Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hands on with the new amazing Nokia N900

There has bee a lots of interest around this new device and the Maemo 5 operating system. Lots of positive comments and then I have read some comments where people doubt that the transitions would be just some flash animations and not a real thing (which of course is not true). Well, this is a OpenGL hardware accelerated Maemo device, and all you see is real. Quim Gil just posted on Twitter a link to a new video showing how the Maemo UI works, if you had doubts, you can put the doubt aside and see by yourself. The user experience is slick and beautiful.

You can find the video from here:

In my opinion, the UI experience on the Maemo 5 has improved greatly over what it used to be and also over the competition. It is really pleasant to use and there are not so many things that would be annoying. There certainly is lots of wow, and this kind of shows the innovation these days is occuring in the mobile space rather than on desktop, desktop environments are already lagging behind and the transitions on these UIs are not so practical they are in Maemo where they are all well thought and well implemented and not just random eye candy and special FX without purpose. Maemo 5 really rocks on this segment.

There is also an article about hands on experience on N900. Slashgear is reporting from Nokia World conference. There is both video and lots of good pictures included. This shows how the device looks like rather than the UI. The video I mentioned above is better showing how the UI functions.

And here is yet another hands on video. This is also very good:

And here is the replacement for a gaming console.

The Nokia N900 can be used as accelerometer equipped controller and connected to a TV. Hint for game developers: Here is the great platform to start developing games. The platform supports full OpenGL ES 2.0 and a OpenGL-ES game does not even need to care that much what Maemo version it will run on, Maemo 5, Maemo 6, and the GL is standard. It is not a bad long term investment to invest on Maemo. The N900 has a capable graphics accelerator (for this small mobile device) as can be seen from the Bounce game and from also the UI which heavily relies on the accelerated 3D graphics. The capacity of the device is great - it has plenty of RAM and there is plenty of flash too on the user's home directory. And if the RAM would not be enough, there is also virtual memory like on any modern operating system nowadays. The games don't need to be that simple and amateurish anymore "mobile games", I am quite confident that anything that has been done for Wii could be done for this device, in other words, this could be used as a serious gaming device despite that is not what it was primarily targeted for (as it is Internet device really). But like computers, there are many uses for the single device. Also, the device can be always connected, so massive multiplayer games would be superb on this. Looking forward to try some serious 3rd party games in the future! Hey Austin, if you read this, please port the X-plane, I want it.


Andy said...

Seriously guys, what so amazing about the new N900 really? From a developer point of view Maemo is cool but from a end-user point of view there's nothing particular cool about it especially once Nokia built them for different markets & operators. Have you guys tried iPhone or iPod Touch lately? Apple sucks but iPhone/iPod Touch are cool and amazing.

zeenix said...

Andy! The only way I can switch between applications on iPhone is to "kill" the current one. N900 OTOH provides you full-fledge but highly intuitive way to switch between many (I don't know the limit but personally I keep least 10 windows open). Now that is a something an "end-user" will definitely notice.

Since you asked if we have used an iPhone lately, I think it's only fair to ask if you have even seen N900 to be able to compare it with anything?

Andy said...

zeenix! Most end users won't even grasp the concept or have the needs for switching applications/windows the way you do on the N900. It's uncool to tell the user to RTFM. Plus N900 is not a new gen N810 which is categorized as a Internet Tablet. It's meaningful for the developers but meaningless to the end users. Maemo 5 might be great if Apple takes it on as they'd focus on the vertical needs. However judging by Nokia's Symbian track record, N900 will fail to warm the hearts. Nokia thinks people want to buy the next gen smartphone because the old one has no more firmware update to push out the door as it's not supported anymore even though there're still bags of bugs to be fixed. It's uncool to blame the network operator anymore. Nokia needs to realize that people want to get their hands on the next gen smartphone because the old one works so well and there're new features (not bug fixes) to be anticipated.

You don't have to tell me how capable the Maemo 5 and N900 are. But I bet you once they're in the hands of the end users via the mobile operators it ain't gonna be cool anymore.

ggerard said...

