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  Nokia N900 in short
- Maemo 5 (2009/Fremantle) OS
- Linux (Debian) based
- Hildon UI (touch)
- stylus and finger operated
- 600 MHz OMAP3430
- ARM Cortex-A8
- PowerVR SGX gfx acceleration
- 256 MB RAM, 768 MB swap
- quad-band GSM/GPRS
- tri-band 3G/HSDPA
- WiFi b/g, up to 54 Mbps
- Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR
- 5 Megapixel camera
- Carl Zeiss Tessar lens
- 848x480 16:9 video recording
- 800x480 (WVGA) touch screen
- MicroB web browser
- 32 GB storage memory
- microSD memory card slot
- Assisted GPS receiver
- stereo speakers
- 3.5 mm audio / TV-out
- QWERTY keyboard
- FM transmitter

Nokia N900 / Maemo 5 preview
Michal Jerz, September 2009

Based on a proto unit - subject to changes and updates when final SW becomes available
(updated information is in green)

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4

INTRODUCTION

Ever since I started using Nokia Internet Tablets (the 770, N800, N810), my biggest dream has always been the addition of GSM radio and packet data transmission, which would make them fully functional, always connected mobile devices, rather than just "tablets", relying on access to WiFi hotspot or requiring the use of mobile phones for remote Internet access and for phone calls. I've loved the flexibility and performance of the Linux (Debian) based Maemo operating system and, especially, the Hildon user interface, providing PDA (or even computer) like experience rather than dumb UI. I missed such an advanced PDA-phone since the Series 80 platform was killed and the N900 seems to be my dream finally come true. Is it? In this preview, I'll try to express my initial impressions and share with you some introductory information about the N900. I am currently using a pre-sales "proto" device with early software build, so many things aren't finished or fully optimized yet, making it impossible to go into each and every detail and judge on things like performance or power consumption. However, this preview will be seriously expanded or replaced with a full, detailed review as soon as I get hold of a final unit, which shouldn't last longer than just a couple of weeks.

I. HARDWARE

The look and feel

Right after being announced, I've seen many comments from people calling the N900 a "brick". Sure, there are smaller mobile phones out there, but I think it's silly to even try to compare them. Small phones with QVGA (or even nHD) screens just serve different purpose. It's like comparing a truck to a small coupe. Trucks aren't bigger because they are "worse" - they just serve different purpose and their size is actually their advantage. And so it looks with the N900. If you prefer small phones and you do not need advanced functionality offered by PDA-phone devices, it simply means that they're not for you, but surely for someone else. Just ignore their existence, just like you ignore the existence of trucks while looking for a new car.

Having said that, let's see if the N900 (110.9 x 59.8 x 18 mm, 113 cc, 181 g) is really that big compared to other devices of similar specs and purpose. The most natural comparison is probably the Nokia N97. Put both side by side and it turns out that the N900 is actually.... a little bit SMALLER, and only slightly thicker (just by 1-2 mm and even that only on one side; the upper part of the N97 where the protruding camera is located is of the same thickness). The N900 is also by about 1 cm shorter than the Omnia HD, while sharing with it the same width. It's obviously about 0.5 cm thicker than the Omnia, but hey, the keyboard has to take some space. Finally, it is also (by over 2.5 cm) shorter than the E90 Communicator, while sharing almost the same thickness and width with it, and while noticeably heavier than the iPhone 3Gs (115.5 x 62.1 x 12.3 mm, 130 g), the dimensions of the N900 do not really justify calling it considerably larger, either, and the difference only results from the N900 having a hardware keyboard.

So is it really a "brick" compared to other devices of its type? It is not; in many cases it is actually smaller.

My subjective impression when it comes to its size and weight is entirely positive. That's what I like. When holding it, I feel that I'm holding something that won't break just because of squeezing it a little bit too tightly. It seems to be just tailored for the size of my hand. While I loved the huge screens of Internet Tablets, I find the reduction of screen size from N810's 4.1" to 3.5" fully justified to keep the size of the device on a level acceptable for a mobile phone. 4.1" display of the N810 is fantastic for an Internet Tablet, but would have to boost the dimensions to a slightly cumbersome level for a mobile phone. The iPhone also has a 3.5" screen and so many people love it so much :-), so it seems to be a good choice. At this point it is also worth noticing that despite smaller size, the N900 retained the display resolution of Internet Tablets (800x480 pixels), which is not only 2.5 times bigger than iPhone's 320x480 (hence it fits 2.5 times more content at once), 1.7 times bigger than nHD of the N97/5800/Omnia HD, but also slightly bigger than E90's internal screen.

