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Hands-on with Nokia's N900 Maemo-based smartphone

updated 02:35 am EDT, Fri October 9, 2009

Device sports an impressive UI and features list

Along with Nokia's Booklet 3G, Electronista at CTIA also had a chance to fondle the upcoming N900 smartphone. Despite criticisms of the predecessor, the N97, the N900 represents a fresh attempt for the company to edge ahead against its competitors in the smartphone arena.

The most significant change is Nokia's diversion from Symbian, as the N900 instead utilizes a Linux-based Maemo operating system. The overall experience is much closer to a computer than many other smartphone interfaces have been able to achieve.

A common iPhone complaint involves the requirement for each app to be opened before viewing basic content such as messages and contacts. The Maemo interface, however, provides customizable pages where RSS feeds, messages, contacts, Facebook statuses, calendar schedules, and more, can be previewed without the hassle of closing one app and opening another. The layout is impressive and very intuitive.

A Multitasking view organizes all of the open apps, which could be ten or more at a time. Instead of pausing every task, each still runs in the background. YouTube videos even continue to play, still visible but extremely small on the dashboard. All of the multitasking functions, even running several concurrent apps, do not appear to cause the OS to lag.

The snappy interface and multitasking functions are made possible by a 600MHz ARM processor, which matches the iPhone, and 1GB of virtual memory with 256MB of physical memory. The company also integrated improved graphics components with support for OpenGL ES 2.0, while expanding the built-in storage to 32GB.

A 800x480 touchscreen provides decent brightness and contrast, making some of the smaller details easier to see. The high resolution is particularly noticeable when reading web pages. Nokia also one-upped the iPhone with its Mozilla-based browser which supports Flash and AJAX. Using a two-finger twisting gesture zooms the page in or out. Time taken to transition between zoom levels was extremely short.

Although the long list of features and capabilities is certainly a good thing, many potential buyers might be dissuaded by the N900's thick housing. The extra space does allow for a few perks such as a sliding cover over the Carl Zeiss lens and 5-megapixel camera with two flash modules. A stylus also slides into the bottom of the case.

The iPhone's influence on the smartphone market becomes even more clear while wandering around the CTIA floor and viewing the latest interfaces. While many companies have copied the essential app layout of the iPhone OS, Nokia's Maemo interface offers a refreshing alternative and support for several functions absent on Apple's device.

Aside from the large housing, the primary factor that might work against the N900 is the price. While the cost is not much different than the N97, the initial launch will likely be limited to an unsubsidized version available for $650. Nokia declined to provide any information regarding possible carrier partnerships or subsidized pricing.

by MacNN Staff



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