The N900 is based on the Maemo platform, which is - shortly speaking - an evolution of Linux Debian. So it is - simply put - a Linux computer with Nokia's own Hildon user interface / application framework. While the UI is a "custom" one (actually, not anymore, it's now part of GNOME and Ubuntu Mobile), the underlying Linux is actually the same as you can find on a desktop computer. And this has several important advantages. First of all, it means there are tens of thousands of Linux developers out there, who do not have to learn programming for a new platform. Getting familiar with Maemo for them is limited to learning some Maemo/Hildon specific APIs and the UI, while all the rest is actually the same. So, the N900 has quite a huge developer base right from the day one. Secondly, it also means that porting existing Linux applications (and there's an awful lot of them) is also much easier (not to say trivial) compared to porting software between different platforms/OSes, mostly limited to UI-specific tweaks and redesigns, and considering N900's powerful processor, large operating memory and high resolution display it actually does not even involve typical "mobile device" adjustments as the N900 is not a small-screened, low resource environment. Thirdly, Linux is well known from plently of software being free and open sourced, so access to existing projects to port is virtually unlimited.
And as if it wasn't enough, the Maemo on the N900 remains a true Linux also when it comes to its openness and lack of restrictions. Shortly speaking, forget about Symbian Signed type annoyances. This device is really YOURS. It is you who decides what to install on it. Want to play with it deeper than what's enabled on the UI layer and via the available GUI settings? Lauch X Terminal, enable root access, and do whatever you want, just like on a Linux desktop. Possibilities include, but are not limited to, enabling USB host mode (not quite certain at the moment; there are speculations that it won't be possible on the N900 due to some hardware specs), changing the MAC address of the WLAN interface, modifying file system structure (e.g. with symbolic links), modifying advanced system settings, or even compiling a custom kernel. Have fun.
Oh, and just to be clear with this, the N900, even though classified as Nseries device, is NOT a Symbian S60 phone, which means that you CANNOT run S60 software on it. It's probably obvious to almost everyone, but I've seen some questions on our Maemo discussion forum about it so it is worth mentioning. So if you decide to switch to the N900 from a Symbian phone (e.g. the E90 Communicator) you will have to start collecting your software from scratch. But so what? Expect lots of N900 software (especially that ported from desktop Linux and from previous Internet Tablets) to be free, i.e. not involving any cost in switching to.
And you won't have to wait long (if at all) for many interesting titles to become available. Even though the N900 is the first Maemo based smartphone and is based on the new Maemo 5 release including some changes, it is not the first Maemo based device ever, with three Internet Tablet models available for several years now. While compatibility with previous Maemo releases isn't full, it's not that bad, either, and quite many existing applications released for the previous Tablets work on the N900 without any problems. The ones that don't usually complain about missing dependencies, so installing the missing packages would also in many cases make them work. The remaining ones will simply get updated for N900 compatibility; many of them already were.
On our Maemo discussion forum many people ask if we can expect 3rd party software for the N900 to be of the same quality (and quantity) as for the iPhone. While I am not a clairvoyant, I can point out at least several things that ENABLE and ENCOURAGE developers to produce software of the same quality as for the iPhone, and much more of it than what we've been getting recently on the S60 platform. These include:
- the aforementioned popularity of Linux, i.e. a huge developer base familiar with this system, much bigger than in case of Symbian OS
- better access to programming resources, development tools, guides and tutotials for Linux than for Symbian
- lots of existing open source projects for Linux to port from, and to LEARN from
- powerful hardware of the N900, including the same processor as on the iPhone, the same graphics/video acceleration, huge operating memory, much higher resolution display than the iPhone, full multitasking, etc.; technical specifications of the N900 exceed those of the iPhone, so hardware is a true "enabler" here
- the N900 being the first Maemo based smartphone (with the previous Maemo based Internet Tablets being niche products that don't really count in this regard), which in this case is actually an advantage. The real curse of the S60 platform is that it's been present on the market for almost a decade now, with lots of older phone models still being used by tens of millions of people. Even though as powerful devices as the Samsung Omnia HD are now available, developers try to maximize their profits by optimizing their software for the "lowest common denominator", i.e. make it run on the WEAKEST popular phone model (and up), so that one software release can be compatible with as many existing phones as possible. And this is why after many months since the Omnia HD has been launched, there is not even one 3rd party application utilizing its powerful processor and graphics acceleration (the same as on the N900) as all developers keep making their software compatible with some ancient phone models like the N80, N95 or so. Now, with the N900, this WON'T be the case, simply because it's the first one, with no older smartphone models based on this platform that could tempt developers to downgrade their applications to. Software written for the N900 will be written JUST for the N900, and utilizing its full performance and all its capabilities.
