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Nokia N900 first impressions

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My Opinion of Nokia N900 first impressions:

The Nokia N900 came in an understated black box with minimalistic text in two shades of grey. Opening the box revealed the black phone with an opaque screen guard--ostensibly to ensure it's removal before use--but also providing a very A.C. Clarke-esque Monolithic appearance to the device. The physical presentation isn't much different than other recent high-end Nokias (or Apple products for that matter), but the dark monochormatic nature of the device itself does provide a more striking experience than for instance the business-like silver Nokia E61 in a white box.

The body
The N900 body is both shorter and narrower than the Nokia E61, but slightly thicker than the widest part of the latter. Compared to the HTC Magic, the N900 is noticeably bigger in each direction, and might be better suited for one-hand operation in bigger, as opposed to smaller hands; unlike the HTC Magic which feels uncomfortably thin in my hand, the Nokia N900 feels like it's pushing the limits of comfort when held vertically, but does just manage to rest naturally in the cradle of my hand.

The SIM, battery, and micro-SD card are all accessible by removing the back cover, a scary proposition despite its official sanctioning as the proccess involves tearing the back cover off by force; I fear that the the plastic hookstthat hold the cover may be the first item on the phone to go, before the resistive touchscreen even--although perhaps such a fear is unrational.

The initial start-up
The start time on the phone was about the same as previous phones; a side-by-side comparison with the Nokia E61 and no SIM in either resulted in a neck-and-neck finish. The trademarked Michelangelo-inspired Nokia logo looks remarkably smooth and cleand compared to the lower resolution screen; a leap not unlike seeing it in colour for the first time.

The first actual screen was the date/time configuration screen. Presumably (and I realize that's being presumptuous), if I had a SIM in the phone it would have pulled the starting date from the network. As it was, I had to set the time (and select region/language preferences) using the touch screen. This has a pratical application in that it's an immediate way of both showing-of the touch screen and familiarizing the user with it, but setting the time by grabbing the hands of a clock seems much less efficient than typing the numbers, especially since I already had the keyboard open.

General Observatiosn on Usage
It's my natural inclination to have the keyboard open when I plan on using the device. It slides open easily revealing the full QWERTY keyboard, arrow keys, and important to me when using a terminal emulator, a control key. However, the keyboard in many of the screens--except for intering text--is vestigial. The UI was designed to be primarily touch-operated, and the touchscreen seems to be generally responsive. Being as it is resitive, it takes a small force to be recognised, instead of the capicitive touchscreens presented with the HTC Magic or Apple iPhone--the force required is minimal, and so far I like the trade-off as this also lets it be useful when gloved, or when using the included stylus which pops out of the bottom right corner of the phone when held horizontally.

Changing perspective
The N900's lineage consists of the Nokia N800 line of mobile Internet devices, and its feels like it. Maemo gives the N900 a feeling much more like a smart device or ultramobile PC than it does the feeling of a mobile phone or even the current line of smart phones. One of the side effects of this is that the N900's general perspective is horizontal, not vertical like we've come to expect from being inundated with Apple iPhone advertisments.

The world around me
After restarting the machine with both my SIM card and a 16 GB micro-SD installed, I watched the device first pick-up the EDGE (2.5G) connection followed by a 3G UMTS transition. I began thumbing through programs, exploring the device and was alerted by a vibration and tone when an SMS text arrived. Upon leaving the application I was using, I was automatically greeted with the summary of the new message which I could quickly dismiss. This seemless notification was impressive, and was much more convenient than my current phone where I would need to manually switch to the messaging app (or to the homescreen which would direct my attention to the messaging app) to view the message. I have not investigated yet whether or not this functionality can be tweaked or disabled, as I could see it not being ideal for everyone (such as those who find the fact that this is an incoming communication device the price to pay for having an always-connected ultra-mobile pc).

A sync
I set my new device, now named Justine, to synch with my old primary phone, Juliette. Both phones are Nokias, and presumably there is some SyncML-over-bluetooth magic going on. When I moved to the Nokia E61 from my Nokia N-Gage Nokia provided a one-time transfer tool, but didn't provide a means of maintaining an on-goingly consistent state. After the sync, I had contacts with photos, and either through the sync or some other magic I had my T-Mobile network settings already imported and ready for use.

Up to date
Maemo 5 has the ability to update itself online. After pulling in the 20MB update, a newer, 90MB update was displayed as available. Apparently the Maemo application manager won't update to the latest available version, and the user will need to update iteratively which is a little odd if you look at the system as being based upon Debian GNU Linux. Indeed, once I installed rootsh, it was obvious that the inbuilt Maemo updater was just a front-end to the apt repository. In the end, I'm not quite sure what was changed in the 90MB update, but the build date was six days later, and appears to be the most recent release.

Conversations received a lot of critical praise whith early reviewers of the phone. I don't know if I feel like it's the monumentous achievent that some of them hyped it to be, but it certainly is more convenient than in previous phones I've used. The fact that it crosses protocols (e.g. providing the option to respond by SMS or Jabber) is very useful.

IDLE comlaints
Maemo bug 3888 indicates that somewhere else, specifically libtinymail, the inbuilt mail client modest, has had IMAP IDLE support disabled. This is very disheartening, although the fact that there is an active bug tracking it is uplifting, and once everything else is configured, it seems like something I might take a crack at (even at the risk of reduced battery life, it seems like a very important feature).

The Desktop
The Freemantle desktop was redesigned from previous versions of Maemo. In the past, there was a more simplified home screen where the user could perform all actions. In Freemantle (Maemo 5), the desktop has up to four distinct workspaces which can contain widgets or links to applications, web sites or contacts on the phone.

Touchscreens: The Dichotomy
The introduction of the Apple iPhone spawned a wave of touch phones trying to capitalize on one of the marketing points of the Apple product, missing the point somewhat, as many people don't care about touchscreens still. I didn't get the N900 because I wanted a touch phone, I got it because it seemed like it'd be the most useful device out there--in part because it had a keyboard. The touchscreen was simply something I'd live with. Because of this, the fact that e.g. in the menu to select an application or widget for the desktop you need to scroll using the touch screen instead of filtering by text typed as happens in the Contacts application is extremely annoying and tedious. There is a somewhat annoying split, as well, between native designed-for-Maemo applications and ported applications, where the former follow the same touchscreen pulling semantics for scrolling that Android phones use, while the latter use the inverse, grabbing the scrollbar methodology--in effect, you scroll in opposite directions depending on the application.

Where's my home?
At one point during the day, after getting Jabber and SIP working, but before I'd even opened the web browser, I took my fledgling phone with me to a happy hour at work. The UI guy critiqued the UI, the Android guy lamented how old and out of touch he was (and that his HTC G1 was about the same size), and the iPhone guy asked the inevitable Apple iPhone question, of "Where's my home?"