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:
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:
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 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.
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.
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;
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.
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 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.
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.