- finally, there's no Symbian Signed-like DETERRENT. Create an application and release it. You don't have to have it tested, certified, signed, blessed, anything, and you don't have to PAY for it. Also there is also no Apple AppStore DETERRENT, no one will disapprove your application and reject it from being sold through the one and only available software distribution channel. Give it away for free, sell it via any available software store or just your own website, whatever suits you.
To recap, if only properly promoted by the manufacturer and made popular, the N900 definitely WON'T suffer from scarcity of 3rd party software as nothing else can prevent it. Take my word.
Maemo 5 and Hildon vs. older releases
For the first time, the world saw Maemo on the first Internet Tablet model, the Nokia 770, released in mid 2005. But the Hildon project (Hildon is the name of the user interface on top of Maemo) is actually much older, originating in 2002 or so. The first idea was to use the Hildon UI on Symbian OS and there was quite an advanced Hildon-based Communicator project in progress in 2003. For reasons that remained unknown, Nokia cancelled that project, kept using the Series 80 platform in Communicators and finally switched from it to S60 in the E90. The Hildon project "evolved" to Series 90 which was used for the first time in the Nokia 7700 that never started shipping commercially and was only available to network operators. It was then followed by the Nokia 7710, the only publicly available Series 90 smartphone, which was actually doomed to fail right from the start as Nokia almost instantly announced that the Series 90 platform is a dead end, soon to be "aligned" with Series 60, then renamed to S60. And that's where connections between Hildon and Symbian OS ended, and soon after that the first Linux based device from Nokia, the 770 Internet Tablet, based on the first public Maemo release and the Hildon UI came to life.
So, the beginnings of the user interface you can now enjoy on the N900 really weren't easy. If things weren't that chaotic those days, the Hildon UI might have been quite a popular and established one now and so could be the Communicators and other high end smartphones, which have recently left so much space for iPhones and alikes. Why Nokia preferred to cancel the Hildon on Symbian project and instead on one hand develop it from scratch on Linux and on the other hand sacrifice several years on transforming S60 to a touch enabled version (the 5th Edition) that's still much "dumber" than Hildon? Don't ask me, I have no idea.
Back to reality, I mentioned the history of the Hildon UI because by checking how it looked like (as Series 90) on the 7700 and 7710, and then on the three following Internet Tablets (770, N800, N810) and finally now on the N900 you can see how it was evolving and changing over those 6 years. The Symbian based 7700/7710 and the first Internet Tablet (770) had an almost identical UI, sharing almost the same look of the status bar, computer-like pull-down menus, and many other GUI elements. The N800 Internet Tablet and the N810 brought some tweaks and redesigns making the UI look nicer, more up to date (and more finger - rather than just stylus - "friendly"), but still utilizing the same concept and layout. It's the N900 that brings the first serious modifications, changing the way the device works, interacts with the user and is controlled. In some aspects, the changes seem to be originating from the S60 platform, closely resembling some UI elements found on S60 5th Edition devices like e.g. the N97.
I wrote earlier that compared to Hildon I consider the S60 UI somehow "dumber". So does it mean that the S60-like changes on the N900 make it "dumber" compared to previous Tablets? Well, no. And that's because what has been "imported" from S60 to Hildon was actually "the best of it". Hildon did not become S60, it only got a limited number of features, making it more suitable for use as a smartphone rather than just a Tablet. So what are the changes?
First of all, the Windows "Start" like pull down menu listing built-in and 3rd party applications known from previous Maemo releases has been replaced with a Menu screen well known from S60 smartphones, showing application icons in a 5 x 3 grid. It resembles the S60 Menu so closely that even the icons are the same. It also shares the same stucture, application names (e.g. Control panel now renamed to S60-like "Settings"), and the "Applications" icon providing access to another screen containing installed 3rd party applications. I consider this change a good and useful one, more convenient to use than the previous "Start" like menu that required quite a lot of scrolling, especially when plenty of 3rd party software was installed. This S60 like Menu screen will also make the N900 more familiar to people switching from a S60 phone.
