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Nokia N900 quick hands-on

Chris Ziegler

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We've finally had a chance to play around at length with a very late pre-production version of Nokia's N900 (retail units are already shipping, but not to our neck of the woods just yet) and we wanted to scribble out a few notes for you before taking delivery of a final build for a full review hopefully in the next week or two. Here are some highlights we've noticed so far:

  • Processor, processor, processor. Oh, and did we mention the processor? The N900's Cortex A8-based core yields significant improvements in day-to-day usability over the N810's ARM11 unit.
  • Though it's still quite raw and feature-incomplete, Maemo 5 is by far the most user-friendly version of the platform to date, if for no other reason than the fact that it's very pretty. Screen transitions are smooth and look great, the home screen is as attractive and versatile as any widget-based home screen on the market today, and the Expose-style task switcher is a welcome addition.
  • The N900 may very well offer the best browsing experience of any smartphone on the market today (yes, including the iPhone). What little ground it gives up in user friendliness is more than countered by the fact that you have the closest thing you can get to a desktop-class browser in a device of this size and form factor; it's straight-up Mozilla, after all, and everything renders faithfully. Flash doesn't blaze, but at least the Cortex A8 makes it usable.
Follow the break for more impressions and a quick rundown on video!

Gallery: Nokia N900 quick hands-on | 17 Photos

  • The hardware's a mixed bag. It doesn't feel cheap, per se -- but considering that this will become Nokia's highest-end smartphone, it doesn't necessarily feel the part, either. On the bright side, it's narrow enough to rest comfortably in the hand while using it as a phone, and it's not annoyingly thick -- don't get us wrong, it's a beefy phone, but not to the point of causing a problem in your pocket.
  • The keyboard is mediocre. The N900 doesn't seem to slide open as much as it could, which means that it's got a uniquely narrow three-row QWERTY keyboard; fortunately, Nokia did a great job of shaping the keys to give them about as much feel as possible. The spacebar and directional keys are strangely located, which might necessitate a learning curve for some users.
  • As we mentioned before, this is a pretty raw phone. Basic features like MMS and portrait mode aren't supported; MMS won't be a big deal for many users, but being forced to use the N900's non-phone functions in landscape is a pretty big deal.
  • The N900 may have a "good" resistive touchscreen, but it's still a resistive touchscreen, which means it's not going to be as finger-friendly as it could be -- we were repeatedly disappointed by how much pressure was required to actuate scrolling gestures in menus, for example. Thing is, the N900 is a device where we can see many (if not most) users still preferring to have access to a stylus from time to time for precision input, and that being said, this is probably about as good of a resistive display as Nokia is capable of manufacturing.
The bottom line? We'll hold back on final judgment until we use a review unit, but our initial swipe at this thing has us ready to drop a "for early adopters only" stamp on it -- for your average consumer just looking for an effective smartphone, it seems like it's got too many quirks and functionality holes to recommend.

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