Nokia N900 First Impressions

Wed, 12/09/2009 - 01:08 -- John Locke

I finally did it... long after my old Palm V died, I finally got a smart phone, the Nokia N900. I've had it just over a day now, and thought I would jot down my impressions/thoughts so far.

Bear in mind I skipped the iPhone, never had a crack-berry, so just being able to get my e-mail anywhere is a new thing for me. So here's a few things I'm finding. Would appreciate any comments/suggestions if you can address some of these...

Learning the basics

I had no trouble grasping how to use it. Piece of cake. I was sending text messages, had it hooked up to my e-mail and chat within minutes.The task manager makes it easy to understand what's running, the menu is intuitive, the display and responsiveness is great. Love the contact manager, and all the basic stuff seems really nice out of the box. Predictive text mostly just behaves the way I would expect--not finishing words when you hit enter, only when you press the right arrow.

So. Initial impression: awesome!

Web browsing, and designing for mobile

Most reviews of this device gush over the browser experience, calling it by far the best. That doesn't mean it's perfect.

The hassles are things designers should consider, for their mobile audience.

  • Drop-down menus are hard. If you click long enough to get the dropdown, you get a context menu and can't actually click a sub-menu item. You end up with the top menu link, and can't get to the child items.
  • Javascript Drag-and-Drop doesn't work. Particularly noticeable in things like Google maps--you end up dragging the window around, instead of panning the map.
  • Lightboxes suck, if their contents are bigger than your screen. You can zoom in on content really easily, and then pan around to see details. However, lightboxes center the content in your viewport, so now you can't pan anymore. You only get the detail in the middle. This is particularly a problem for video--the controls end up either too small to use, or off the screen.
  • Would be nice if it were easier to bump up the text size without zooming in--then you wouldn't have to pan side-to-side so much. Narrower pages?
  • I miss the predictive text/auto capitalization when typing in the browser. You get it most other places--why not here?

Overall these are nits. It's really quite usable.


Simple. Works.

I listen to a lot of podcasts. The media app is completely missing any sort of bookmark system--there's no way to mark your position in a file if you exit the player oe switch to another file. Fortunately seeking to a spot is pretty easy, and accurate with the stylus.

I was surprised to see my MythTV box show up in the player--very cool! Unfortunately the video wouldn't play, missing a codec.

Also missed the codec for the wav file generated by our office Asterisk voicemail. ?!?!?

I installed gPodder to download some podcasts. Worked great! But then it deleted a file I had just downloaded to test. A little quick to expire the file...

FM transmitter was easy to set up. Very short range--a foot or two. FM receiver, with the app from extras, was dissapointingly full of static.

Internet radio, flash video, all seemed fine.


No problem connecting to our WPA-protected wireless. Had to call T-Mobile to get on the Smart-phone plan, even though I thought I already had data on the plan and the phone was reporting 3G.

Skype calling is as good and as easy as a regular call.

After leaving the office, I was unable to connect to a different WEP network- it didn't even ask for the passphrase. Same thing at home - but after rebooting it hooked up fine.

Then today when I left the office, the GSM connection dropped, had to reboot to get it back. Those two instances are the only stability problems I've seen--I hope these aren't going to be regular.


The map application is definitely the biggest hog. Audio blips when you fre up the app, and everything seems slightly more sluggish when it's running. I haven't figured out how to use it very well, either. Unlike the other apps, it doesn't seem very intuitive, and its unresponsive feel makes it worse. Google hasn't released a map app for this platform-yet.

When tracking your route, it seems to jump around a lot, and didn't seem to maintain a fix well, at least in among tall downtown towers.

I downloaded the eCoach application, which actually seems nicer and not so jumpy. Could use more options--maybe TangoGPS?


The applications seem nice enough to use. Especially the Contacts. But getting my data in there is another story.

The Calendar application supports multiple calendars, but can't subscribe to remote iCal/vCal feeds. It can import them, but it crashed on trying to import an iCal file from Evolution.

I had most of my frequent contacts on my SIM card, so those were easy to import. But I didn't find a straightforward way to sync up to my desktop. I guess I need to figure out SyncML, which sounds like has some support. But that's all new to me...

I was able to pair it with my laptop on Bluetooth when I set both up to broadcast, but had no SyncML software set up on my laptop to handle the sync. Contacts would only import from vcs files, no csv or ldif. It does well merging contacts.

I also tried Hermes, to pull in contact data from Facebook, but was disappointed that it only added data to existing contacts, not importing contacts from there. It also requires a bit of manual matching.

in short, data sync is still a mess. It seems solvable, but it's going to take a bit of work.

Battery life, hardware

I was at a conference much of today. Unplugged the phone before 6 am. Listened to a podcast, used the maps/GPS, surfed the Web on the bus ride downtown. Made a couple calls, sent some texts, handled some email, used IM throughout the day--pretty heavy use. The device was nearly dead by 3:30, nearly 10 hours. Charged it for a few hours, and then have written this post and paid some bills on battery for several more hours.

I think it will be fine for most of my use, but I'll probably get a spare battery for more GPS use.

Screen is awesome. Keyboard seems fine for such a small package. Camera seems decent. Voice quality is really good, on both the external headset and the phone itself. Haven't figured out how to use the webcam. Haven't tried the TV-out.

I'm a bit surprised that when I plugged in the USB cable and chose USB mass storage, Ubuntu did not automatically mount it. When I set it to PC Suite, it did show up as a 3G modem--haven't tested that yet.

One last curious thing--no printing. I paid a bill and needed a printed copy. Hit the print button provided by the web page, and the page reloaded but nothing else. What to do?

The simple answer was to take a couple screenshots. I found a hint that Ctrl-Shift-P would take a screenshot, but to where? I scoured the app list to find a graphics editor to paste it in--and then found the screenshots in Photos.

Overall, I'm very happy with it. As a confirmed Linux guy, this is a great device. Now if I can just find those codecs...

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Submitted by aaronn (not verified) on

Have you tried playing flac files on it yet?

Sounds like a pretty decent device.

Submitted by John Locke on

I've mostly stuck to MP3s, wav, and others. Surprisingly, it doesn't support OGG out of the box, though there's an add-on package for OGG support. It claims to have wide multimedia support, and so I think that's referring to things like flac and mp4 and h263. But not whatever my Myth box or Asterisk box is using...

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