it did not.

    It died after 8 hrs of heavy use. And I mean real heavy. All the time
    connected to home WLAN, intensive net browsing, downloads, video streaming,
    video playback, music playback, running multiple apps, etc;

    With more moderate use, while on the road, I think it should last through
    the day.

    We'll see soon enough, I guess.

  • Anthony

    Great review! The battery seems impressive considering the heavy usage/testing that you did!

    How's the GPS? Does it come with a voice navigation software. I supposed OVI map was the default and owners have to pay for a turn-by-turn navigation. Any Maemo apps that does a similar job to TomTom?

    It would be nice if know how it performs with mainstream VOIP services like Voipbuster and Sipgate.

  • Mypeachtree

    Thank you so much for this information. It most definitely sounds more promising than the N97, I am glad I held off. I have this baby on preorder at Buy.com for $565.00 including 2 day shipping.

    One question…….Does it sync with Ovi files software or is there a newer CD packaged with the N900?

    Thanks,
    Barry

  • happy4578

    Great review… cant wait for the next part.
    I have a few questions.
    Did you get to use Google Voice? I Ask because Ive been using it on my pre alot lately and need it to work out the box.
    Hows the 3G web browsing speed?
    Also any word MMS being included?
    Lastly is there a tethering app for this phone something like Joiku for Maemo 5?

  • karim

    can you please tell us if you can use the front facing camera for video chat on yahoo messanger or msn
    if not then where can u use it
    i read some where that it could be used for 3g video calling does that mean that u could do that on tmobile

  • dansus

    Dialcentral will do Google Voice and others soon.

    Web on 3G is great.

    MMS due Dec 09.

    Tethering, yes.

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    No. It does not have voice navigation. And it uses the old OVI Maps 1. <aps/Navigation on N900 for now is a real stepdown from even the old Symbian handsets like N95, that are able to use OVI maps 3 and Google maps. It's one of the things I'ma unhappy, and will talk in review part 2 tomorrow.

    Haven't tested other VoIP services, except for Skype (which worked flawlesly). May to that some time later.

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    No and no to both. It did not have CD in a box and is not yet supported by OVI Suite 2.

    But I have only a pre-release model so such things can be expected. I'm sure, in a commercial release these issues will be fixed.

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    Yahoo and MSN messengers are not yet supported on N900. At the moment integrated IM/VoIP services are: Skype, GTalk, Jabber.

    And for now, I haven't found any way to use friont facing camera. But it's early days, I haven't explored all the things in N900. Haven't even tested the main camera. Also more firmware updates are coming, so things can change pretty soon

  • Holdn

    When is part 2 of your review coming? …. Can wait to hear what you dont like about this “God” like phone.

  • Ryan

    hey does the n900 have a sms signature? i operate a business and most of my other phones i used, had an option for it, just wondering if the n900 did?

  • chrisphillers

    Fring (a multiple IM client) is ready on the N900 – this allows the use of MSN, yahoo etc etc.

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    It's up now: http://bit.ly/3f3Y14

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    It seems that missing IM services will get to N900 very soon. Some of them probably even before official launch.

    Found a plugin for MSN (beta version), installed it and now MSN natively integrated with my phone book. JUst like Skype and GTalk.

    Haven't found any way to make video calls yet, though.

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    I used and liked Fring on S60. But I wonder what will be the point in using Fring on N900, if all your IM accounts are natively integrated into your phone/contacts anyway?

  • chrisphillers

    Because Yahoo/MSN isnt integrated yet..

  • chrisphillers

    cool:)

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    HAve no idea. Never used it, and didn't even lnow it's possible

  • Sophie

    Hii!

    I have a question!!

    :)

    How is the audio? I mean are the speakers loud or on par with the N95?

    Thanksss x

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    Speakers OK for a mobile device, IMHO. On par with N95

  • john

    where is the part 2

  • http://www.staska.net Staska
  • DJC

    A brake? :)

  • davidmaxwaterman

    telepathy-extras gives you some more IM support – I now have available:

    Ovi by Nokia
    Skype
    AIM
    Gadu Gadu
    Google Talk
    GroupWise
    ICQ
    IRC
    Jabber
    MSN
    MSN (Haze)
    QQ
    SIP
    Salut
    Sametime
    Yahoo

    I heard that some of them don't work so well, so perhaps that's why they're not in the main one. YMMV. At least it shows what they're aiming for. I'm currently signed in for AIM, GTalk, MSN, Ovi, Skype, and Yahoo, and regularly use GTalk and Skype.

  • Matias

    I am waiting for part 3!

