The Nokia N900

by brendan on 08/30/2009

My previous post about health care has proven to be rather popular, and I hope that this new post won’t distract from that discussion. With that being said, it’s time to talk gadgets; the Nokia n900!

A little background is in order. Nokia came out with their original Internet tablet back in December of 2005, called the n770. It was a clunky little device, but a great concept. I played with one a few times, but ultimately decided I didn’t want to deal with the quirks of a 1.0 device and chose to wait for the next version. That was the n800 Internet tablet, a much sleeker and more powerful device. True to my word, I snagged it in Spring of 2007. It didn’t have 3g or built in GPS, so it wasn’t truly portable, but to browse the web on wifi (meaning from my couch) it worked pretty well. I did have one big complaint, and that was the lack of a hardware keyboard. The stylus and/or on-screen keyboard really just didn’t cut it for me. So eventually I sold my n800.

Then the n810 was announced, and it had a hardware keyboard and built in GPS (I had bought an external GPS for my n800, so this was a big plus). I was very intrigued, but rumors of a second “3g enabled” n810 kept me from pulling the trigger. A tiny computer that could browse on wifi and cellular? Sign me up. Unfortunately the 3g n810 never became a reality (a wimax version came out, but only in Baltimore), so my interest faded. To tide me over, I picked up a Nokia n95 instead.

Fast forward to two days ago. Nokia announced the n900. Unlike its predecessors, the “Internet tablet” moniker has been dropped from its name. But like its earlier brethren, it’s basically a computer that you can carry around in your pocket. Since 2005 when the first Nokia tablet was introduced, we’ve seen a few iPhone variations, god knows how many Blackberries and Samsung smart phones, and a Palm Pre – and all of these devices qualify as a computer you can carry in your pocket. So Nokia is not alone with the n900, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t stand out.

So how does it stack up against the iPhone 3Gs and Palm Pre? Pretty nicely, it seems.

Processor: Tie (iPhone/Pre/n900)
All three devices have a 600MHz ARM Cortex A8 processor and PowerVR SGX graphics; the iPhone of the Samsung variant and the Pre/n900 using Texas Instruments.

Memory: Advantage n900

All three devices have 256MB RAM physical memory, the Pre using DDR2. However, the n900 offers up to 768MB of virtual memory. Virtual memory is not as fast as physical memory, but it still gets the n900 up to 1GB RAM. To be fair, the iPhone can’t multitask so it shouldn’t need more than 256MB. The n900 and Pre can, so based on that the expanded capacity is almost a requirement.

Storage: Advantage n900
The Pre comes in last here, with a non-expandable 8GB. The iPhone offers non-expandable 16GB and 32GB versions. The n900 has 32GB built-in with an expansion MicroSD slot.

Display: Advantage n900
The Pre is a 3.1 inch screen, and the iPhone and n900 both have 3.5 inch screens. The tiebreaker is that the iPhone screen has 480×320 resolution and the n900 uses a higher 800×480 resolution.

Keyboard: Personal Preference

They all take different approaches here. The iPhone has no physical keyboard, which helps account for it being the slimmest device (12.3 mm). The Pre has a smaller QWERTY slide-down keyboard, and the n900 has a larger side-slide QWERTY keyboard.

Touch: Tie (iPhone/Pre)

The n900 comes in last here, with a “single-touch” interface. Both the iPhone and Pre are multi-touch.

Camera: n900
No comparison here. The n900 has a 5 megapixel camera with autofocus, Carl Zeiss optics, CMOS sensor, Tessar lens and dual LED flash. The not too shabby iPhone camera is an autofocus 3 megapixels with no flash, while the Pre is a 3 megapixels with LED flash but no autofocus.

GPS: Tie (iPhone/Pre/n900)
Yep, they’ve all got it.

Battery: Jury Is Out
Pre has the smallest capacity battery, at 1150mAh. Next is the iPhone, at 1219mAh. The n900 battery is the highest capacity, at 1320mAh. Battery life is VERY dependent on OS and use though, so I would hesitate to claim that capacity=life.

Physical Size: Personal Preference
Pre is the smallest in length and ties the iPhone for smallest in weight (135 grams). The n900 is the longest and the heaviest (181 grams). So in descending order: n900 > iPhone > Pre. They’re all small, relatively speaking, so this really comes down to how they feel in your hand and personal preference.

Apps: iPhone
This is a misleading category, since it partially depends on what you want to do with the phone and how advanced you are technically, but even so – the iPhone wins. Neither the Pre nor the n900 has nearly the catalog or ease of use that the iPhone App Store offers.

OS: Personal Preference
The iPhone wins for ease of use. The Pre wins for advanced productivity, with the ability to multi-task. The n900 runs essentially a fork of Debian Linux, so it wins for hackability. You really like to tinker? Get a n900, no question. You want the hottest toy, that just works? Get an iPhone. You want the dark horse, the lesser known iPhone alternative? Get the Pre.

So what does this all mean? It’s all personal preference, of course. But you knew I was going to say that.

My preference is a n900, and I’d choose it over the other two. For me, I prefer a hardware keyboard and I think the larger n900 keyboard would be easier to use than the Pre’s. Plus, I use my phone’s camera frequently – and in that respect the n900 blows the other two out of the water. Finally, I’ve had a Nokia “tablet” device before, and it was fun. I could run a shell and telnet into my other computers or router, as well as do a number of other “computer” things that phones normally can’t do. It really was like having a palm-sized PC. I would even personally go so far as to say this could easily be the perfect device for just about anybody, but that’s ultimately going to depend on if a US carrier picks it up and subsidizes it. It does have UMTS/HSDPA on the same 1700/2100MHz bands that T-Mobile’s been pushing, so I’ve got my fingers crossed for big T-Mo.

Nokia, if you’re reading this and you want to send me a n900 to test out – I’d be happy to do so. You ended the s60 Ambassador program, of which I was one, so maybe you’d like to start a n900 Ambassador program instead? You got your first member right here…

Device specs are courtesy of their respective manufacturer product pages, and also from this teardown comparison courtesy of Rapid Repair. Image of n900 is courtesy of Nokia.

There is 1 comment in this article:

  1. 11/15/2009ochophosphate says:

    I know this is a little old – missed it the first time.

    After a few months of seeing the Pre out there, I think it's pretty weak in comparison to other offers. The biggest complaint I've heard is the battery life – which is God-awful. A friend of mine said he couldn't make the trip from Nashville to Memphis on one full battery charge while using text/SMS only – no voice. This is about a 3.5 hour trip, mind you. The ability to run multiple apps is neat – but battery life is awful. Not to mention there was a defect with screens randomly cracking. It is a nice device for Palm, the OS is crafty. But it is a problematic device that may see improvement in future iterations.

    I am curious to see if you've compared the HTC MyTouch/Hero (T-Mobile/Sprint) – it looks pretty nice.

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