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After taking it for a test drive with Firefox Mobile, a pre-release version of the Nokia N900 has landed at Crave Towers. It's within a cat's whiskers of the final phone we'll see in shops, barring a possible firmware tweak or two.

The N900 doesn't skimp on specs, starting with the ARM Cortex A8 processor and working up to the 89mm (3.5-inch) screen. There's 32GB of memory built in, and you can add up to 16GB more with a microSD card, for epic storage options.

It's the first phone to run Maemo, an operating system based on Linux, and it's a cut above the touchscreen version of the Symbian operating system that we've seen on Nokia's other smart phones, because it was designed for touchscreens rather than being rehashed from traditional keypad-based phones.

The N900's keyboard slides out subtly, without the jaunty angle we saw on the Nokia N97. Instead, the three-row Qwerty keyboard just sneaks out from below the screen. The keys are larger than those on the N97, but they're packed together, with no space between them. They also have more travel, so they're more clicky when you're typing. The space bar is shunted to the right, so right-handed people may have more luck than lefties with this phone.

Click 'Continue' for a barrage of our first impressions of the N900's keyboard and screen, as well as its box-fresh Maemo operating system.

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We like how the N900's stealthy black body seems to reflect the power packed inside. It's a monolith, with no buttons on the front and a shiny front surface that extends all the way to the edges of the bezel.
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Maemo offers a 3D user interface that looks and feels fresh, despite the N900's resistive touchscreen. The screen responds to very light pressure from a fingernail, and it doesn't feel flabby like many resistive touchscreens do. So far, it's one of the best resistive screens we've tried -- although we still would have preferred a capacitive screen that doesn't require a stylus or fingernails to use. The transitions between the five home screens are wonderfully smooth and the phone feels responsive and fast, even in this pre-release version.
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One drawback to the N900 is its lack of portrait mode. Almost everything happens exclusively in landscape mode, even with the keyboard closed. Because of this, the N900 doesn't feel like a phone -- it's a Web-browsing device and it's not meant for easy one-handed operation.
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The phone application is one exception to the N900's lack of portrait mode. The phone works in portrait or landscape, but the switch is made by opening and closing the keyboard, not by simply rotating the phone like on many touchscreen phones, such as the iPhone.
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Maemo offers Skype support built-in to the phone, and you can select whether you're making a voice or Skype call from within the phone dialler. Since the N900 has no buttons, you can't launch the phone dialler by pressing a button, nor can you hang up a call with an end button. This is similar to the iPhone, but unlike Apple's baby, the on-screen button to launch the phone isn't always visible -- the shortcut is on one of the phone's five home screens.
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The N900 puts the emphasis on multi-tasking, and we quickly had a screen full of open apps. With no home button, you tap an on-screen button to view all open browser windows and applications, and tap the blank space to return to the home screens. It's early days, but we missed having an escape button when we wanted to get out of what we're doing to start from scratch.
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Tapping the same button that brings up open apps a second time opens the menu of options, which looks very similar to the menu on Nokia's Symbian-based phones. Our N900 came with several good apps already installed, including a Facebook widget to see live updates on the home screen -- although we still had to visit the Facebook Web site to do anything else.
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Other widgets include a little map showing your current location, and a mini version of the media player, so you can control your songs without opening the music player application.
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Cover art gets centre-stage in the music player, and we were impressed by the N900's speakers, which did a good job of belting out accurate, loud sounds.
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The back of the N900 features a 5-megapixel camera, with a lens cover. It's also the first phones we've seen to brag about its ARM Cortex A8-based processor on the back -- the same architecture is used in the Palm Pre's chip, but it hasn't got a tattoo bragging about it.
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Since the keyboard doesn't hold the phone at an angle, like the Nokia N97, there's a little stand that pops out from the back to prop the N900 up when you're watching videos.
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The N900 isn't as huge as it looks in its press photographs -- we had no trouble fitting it in our smallish hands. But it is rather chubby, at 18mm thick.
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