The Nokia N900: a smartphone for the geek in you - TechCentral

The Nokia N900: a smartphone for the geek in you


Nokia isn’t launching the N900, its first Linux phone, in SA. Which is a pity, because I think this device could find a ready market among the tech set. [Update: Nokia has decided to introduce the product in SA after all. It will go on sale in the second quarter of 2010.]

The N900 represents Nokia’s latest attempt to claw back lost ground in the smartphone market. It is fighting a rearguard action against Apple’s iPhone and a range of new devices based on Google’s new Android operating system.

The device, the successor to the N810, doesn’t run Nokia’s preferred smartphone operating system, Symbian. Rather, it ships with Maemo, which is based on Debian Linux.

I’m not even sure I should be calling the N900 a smartphone at all. It’s more like a powerful pocket computer with cellphone functionality tacked onto it. You can even open up a Linux command-line and start hacking around in the guts of the software. It’s pretty neat if you’re a geek, and pretty intimidating if you’re not.

I like fiddling with computers and if you’re like me, you’ll like this phone because it really lets you fiddle. You can even get easy root access to the underlying operating system — dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing but serious fun if you know your way around a Unix command-line.

So, what’s in the package? Stand by, because there’s plenty packed under the hood — which, at a fairly hefty 181g, there’d better be.

First of all, the N900 has a 3,5-inch touch-sensitive widescreen display with a resolution of 800×480 pixels. It also has a stylus because — and this is a negative — it’s difficult to drive the on-screen menus using your fingers. Apparently the version of Maemo on the N900 has significant enhancements that make controlling the phone with your fingers easier, but it still needs work.


Then there’s the powerful, 600MHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor and, believe it or not, a PowerVR SGX graphics accelerator with support for OpenGL. If that sounds like gobbledygook, it just means this device is designed to crunch through complex graphics. It doesn’t seem quite as fast as the iPhone 3GS’s graphics, but the game performance is nevertheless impressive.

There’s also no shortage of memory, with 32GB integrated and the option to plug in a further 16GB using the microSD card slot. The usual stuff, like assisted GPS, FM tuner, Bluetooth, micro USB port and 3,5mm audio jack, are all included.

The screen slides back to reveal a well-designed Qwerty keyboard that’s big enough for even big-fingered people to use with comfort. The only problem with adding a keyboard to the device is that the N900 is quite a bit thicker than it would otherwise have been. It’s nearly twice as thick as an iPhone, so doesn’t slide easily into your pants pocket.

Connectivity is delivered via quad-band GSM/Edge and, unusually for a smartphone, tri-band 3G (900MHz, 1,7GHz and 2,1GHz) with 10,2Mbit/s high-speed packet access.

The integrated camera can take photos at up to 5-megapixels. The quality of the photos is extraordinarily good for a camera-phone. The N900 shoots pretty good quality videos, too.

The most impressive aspect of the N900 is the software. Though it’s not as slick and refined as the iPhone’s interface, and it takes a bit of getting used to, the Nokia device is fun to play with, especially if you fall into the “power user” category.

The big downside, though, and it’s a problem which afflicts Symbian-based devices, too, is the lack of applications available for the Maemo platform.

This shouldn’t be a problem for too long, though — because Maemo is built on Linux, it’s not hard to port applications to the platform. Already, some enterprising soul has ported the classic Linux game, The Battle for Wesnoth, to Maemo. You can even install open-source word processor Abiword and spreadsheet application Gnumeric.

As a smartphone for the ordinary Joe, though, the N900 is not recommended, which is probably why SA operators aren’t going to be stocking it. If you want one, you’re going to have to order it from overseas (from €500) or make friends with someone at the local Nokia office.Duncan McLeod, TechCentral


  1. Having bought and being hugely disappointed by N97, I don’t think i will ever buy Nokia handsetS again despite impressive review of N900

  2. Thapelo, you cannot compare the N900 to the N97 .. it is 2 totally different things ..

    I am just so disappointed that Nokia will not launch this in SA .. it will probably mean that I will ditch Nokia for some Andriod phone like HTC …

  3. Like the Nokia N810( which i own) the audience for this device is the developer community. Nokia are very much in the development /refining cycle of both the hardware and software in the N900. So only the next version of this phone will be available more widely and will certainly be way more polished. You can still get the phone on amazom if you really want one.

  4. What is difference between N97 and N900 both looks same ? N900 and N97 is an effort to grab the iPhone and android touch screen device customers but nokia touch screen need lots of improvement as iPhone and HTC touch is much better as compare to N97 touch screen feature.

  5. What pees me off about this & makes me laugh at the same time is that Nokia phones are doing shockingly worldwide with them losing huge market share to iPhones and Androids, so they come up with this N900 which everybody raves about and then a) they don’t plan to launch it in South Africa, and b) they are going to take so flippen long to launch the thing. My other contract is sitting doing the month-to-month thing because I was waiting for this phone as the camera on my iPhone is horrific & I loved the one on my N95 – and I take crap photos anyway – so this would be a nice other phone to have, but if I have to wait half a year to get the thing then I think it can actually just forget it. And why must we all be happy and grateful now that Nokia have decided to launch it here? As far as I’m concerned if they are struggling so much then there should be no question about where they launch this phone…. it should launch everywhere. Nokia dropped the ball badly. I used to be a staunch “Nokia only” kinda guy…. how things change.

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