Another change is replacement of desktop computer like pull-down menus (File, Edit, View, etc.) with large buttons. This certainly makes controlling the device with a finger easier and more convenient than the previous menus, quite small, optimized for stylus.
Serious changes and improvements have also been made to the
Home screen, Status bar and Task Manager
The N900 now has four separate home screens / desktops between which you can quickly "scroll" just by swiping your finger from left to right or vice versa. Each desktop can have a different wallpaper (or a set of wallpapers can be set for all screens at once - for instance, you can create a long panorama, divide it into four pictures and assign them to all home screens so that the whole panorama smoothly scrolls as you switch from one home screen to another) and totally different content. Of course, you are not forced to have all four desktops enabled if you don't need that much. Via the "Manage views" menu you can freely disable or enable them (by ticking or unticking their thumbnails); the only limitation - quite an obvious one - is that at least one desktop must remain active). Items that can be put on each desktop include: widgets (i.e. small applications running on the home screen), shortcuts (to any built-in or installed application), bookmarks and contacts.
Several widgets come preinstalled in the device, including: Media Player (making it possible to play back your audio files or Internet radio stations directly from the home screen, or - when tapped - quickly launching the full Media Player application), Calendar (showing several upcoming events and tasks on the home screen and quickly launching the full Calendar application), Location (showing a small map on the home screen indicating your current location; it has a "Power On/Off" button which can be used to enable or disable location updates anytime), RSS Reader (showing most recent entries from the configured feeds and providing quick access to the full reader) and Foreca Weather (weather forecasts for the upcoming days). 3rd party widgets can be installed and enabled, for instance I use One More Weather instead of Foreca as I find it nicer looking and more accurate.
Supported home screen shortcuts include all built-in and additionally installed applications. Just add shortcuts to your favourite and most frequently used apps or games to one of the desktops and you'll be able to launch them with just a single tap.
Similarily, any bookmark created in the built-in browser can be put on the home screen. They consist of a nice thumbnail snapshot of the site (large enough to instantly recognize which site it points to) and bookmark name.
Contact shortcuts show contact picture (if it exists) and contact name. In case of VoIP/IM (e.g. Skype) contacts, shortcuts also show the availability status (a green dot when contact is online or a white dot with a grey X when contact is offline) so that you can always know if a contact is available, just by looking at your desktop. Tapping a Contact shows a menu containing available connection options: phone call, Skype call, IM connection, etc. Just tap one of the buttons initiate a call or chat... Couldn't be simpler.
As I wrote, there are four home screens and each of them can hold any content. It is up to you to decide how to use them. You can e.g. use one home screen for contacts, the second one for widgets, the third one for bookmarks and the fourth one for app shortcuts. Or you can freely mix them and use the first home screen for your private contacts, bookmarks, leisure apps and widgets, the other one for your business contacts and bookmarks, and so on. Possibilities are endless and there are absolutely no restrictions other than how much content will simply fit on a screen...
While you're still in the home screen configuration mode (which can be entered just by tapping any empty home screen area and then tapping the icon that appears next to the status bar) you can freely move all enabled home screen contents all around the screen. You can even quickly move items between different home screens just by dragging an item to the left or right border of the screen which will automatically switch to the next home screen and move the item there. When you place all items in selected places, simply tap the "Done" button on the status bar to exit the configuration mode. All items will be locked so that you won't move them accidentally.
On top of the home screen, as well as in all applications (unless working in or switched to the full screen mode) except for the Menu screen and Task Manager screen, there is a status bar consisting of several parts/items. The top left corner is occupied by a button, which has two functions and displays one of two icons, accordingly. Originally, when there are no applications working besides the home screen (the N900 is a fully multitasking device and can run as many apps simultaneously as can fit in the free operating memory) this button shows an icon consisting of two rows of three small rectangles. This icon works similarily to the "Menu" button on S60 phones and opens the "Menu" screen listing available (built-in and installed) applications.
