Reviewing the Nokia N900, User and Developer opinions.


Playing with it from the User Perspective
– Virtual keyboard is deactivated by default, not good if you have one hand busy, however I can see why it’s this way (the virtual keyboard sucks). When it comes out it covers the entire screen, and the experience with it is not there yet in comparison to the virtual keyboards of the iPhone or Android.

Physical Keyboard feels great.

Not sold on the stylus, I think I might loose it. However it comes in handy when clicking on tiny links.

– Web browsing experience is clumsy if you try to use your fingers and you’re used to Android or iPhone where dragging occurs on a light touch. With the N900 you have to Tap harder to begin to drag, probably like that intentionally. I must admit I find myself making mistakes on the Droid maybe because it’s too sensitive.

Using forms on the browser is inconvenient. There’s no way to move from form field to form field except using the stylus. Keyboard arrows won’t work to switch focus between form fields, and the lack of virtual keyboard (when you’re using the real one) implies that you won’t have a “Next” button to move through the form (or at least I couldn’t figure out a field hopping mechanism).

Zooming in and out on a web page will be extremely unintuitive. Thanks to patents on multitouch gestures you’ll have to either double tap, or do a ridiculous tap+hold and twirl clockwise zoom in (in a controlled way), or tap+hold and twirl counter-clockwise to zoom out… wtf.
Nokia has to put up a fight on this, natural multi-touch gestures are a must on today’s smartphones.

– I still don’t know how to select, copy and paste text from a website. Very hard to quote text and twitter it.

– Default timeout for screen auto lock is way too short.

It has a stand on the back, which as a developer I appreciate. It’s a pain to debug apps on the nexus one, you always kind of need to pick it up or create some sort of desktop apparatus to have the phone facing you while you test hands free.

Multimedia
Video and audio playback were perfect. Droid and Nexus One have nothing to envy, so it’s not a selling point. Watch the 3 phones playing the same video.

– Navigation is convenient with top left corner control. It took me a few seconds to figure it out being used to Android’s back and Home Button and of the one physical button on the iPhone.

– The Media player comes with pre-installed internet radio streaming app. On Android I had to download one from the Market.

Didn’t have to install Flickr photo uploading app, already comes with OS.

OVI Store experience frustrated me. Should be an app, not a web page. I got asked for an HTTPS certificate while trying to install a Twitter plugin, it was basically the same exception you get on a web browser. The regular user would get lost adding the certificate and the security exception. Then after that I got asked to signup for the OVI store, and I gave up. Installing apps should be a breeze. Setting up your OVI Store account should be done as part of the phone setup process on an App.

The more I use the phone the more I think, Nokia’s hardware is hot, but they’re wasting their time with competing on software. Nokia running Android would kill everybody else, let’s hope it will happen sooner than I think, they just need to test with one cool device and feel the market.

Unboxing Pictures
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Playing with it as a Software Developer
– No SDK for Mac environment, or at least not a very accessible or official version of it. The only solution seemed to be installing the SDK on a Virtualized Linux (e.g. VirtualBox).

– Maemo SDK not compatible with Ubuntu 10.4 64bit, it seems it’s only 32bit.

The project page confirms this:
“The development environment for Maemo running on the desktop is called Maemo SDK. You can only install Maemo SDK on a Linux operating system. Maemo SDK currently supports the following Linux distributions: Debian, Ubuntu”

Tried installing Scratchbox on my Mac with no luck.

– It was a little surprising to see the Nokia documentation for developers talking about GTK+ in all their examples and not Qt, given the acquisition of Trolltech by Nokia in 2008. However you go to the Qt page and it says that it’s the defacto SDK for Maemo devices.

In the end I decided to install it on a 32bit Ubuntu VirtualBox image on my Mac and deal with the performance hit, I couldn’t just return the phone without compiling something, otherwise I’d be speaking out of my ass right?

Hello World in GTK

Hello World in Qt4, exactly the same code I would’ve used for a desktop Qt4 app.

compilation is the same thing as if developing a regular Qt4 app on linux
[bash]/scratchbox/login
fakeroot apt-get install libqt4-dev[/bash]

create your helloworld.cpp… then make your project
[bash]qmake -project
qmake
make
run-standalone.sh ./qt_helloworld[/bash]

If you’re used to Linux development with GTK or Qt4 you will feel right at home, and you probably know right off what’s the most comfortable set of tools to code. If you’re not, it seems like Nokia has left the whole thing way too much on the hands of the Maemo community.

Documentation seems a little all over the place, unfinished Wikis, not very welcoming for non-linux developers, I’m talking about companies that come from actually making money on iPhone OS or Android, looking to port their apps to Maemo. The first impression won’t be the best and you’ll think that things aren’t as well prepared as for iPhone with X-Code or Android with the Eclipse extension which let’s you deploy a signed installer in just a few clicks.

It seems that Nokia is relying way too much on the Linux community for all of this, I’m not sure if this is going to get very far with mobile shops, specially after seeing how many hurdles a user has to go through sometimes to get an app from the OVI market (in comparison to iPhone or Android’s markets simple purchasing processes).

SDK experience Screenshots
[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157624248900230″]

Conclusions

First of all thanks to Nokia for sending the N900. My final conclusions which are mostly thinking from the consumer perspective might not be one you’ll like much (you=Nokia), but you probably need to hear this (I’m guessing this is why you sent the device in the first place).

