Short usability overview of a Nokia N900

May 7, 2010 by Merlin

On March 15th Tardigrade had won on the Maemo Challenge that was being held on first Mobile Monday in Croatia. The winning application was Ginkg-o-minder (concept name) and the reward was N900 device to build and test the application on. There are many reviews of N900 spanning from a few to a dozen pages long containing all the technical details you can imagine. I will not talk about that, but will give you some usability information. Here is my opinion after playing with it for a while.

N900 is NOT a smartphone. When I hear the word “smartphone” I instantly think of a not too bulky device with advanced features that can be operated with one hand in a hurry. And that is something I do most of the time. You all do when you think about it. Is it walking under a umbrella or with a shopping bag, holding onto something in a public transportation or trying to find an address on a GPS application while driving (not safe, but we do it anyway).

N900 doesn’t fit that description. Except the “advanced features” part, but we’ll come to that. It’s bulky and it’s thick. Except in very rare situations, like using a phone, you are bound to using it in a landscape mode. And that’s OK for a quick preview, but you can’t use a touch screen very well with one hand and typing on a keyboard happens only in a dream. Screen is pretty big and has a high resolution, but some elements, like a “X” button to close a tab, are so small that it’s hard to hit it with a stylus, let alone a finger.

So, “it not a smartphone” you ask? Not by my definition. But when you look to the official site the first thing you can read about it is “Experience the speed and raw power of the high-performance mobile computer”. And they are right. Big screen, full QWERTY keyboard, plethora of wireless interfaces, stereo speakers, abundance of storage space and excellent web browser that devours Flash and JavaScript (tip – use the volume adjuster to fine tune zoom level). It’s Linux. And it has a terminal. In other words – a geek’s paradise.

This is Nokia’s first mobile pho… device using Maemo (now MeeGo) platform, so applications are scarce and unknowns are many. But it is a good move to ship this kind of device in an unknown territory. Geeks (yes, we :)) are very interested and will play with it, disassemble it, try new things, build cool applications and finally build a community around it.

Conclusion. If you are a geek, a programmer or have some other social ineptitude syndrome and a bit of extra time – N900 is a great device to explore, learn or test your ideas. If you are a normal user that needs to use a phone easily on the go, try something else or wait for a next Nokia smartphone, hopefully with a MeeGo platform behind it.