As soon as you launch some app(s) the icon on the button changes (to two overlapping rectangles) and so does its function. Now it opens the Task Manager. This beautifully animated system tool with great transitions and sound effects lets you switch between all running applications, as well as quickly close the ones you no longer use. All running applications are shown as small "windows" containing the current view of the application (i.e. the state which you left it in; or actually the state in which they CURRENTLY ARE as they KEEP running in the background; it's not the iPhone!). The more apps running, the smaller the windows get to let the display fit more of them. They are arranged in a grid and one display is able to fit 3 lines of four task thumbnails each (i.e. 12 in total) and then.... it simply can be scrolled (hey, I said it is a MULTITASKING device with lots of RAM, it's not the iPhone!). While testing it, I managed to run some 25 apps and it didn't seem to be anywhere any limits so I just... gave up and assumed that I might as well be able to run twice more than that. Showing tasks (apps) as such thumbnail windows is a fantastic idea as it is a much quicker and much more convenient way to quickly find the app you want to switch to than having to read their names on a list. But to make it really complete, each thumbnail window also has a title bar with application name, just in case that you can't identify an app by its look... Oh, and each window also has a small "X" button in the right corner which can be used to instantly close an app from the Task Manager view, without having to switch to that app first... And if it all wasn't enough, and to make web browsing even more convenient, each window/page opened in the web browser is represented in the Task Manager by a separate thumbnail (containing a miniature of the web page) which makes switching between multiple open windows/pages a truly pleasant experience. And all that, as I wrote, with great transitions, animations (e.g. if you close an app its thumbnail nicely disappears and all other windows are rearranged on the fly) and sound effects. It just couldn't be nicer. Yes, it is an eye-candy, but a truly and fully functional one!
Oh, and while we are in the Task Manager view, the aforementioned top-left corner button/icon changes again to the "Menu" function providing access to applications, in case you want to launch another one. And if you want to quickly go to the home screen, just tap any empty area of the Task Manager screen and you'll be taken to the home screen, the one (out of four) you were recently using. The same easy way to quickly go back to the Home screen also works in other views, e.g. on the Menu screen. You will know where and when just by checking if the wallpaper of your home screen can be seen through the semi-transparent background of the current screen. If not, you can always reach the home screen anyway, just by tapping the Task Manager button in the top left corner of the screen and then tapping any empty area in Task Manager. It's actually even simpler than it looks and getting used to it takes not more than 5 minutes. One last remark is that the N900 always remembers which home screen (our of four available) you were recently using and it will always show it, even after you reboot the device.
OK, back to the status bar, the second part of it next to the Menu/Task Manager button is the clock, followed by device status indicators. These depend on the current state of the device, enabled/active connectivity options, etc. If the phone (GSM radio) is enabled, the first icon/indicator shown there is the network signal level and network type indicator. The signal strength is indicated in a typical way, by several horizontal bars. Network type is reported with one of the following symbols: 2G, 2.5G, 3G, 3.5G. Simple and legible. Another indicator shown in the status area is the battery level icon, graphically showing how much juice you have left to use. It's usually green and turns to red when the remaining power level gets critical. The next column contains connectivity related icons showing up when the corresponding connection type is active: WiFi, GPRS/3G, Bluetooth, USB, etc. These icons also change their look depending on the state of the connection: connecting/disconnecting, Bluetooth connection active or idle, etc. Finally, this column also contains an icon showing the state of connection with configured VoIP/IM accounts: a green circle when logged in or a white circle with "X" symbol when logged out or unable to connect. The status area may also contain other icons representing other functions/states of the device, like e.g. headphones connected, FM transmitter enabled, etc. Finally, it is also possible for 3rd party developers to utilize this area and show custom icons there. Pretty functional, huh? Last but not least, the status bar will also inform you (with a flashing orange icon with an exclamation mark) about any available software updates, both "official" Nokia ones (e.g. new firmware update) as well as updates of 3rd party applications installed using the App Manager from a configured software repository. This way you'll be always instantly notified not only about system updates but also about new version of your favourite game or freeware proggy!
But that's not all and the status area is only meant to give a quick overview of the current state of the device and its active functions, while tapping this area gives access to DETAILED information about each of the reported functions. When you tap the status icons, a window pops up showing advanced information, quick access to settings and the most frequently used functions. The first item shown in this window is a larger and more precise battery indicator, along with a written information about how long the battery will last, e.g. "2 hours of active use". On the right side, there is a large audio volume slider controlling the general loudness of the device. The next item (this time, and in case of all the remaining items in form of a button, which can be tapped to quickly go to corresponding device settings) is "Clock and Alarms" showing the current week day and the current date in long format. Tap the button to open the Clock application where you can adjust the time and date, set world clocks and add alarms.