The screen

The touch screen is resistive, so it is not as responsive/sensitive as capacitive screens of e.g. the Omnia HD and requires pressing it a little bit harder. But not to a point that would make it an issue. Actually, the display being too sensitive on its edges (resulting in accidental touches when I just want to grab the device) on the Omnia HD annoys me much more than that additional small pressure I have to apply to the screen of the N900. To compare, the responsiveness of the N900 display is considerably better than of the 5800 XpressMusic and probably on par with the N97, if not a little bit better.

While resistive LCD screens appear slighly less crisp/vidiv indoors (which I am not so sure in case of the N900, as when set to max brightness it's actually of the same quality as Omnia HD's AMOLED, or maybe even better thanks to its higher resolution, i.e. smaller pixel size, resulting in better "sharpness"), their performance is considerably better outdoors. The screen of the N900 retains clarity and visibility even in bright sunlight.

You can set the N900 to vibrate when you touch the screen, which provides nice tactile feedback. Additionally, you can also enable audible feedback, a "click" tone.

The only thing that worries me when it comes to N900 display is its resistence to scratches and other damages. And it seems to be lower than expected. I got the device without any protective case and the display got some awful scratches in just one day, and that's only because some sand grains got into the pocket I kept it in. Maybe it is just a coincidence and the same would happen to any other device, but a good screen protector or soft carrying case are recommended, just in case. OK, now...

Keyboard, buttons

i.e. something really important for E90 Communicator users thinking of the N900 as of a possible replacement/upgrade. Well, most of you have already seen lots of pictures and videos of the N900 so it's not a secret that the N900 does not have a full QWERTY keyboard as we know it from Communicators. It is a 3-row keyboard similar to the N97 one. In that sense, it is obviously worse. While typing letters actually isn't much more difficult, it looks a little bit worse with digits, which require additionally pressing the blue "Fn" key (fortunately, double-pressing it "locks" its function so if you need to type more digits at once it'll free you from having to press "Fn" multiple times). As you can see on the following pictures, the keyboard of the N900 is actually the SMALLEST of all smartphones I currently have, not just the E90, but also the Xperia X1, or even the E75, which is actually quite surprising as the E75 is both shorter and narrower, yet apparently it was possible to fit a larger keyboard in it. N900's keyboard is also considerably smaller than that of the previous Internet Tablet, the N810, which additionally included a nice d-pad... Well, what can I say... even such a small keyboard is better than no keyboard at all, but I really wouldn't mind if it was slightly bigger...

However, layout and size certainly aren't all that determines whether a keyboard is good or bad. It is easier to compare the N900 keyboard to N97, so I'll start from that. N900's keyboard is simply a better one, period. While the keys aren't actually much larger and there's no space between them like on the N97, they provide considerably better tactile feedback in the means that they're more springy and with more perceptible click.

The tactile feedback seems to be better also compared to the E90 keyboard, which feels softer. The keys of the N900 are considerably smaller than on the Communicator, but what somehow partially compensates for this is that they're convex, which means that you only feel the central part of a key under your finger and there's enough space around it not to touch the surrounding keys.

Finally, unlike the E90 or the E75, the N900 is a touch screen device and additionally offers virtual, on-screen text input (only full screen QWERTY keyboard at the moment; I haven't found any trace of handwriting recognition or a small QWERTY keyboard for use with stylus in the tested proto unit, hopefully these input methods present in Internet Tablets' previous Maemo releases will be added in final SW builds) so you're not restricted to entering text with the hardware keyboard only. I find myself using the virtual keyboard quite often, especially for short texts like SMS, URL in the browser, short emails, chats, etc. The virtual keys are huge and predictive (T9) text input (two languages can be used at once) additionally accelerates typing. Again, this somehow compensates for the hardware keyboard being smaller and of less convenient 3-row layout, so it should be taken into consideration when thinking about the N900 as of a possible E90 upgrade.

The keyboard is backlit. Backlight is controlled by the ambient light sensor, which means that it is enabled only when needed and does not consume power when there's enough light to use the keyboard without backlight.