Well, sure the multi-tasking will be something that the user will note. I have a touch 2G, and trying to decide between an iphone or the n900, what I see of the n900 is that it improves a lot (does it?) the web navigation. Not just for the flash, but for the parallel (multi-tasking) tabs/windows you can charge. This makes a big difference.

However, resistive panel ... neither video showing a virtual keyboard ... the lack of multi-touch ... these characteristics make me think about waiting for the next maemo device packed with a capacitative panel. Indeed, I'm waiting for some reviews directly comparing between both phones.

I'm one of those users that are always considering to buy this device. I bought the 770, but (fortunately) I decided to recover the money. Too much money for the productivity received. I was looking at the n800/n810, and surprise, with the ipod touch I've found what I was looking for. Now let's see how friendly is the n900 phone.

kaien said...

Andy, I can't see how you justify your reference of iPhone as cool in anyway. It would be the last thing I would consider cool to have a product built by a company which ecosystem is so protective of its own interest that it would try to control what's the application should and could be installed by the end user. iPhone and Apple overall represents the counter philosophy of open source. It would be totally uncool to buy a device only to find out that it isn't owned by you but Apple instead.

Andy said...

kaien, do a simple test yourself. Take both an iPhone and a N900 to a Joe public. Let them play around with it and ask them which one they prefer without considering the cost of ownership and preaching about what ecosystems (N900 hasn't got one yet) are behind it. I'm not being technology religious here nor I'm an Apple fanboy, but I'm pretty sure what the result will be. The point is that Apple's business model works and their paying customers seem to be happy with their iPhones. Its ecosystem is restrictive to the point that makes you wonder why people pay premium for it to get bounded by all sorts of terms and conditions. Preaching about the open source philosophy or starting a propaganda war is not going to change whether an iPhone is cool or not. You need a real viable product as an alternative. You can't say something is not "black" when you haven't even found "white" yet. It's not just about buying another phone. People expect the whole end user experience with it and hence the vertical needs that Nokia doesn't seem to pay enough attention at all. If Nokia doesn't change its attitude, N900 will be another flop (like the N97) and Maemo stands no chance to receive all the credits it deserves. I'm interested to see how the mobile operators will push out any N900 firmware updates as the first test.

zeenix said...

> zeenix! Most end users
> won't even grasp the
> concept or have the needs
> for switching
> applications/windows the
> way you do on the N900.
> It's uncool to tell the
> user to RTFM.

Although you didn't answer my question but the above sentence gives me the answer: you seriously don't know what you are talking about. Please read the reviews from people who actually got to try it out at Nokia world event.

Speed Nut said...

So Andy, let me get this straight... When you're on your computer, you open your mail application, but then you need to look something up on the web so your close your mail client and open the web browser. You see an event listed on a web page you're interested in, so you close the web browser, then open your calendar application and add the event. Then you close your calendar and reopen your email app?

I think even my techno-neophyte Mom can understand the value of multitasking here. My iPlod touch and iPhooey multi-task as well as a 15 year old PalmPilot!

Yes, if I show Joe User my N810 and my jailbroken iPlod together and let them play with both, of course they'll pick the touch. Pretty flashy eye candy GUI is always more appealing, _initially_. Once they try to get anything productive done however, they realize the serious limitations of the Apple devices. Not to say the N810 is without faults, but it looks like the N900 goes a long way to address them. So that's why folks are excited about the N900 because it takes a promising productive platform to a much higher plane. (Hopefully with much less fart apps too!)

Andy said...

Speed Nut, saying the Touch got just the pretty flashy eye candy GUI is just rather skin deep. There're UX elements to be appreciated for sure. Canola running on the N800/N810 is just an amazing showcase of the Maemo but do we see that in any other apps? I mean MPlayer is just old school. Maemo 5 is progressing nicely but I just wish there's a new N810 Internet Tablet rather than another Nokia N-Series pricey phone N900. It's simply because Nokia hasn't got any track record to back it up. Put your fingers in too many pies is just not gonna work. Hence I'm happy with my N800 & N810 and iPod Touch, and I'm still cursing my Nokia E71 as the push mail is still flakey, OVI Share broken, and the OVI Store is just a joke! So will I get another Nokia smartphone? Definitely not, at least not until Nokia has a more focus approach. Will I get a Maemo 5 Internet Tablet? Definitely yes.

