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Nokia n900: First impressions

I’ve been pretty harsh on Apple and their software in recent months. Getting an iPhone was never really an option. It costs like a small computer while not, actually, being one.

So when the time came to get a new phone, I found something else: the Nokia n900. The fact that it’s using Linux and is completely open was the major selling point. It’s got GPS, camera, all that jazz – but to me, the main thing was its openness. It’s got Python, for god’s sake… I once read in a review that this was a phone not for professionals nor for the hip young crowd who wanted gadgets and glitter – this was a phone for engineers and programmers who were bitter because the iPhone was such a closed platform. It’s also been described as being more of a palmtop computer with phone capabilities than a phone with computer capabilities. In other words, it’s perfect for me – a match made in heaven.

I won’t bore you with technical details. Those are easy enough to find if you’ve got at least a yellow belt in google-fu. Instead, I’ll give you my first impressions of the device.

First of all: It’s big and heavy. Seriously, this feels like a palmtop, or a phone from the late 90’s. 1.8 cm thick… Yeah. Still small enough for my picket, but then again I don’t wear a lot of really tight-fitting pants.

The touch screen isn’t as responsive as the iPod’s. At least when using fingers – responsiveness and precision are excellent when using the stylus. The OS is really good-looking, but sometimes not as smooth as one would wish.

At first glance, the amount of available apps is ridiculously small. At second glance, it’s no App Store – but if the additional repositories are enabled, the list of apps grows considerably. This is Debian, after all. You can even install stuff by using the terminal and apt-get. A terminal! Yes, this is real Linux. Full-fledged. Not a crippled platform. Full control, and root access. Not for the weak of heart or the computer novice, to be sure, but seriously… This is a power user phone.

Some things are still better on the iPhone/touch, software-wise. Google doesn’t support the n900 yet, so you can’t sync multiple calendars. Contacts work, though. I’ve not found any todo list manager with support for todoist. Mozilla Fennec, the Firefox for mobile devices, is slow and unresponsive. There aren’t many addons for the browser, either. There’s no Spotify, and I haven’t found neither a decent 3d program nor a layered drawing app. There’s no vector drawing either, no diagram or mindmapping. No FirstClass client. No Dropbox. No Google Earth. And there are a bunch of game remakes etc that are only available for the iPhoneOS.

But you know what? The n900 has been around since late 2009. That’s about five months. And Nokia have, apparently been slow in delivering phones to distributors. And still, there are a LOT of apps available in the expanded repos. This is open source – and it’s Linux. There are a myriad of apps thet are being ported as we speak. I have no doubt whatsoever that regardless of whether or not Nokia supports the device in the future, this platform will not die.

First impressions are good.

Let’s see what another month or two does…

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