All in all, compared to E90, the keyboard is not as a challenging experience as it might initially look. The layout and size surely need getting used to and typing (especially digits) may be slower, but not to a degree of "unusability". The virtual full-screen keyboard also helps, and is actually quite a nice thing to have for "casual" text input, and in this regard it is more convenient and faster to use than E90's external phone keypad, also used for similar purposes. While the hardware keyboard alone definitely isn't half as good as on the E90, it is actually THE ONLY drawback; all the remaining funtions, features (including much more advanced, better looking and more intuitive UI) are so much better on the N900 that they're really worth sacrificing the keyboard for.

Besides the keyboard, there's only a few buttons located around the device. Unlike the N97, the N900 does not have hardware Call/End buttons, so accepting, ending and rejecting phone calls requires using the on-screen buttons. The only existing hardware buttons include (on the top of the device) Power On/Off button (which, when pressed shortly, also displays a menu to change profiles, (de)activate the GSM radio, switch to or from the Offline mode (WiFi, Bluetooth), lock the device with a security code, lock the screen and keyboard, and end/kill the currently running application (e.g. when it freezes)), Camera button, +/- button (to change loudness or zoom level), and a Screen Lock/Unlock slider (on the right side of the phone). That's it.

The N900 does not have any kind of d-pad, which is a pity, as it surely would be a very welcome addition for gamers (it's an Nseries device afterall, isn't it?). Unlike the N97, the N900 has a "slot" for stylus, located on the lower right side. The stylus is made of plastic, yet quite sturdy and hard, convenient to hold and long (its length is the same as the width of the device).

CPU and memory

Let's move on to the "heart" of the device, determining its performance and flexibility. The N900 is powered by the Texas Instruments OMAP3430 ARM Cortex-A8 based processor running at 600 MHz. It's the same CPU as in the Omnia HD, iPhone 3Gs, Palm Pre and the upcoming Sony Ericsson Satio. At the moment, it's one of the most powerful processors used in available mobile phones.

The OMAP3430 consists of ARM Cortex A8 application processor running at 600 MHz, PowerVR SGX530 GPU (graphics acceleration processor) and TMS320C64x DSP/ISP (Digital/Image Signal Processor taking care of telephony, data transmission, image processing, etc) running at 430 MHz.

The ARM Cortex A8 (ARMv7-A architecture) is the main core powering the operating system and applications, running at 600 MHz, and delivering up to 2000 Dhrystone MIPS (on a 1 GHz version) and about 1200 MIPS on the 600 MHz one as in the N900 (to compare, ARMv6 architecture based ARM1136 processor used in e.g. Nokia N97 provides up to 740 MIPS). This core offers as spectacular features as 13-stage superscalar pipeline (the first superscalar CPU in a Nokia phone) with advanced dynamic branch prediction achieving 2.0 DMIPS/MHz, VFP (vector floating-point computation accelerating voice compression, 3D graphics and audio), NEON (64 and 128 bit SIMD instruction set accelerating multimedia and signal processing), Jazelle RCT (Java acceleration and JIT compilation), Thumb-2 (extended 32-bit instruction set, bit-field manipulation, table branches, and conditional execution), integrated L1 and L2 caches and more.

PowerVR SGX530 is a "Series5" GPU (graphics accelerator) from Imagination Technologies, including pixel, vertex, and geometry shader hardware. It includes fully programmable universal scalable shader architecture and delivers performance of 14 MPolys/s and full support for OpenGL ES 2.0. To compare, Nokia's OMAP2420-based phones (e.g. the E90) contain older PowerVR MBX GPU supporting OpenGL ES 1.x, and Freescale MXC300-30 based ones (like the N97, 5800 XpressMusic, N75, etc.) do not contain a GPU at all. N900's GPU is the same as of the iPhone 3Gs (some sources say that the iPhone 3Gs has a slightly more powerful SGX535, but it's not fully confirmed).

The TMS320C64x DSP/ISP core (running at 430 MHz) takes care of all kinds of digital signal processing. It frees the main core from having to spend precious cycles on handling baseband (voice communication and data transmission) and speeds up image processing. To compare, OMAP2420-based phones (E90, etc.) include older C55x (rather than 64x) DSP running at 220 MHz (i.e. almost twice slower) and the Freescale MXC300-30 based models incorporate StarCore SC140e DSP operating at up to 250 MHz.