Ming said...

Apple is perceived as being cool because they make fun of MS for being geeky and problematic.

It's their advertising campaign.

Nokia don't advertise in the US, most people don't even know what Nokia makes because they never advertise on TV in the US.

It's a shame but true.

ggerard said...

I insist, from all the huge appstore and their apps, what I only use is, sporadically, VCN and remotePad (use the touch as a mouse for another computer), the mail app, even the weather app, the rss reader and web surfing. I want also to use games but, seriously, maybe I'm getting old but all of them are quite boring.

So at the end, I'm looking the best experience in web surfing. Does the n900 provide it? Touch/iphone are the best option existent at present, multitouch for zoom, speed and the capacitative panel. However, the lack of multitasking do not allow to do serious navigation (I'm used to open 10 tabs in the computer, so with the touch is just unproductive). The n900 is multitasking, bravo, but the zoom is rather weird, however this could be a minnor point. What about speed and resistive panel? What about the keyboard? Touch typing is extremely fast, I don't want a physical keyboard, I always type with one hand in a full qwerty keyboard. Is the n900 a real alternative or I'll have to wait for the next gen?

Andy said...

Hi Ming, I think you're right and that's Nokia's stubborn own fault. Apple has got 1 smartphone (3 if you count the iPhone 3G and 1st gen) and 1 iPhone OS to worry about. How many has Nokia got? Improving and experimenting with OVI stuff is cool but breaking it on even slightly older devices is damn right lame. But right now I don't think any marketing campaign can save the fortune of N97. I'm interested to see how the market will react to the final N900 when it's out.

Tochi said...


I've got an iPod Touch and I appreciate Apple's innovation or what it considers inoovation (IMHO, iPhone copied the LG Prada but thats another matter). So on Saturday I downloaded the JazzFM app from app store only to find to my disgust that I could not have it running in the background while checking the latest Premiership league football scores on BBC. So I whipped out my trusty N810 - job done with better sound to boot; how hard is this to appreciate the diff. On a side note I could not resist a chuckle on observing that one of the top Apps on App store is utility for sending pics via bluetooth :).

I too was awed by the iPod Touch's eye candy but the novelty has since worn off. The lack of basic features and functionality is simply unacceptable.

I cant wait to get my hands on N900. It will be a hit and at the very least will improve mindshare towards Nokia - as a serious tech company that can make serious and also fun devices. Apple can continue on the ever restricted, constricted path to nowhere.

I suggest you leave out judgement on the N900 until you have tried it. I'll leave you to play with your single tasking, jail confined, drab sound, overpriced toy. hahah !

Andy said...

Tochi, there's no doubt at all that Nokia is a tech giant but it doesn't mean they can just shove whatever stuff down people's throat. Same goes to Apple by the way which is fast becoming the biggest evil empire. N900 going to be a hit? I doubt it, may be the N9xx if Nokia pull themselves together. I will have the chance to try out the N900 but I doubt there's any remote chance I'll be willing to pay for it. If it does turn out to be "amazing", I certainly will change my mind. So hope you enjoy your N900 as you said you would and may be we'll speak again when the dust is settled.

Ciro said...

I think we are in the middle of transition where both developers and end users can have something resonable to say and being both wrong (or both right :) ) at same time. The problem is that there are too much people that think to be a developer but not good enough to grasp how things really works and end users that are too visionary. Is not enough for Nokia to put together all the technical pieces (and I don't feel they are still there). There are more to make a 'platform' appealing. From the end user position the maemo experience is (was?) IMO a disaster; from the developer point of view a mess of spaghetti documentation (fun to learn but as productive as a rock in a desert).
I had project on mszune/xbox360 with xna, on iphone/ipodtouch with their Xcode and on N810 with c/python/sdl/gstreamer and really (again IMO) for John Average Developer there are no reason on the world to choose Maemo :). Sure if you hate corporates and like things done in best possible way and try to have access to every single feature of the hardware avaible Nokia tablets are fun but having problems to access mp3s or oggs or having the 3d acceleration cripled for not technical reason (just to mention a couple of typical dev drags) really toned down the experience. To return on the N900 specifically how in the hell a woman is supposed to use that keyboard: if my thumb nails are just a couple of millimeters typing on the n810 keyboard became an hell... :)

kaien said...

