Thursday, October 8, 2009

Okay, a bit more on the N900.

Holy crap I am really talking up the N900, a device that I've never seen and hasn't even been released yet. It's apparent I'm a Nokia fanboy, even though the only Nokia device is own is the N800. I thought I'd write a post that better explains why I like the idea of this phone so much.

I currently own an HTC Touch Pro, my first smart phone ever. I was planning on buying a Titan for quite a while, but held off for various reasons. When I was finally ready to buy a new phone the Touch Pro just came out, so I bought that instead. I'm a pretty big gadget freak, but it's for legitimate reasons. Every time a new device comes out that can replace multiple devices in my pipeline, I take notice.

I will admit, my excitement for new gadgets does sometimes blind me. When the Touch Pro 2 came out, I was all for it. I even did some odd jobs to earn extra money so I could buy it on it's release date. However, I had a few nagging doubts about the device, and they ultimately won out. For one, the Touch Pro 2 would have cost me way more than a PS3 and a handful of games. This is exactly how I looked at it, and I ended up buying a PS3 instead. Second, the first Touch Pro is a buggy little phone. It's capable but fussy. Sometimes it doesn't ring, sometimes it changes it's ringtone on it's own, sometimes it registers screen taps but refuses to open the app I selected. No, it's not slowly loading the app, it's just sitting there not doing anything.

You can multitask on the Touch Pro, but it's a pain. Switching apps in Windows Mobile is troublesome and it can take a while. There's a lag just to pull down the menu to show you all your open apps, even if you're not running any. I've tried so many roms (different packaged configurations of Windows Mobile), both stock and optimized. Some are more stable than others, but they're ultimately putting lipstick on a pig. The Touch Pro really is a click-and-wait device. Click on something, wait for it to load. I realize it's got a dinky mobile processor, but sometimes I feel like even when I'm just making calls and sending text messages--the bare minimum--this phone is overextending itself.

The Touch Pro 2 disappointed me. It's got a "2" in the title, it should be a big improvement over the first, right? Wrong. Same processing power, same battery life (although it has a larger battery, they put in a less efficient but equally powerful processor). The reviews came in glowing, saying that the specs are the same but everything is much snappier. Even some highly respected rom creators said this, but I remain skeptical. For one thing, Opera is pre-loaded in the memory, perpetually hogging space so it loads fast. But what if I want to use a different browser? Okay, I know, not likely but still an issue. I wish there would have been hardware improvements beyond the speakers. That's reason 1 for digging the N900. It's hardware is at the high end of what most smart phones are equipped with.

Nokia has also put out a successor that disappointed me. The N810 was released with 1 SD slot instead of the N800's 2, a fixed camera instead of the N800's rotating one, and although it had a keyboard (unlike the N800) the top row of keys were too close to the screen, making them hard to use. Oh, and the d-pad was removed from the face of the device and placed on the keyboard, even though the screen was the same size and there could've been room for it. The N810 had a faster processor than the stock N800, but a firmware update for the N800 overclocked the device to match the N810, making them more or less equal. All things considered, the N800 is still the better device in my book.

All right though, let's talk practicality. What could the N900 do for me that would replace all my other devices?

Well, it's got a full 3.5" audio jack. When the iPhone came out I balked at the idea of using a phone as an mp3 player. I'm starting to come around to the idea. The N900 already comes with 32GB of storage, and a microSD expansion slot. I've heard that about 25 of that initial 32GB are free for non-system use. The largest microSD cards I've seen on the market are 16GB, so that means I could fit 41GB of music onto the N800. That's about 20GB too little, but I could take the essentials with me. Also worth mentioning, the N900 has a built-in FM transmitter, so out of the box it's ready to play over most car stereos.

Web browsing. The N900 houses the Holy Grail of smartphone web browsing. Check out this quick video that briefly touches upon Maemo 5's web browser gestures. This is as good as mobile browsing is going to be for a while. I've checked out many hands-on videos of the N900 in action, and it really does seem to be as responsive in person as it is in their demos.

The N900's got a bigger screen and higher resolution than the Touch Pro, and it's about 3/4" smaller than the N800's screen. The N800 is the last device I consistently used as an ebook reader. I tried it on the Touch Pro but it just wasn't convenient. Have I mentioned that the d-pad on the Touch Pro's face is hard to navigate with? Well it is. I'd have to look at the screen and controls to decide how well it would work, but I'm betting the N900 could serve me quite well as an ebook reader.

Twitter. I use PocketTwit on my phone to check tweets, but I use it very rarely. I mostly use my PCs for Twitter, though the service itself is best suited to something light and portable like a phone. It's actually frustrating to check Twitter updates on a mobile phone, because the lack of proper Flash support make many linked videos and sites impossible to view. I know that full Flash is coming to all phones soon, but there's no way the Touch Pro, and by extension the Touch Pro 2, can smoothly handle in-browser youtube videos. Silly as it seems, Twitter is a big reason why I want the N900. Nokia's slogan is "Connecting People" and this is a prime example. It should be touted as the world's first twitter-phone, a phone capable of viewing anything people tweet.

In fact, this phone could get closer than any other device to replacing my netbook. The only thing my eeePC 901 has over this device is it can play Max Payne 1 and 2 (and other games), I can watch movies off an external hard drive, and it has a larger keyboard. I haven't played any games on my netbook for years, and I watched any videos on it in months. Typing is a big one though. I can type faster on my netbook than I can on any other PC. I have some ideas for how a mobile device could get input that fast or even faster, but it would require a steep learning curve and then you have issues of new devices not adopting it years later. The idea of faster touch screen input may sound far-fetched, but hey, the world record for shorthand WPM is something like 4 times what is it for typing. Someday some genius will work out a faster touch screen input system. I'll be waiting.

The N900 seems like a completely new kind of phone. It looks like a standard smart phone, but it really seems to be a portable desktop. It's specs are very similar to the iPod, all things considered they're probably neck-and-neck hardware-wise. Where the iPhone has set itself apart as an entertainment phone, the N900 is a phone for power-users. The iPhone has great games, multimedia, and apps, the N900 has a solid OS, built for multitasking and information connectivity. That's not to say they don't meet in the middle. The N900 is in itself a multimedia powerhouse and I'm sure will have some decent games, and the iPhone has plenty of web apps and an interface famous for speed and accuracy.

I've said it before, I'll say it again. I hate it when people try to label things as "killers" of any Apple device. However, the N900 is the only phone I'm aware of that could go toe-to-toe with the iPhone. I'd wager that all Nokia would have to do is make a CDMA compatible model, then make the N900 equally available to all carriers. Slather that sick Maemo 5 video all over the airwaves, and then just try and clone as many iPhone apps as they can. They'd woo everyone who wants an iPhone that either can't or won't switch to AT&T. They'd woo all the Linux nerds disappointed with Android. They'd woo anyone that wants full access to the internet on a mobile phone.

As it stands now, the N900 is a phone that only fully works in the US with T-Mobile, and it doesn't look like it'll be subsidized (to be fair it isn't released yet). Are they even going to try and push this phone in the US?

It sucks for me to see how nice this phone is, how appropriate it is for my needs, and then to suddenly realize all the hurdles I'd have to leap in order to own and use it, the primary hurdles being cost of the phone and it's different network type than the one I'm on. I'm waiting with baited breath to see how this phone is made available and advertised once it's released.

I really hope Nokia gets this together.


PS-Hopefully I'll be able to shut up about this phone for a while now.

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