Nokia N900 is a feast first enjoyed in small bites

Nokia_n900_bites

Have you ever gone to a buffet and been so overwhelmed by the selection of food that you go into autopilot mode and just take a little bit of everything as you move down the line? Then when you're seated and you look down at the heaping pile on your plate, you can't distinguish one dish from another? Bite-size cakes are swimming in some kind of sauce that belongs with one of the meats, sushi is tangled in noodles, jello is melting over hot prime rib, and you don't know what made that sticky blue streak being covered by the mashed potatoes?

That's what it was like when I used my new Nokia N900ir?t=pocketables 20&l=as2&o=1&a=B002OB49SW - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here for the first time last night. It arrived a few days earlier than expected and my hunger for it had reached an all-time high, so I just started wolfing down every morsel I could find without coming up for air. Given the mixture of flavors, my subsequent indigestion (confusion, frustration, and even a hint of buyer's remorse) shouldn't have surprised me.

You see, there are some devices that just about anyone, regardless of gadget background or tech experience, can pick up and use with little to no instruction. They can dive right in and swallow it whole. Everything is clearly marked and within plain sight, navigation is a breeze, and the user interface is inviting and straightforward.

The Nokia N900 is not one of these devices.

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It isn't a consumer-friendly device that anyone off the street can start using immediately. And it wasn't designed to be. The N900 can do so much in the right hands that when it's in the wrong hands, it needs to approached slowly, methodically.

And by "wrong," I mean someone like me: the polar opposite of the Linux gurus who have done more with their Nokia N-series Internet Tablets than I can comprehend, someone whose gadgets generally tend to stay in their out-of-box states long after they've been unboxed, the person who still reads manuals and user guides even before turning a new device on. In other words, the user that the N900 is not really intended for.

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But I didn't know this. I looked at my new N900 for the first time as though I already knew everything about it. I turned it on and expected to be surfing the web, emailing, downloading new apps, customizing, and basically just enjoying it in seconds. Some devices are able to provide this kind of immediate experience to the average consumer, but again, the N900 is not one of these devices.

It isn't a pizza that tastes best when gobbled all at once. No, it's a decadent multi-layered triple chocolate cake with a rich fudge center, smothered in milk chocolate ganache, and topped off with caramel ribbons, gold flakes, and chocolate shavings. Oh, and dusted with cocoa. So many amazing flavors and textures that each ingredient must be tasted singly and the palette must be cleansed between each bite. That's the Nokia N900.

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When I stopped trying to rush through my first experience with the N900—tapping everything, searching for menus where I thought they should be, accidentally opening and closing apps, fumbling through the interface that was kind of similar to what I remember on my N810 but not really, and wanting to be everywhere at once—that hint of buyer's remorse I was beginning to feel was completely obliterated by a sense of awe and stupidity that I waited so long to get one of these.

The N900 is not for everyone—not by a long shot—and Maemo 5 still feels partially half-baked in certain places, but when each feature is explored and understood by itself, it's definitely for me. They say "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts," but I don't think that's the case with N900. Not yet, anyway.

I need to get to know each slice separately first. Then I can marvel at the entire cake and devour it whole.

Nokia_n900_bites (4)

The piece I'm working on right now is flambeed: Firefox! With add-ons and the truly awesome AwesomeBar, it is incredibly tasty. And I'm savoring every minute of it.

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Jenn K. Lee

Jenn K. Lee is the founder of Pocketables. She loves gadgets the way most women love shoes and purses. The pieces in her tech wardrobe that go with everything are currently the Samsung Galaxy Note II, Sony Tablet P, and Nexus 7, but there are still a couple of vintage UMPCs/MIDs in the back of her closet.

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36 thoughts on “Nokia N900 is a feast first enjoyed in small bites

  • Avatar of Chris King
    March 17, 2010 at 3:06 pm
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    Jenn, I think you should set your N900 so it has a “petit four” wallpaper :-)

    Gotta love those pics!

    Reply
  • Avatar of Steven L
    March 17, 2010 at 3:11 pm
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    Speaking of “petit”, how are you feeling about the thumbboard?

    Reply
  • Avatar of turn.self.off
    March 17, 2010 at 3:22 pm
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    just watch out, soon it will become a chew toy…

    Reply
  • Avatar of Jenn K. Lee
    March 17, 2010 at 3:42 pm
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    There’s a petit four wallpaper? Where, where, where? ;-)

    My love of miniatures isn’t limited to electronics!