There's really NOTHING one could complain about when it comes to performance and functionality offered by N900's processor, not only when it comes to the offered "raw speed" but also graphics, video and imaging acceleration.

But good news don't end here and the N900 also impresses with its operating memory size, letting the processor fully utilize its possibilities. It not only has 256 MB of operating memory (SDRAM) but also 768 MB of NAND-based virtual memory (swap), making it 1 Gigabyte in total. Who needs more? (it has been brought to my attention in a discussion on Maemo.com forums that swap is actually located on a partition of the built-in eMMC Flash memory, but this somehow conflicts with tech specs @ Forum Nokia where 768 MB NAND is listed, so at the moment I am not sure which one is true; if it's indeed eMMC then it'll be slightly slower).

The following screenshot shows output of "free" command in N900's X-Terminal, listing total, used and free RAM and swap (virtual memory) after a fresh restart. As the amount of free RAM (52 MB) probably doesn't look too impressive at first sight for a Symbian OS phone user, a word of explanation is needed here. Unlike on Symbian OS, where physical RAM is the only available operating memory, Linux (and so the N900) additionally uses swap, i.e. "virtual memory". In huge simplification, active tasks and processes are kept in RAM while inactive (or infrequently used) data are moved to swap. The N900 not only has additional 768 Megabytes of swap, but it is stored in a dedicated, fast NAND memory (or in eMMC, see the updated comment above). That's why the size of free RAM is not even half as important as on Symbian OS, and when checking how much memory you have left for running additional applications you can safely SUM UP the remaining RAM *and* swap, just like on the screenshot below where total free RAM+swap is well over 800 MB. And in case of the N900 it'll always mean hundreds of megabytes, even after many hours or days of uptime and multiple tasks running. When you launch a lot (and I mean A LOT) of apps the machine may slow down a little bit (due to swap handling being slower than real RAM, and the system having to copy data back and forth between swap and RAM) just like e.g. Windows slows down when its pagefile is heavily used, but that's actually the only negative effect. Don't expect to see any "Out of memory" errors on this machine. I tried really hard to get one, and I ended up having over TWO DOZEN of applications running at once and multiple browser windows open, with some 30-40% performance drop being the only result and the system still letting me start new tasks and open new windows... so I just gave up....

Shortly speaking, the CPU/memory system does not impose virtually ANY restrictions when it comes to complexity of 3rd party software and it'll be limited only by developers' creativeness and innovativeness. Porting applications from desktop Linux distros will also be much easier, not limited by memory or performance restrictions but only focused on user interface tweaks to adjust software for smaller screen and Maemo 5 specific UI. You should not worry about the functionality of built-in software, either. At this memory size, any "low memory" messages with multiple browser windows open or many applications working in the background are REALLY unlikely to ever appear. As I wrote, so far I haven't experienced a single one even though I tried really hard.

The N900 does not impose much compromises when it comes to storage capacity, either. 48 GB of storage memory ought to be enough for everybody, and that's for real, and not in the sense of a similar sentence Bill Gates once said. 32 GB of built-in storage memory plus possible expansion of it with microSD card up to 16 GB gives really an AWFUL LOT of space for your data, images, documents, videos and more. It's only a pity that the memory card slot, although hot-swappable, is hidden under the battery cover and not available from the outside, as it makes swapping memory cards unnecessarily complicated...

(just to be precise, on the tested proto unit, the internal Flash memory is 16 GB and not the advertised 32 GB; I don't know if it's just a limitation of prototype units or maybe the specs are going to change before the device gets final, but even with 16+16 = 32 GB of total storage I actually wouldn't have much reasons to complain).

The only thing that worries (and ANNOYS!) me a at the moment is that (at least on the tested proto unit) like in previous Maemo based devices, memory available for installation of 3rd party software (i.e. actually the whole rootfs file system) seems to be limited to a relatively small capacity of about 256 MB and it is not possible to use the entire available storage space for software installation, only for data (docs, video clips, images, etc). This restriction, with such a lot of available storage space, seems to be quite irrational. I was able to fill the WHOLE memory in just a couple of days and having installed just 10% of what's available from just one repository, and now I have to uninstall one application just to be able to install another. What a cr*p! More advanced Linux users probably won't have much problems with getting rid of this limitation (e.g. by replicating the structure of rootfs on a memory card and linking it with symbolic links) but for Linux newbies such a restriction may be something they'll have to live with... I really, REALLY hope that it's just a REMNANT from the previous models not yet removed on the tested prototype and that I will not find this silly restriction on a commercial sample.

