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Absolutely blown away by the N900

As you know I’ve been writing some pretty vehement opinions about Nokia’s output recently. Today, I’m at the opposite end of the scale having just received a pre-release N900 unit to test.

This just goes to show how important it is to have hands-on.

At Nokia World, I operated the camera whilst the always-informed Rafe Blandford handled the device and played around with it. I have to say that, at that point, it was ‘ok’. It looked a heckuvalot better than a next generation Nokia Tablet device.. but it really didn’t appear to operate as we’d seen in the N900 introductory video a few weeks beforehand. Rafe was playing with a pre-pre-pre-release device and it is to be expected.

I asked one question to one Nokia chap — Ovi Store support for the N900. At that point, it looked as though third-party application support was going to be haphazard,… and frankly, totally rubbish. At that point I wrote the N900 off, temporarily. From the information I’d been presented with, it looked like a nice (“fake smile”) device with limited appeal — something the uber-uber-uber mobile geeks would lust after, but something that your average N95 user wouldn’t bother with.

News that the N900 probably wouldn’t be ranging the N900 hammered the last nail into the coffin for me.

The absolute last nail? Being told by the Product Manager (forgive me I can’t recall his name) that the N900 was ‘version 4’ and that he’d be really satisfied with ‘version 5’.

Gaaah. ‘Why bother with version 4, then?’ I thought.

‘We move on, then,’ I thought, ‘It’ll be well received by the uber-geeks, there will be one or two revisions and then it’ll die a death.’

Glimmers of hope appeared.

You see, I’m the biggest capitalist of them all.

I win every argument I have with geeks because it’s rare to find a geek who appreciates reality. Most Symbian geeks readily complain about stupid consumers ‘not getting it’ and explain, ad nauseum, just how efficient the S60 platform can be. All this is irrelevant if your mother can’t use the device.

Which, incidentally, she can’t.

Geeks across the land will exclaim, ‘but my mother uses an N95!!’

To which I reply, ‘No she doesn’t’.

Nobody’s 55+ year old mother knows how to use an N95, unless he or she designed it. Your average 40 year old struggles with the interface.

It’s incumbent on the technology and technology designers to make their equipment and interfaces work in a manner that humans find easy and natural. Not the other way around.

And this is why you can give an iPhone to almost anyone and they’ll ‘get’ the UI-model in seconds. And … this is also why I can’t quite believe that a giant such as Nokia doesn’t appear to understand this. I could never comprehend why — although I love the N86, for example — why it’s so difficult to use. Why everything Apple seemed to put out appeared so superior.

That is, until I got hold of the N900 today.

I should point out that I’m not saying my mother will use it. Or even understand it.

But the user interface is fast. Very fast. It’s rather intuitive.

How do I know this?

Well… I opened up the N900 — ‘live’ on camera — and made a complete fool out of myself, for you.

(I couldn’t find the on button.. indeed, in the video which I’ll be publishing shortly, you can almost hear my crying for Rafe Blandford… ‘Help me Obi-Wan-Blandford… help me… where’s the ON button?’)

I found it.

And you’ll see me trying to understand how the device works. You’ll see the quick and snazzy intro that demonstrates the UI key features in about 30 seconds.

You’ll see me get to grips with the device. And I need to be clear: I had never tried it before.

Oh I’ve had one or two click-abouts at Nokia World, but I’ve never tried the device properly.

I first tried to put my 3 USIM into the device. It wasn’t having it. So I put in my Vodafone SIM — perfectly fine.

And goodness me it’s flipping fast.

You’ll see me setting up the device. Trying to work out how the clock works. Getting the analog settings completely wrong. But you’ll see me quickly adapting to the UI and understanding it.

You’ll hear a lot of ‘wows’ from me. Particularly when I hit up Mobile Industry Review in the N900 browser and then did a search for ‘N900’ here on the blog.

The first post was a video of the aforementioned Rafe Blandford of All About Symbian showing off the pre-pre-pre-pre-release N900 at Nokia World. A flash video. (You can see it here).