    Reply
  • Avatar of Jenn K. Lee
    March 17, 2010 at 3:44 pm
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    Pretty positive so far. It’s better than the N810 keyboard and reminds me of the one on the AT&T Tilt. I’ve read mixed reviews about the keyboard, but I wouldn’t include it on my list of cons. Not at all.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Jenn K. Lee
    March 17, 2010 at 3:45 pm
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    Haha. Baby drool wipes off easily and she can’t do any damage with her gums yet. :-D

    Reply
  • Avatar of PT_AHMED
    March 17, 2010 at 4:57 pm
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    Great and Marvelous Post :-) that i can Add on it an Important hint to consider about my beloved N900 which i’m writing from right now on my bed ;-)). N900 as the Nokia many times tried to let people know that this beast is not a smartphone and it is a “Mobile computing Tablet with phone capability” and continous to their N-series Tablet and yes i agree 100% with u and i always say it to my friends that N900 is not regular or average consumer friendly ;-) as i twitt u befor you will be Amazed by the suprising new flavor you will find with every bite ;-) but one Question for you with time you will have to answer me which is” Did you ever see any mobile with this type of powerful system integration of the social applications like Twitter,Gtalk,Msn,yahoo,skype,and soo on with your Contacts through the conversations!? :-)choosing a contact then choose what you want to do call through regular pay call or free skype or gtalk call ,or chatt,or Twitt to,and even Video call through Gtalk using 3G connection which what i use wherever i am when i’m @work,coffee shop,shopping..wherever to comunicate with my Girlfriend which is 4000 miles away ;-)and the Multitasking which is up to 32 [email protected] is another amazing story to tell :-)

    Again nice post that makes me like your site even more than befor with your rational and great reviews that i always find trustable befor hitting any Gadget as you an consider me a gadgets meniac.

    Reply
  • Avatar of rob
    March 18, 2010 at 1:18 am
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    so, how different is it to operate than the n800/n810? is the OS familiar to those of us who learned how to operate the nokia internet tablets, or do we have a new learning curve with the n900?

    Reply
  • Avatar of dcboy
    March 18, 2010 at 1:21 am
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    Stick to the native web browser, much faster than anything firefox has offered to date, also backup all the time. If you are felling brave, you could also install additional repositories for additional applications, guaranteed to keep life interesting.
    I love my Nokia N900, each day brings updates and new applications, Pandora or Pianobar as it is called, complets my wish list for the device, looking forward to the full review.

    Reply
  • Avatar of C.
    March 18, 2010 at 1:40 am
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    Have you tried using to play music files? How about apps for working with Word and Excel files?

    Wow, the food analogies in your post! :)

    Reply
  • Avatar of GeoffreyM
    March 18, 2010 at 2:05 am
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    Jenn–I have perhaps the most critical question for you yet.

    What brand of chocolates are in the first picture?

    Reply
  • Avatar of Jenn K. Lee
    March 18, 2010 at 8:32 am
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    There’s somewhat of a learning curve, as the desktop (home screen) layout/functionality is a little different. Also, without the hardware controls that were on the N810, it takes some time finding things and getting used to the new UI.

    I was really dependent on the N810’s hardware menu key, for example, and couldn’t find a way to open any context menus on the N900 until I realized that they were kind of concealed. In the native web browser (and other apps), the menu pops up when tapping the web page’s title bar, which I would have never suspected and isn’t immediately obvious.

    The absence of the N810’s hardware swap key is also something that takes some time to get used to. The new system uses a single on-screen button to perform multiple functions: tap on it once from the desktop and you get to the task manager to see what else is open (similar to the old swap key), tap on it again to get to the main menu where you can see all the installed apps.

    When you’re in the task manager, tapping anywhere other than the aforementioned button or on one of the thumbnails takes you back to the desktop. If you’re in the main menu, though, tapping anywhere on the top of the screen brings you back to the task manager. So if you’re in the main menu and you want to get to the desktop, you need to tap twice. Likewise if you’re on the desktop and you want to get to the main menu.

    As you can see, it’s rather convoluted. A simple home/desktop button would simplify things. Its exclusion doesn’t save any valuable space either. Having just one button at the top *does* shorten the toolbar, yes, but the extra space isn’t used on the desktop. It’s not like you can use that space to put more widgets, shortcuts, or bookmarks. It’s just empty space.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Maemo 5 is indistinguishable from OS2008 etc., but it *is* different. Some of the features like the App Manager and settings menu are just prettied up versions of the old stuff, while other things are completely reworked.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Jenn K. Lee
    March 18, 2010 at 8:34 am
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    Haha, yes, the most burning question. ;-)

    The chocolates (and all the other mini desserts) are made of plastic. They’re part of a series of miniatures from a Japanese company called Rement. The chocolates are one of the “secret items” that aren’t listed on the box as being part of the series (each set is in blind boxes), so it’s coveted in Rement circles. :-)

    Reply
  • Avatar of Jenn K. Lee
    March 18, 2010 at 8:42 am
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    No, haven’t tried that yet.