UPDATE! I'm glad to inform that the above mentioned limitation of storage space for software installation is HISTORY now. It is being worked on just as you read this and final units WILL NOT have this restriction. There will be an additional storage space of 2 Gigabytes (under /home/opt) made available for installation of 3rd party software and all packages (along with all their dependencies) bigger than 500 kB will install there, leaving the root file system for small packages (where hundreds of them can fit) and for system use. Shortly speaking, expect over 2 GB of space for installable software, i.e. an AWFUL LOT of it.

The camera

i.e. something that used to be severely crippled on previous Maemo devices (poor VGA resolution, no built-in video recording support) has finally grown up to a mature state. The N900 has almost the same camera as the N97 (5 Megapixel sensor, Carl Zeiss Tessar lens, f/2.8) with the only (quite unimportant) difference being the focal length of 5.2 mm vs. 5.4 mm on the N97.

Shortly speaking, you can expect the same still image quality as on the N97, i.e. quite good. Launching the camera application is almost instant (1-2 seconds from sliding the camera cover open), getting the autofocus from half-pressing the shutter release button usually takes up to 2 seconds, too, only processing and storing the captured image takes a bit longer (a "Processing the image" message is shown during some 3-4 seconds after image capture). So it's really OK, and it's a proto unit so things can only get better. The only issue at the moment is that the red "AF assist" light seems to be more a gimmick than a feature. It is supposed to lighten up objects in dim light and in darkness for the autofocus to have enough contrast to be able to work, but it is far too weak. I spent an hour trying to take a sample picture for this review at night with flash but I could not do it as the diode turned out to be too weak even from a distance of several centimetres. And the flash fires only AFTER you press the shutter button so it does not help in getting AF, either. I ended up using a pocket torch to temporarily lighten up the object for the AF to catch up, and then everything went OK: the flash fired and the camera took a correctly exposed picture. So in order for the N900 to be able to take night shots the AF assist light must be replaced with a stronger one, or else it just won't be usable in dim light.

More details about available modes and options will be described in the Software part of this preview and now please take a look at some sample pictures:





Video recording is now finally supported by default, and is really superb. The N900 records video in in MP4, AVC/H.264 format and in 848x480 pixels resolution, quite a non-standard one, but apparently chosen to match N900's display resolution (so that playing back the recorded clips can be done in 1:1 without rescalling), and providing 16:9 aspect ratio. Frame rate is 25 fps, which is quite sufficient to reproduce smooth motion. While the resolution of video is lower than e.g. Samsung Omnia HD's 720p, it's certainly much higher than VGA of most of available mobile phones, it's 16:9, and - what's the most important - it's of very high quality when it comes to detailness, smoothness and noise levels. I just wish I could use Flash in dim light in the video mode, which doesn't seem to be possible at the moment.

The following three clips were recorded using the tested early proto unit, which is worth remembering, as further improvements will surely take place before the device gets final. The first clip, recorded in good lighting conditions, shows really smooth motion, no dropped frames, lots of details and good colours. We can see some lightness flickering, but it's because of the automatic white balance (AWB) getting tricked by changing colours and contasts (the sea vs. the sky vs. the sand); in such conditions switching the white balance to one of available presets would probably produce better effects.

Note: Both clips as shown below have been automatically resized to fit page layout. Click on them to go to YouTube and make sure that the "HQ" button is selected to watch them in their original resolution! As YouTube re-encodes videos after uploading, the quality is slightly lower than in the original clips.

The second clip was recorded in dim light, after the sunset. I chose to show it here because it is a good example of how low noise levels are and how detailed the video remains even in such a poor lighting conditions. This clip has some serious frame drops, but that's a result of recording it right after the previous one; apparently the device was still processing/saving the previous clip while recording the new one which gave the device an additional load. As I wrote, it'll surely be subject to optimizations and improvements before the device gets final. Once I get hold of a final unit, these sample clips will be replaced.

I've just added a third clip. This one shows that frame rate is quite sufficient to reproduce fast motion. Compression artefacts visible in this clip are caused by YouTube recompression/recoding and are NOT present on the original recording, which also has more natural, less saturated colours.