I was fully prepared for the browser to display a black image in place of where the flash app should be.

Imagine my total shock when Rafe started moving — when the video — and this is ‘HD quality’ (ish) 640×360 video encoded in FLV format — starts playing.

My problem? I couldn’t work-out how to increase the audio, but you do hear it. And it’s really good.

You’ll hear even more exclamations of near-joy when I’m zipping through the menu UI, zooming in and out of browser windows and what not.

I even got a text message in the middle of filming and navigated to try and find it — and then replied.

The video I took is not a comprehensive overview of the device. Not at all. I don’t give specs, I don’t go into massive detail — this is simply me playing and filming first impressions. I hope it’ll be instrumental in colouring your initial perspective.

I will make more videos later on — and if there’s anything you’d like to see working, simply post a comment and I’ll aim to answer as soon as I can.

Meanwhile, let me make this early prediction: If the N900 captures sufficient attention from the mobile developer community to at least get all of the favourites (and then some) ported on to Maemo… I think this is going to be a device to be reckoned with.

It completely kicks much of the iPhone 3GS experience into touch. It makes the iPhone look like a Fisher Price ‘My First Phone’ with it’s multi-tasking brilliance.

It’s all about the services, the capabilities, the possibilities. Can I load up the equivalent of the iPhone Network Rail application and click ‘my next train home’ and have the device automatically locate me, find the nearest train station and look-up the timetable, in 5-seconds flat?

Can I use Google Maps (my preferred choice) to follow my friends on Latitude?

Can I consume entertainment from an equivalent of iTunes (e.g. Amazon MP3 Store) or from (a much improved) Ovi Store?

I can’t necessarily do all this today.

But the tools and know-how to make these things happen are available for any developer worth his salt at maemo.org. So here’s hoping.

I’m excited! Very excited!

Anyway… The video is coming — I’ll hopefully have it up shortly.

By the way: All About Maemo is Rafe’s new Maemo site — definitely worth a look for any growing N900 fans.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

38 replies on “Absolutely blown away by the N900”

A very good article, diminished substantially by this strangely out-of-place provocation:

“I win every argument I have with geeks because it’s rare to find a geek who appreciates reality.”

Can't wait to see this video. For a long, long, long time I've wanted to do a video showing how I setup my S60 device fresh from the box. Looks like you've taken the liberally of doing this already, but with Maemo.

Oh and to correct your numbers, the N900 is “step 5 out of 6” not 4 out of 5 as you so put it. I'm not spending a dime of my personal money on the N900 since Nokia has done a fantastic job at underselling it by saying stupid things like “the next one will be sooo much better” to which I have to reply exactly as you did: why bother?

You're bang on there Ewan. It doesn't matter if the N900 beats the competition in terms of specs. It's all about the UI and the apps, about the ability to use the device as you want. That's where the iPhone excels, and that's where Nokia needs to focus.

Superb hardware + excellent UX + well-populated, easy to use app store = teh win.

BTW, it's the *National* Rail iPhone app, not *Network* Rai*. National = timetabling, Network = infrastructure (obligatory train geek pedantry)

The amusing thing is that you for some reason you believe you are not a geek, when you blatantly are. 😀

have now seen numerous N900 vids online and am more than impressed by what I've seen and can't wait to get my hands on one. Only concern is that I understand that Maemo 6 (when it comes along) will not support Maemo 5 apps…

Here are a few reasons to bother:
a. N900 is fantastic (trust me!)
b. it will take a looong time until they make version 6, considering it's not out yet it could be a year from now…
c. newer phones can/should always be better so with this philosophy you will be telling the “waiting for the next one” story to your grandchildren

Here are a few reasons to bother:
a. N900 is fantastic (trust me!)
b. it will take a looong time until they make version 6, considering it's not out yet it could be a year from now…
c. newer phones can/should always be better so with this philosophy you will be telling the “waiting for the next one” story to your grandchildren

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