    There’s a selection of media players in the App Manager that can be installed, but the included one looks pretty decent and rather Canola-like. I haven’t explored it, though, so I don’t know its limitations. I did see OGG support as an add-on in the App Manager, which is nice. Otherwise MP3, WMA, AAC, and M4A are supported natively.

    DocsToGo Viewer in included, so viewing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files are no problem out of the box. I assume the full program lets you edit and create. OpenOffice can be installed (with Easy Debian, I think) as well as other free office suites, though, so there are a lot of alternatives.

    Reply
  • Avatar of turn.self.off
    March 18, 2010 at 8:42 am
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    the “tap title to display menu” was there in earlier maemo to.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Jenn K. Lee
    March 18, 2010 at 8:43 am
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    Thanks for the suggestions.

    I’m not planning a full review for this one. Just some extended posts and feature-specific articles/reviews.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Jenn K. Lee
    March 18, 2010 at 8:44 am
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    Oh, I didn’t know that. My thumb was just always glued to the hardware menu key!

    Thanks. :-)

    Reply
  • Avatar of Eric
    March 18, 2010 at 9:35 am
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    Coming from a device with a capacitive screen, how are you liking the resistive screen on the N900?

    Reply
  • Avatar of Jenn K. Lee
    March 18, 2010 at 11:30 am
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    Definitely the best resistive screen I’ve ever used. Not as good as HD2 or iPhone’s capacitive screen, of course, but much better than Archos 5 Android and UMPCs.

    The N900’s screen is most accurate when used with a stylus (no surprise there), but it’s pretty good with a finger tip too. For certain tasks, it could even fool some people into thinking it was capacitive.

    Reply
  • Avatar of turn.self.off
    March 18, 2010 at 12:56 pm
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    btw, it would not surprise me if a long press of the task manager button will bring you directly to the desktop. A similar behavior was on the task key for the N800/N810.

    Reply
  • Avatar of turn.self.off
    March 18, 2010 at 12:58 pm
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    nokia did work on porting koffice (kde office suite, using odf) to maemo before meego was announced. And i think the project is still ongoing.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Jenn K. Lee
    March 18, 2010 at 1:08 pm
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    Yes, long press takes you to desktop when you’re in any of the apps, but not when you’re in the task manager or main menu. Don’t care for the inconsistency.

    Reply
  • Avatar of rudy
    March 18, 2010 at 3:05 pm
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    Only object holding me back from purchasing this device is the lack of dedicated gps app.

    I know sygic announced an app for it but it’s been stalled due to the ovi store situation with the n900. And not to mention it still hasn’t received the free ovi maps that most other nokia phones have gotten is also a disappointment.

    So in the meantime I sit back waiting for either the n900 to get a full featured gps app(possible) or to wait and buy the next meego/maemo device from nokia and hope that it also has tmo 3g support. (prob not)

    Reply
  • Avatar of Chris King
    March 18, 2010 at 4:02 pm
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    How about Maemo Mapper? It’s been around since the N770, but I’m pretty sure it’s been updated to Maemo5.

    Reply
  • Avatar of rudy
    March 18, 2010 at 4:26 pm
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    i don’t think has txt to speech, as the talk.maemo.org forums no has ever brought that up as full fledged gps app i totally forgot about it.

    Reply
  • Avatar of C.
    March 19, 2010 at 3:10 am
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    I’m also wondering since the resistive screen is responsive if there are any inking apps available? That size screen would make a nice little notepad.

    C.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Kenrick
    March 22, 2010 at 10:52 pm
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    There’s Xournal… inking is kind of messy due to vectoring, although in portrait mode it’s easier to keep your palm off to the side than in landscape. The ink doesn’t look that great but it’s readable.

    Reply
  • Avatar of ben_UK
    April 4, 2010 at 12:17 pm
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    xournal is great for PDF annotation although I wonder how it will work moving from 4.1″ to 3.5″

    Reply
  • Avatar of ArchiMark
    April 26, 2010 at 11:36 am
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    Well, just took the plunge and bought a N900…hope to have it Thurs or Friday…..

    ;)

    Reply
  • Avatar of ArchiMark
    April 26, 2010 at 12:47 pm
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    Thanks, Chris….

    Well, didn’t want to rush into it….I guess…..

    ;)

    Reply

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