One of the strongest reason how Apple iPhone is doing well in the USA is because of the subsidies provided by the carrier, in this case AT&T. I don't deny that iPhone is doing very well if not strong in the USA but the story only confines to that particular demography. Look at Asia or even world wide as whole. It's still small comparing to mainly Nokia's. Yes, I am aware Apple's share is growing and that has largely due to the crowd from US.

My point is that if taken out the high subsidy (mainly in Asia, only available in exaggerated contract terms) or even just taking a region where other brands has quite large penetration, Apple is not that much attractive in any way. I can see more E71 or HTC than iPhone on the streets where I am living in.

I don't even need to preach about open source community. The price alone of the device over the function it (iphone) offers would make it unattractive. A featured phone that can do a little bit better that comes with burdening contract.

The credit I would give to Apple was how they struck good deals by "compromising" with AT&T.

The only good mobile device from Apple are their ipod and ipod touch (an ipod with casual internet capabilities)

wansai said...

Maybe what you are saying is true of the USA market but the rest of the world proper where people are quite a bit more advanced in their mobile habits and knowledge, they do look for functionality; Certainly basic functionality that even an iPhone simply cannot match such as the poor utility of their SMS, which by the way, is the largest mobile data service on the planet; somethign Steve Jobs completely did not do his homework on since he thought e-mail would be more popular (very American centric in that view). Data has showed year in and year out that SMS data is the fastest growing data service, surpassing email.

Also being able to run more than 3 or 5 services at the same time is a very common thing that's taken for granted in the rest of the world and is something people expect as a basic and don't think about. It's that ubiquitous. In fact, a normal user typically never closes their applications and will keep them all running without ever thinking about it. That's the habit and expectations. Opening and closing and opening ad nauseum is extremley, un-userfriendly. iPhone is simply broken for sheer usability and user experience here.

There is no 1 device for everyone or even joe-regular. Your rail against Nokia is that they are unfocussed. I disagree completely and would say Nokia has the right approach and many in the industry would also agree with me. They segment a market, break it down into sub-segments and then create devices that appeal to very, very specific people. Their devices aren't designed to be one-size-fits-all. This idea of a universal device has failed again and again and particularly, the NA press have ODDLY brought up the subject of "convergence" again.... The rest of the world has moved far beyond and past that point already.

You also say that the iPhone/iPod are amazing and cool and yet having used both I can tell you that apart from Flashy, Whizz, Bang graphics/UI, it has done little to nothing for usability of the mobile devices. So here you have a mobile phone that many in the American public/press consider to be "best" mobile phone and yet, it would still lose out in sheer usability in the place it matters most; in mobility, and the rest of the world are still opting for other (and sometimes more expensive) devices.

Mobility is NOT about ease of carrying a device (or “user-experience” as Apple users like to reiterate) from 1 loc to another. It's about the ease of use of a device while you are in transit; it seamlessly blends into your life while you are mobile. iPhone/iPod works well when you have TWO hands free and are in-situ. 2 completely different use cases.

Then you also brought up the various platforms Nokia uses as an example of their lack of focus. Just to be clear, iPhone OS and Maemo are designed for 2handed operation devices. S60 are designed for 1handed devices etc etc...

Nokia is very focused. You simply cannot port a 2hand OS to a 1 hand device. It's not efficient, nor effective. As much as Americans rag on the Symbian, S60 platform, it remains THE BEST OS for 1handed mobile devices and is completely unchallenged even by the biggest and "bestest" touch devices out now for sheer usability and functionality.