Build quality

... is a decent one. The front part with the display is surrounded by a metal frame and gives an very robust and sturdy feeling. The back side of the display, visible when the keyboard is open, is also metal. The only objection, mentioned earlier, is that the screen seems to be quite prone to scratches, more than other touch screen devices I've recently used. When you get the N900, don't wait with applying a good screen protector to it or at least carry it in a good, soft case.

The back side of the device is made entirely of plastic. It's actually a large, plastic battery cover, very similar to the one of the Nokia N97. The difference is that the plastic is harder and thicker than on the N97 and that the sliding camera cover is now part of it, while on the N97 there's a hole in the battery cover and the camera and its cover are integral part of the actual device.

Lots of people had problems with N97's camera cover scratching the lens and this has been partially improved in the N900. Partially, because now the cover does not scratch the actual camera (which is slightly recessed and the cover does not touch it) but it still scratches the part of the casing it slides over when the camera is open and I've noticed that lots of dirt gets and stays there. While still not perfect, at least it does not damage the camera and doesn't affect its functionality, yet it does affect the look...

The camera cover is surrounded by a plastic element which - when extracted - serves as a stand, similar to that found on the N96, yet slightly wider. While usable, it is a HUGE step back compared to previous Internet Tablets' large and metal stands surrounding the entire device, giving them a very solid and stable support at two or three different angles. Using the N900 on its stand (just one angle), I am a little bit scared not to press the device too strongly or it may break (or at least that's the impression you get) and as it is located on the left side and quite small, pressing the device on the right side may not be the best idea if you don't want it to tip over. Use it for watching movies, listening to Internet Radio, etc., but avoid operating the display without supporting the phone with the other hand from behind.

Another observation is that when the stylus is removed from its "slot", I can see a small part of the electronic board, so it is worth paying attention that some fluid or moisture does not get there as it might damage the electronics... Or maybe I'm a little bit paranoid, as the same could actually happen through the 3.5 mm audio jack or the USB port... but it's probably because seeing part of the PCB exposed to the external world this way is not something that makes one feel secure.

All in all, the N900 gives an impression of a well built device and good materials. Parts of the casing are well fitted, there's no squeaking sounds, the keyboard moves smoothly and precisely "clicks" into place without any undesired play, and the plastic battery cover (i.e. actually the whole back of the device) has been made from a thicker and harder plastic than the one of the N97.

The phone, communication, connectivity

As mentioned, the N900 is the first Maemo device being a smartphone, i.e. including a GSM radio and HSDPA data transmission, rather than just a "Tablet". In this regard, it does not differ from Symbian OS based smartphones. It is not just an attempt to add voice and data functionality to Maemo; everything is FULLY supported and well integrated with the OS. Voice calls quality is the same as on other high-end Nokia smartphones and so is the range of supported services, including e.g. conference calls, call waiting, etc. While, as previously mentioned, there are no dedicated hardware buttons for starting/ending/accepting/rejecting calls, everything can be done using large and convenient virtual on-screen buttons. Launching the Phone application to make a new call can also be accelerated by either placing a direct shortcut button to Phone on the desktop or by enabling the "Launch by turning" option in the "Turning control" settings, which instantly opens the Phone application when you turn the device around its vertical axis. It's possible thanks to N900's built-in accelerometer sensors, which can also be used (when the Phone application is configured to "Automatic" orientation) to automatically launch the Phone app in either portrait or landscape, depending on the current orientation of the device (and whether the keyboard is currently opened or not). The N900 is a quad-band (1800/1900/850/900) GSM and tri-band (1700/2100/900) WCDMA phone, so there's no compromise here, either.

The Phone application has been fully integrated with VoIP/IM support, enabling Skype, SIP, Google Talk, Jabber and Ovi services, and making VoIP calls as convenient as normal GSM calls. I tested the N900 quite heavily with Skype and I must say that I just *FELL IN LOVE* with it for how it does it. It just couldn't be made better and simpler. More details can be found in the Software part.

Packet data transmission includes HSDPA (up to 10 Mbps) and HSUPA (up to 2 Mbps) as well as EDGE, and while testing the N900 over the last couple of weeks I haven't experienced a single Internet connectivity related problem, so there's really nothing to complain about. It connects instantly and does not drop the connection. On the tested proto unit, connectivity options seem to be unfinished yet and e.g. there are no Internet access point settings other than Wireless LAN so I can't elaborate on the supported options and settings yet. However, even without configurable settings, the N900 automatically recognized my SIM card and set up the right Internet access point by itself.