  • http://www.pinoytutorial.com pinoytutorial

    good memory, a hefty amount of storage 32GB + 16GB external micro SD – qwerty keyboard – 5MP camera .. Quad Band. :D

    Ovi Maps instead of Google Maps? Where are the precious facebook and twitter apps? :(

    detailed sources: http://bit.ly/nokia-900-full-specs-details-best

    Its good to see Nokia finally release a new breed of their communicator series, I just hope it won't turn out to be another “average” phone.

  • http://www.rpcutts.co.uk rpcutts

    3 times on 3 different blogs you reply to my comment with the exact same response.
    What's the point?

  • bhavesh123

    Many people will be in need of basic appliaciton like AlmostTI Graphing Calc Emulator, AdBlock Plus, Documents To Go Viewer Edition , Droid Fonts, Facebook, gPodder, Lybniz, OMweather forefront-client-security-definition-updates etc you can get this application from http://www.techarena.in/download/mobile-softwar

  • Iphone 3GS vs N900

    Hi everybody,
    Let me tell you my experience base on true story. I wanna know which mobile phone is the best either Iphone or N900. I drop both phone in the pool (5ft depth). You know what !!! N900 win. Cuz N900 can get a call in 5ft depth water. Can’t you believe it!!! Water proof, you can enjoy talking in the water. Nice Tried.

  • JohnS

    lol – hilarious post and subsequent comments. guess it doesn't take much to impress you. not much of a pre-release since i'm at almost 2-months of owning this thing. we all got pre-pre-releases with much more than a couple bugs, a few few missing features and that kind of battery life (either embellished OR a lot or heavy use == setting it on your desk for 5 hours with no email, active widgets, calls, etc…. there is NO way).

    weird posting so won't bother with part 2. just visit bugs on mameo org or their forums and don't worry about listening to me. read how many bugs, enhancement requests (many have been closed by nokia with no plans to add even the most basic of features) and how much pure pain this far from complete device is causing everyone.

    oh, yes it is a phone. why else would they give us a tiny chiclet keyboard, a small screen, no ability to use a bluetooth keyboard (they have officially said they won't add), no dpad, stray so far from the comfortable, more usable N8*0s that I still have to keep with me for many reasons? ah, i forgot, why exactly would they make it a, well, phone?

    don't worry about your skype bill, too many are complaing about boatloads of issues. front camera? firmware problem and only one junk app in the testing repo to use it for something (couldn't figure out what) with nokia not having plans for video calls or anything else with it. infrared? well, it's there, but they don't plan on doing anything with it, but there is a flakey app in testing that might let you use it as a remote.

    wish i knew all of this in the first couple weeks so i could return. i wasn't impressed, but figured they'd be updating untils i spent time on mameo/nokia site. most their focus is on maemo6, which most likely won't run on your expensive 1/4 complete n900.

    still waiting for an update to fix the myriad bluetoothe problems that they knew about before release. well, any update would be nice because it can't get any worse.

    more like step 2 of 5 that will be lucky to reach 3 based on what they've been saying on maemo's site.

  • JohnS

    lol – hilarious post and subsequent comments. guess it doesn't take much to impress you. not much of a pre-release since i'm at almost 2-months of owning this thing. we all got pre-pre-releases with much more than a couple bugs, a few few missing features and that kind of battery life (either embellished OR a lot or heavy use == setting it on your desk for 5 hours with no email, active widgets, calls, etc…. there is NO way).

    weird posting so won't bother with part 2. just visit bugs on mameo org or their forums and don't worry about listening to me. read how many bugs, enhancement requests (many have been closed by nokia with no plans to add even the most basic of features) and how much pure pain this far from complete device is causing everyone.

    oh, yes it is a phone. why else would they give us a tiny chiclet keyboard, a small screen, no ability to use a bluetooth keyboard (they have officially said they won't add), no dpad, stray so far from the comfortable, more usable N8*0s that I still have to keep with me for many reasons? ah, i forgot, why exactly would they make it a, well, phone?

    don't worry about your skype bill, too many are complaing about boatloads of issues. front camera? firmware problem and only one junk app in the testing repo to use it for something (couldn't figure out what) with nokia not having plans for video calls or anything else with it. infrared? well, it's there, but they don't plan on doing anything with it, but there is a flakey app in testing that might let you use it as a remote.

    wish i knew all of this in the first couple weeks so i could return. i wasn't impressed, but figured they'd be updating untils i spent time on mameo/nokia site. most their focus is on maemo6, which most likely won't run on your expensive 1/4 complete n900.

    still waiting for an update to fix the myriad bluetoothe problems that they knew about before release. well, any update would be nice because it can't get any worse.

    more like step 2 of 5 that will be lucky to reach 3 based on what they've been saying on maemo's site.