Most of those who use touch devices are tech geeks like you (I presume) and I. Maemo will not make it big with the regular Joe, just like the iPhone didn't make it big with the average Joe (only in the USA where the average joe’s knowledge level is lower than the global average in the mobile industry). The average Joe will still pick up devices with a high value proposition that fits their needs, which is why people are willing to pay even slightly more for a comparatively "worse" mobile phone than a "$99 iphone" simply because the device they choose fits what they are looking for (and basic functionality as described earlier, are expected). And in most cases, they actually get more bang for their buck than opting for an iPhone. That's the average Joe.

What was done said...

Getting old is only in our mind.
Age never prevented people from doing things:

Andy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Karoliina Salminen said...

Andy, could you please stop the unfounded downplaying the N900 and Maemo 5 without seeing how it functions and performs in the real World. You have answered so many times now with the same message and I am sure you still haven't tried the N900 at the first place but you instead repeat your mantra based on what you expect without being factual. For which company are you working for, is someone paying for you for downplaying Maemo 5? I don't expect answer, so please don't bother.

Maemo 5 is different from anything Nokia or anybody has made before and you can not draw analogues to any other non-Maemo device Nokia has made.

Karoliina Salminen said...

And one more thing for Andy's first comment "Apple sucks but iPhone/iPod Touch are cool and amazing".

Obviously I disagree on that too. I have iPod touch in addition to the N900 and it is a great device for listening to music. However, it does not compare to N900 in web surfing experience etc., not even the same day. And N900 can do the music and video playback too. And while the capacitive screen in the iPod touch is responsive, the N900 resistive touch screen is unbelievably resistive too to be a resistive touch screen. And there are use cases where the resistive touch screen is superior to capacitive, e.g. accurate clicks to web links are possible on N900. After trying the N900 you may find out that the capacitive screen is overrated. It is great for some use cases but not a silverbullet.

And I disagree with the statement "Apple sucks". Instead I believe that many Apple users may find the N900 appealing device and the Maemo 5 user experience more friendly than what is usually seen in this ecosystem. And I am typing this by the way on Apple iMac in my studio corner, our living room Ubuntu PC is behind my back. I like my Mac and I have absolutely no reason to think it would suck because it doesn't. So if I say N900 is great, why do you think I would say that if I also think that my iMac is great and why I don't have iPhone? You might think that I would be paid for saying that. But what company would pay for its employees to write to a personal blog 1:33am? I am writing this because I love my N900. It is a prototype and will be eventually collected from me, but I don't want to give it away.

If you are a Mac fan, I think the N900 and you can be great friends. Maemo certainly is not the "PC" of the phones in a Mac vs. PC Ad. You should not think that the N900 would be a perfect device with answer to everything. It is not a Swiss army knife. But it is absolutely the greatest little mobile internet device built to the date and you can also even make calls with it. At the time we were making Nokia 770, I was wishing I could make calls with it, and now we made it, a Maemo phone, and that is something that I believe answers to the needs of quite many people - outrageously superb Internet companion + it is also a phone. Despite being doing it by myself, I still feel "wow, it is so great". It is a beautiful product.

Now I have to go to sleep and put the N900 to wake me up to a meeting it has automatically synced from my work calendar (exchange).

Karoliina Salminen said...

Andy, I don't care about E71. I don't even know what kind of phone it is and I am not too interested about it either.

1. Maemo 5 is different from any Symbian device.
2. Maemo 5 is different from any previous version of Maemo, user experience is completely overhauled.

About standing comments:
I don't feel this comment "we'll all find out whose head is burried deep in the sand... Hope that's Nokia's head" is proper, I find it rather hate-mongering. One more comment like that from you and you will be moderated with no mercy. You have been warned. I don't warn third time.

Karoliina Salminen said...

Moderation comment: I removed the latter Andy's comments, so some answers may seem like answers to nobody.

Karoliina Salminen said...

Comment moderation is now turned on because I did not find other way to manage comments on blogger. So if you comment does not appear immediately, it means that I have not approved it yet. Sorry about the inconvenience.