Just like previous Internet Tablets, the N900 obviously also supports WLAN. I tested it with several hidden WPA2 networks and haven't found any issues. When configured so, the N900 automatically connects to wireless LANs (and logs in to defined VoIP accounts, e.g. Skype), and can even automatically switch from mobile network's packet connection to WLAN once you get in its range. Supported security options include WEP, WPA-PSK and WPA with EAP (PEAP, TLS, TTLS: EAP GTC, EAP MSCHAPv2, MSCHAPv2) but since it's an early firmware other protocols may be added before the device gets final.

Of course, there's also Bluetooth (2.1 +EDR with A2DP and AVRCP), unfortunately disabled and not working on the tested proto unit so I'll be able to comment on it only after I update the device with newer firmware (the official specs mention the following supported profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, FTP, HFP, HSP, OPP), as well as an infrared port (located on top of the device, next to the camera button) and USB 2.0 High-speed micro connector (on the left). Connecting the USB cable pops up a similar requester as on S60 phones asking to choose the connection mode between PC Suite (e.g. for synchronization) and Mass storage (for fast data exchange). Choosing none defaults to "Charging only".

The Infrared port is actually an interesting thing as it is not mentioned in the official specification, yet it is there, at least on the proto units. Hopefully it will not get removed before the device starts shipping... Not that it is an important data transmission method now that we have Bluetooth, but it has several other nice uses; a couple of "remote control" 3rd party applications (like e.g. Irreco) for the N900 are already in the works... Having played a little bit with Irreco I must say that as a remote control the IR port works really well; up to 3-4 metres it actually worked BETTER than my satellite set-up-box' original Philips remote.

The N900 has a standard 3.5 mm audio jack that also serves as TV out, similarily to S60 phones. Configuration on the tested proto unit is limited to PAL/NTSC setting and the device generates nice 16:9 video output. Audio quality via the built in speakers (located on top left and right) is quite decent and acceptably loud, and is even better via headphones, but don't rely on my judgement and check it for yourself when the device starts shipping as this is a very subjective thing and what's OK for me doesn't have to be sufficient for you... It's only a pity that there's no equalizer to adjust audio to your liking, but maybe it will be added in the final firmware...

There's also a built-in FM transmitter but, again, I couldn't test it on the current firmware as it is disabled and clicking its icon in the Settings only shows an information about it being inactive and an "OK" button. I'll update this information once I get hold of a newer firmware enabling it.

It is still unclear whether the N900 has an FM radio or not. Official specs do not mention it and there's currently no trace of it on the device, but remembering how it looked the same (and that even several months after the device started shipping) in case of the N800 Tablet until software enabling it was suddenly and unexpectedly released by Nokia, it doesn't have to mean anything. So we'll have to wait and see.

UPDATE: It has been confirmed to me that the FM radio chip is included. However, the device will ship with no FM radio software preinstalled. It will be created and made available for download by Maemo community, though.

GPS receiver

The N900 comes with built-in, assisted GPS receiver. As in case of the Samsung Omnia HD sharing the same OMAP3430 processor, the GPS of the N900 is a VERY good one, considerably faster than the one of other S60 phones, e.g. the N97. That's because OMAP3430-based phones come with a newer GPS solution - NaviLink 6.0 - than older, ARM11 based devices... Shortly speaking, with the aid of the "Assist" function enabled (downloading data from supl.nokia.com dedicated server on each GPS use), the GPS *always* gets fix in less than 30 seconds (and sometimes even in just 5-10 seconds), considerably faster than the N97 or other S60 devices. It is also much more precise and sensitive, to a point that compass (apparently missing on the N900) is not really needed as the device is able to recognize your direction even after just several metres. The N900 also supports mobile network based positioning (estimating position based on mobile network cell data).

Several people asked about how the GPS performs without network assistance. In the Offline/Phone Off mode, after fresh restart of the device and not using the GPS for a couple of days, it took it about 6 minutes to get the first fix (checked from a balcony, with half of the sky visible and the other half covered by the building; might have been faster with clear view of the entire sky). However, on consecutive tests, it only took it 10-15 seconds to fix again. So the network assistance is recommended to drastically shorten the time, if not always then at least to get the first fix after not using the device for a couple of days or moving to a different location. The amount of data downloaded by the A-GPS function is so small that it really shouldn't be a problem!



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