Another item is the Profile button showing the currently enabled profile. Tap it to enter Profile settings where you can change the active profile, edit it, enable or disable vibration, etc. Available profile settings will be described in more detail a little bit later.
The next item of the status window is "Internet connection". It shows the type of the current connection and the name of the network or the access point in use. Tapping the button opens a "Disconnect or change connection" screen consisting of buttons representing available connections of all supported types. By tapping them, you can disconnect the current connection and/or establish a new one.
Last default item of the status window is the Bluetooth button showing the current state of Bluetooth and providing quick access to Bluetooth settings (On/Off, Visible, paired devices, etc).
Availability of other items depends on whether other functions are active. For instance, if any VoIP or IM accounts are configured, an "Availability" button will be shown displaying the status icon (similar to the one in the status bar), your avatar, and - when tapped - providing quick access to VoIP/IM accounts settings and availability options (Online/Offline/Busy, etc).
The status window can also be used by 3rd party software. As you can see on the screenshots, I have an application installed that uses the status window to show CPU/memory usage and to display buttons providing screenshot function.
A lot of information has been written, but we're still at the status bar! The next part of it, following the status icons, is the current application's title bar (on the Home screen it shows the name of the mobile network the phone is logged to). But this item is not limited to just showing the application name, it also works as a menu bar. Tapping it shows a "menu" of available application options, in form of large, "finger-friendly" buttons. These naturally vary from application to application, depending on what an app is supposed to do and what options it has. It is usually there where you can find options to save a file or create a new one, save a bookmark, open application settings, switch view, etc. It's something similar to the menu of options and functions available via the left softkey of S60 smartphones...
Before you get bored reading so much about the status bar, we've just reached the last part of it: in the top right corner there's an "X" icon/button which closes the current application. That's it.
While we're talking about the "general" things, it's worth mentioning the Power button. While pressing and holding it simply turns the device on or off, pressing it shortly (while in any view or application) brings a menu consisting of several functions/buttons:
- "Switch Off!" is self explanatory.
- "Secure device" locks the device with the configured Lock code (unlocking it requires entering the code once again)
- "General" and "Silent" buttons let quickly switch between these profiles
- "Offline mode" / "Normal mode" disables or enables all radios (phone, Bluetooth, WiFi, FM transmitter) and is the same as "Flight mode" in other devices
- "(De)activate phone" turns off or on the GSM radio (phone) while not changing the state of the remaining radios (WiFi, Bluetooth, FM transmitter). Useful when you want to use the device and be able to browse the web via your home WLAN but you don't want to be bothered by incoming phone calls from your boss...
- "Lock screen and keys" does the same as the slider located on the right side of the device
- "End current task" quickly closes the application working in the foreground. Useful if something froze or stopped responding...
Regarding the "Activate/Deactivate phone" option, when you start the N900 with the SIM card inserted, during boot it asks you to enter the PIN code of the SIM card similarly to other mobile phones. If you enter the PIN code, the device will be started with the Phone switched on. If you tap the "Skip" button without entering the PIN code, the N900 will be launched in the "PDA" mode, i.e. with WLAN and Bluetooth active but with the GSM radio turned off. Turning it on will require entering the PIN code.
The Settings screen, available from the Menu, contains all device configuration options in form of a scrollable, two-row list of items, divided into several groups: Personalisation, Connectivity, General and Extras.
The Personalization group contains the following settings: Themes, Profiles, Date and Time, Language & region, Display, Notification light, Text input.
The N900 is a "skinnable" device and the Themes setting gives access to a list of installed themes. By default (on the tested unit) there are four preinstalled themes: Digital Nature, Harmony, Melody and Nokia Nseries. Further, 3rd party themes can be added and will be shown in this selection once installed. Themes consist of home screen walpapers (which can be also modified separately) and colour palettes, changing the colours of various UI elements like sliders, buttons, fonts, rulers, etc.
