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Nokia N900 (unlocked) review: Nokia N900 (unlocked)

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The Good The Nokia N900 offers a powerful mobile Web browser, plenty of storage, a 5-megapixel camera, and an ultrasharp display. It's also fast, multitasks well, and has excellent call quality. Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth, and GPS are all onboard.

The Bad The user interface isn't very intuitive. Ovi Store for the N900 isn't live yet, limiting the number of available apps, and it doesn't sync with Exchanger Server 2003. The phone is a bit bulky and not all apps work in portrait mode.

The Bottom Line While it has yet to reach its full potential, the Nokia N900 is a powerful mobile device with excellent browsing capabilities and vast customization options. However, its unintuitive interface and other limitations make this a smartphone for tech enthusiasts and early adopters only.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8

The Nokia N900 is the next evolution of the company's Internet Table, and don't let its smaller size fool you. It delivers more power, adds phone capabilities, and has one of most robust mobile Web browsers on the market today. It also runs on the Linux-based Maemo platform, which offers great customization options and multitasking abilities but has yet to live up to its full possibilities. The N900 feels incomplete with its limited Exchange support and an app store that has yet to go live. Also, the user interface is incredibly unintuitive, making it frustrating to use at times. Like we said, there's plenty of potential there, but for now, the N900 is probably best for tech enthusiasts or early adopters, while those after an everyday, more mainstream smartphone should stick with the current crop of favorites. The Nokia N900 is available unlocked for $569, though you may be able to find it for less online.

Aside from the slider design, the Nokia N900 bears very little resemblance to its predecessors. Instead of a tablet form factor, the N900 looks more like one of the N series smartphones, such as the N96, but is on the bulkier side at 4.37 inches wide by 2.35 inches tall by 0.77 inch thick and 6.38 ounces. In hand, the N900 feels like a very solid phone but the extra weight is noticeable when you're on a phone call and it'll make for a bit of a tight fit in a pants pocket.

The Nokia N900 is a bit on the heavier and thicker side.

There are a couple of quirks about the smartphone. First, most apps only work in landscape mode and there are very few that work in portrait mode. In fact, the only one we could find was the phone app. It's not a deal-breaker but we'd definitely like to have the option of using more apps in portrait mode. Also, there are no Talk and End keys (or any other of the standard navigation buttons), so a simple task of making a phone call requires a couple of extra steps. This wouldn't be such a huge deal if the user interface was a bit more intuitive (more on this later), but if you're using the device for the first time and trying to make a call or simply trying to return to the previous menu, it can be slightly confusing.

Without physical navigation buttons, you'll mostly use the N900's 3.5-inch resistive touch screen to get around the phone, and it is quite a beauty. The WVGA display (800x480 pixels) is amazingly sharp and bright and has an ambient light sensor and brightness controls. Also, although it's a resistive touch screen, which requires that you use a little more pressure than capacitive screens, we found it to be very responsive to our touches, whether we were opening an app, scrolling through lists, or switching between home screens.

We found the N900's QWERTY keyboard fairly easy to use, though we didn't like the off-center placement of the space key.

For text entry, you get a full QWERTY keyboard, which you can access by pushing the screen upward. There isn't much space between the keys, but the buttons are a good size and have a nonslippery texture and a slight bump to them, so most users should have no problem with the N900's keyboard. Our only complaint is that Nokia has, once again, placed the space bar off center, which interrupts the flow of typing, particularly for left-handers since it's located on the right side. We don't really understand why the company keeps doing this.

While you don't get the standard navigation array, there are some physical controls on the exterior of the smartphone. On top of the device, you'll find a volume rocker, a power button, and a camera activation/capture key. The right side holds a lock switch, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a stylus, while there's a Micro-USB port on the left. The camera and dual LED flash are located on back, both of which are protected by a sliding cover, and like the Nokia N86, there is a kickstand so you can prop up the device to watch movies or view a photo slideshow.

User interface
As we mentioned earlier, the Nokia N900's UI isn't very easy to use right out of the box, but with time and customization, it can offer a lot. Running on the Linux-based Maemo platform, the smartphone offers four home-screen panes that you can rotate through by swiping from left to right and vice versa. You can personalize each pane with various widgets and shortcuts. To do so, just press on a part of the home screen (outside of any widgets or shortcuts), and you'll see a little tab menu with a settings wheel icon drop down from the top of the screen. Pressing that will bring up another Desktop menu in which you can choose to add a shortcut, contact, bookmark, widget and also change your background or theme. There's also a Manage View option, and you can remove any of the home screens if you think four is too many. To remove any items from a pane, press the X on the right-hand corner of the widget or shortcut.

You may see one of two icons in the upper-left-hand corner on each of the home panes. When you don't have any apps open, you'll see a grid icon, which when pressed, will take a main menu of apps. If you're running other programs, you will see an icon with multiple windows and this takes you to a page that shows all your running apps. From there you can switch to a different program or exit out of one, making multitasking on the N900 quite easy.

Figuring out how all the menus work and what each icon is takes time and in our experience, requires a lot of trial and error. For example, once you get deeper into a task, it's not always clear how to return to the previous page (you just tap outside the window, by the way), and a simple task like this shouldn't be so confusing. However, you learn with more use and with more time; we customized the user interface to our liking and found it quite useful, especially the multitasking window.

The Nokia N900 comes packaged with an AC adapter, a stereo headset, video-out cables, a cleaning cloth, and reference material. For more add-ons, please check our cell phone accessories, ringtones, and help page.

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