In my case after being a faithful Nokia consumer I felt dissapointed with the software side when I chose the N95 over the iPhone, newer Nokia phones came, but the same shitty platform was running on them, I thought Maemo would change that but now I know it’s nowhere near what smartphone users today expect. Then Android came along to truly compete with the iPhone.

Now as an Android user when the time comes for me to upgrade my phone I’ll be looking for another Android device.

Let’s imagine what’s going to happen when my Droid is too old, by that time there will be even more Android phones to choose from also a richer Application ecosystem, if I were the kind of person that installs paid apps I’d probably like to keep my “investment” for my next phone, however even if there’s a myriad of Android phones out there, the only brands I’ll consider are Motorola, HTC, LG and SonyEricsson, I’m not too fond of any of them so I’ll have to research what each of the phones they’ll be offering will suit my needs.

An Android based Nokia smartphone would certainly make my decision a lot easier. As of now you’re entirely out of the picture, there’s no way I’m switching to Maemo, and Moblin is way too new to tell if it’s going anywhere.

Nokia, Stop playing outside the garden, don’t get cocky with your current numbers and admit you’re slowly decaying, if you don’t do something about it once Android is on every cheap phone you’re gonna die. Android could use some Nokia.

Follow the geek.

3 Comments

  1. it is beacuse each linux/unix/opensource dev has their own idea about the right way to do something – that flexible interopability frameworks and systems developed.

    i’m talking about DBus, where you can call any function in any process from any other (in any language). this is a foundation of a highly evolved, flexible and diverse user environment.

    i’m talking about PulseAudio, and Jack..

    any time i think something up, my n900 is able to do it, without hassle

    just as a few brief examples:

    media – i plugg in my bran new nnokia and theres no music on it? iTunes? synch?

    nah.. just nfs mount my netbook’s 32gb SDHC card.

    a few weeks later, ive downloaded various music on the phone i want to play from a desktop – apt-get install unfsd

    hrm.. i’m sitting on a couch, but i want to play some music i’m working on over big speakers – just select my N900’s FM transmitter from a pulseaudio network devices on the laptop, and turn on a FM radio from the 70s already tuned to the right station..

    wait, i have to edit a word document – plug in the video out cable to a 51″ LCD tv and grab a bluetooth keyboard and launch openoffice

    android threw out 15 years of this userspace evolution in favor of some quasi java where everything has to be rewritten from scratch – no thanks

    • I love DBus, I love .debian repos, it’s all good I get you. But sadly most people that have been using computers for a long time have no clue of any of that.
      It’s a nice ideal to think that you can re-use all of what’s been written for the Linux desktop on a smarphone/tablet but the truth is that when you look at the
      big picture, the mainstream user doesn’t need any of that, they’re not that advanced, if they want an app they go to an app market, search, click, install, done.

      Doing that on the N900 is far from that (at least on the OVI store), it was a big mistake leaving the purchasing/install experience on the browser when the browser the phone comes with has not been polished to be used on that device. The user gets all sorts of SSL certificate errors and warnings, and entering a username and password everytime (even if you have checked to be remembered) is a total deterrant to have applications installed. As a developer you want as less friction as possible to get your apps installed.

      Android threw out a lot probably because it didn’t make sense to have it. There’s a lot to work on and there’s probably a lack of flexibility from your point of view in favor of having a homogeneous application ecosystem. Sometimes too much flexibility leads to everyone pulling their way and not uniting (which is why I think that the Linux community for example needs to get its shit together, do Gnome or do KDE and do it well for the main consumer, Apple did achieve building a Unix that everyone can use because they don’t have those UI/UX issues)

      It’s nice to have those possibilities, like plugging a monitor and launching openoffice, but in reality the truth is that I’ve never needed to do so, the same way I’ve never needed to make a phone call with my notebook. Somethings are meant to be used on a desktop, others on a smartphone, and it’s easier for me just opening that spreadsheet on a netbook, notebook or desktop than looking for a converter cable and plugging it to the phone and a monitor, and then suffer editing complex text on that little keyboard.

      There’s a chicken and egg problem with that platform, and seeing now all the push towards Moblin+Maemo tells you that Nokia knows they’re not going anywhere, there’s hardly any buzz about it. Most people are fixated with their Blackberries and iPhone, only recently Android has started getting more buzz thanks to big media promotion (Verizon mostly), and it all comes down to the moment people have the phone in their hands and try it. I think N900 dissapoints the regular user, it’s probably great for the hardcore linux user, but you can’t build a viable business around us, it’s hard already doing so with the currently growing Android userbase the one I’m hoping will be the same that runs Symbian on all those cheap phones all over the world, that’s my bet.

  2. i really love all yours post, i hope that you update ur blog more often..
    and at post i think that years ago nokia own the market with good and powerful cellphones
    but at the moment i think htc is making a good job like apple but better

    htc evo 4 is an amazing powerful cellphone hope u get it soon and make us a ynboxing or a review =)

    cya! and take care gubatron..
    o almost i forget it..
    perhaps you should make a self intervier or something like that about your life because me and some other friends love the idea that latin people got succesful in programing develoment and have a good job in usa where is best value.. u know that …
    well.. have a nice day menz!! <3! U 😉

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