On the tested proto unit, Profile support seems to be quite limited compared to S60 phones, and it's yet to be seen if it will be extended in the final firmware release or if it's going to remain as it is. For the time being, there are just two profiles (General and silent) without possibility of creating new ones. Settings of the Silent profile are restricted to just enabling or disabling vibration. In case of the General profile, in addition to the Vibration On/Off setting, one can choose ringing tone, SMS alert tone, IM tone, Email alert tone (and loudness of each of them separately), as well as one of three levels (Off, Level 1, Level 2) of System sounds, Key sounds and Touch screen sounds. And that's it. I deeply hope we're going to see something more than that when the device starts shipping...
The Date and Time settings let you set the current date and time (using nice, scrollable "lists"), time zone (from a world map with a nice "Search city" function), switch between 12-hour and 24-hour clock and enable or disable automatic time updates.
Language and Region settings allow choosing device language (17 languages available on the tested unit) and Regional settings (date format, decimal separator, Thousands separator).
Display settings contain adjustment of the screen brightness (5 levels), backlight time-out (10 s, 30 s, 1 min. or 2 min.) and options to enable or disable automatic screen lock (without delay setting) and touch screen vibration, and whether the display should stay lit when charging.
Notification light settings let you choose events reported by the notification light (a multicolour LED diode located by the lower left side of the screen), including: Device on (breathing light), Missed call, SMS received, Email message received, Instant Message received, Charging / Charging complete, Other notifications. Each enabled event is reported in a slightly different way, e.g. with different blinking frequency and/or colour.
Text input settings on the tested unit are limited to hardware and virtual keyboard. There is no trace of handwriting recognition support, and I don't know if it's going to be added before the device starts shipping, or not. Available options include: layout of the hardware keyboard (for all supported languages), enabling or disabling the virtual keyboard, word completion, auto-capitalization, automatically inserting a space after each word, and possibility to set up two languages and dictionaries for word completion/prediction (both languages/dictionaries can be used at the same time).
The "Connectivity" group of settings contains the following items: Transfer & Sync, Mail for Exchange, Bluetooth, Location, Sharing accounts, VoIP and IM accounts, Internet connections, Phone, FM transmitter and Certificate Manager.
The Transfer & Sync setting allows setting up a transfer or synchronization process with other devices. You can choose the method (Synchronize/Retrieve/Send data), Bluetooth device, and probably some other options which I couldn't test due to Bluetooth being inactive on the tested units and thus the settings not letting me go past the Bluetooth device selection screen.
Mail for Exchange is a wizard to define a Mail for Exchange account for email, calendar, tasks and contact synchronization between the N900 and an Exchange server. I didn't test it for a trivial reason: no access to an Exchange server :-) but it seems to be very similar to the one on S60 phones.
Bluetooth isn't working on the tested firmware, so there isn't much to write here, either. The settings themselves seem to be the same as on S60 phones, letting one switch Bluetooth on and off, make the phone (in)visible to other Bluetooth devices, give it a name and pair (and authorize) it with other devices. I'll test Bluetooth functionality (including A2DP audio quality) as soon as I get a newer firmware.
The Location item contains all GPS and location related settings. You can enable or disable the internal GPS receiver or pair the N900 with an external GPS device via Bluetooth, enable or disable network positioning (i.e. the Assisted GPS function) and enter the location server address (supl.nokia.com is configured by default).
Sharing accounts lets you select and configure sharing service accounts. On the tested unit, selection was limited to Ovi and Flickr.
VoIP and IM accounts does what its name suggests. Supported services include: Ovi, Skype, Google Talk, Jabber, and SIP. Once you select the service provider and enter the basic login information you can also configure advanced settings. For example, in case of a Skype account, you can choose the avatar, edit Skype profile, set Privacy settings (e.g. calls from anyone or only from contacts), manage a blocked users list, set call forwarding and also buy Skype credits (via the web browser).
Internet connections is where you configure all your Internet access points, both for WLAN and packet data. Actually, on the tested unit the settings weren't finished yet and only creating new WLAN access points was available. Yet when I inserted a SIM card, my network operator's HSDPA access point was created automatically and since then it was available for edition and deletion. As mentioned previously, I tested the N900 with several hidden, security-enabled (WPA2-PSK) networks and everything worked really well. WLAN radio seems to be quite sensitive, picking up even very weak network signal and sustaining the connection. WPA-EAP protocols were limited on the tested unit to PEAP, TLS, TTLS (EAP GTC, EAP MSCHAPv2, MSCHAPv2) and at this point I have no information whether other protocols will be supported.
