Sunday, 6 December 2009

Nokia N900 mini review


As you might have noticed – I don’t care a lot about things like “processor speed” or other specs on mobile phones. It is a bit like comparing – yes you know what.

What I do care about usability – can it do what I need and want?

So very high on my needs list for running my businesses and taking care of my personal life are:

1. Microsoft Exchange Support
2. SIP Phone Support
3. VPN Support (PPTP and/or more)
4. Good and fast web browsing. Don't care about Flash at all.
5. Good Voice quality for Phone and SIP calls.
6. High resolution screen – in an ok size so I don't have to fiddle to much.
7. Capacitive Touch
8. Potential for real navigation with GPS when you are in a tight spot
9. Good quality media player that can eat a lot of formats without conversion.

So I got the “Mobile Computer with Phone support” the N900 to see if that fits my needs. The N900 is a descendant to the Nokia Internet Tablets like the N800 and N810. It is based on a Debian Linux with a Nokia GUI on top – but have more or less same specs and the N97 running Symbian. It is also comparable to the latest Android based phones.

You might have noticed I called the N900 for a “Mobile Computer with Phone support” – and that is ONLY because a lot of the N900 fan-boys tries to say “Phone Support is not super yet – but please do not look the N900 as a phone” to cover Phone criticism. I think that is stupid to be honest. It is a device from Nokia with a SIM card – so you should expect a great Phone integration. So N900 fan-boys - stop crying “foul”every time someone says something bad about the Phone Interface. Suck it up -  and put pressure on Nokia to fix it.

So in general – the N900 falls short in a few of my requirements. It does have SIP – but does NOT have VPN. VPN should be SO easy to implement on a Debian platform that I don’t understand why it is not there.

Another annoyance is the N900 has resistive touch screen. That is really not very good. It is more luck than effort that you can use it for on screen navigation. Compared to iPhone it is really bad. Not as bad as the N97 but very close. Tapping on the screen (like double tap in web browser to “zoom in” and double-tap again to zoom out”) – again – is more luck than anything that it zooms. Often I need to try 3-4 times before it zooms. Never had that kind of an issue on the iPhone.

Exchange Support is “ok” but not more than okay. It is Nokia’s own “Mail for Exchange” application that manages the connection – and it seems to work a bit different on the N900 than it does on the N97/E90/E71. On the “other” versions of MfE – your Inbox get synchronised. But on the N900 – ALL your folders get synchronised. For me that meant the first sync I tried – did not even finish in 24 hours. I have maybe 70-90 mails pr day – and keep my inbox quite nice and clean – but organise all other mails in folders and subfolders.  So I’m used to all other Exchange mobile implementations – to take all mail from Inbox and keep that in Sync. But my N900 wanted my entire 9GBs of mails from all folders. What a waste – I don’t need all my old mail in my pocket. I need only my Inbox and maybe selected folders. But there is NO way to disable folders from Sync.

The huge amount of e-mail MfE tries to sync – also seems to mean that my N900 often “forgets” to sync. “Last sync failed – Exchange Server Not Responding” it screams. But with a mobile device I need to be sure that my mails arrive on time when I’m out – without having to check Sync status all the time. If I set it for every 15 min – I want my mail every 15. min – not after 3 hours… I do not have those issues with my iPhone – so why should I accept them with the N900?

Navigation – well the N900 is delivered with a crippled version of Ovi Maps. I love Ovi Maps 3.0 – but the version in the N900 is a weird mix of Ovi Maps 3 and some older versions. Seems like a Quick and dirty “hack” just to have a map application on the N900.  You do get the 3D buildings as in V3 – and you can use it for navigation – but you don't get a Navigation screen – only the map. No turn by turn instructions – and biggest issue – no sync of your online Ovi Landmarks. I have a lot of landmarks in my Ovi Maps Online Application but can’t access them on this version.

Web browser is okay – but not a speed daemon – it works okay and display pages quite well. But not a fluid experience like on the iPhone.

Media Player seems to work fine and can play mpeg 4 video with good results on the screen – it fulfil my needs anyway.

Now I will take a break and come back with more later. :-)


Sky Walker said...

Thank you for your review. I am looking at buying N900 or Iphone. I am heavy user for exchange mail and web browser. Which one do you think serve you better?

Kasper said...

that really depends of the person you are. Locked platform, lots of applications - multitude of VPN - but most things work - iPhone

open platform, run programs in the background - no VPN - and still in early stage - N900.

MfE should get an update in next release - but dont know if that will help.

Browser - well both I think are good - but iPhone is easier to use (for things like zoom etc)

So im forcing myself to use the N900 until next firmware. If that does not improve on things I will be back on iPhone 3GS 32gb.

Sky Walker said...

Thanks for your advise. Sound like you re struggling using N900. Not many applications now for maemo platform. Iphone is way too many applications. I just hope some enhancement is coming soon for N900 mfe. This is the key app I need to use.
Browser - I thought zooming using N900 can be easier too. It is difficult to zoom by circling clockwise & anti-clockwise?

tom2 said...

You say "No VPN" - but there is OpenVPN. Not good enough?

Zooming of browser is page-specific - sometimes it just doesn't work right because of the underlying HTML (but you can also use the volume buttons to zoom)

Touchscreen: Press slightly harder or use your nails (it's more of a "press-screen" than a "softie-touch-screen")

Yes, Email client and Ovi maps are not fully there yet :-)

Kaz said...

So OpenVPN is built in is it? or is it an installable?

But no instructions...?

zoom - never had a problem with iPhone - with any page. So N900 should not have any problems either.

screen/touch.. hmm - yes but that is why I dont like it :-)

Anonymous said...

OpenVPN can be installed as a third party unsupported app. But it doesn't work well.

It doesn't set your DNS server, so you have to manually edit /etc/resolv.conf and the N900 keeps overwriting it every so often.

OpenVPN doesn't see when the connection is disconnected or changed (from 3G to wifi for example). It will always indicate 'connected' even when its not.

So it kind of works, but working with it is a pain. A 'normal' VPN client should really be part of the N900.

You should also take into account that OpenVPN isnt a standard based VPN. So your company MUST be running OpenVPN. In contrast to a 'normal' pptp VPN client which can connect to a whole range of different VPN servers.