N900: a year later

It’s been a little over a year since I first got my Nokia N900.  When I first wrote about this phone, I was pretty excited.  After a year — and several firmware updates — am I still excited?  The answer is mixed.  I still find my phone incredibly useful, but there are a lot of things I find disappointing.  Amazon.com recently listed the N900 as the most gifted phone of 2010, but it appears that it will remain a niche device.

The good

  • The Maemo community — Nokia hasn’t provided many official applications, and the Ovi Store only has a handful of applications.  The bulk of the useful applications come from the developer community and are installed through the Application Manager, a GUI for apt.  Lots of useful (and useless!) applications are easily available, including ports of many well-known Linux apps.  Thanks to the Maemo community, I can do anything on my phone that I’ve wanted to.  This includes SSH and VNC connections, IRC, IM accounts, and Google Voice.
  • The camera — the N900’s camera has continued to be an outstanding feature.  It takes great pictures, and the LED flash works well in close, low-light situations.  The front-facing camera and Skype were there long before Apple’s FaceTime and isn’t restricted to a specific platform (in the interests of full disclosure, it does require an updated version of Skype that was initially available only on the Windows and Maemo platforms because of codec issues).
  • Input — the N900’s on-screen keyboard got changed in one of the early firmware updates and has become eminently usable.  I still fat-finger it sometimes because I’m clumsy, but the stylus makes that pretty easy.  The stylus also makes cold-weather operation a snap, since I can type with my gloves on (the stylus isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s hard to be accurate in finger placement with a winter glove on.  I still primarily use the slide-out keyboard, and can type pretty quickly on it.
  • Multitasking — The N900 allows for true multi-tasking, which means I can play games while I wait for web pages to load.  Or IM while composing an e-mail.  Or load four different radar images at once.
  • GPS and maps — the Ovi Maps application is really useful, and the built-in GPS works quite well.  It is an assisted GPS, not a true GPS, but in most cases that doesn’t particularly matter.  I recently switched from AT&T to T-Mobile, which has a smaller data coverage map, and I haven’t yet used the Maps application since then, so I don’t know how much of a difference that would make.
  • Freedom — The N900 is a very unrestricted phone which allows you do to whatever you want.  This can be dangerous, but is of high importance to me.

The bad

  • Nokia — After releasing the N900, Nokia promptly abandoned Maemo.  That’s not entirely true, but effectively so.  Nokia is now focused on the MeeGo project: a merger of Nokia’s Maemo and Intel’s Moblin.  Maemo is a pretty solid platform, and MeeGo looks like an improvement, but it’s frustrating for the platform to be abandoned so quickly.
  • Power — The ARM Cortex-A8 CPU seems to get overwhelmed somewhat easily, and I’ve encountered memory leak issues in a few apps that will sometimes use most of the 1 GB of RAM.  It’s not generally an impediment, except when an incoming call doesn’t respond quickly.  I’ve missed a handful of calls in the last year because of this.  There have also been several cases where an application (generally the web browser) will lock the phone so hard that it doesn’t respond to anything for several minutes.
  • Battery life — With moderate-to-heavy use on the mobile network, I can run the battery down in just a few hours.  I’ve generally not been able to keep the battery going longer than a day, even when using Wi-Fi.  I’ve been more careful to not leave the phone on the charger all day, and that seems to have helped, but I’d still prefer a longer life.
  • No subsidy — This isn’t an N900 fault, but there are no U.S. carriers that offered this phone subsidized with a contract.  This means paying the full price for the phone.  The cost has come down, but it was still a significant outlay, and that means I won’t be upgrading my phone for a while.

Overall, I’m pleased with my N900.  There are some frustrations, but it has been a reliable and useful device for me.  At some point, I’ll try the community version of MeeGo on it, but in the meantime, I’ll keep going with what I’ve got.  I don’t regret my N900 purchase, but if I were to go back in time, I might just wait for some of the Android devices that came out in early 2010.  Hopefully Nokia makes a real effort with the MeeGo platform, instead of just the token effort that the N900 has proven to be.

2 thoughts on “N900: a year later

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