Automatic connection options let you choose between connecting automatically to a selected access point (or just to any available WLAN), to any available connection, or to always ask you before establishing a connection (and let you choose which one to use). You can also enable or disable WLAN searching and its intervals (5, 10, 30 or 60 minutes) and make the device automatically and instantly switch from GPRS/3G connection to WLAN once you're in range of a wireless hotspot.
Phone configuration contains typical telephony related settings. These include "Send my caller ID", Call waiting and forwarding, network selection (automatic or manual), network mode (dual, 3G or GSM), Data roaming (allowed or "always ask"), data transmission counter (with reset option), and SIM card security (PIN code request, PIN change).
FM transmitter, just like Bluetooth, was disabled by default on the tested unit so I couldn't test it. The window that pops up after tapping the "FM transmitter" icon in setting only reports that "FM transmitter is disabled" and has an "OK" button. Apparently, I'll have to wait for a newer firmware to test it and see what options are available.
The Certificate manager shows security certificates preinstalled in the device. On the tested unit I haven't found an option to add a new one, so it's probably a work in progress. Update: new certificates can be added simply by tapping on a certificate file in the File Manager.
The "General" group of settings contains the following items: Device Lock, Memory, TV out, Screen calibration, About product.
Device Lock is where you can enable the automatic lock and enter/change the lock code. Once the automatic lock is enabled, the N900 will lock automatically after configured period of inactivity (5, 10, 30, 60 minutes) and unlocking it will require entering the Lock code.
Memory shows details about device's free and occupied storage memory. Pressing the "Details" button brings up a window showing detailed information about what's taking your precious storage space, including emails, images, video and audio clips, web pages, documents, contacts, and other files. As mentioned previously, the N900 seems to be continuing the same limitation as the previous Internet Tablet models when it comes to storage memory capacity available for installation of 3rd party software. Even though there's a huge multi-gigabyte Flash storage inside which can be further expanded with an (equally big) microSD memory card, space available for installing 3rd party software has been limited to.... some 256 MB, which seems like a bad joke. I was able to fill up that space almost instantly, even now that there's isn't much 3rd party software available yet. A device with as much storage memory should not have such an annoying (and functionality limiting) restriction, with majority of available disk space being only available for documents, images and multimedia clips. Hopefully it's like that just on the current proto firmware and this limitation will disapear in commercial builds, but if not then I'll consider it a really important drawback... Let's wait and see.
Screen calibration does what its name says: tap four displayed points to calibrate the touch screen in case it gets de-calibrated somehow.
About product shows some boring stuff about copyrights and free/open source software licenses, as well as a couple of important and useful details including current firmware version, WLAN MAC address and IMEI number.
The last settings group, "Extras", on the tested unit contains just one item, a "Crash Reporter" which is related to the firmware being a pre-release one and probably won't be present in final builds. So this group will probably contain some other settings, and it is also where 3rd party settings can be added. Regarding the Crash Reporter, after several weeks of testing the device, despite its early build, I didn't have to use it even once as the device simply... never crashed or froze. I've seen some other reviewers mentioning frequent crashes but I am happy to say that my experience is a wholly different one and stability is one of the things to PRAISE. I probably have a newer firmware version than them, but it's a good sign that some serious work is being done on this field and with such an early build as mine the final versions can only be ROCK STABLE...
The Settings screen also has two additional options available by tapping the status (title) bar. These include "Restore original settings" (which reverts all device settings to factory ones) and "Clear device" (which deletes all user files and settings, i.e. reverts the whole device to a factory state).
OK, to finish the description of the general stuff, the last thing worth mentioning is how you switch between windows. As I wrote, in case of Task Manager, tapping any free space gets you back to the Home screen. Similarily, with any window open that only takes part of the display the rest of the screen becomes semi-transparent and slightly blurred. To close the window and go back to its parent, just tap any such blurred area (i.e. the one not belonging to the window you want to close) and the window will be closed and you'll be taken back to where you opened that window from. Again, this couldn't be simpler and more intuitive. The full-screen Menu display (listing application icons) works the same way. When you tap the "Applications" icon and get to the "Applications" screen listing installed 3rd party software, just tap any empty area and you'll be taken one level higher, i.e. back to the Menu. And so on.
>>>>>> Go to page 3: SOFTWARE (continued) >>>>>>>