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I am going to comment the Nokia N900 specifications after a few days of intense usage (these notes were written on February 2010; I may change my mind, and -probably- also change this page).
Powerful "600 MHz processor": true.
The 600 MHz superscalar 32-bit Cortex-A8 processor was the top-notch at the time of the launch of the N900. A few years ago this was the power for home servers. It is more than sufficient to run a full-fledged Linux desktop system and graphical environment.
People at Nokia worked out a rather complex Linux system, with lots of programs, "daemons", drivers. The organization alone makes me think that the N900 is not a "smartphone" but a complete Linux desktop computer with a rather large screen (800×480), incidentally capable of making phone calls...
One of these daemons, for example, updates the multimedia catalogs as soon as some new files (JPEG images, MP3 songs, etc) are added in the user directories.
The graphics accelerator and the DSP (used for some video multimedia playing) help saving power and resources (the Cortex-A8 can offload some work to them; when not under load, the processor clock goes as low as 250 MHz to save energy). This means that generally more than half of the 256Mb RAM is used by those programs.
It is even "overclockable"; there has been people running it reliably up to 1100MHz (while the majority of users won't have a stable system over 700-800MHz). I am not actually interested in having 20-30% extra CPU speed, as long as the true bottleneck is RAM/swapping area (read below).
My rating: "computing power" scores 10 out of 10; I mean "power", not "how power is used". In fact, the operating system is so full of features that sometimes the N900 appears slow. General usage doesn't score more than 8 out of 10.
"Up to 1GB of application memory": FALSE
This is the most stupid slogan for the N900. Actually it is 256Mb RAM plus 768Mb "disk" swap. Well, swap memory was never considered "application" memory; if else, you would have seen computers with terabytes of "application" memory in some lazy swap partition.
Please note that generally, on Linux systems, the swap area size had to be about as much as the RAM size. That is, 256 RAM and 256 swap. Having three times the normal swap size does not mean more speed but only means more slugginess. It will avoid many "out of memory" errors, but it won't add speed.
Disk-swapping is the painfully slow method for compensating missing RAM. To understand what I mean, surf your Facebook account and open 5-6 MicroB windows (the MicroB browser of the N900 is able to fully browse Facebook without need to degrade in "mobile" or "touch" mode). The intense memory requirement for Facebook pages (which are full of scripts, dozen images and so on) will make you wait entire seconds to go back to some other window.
A good hack is to move the "swap area" on a fast memory card (I won't go in details). A class-6 card will make swapping somewhat faster, but you will always wait entire seconds when dozens of megabytes go in and out from RAM to swapspace...
A good solution was to have 512Mb RAM instead of 256. Every megabyte of added RAM means countless seconds saved swapping. But also adds cost. And adds more electric power requirement. I think that Nokia engineers designed the N900 while having in mind the typical user working only on one or two applications at once.
My rating: "application memory" scores 7 out of 10. Good, but the complex software would be happier with 512Mb RAM.
Huge Storage Capacity (32 GB): quite true.
I say "quite" because the 32Gb includes the 2Gb software area and other things. The user available space to store multimedia data and other documents is something around 26-27Gb.
To me, this means "huge". I filled it with my 19+ Gb music archive and still have space for a dozen movies. I did not yet feel like buying a microSD card to add more space.
My rating: "huge storage capacity" scores 10 out of 10. I could have been happy even with half of that space... but I'm happier with all that memory. The N900 breaks the rule of asking "how to expand its memory" before buying anything.
Capture vivid images and DVD-quality widescreen video: true.
The 5-megapixel camera gives more than decent results compared to classic 5Mp standalone cameras. We don't actually need all that resolution (and megabytes-storage for every image).
Once cropped and resized to web/email size (25% to 50% of the 5Mp area) they show excellent color/contrast/detail levels. Nokia just did a great job with the camera section.
The dual LED flash also does a decent work compared to a classic point and shoot 5Mp camera. It won't light the church in the night, but it works for quite a number of low-light conditions. Remember that the light fall-off is quadratic (that means that the flash is useful up to 80-160cm distance). It also lights up for a split second when natural light autofocus fails. The full-screen viewfinder is gorgeous, with a more than reasonable refresh rate.
I can't ask for more quality because the size of the lens (that size matters) is the main limit. It is a Carl Zeiss optics and Tessar lens, and it does a stunning jobs for its physical size.
I do not care about zoom. The zoom-enabled digital cameras (not the "digital zoom" firmware functions) have complex mechanisms that it was simply impossible to place in the N900.
I did not yet stress-test the video recording function, but it appears to be excellent as well.
My rating: "capture images and video" scores 10 out of 10 because quality level and sharing function are excellent. The most common function (quickly shoot an image to share on your blog, or email, or Flick, or other) is straightforward: open the camera slide (this will make the N900 exit from standby mode), point and shoot, maybe modify (cut/resize/enchance), finally tap on the share button. Wish-list: add a button to draw on the image (sometimes I need it to wipe out license plates and faces).
Sleek and compact design: absolutely true.
I'm used to those "largephones", thus I agree that the N900 has a "sleek and compact design". It will be hard to place all that hardware (including the integrated QWERTY sliding keyboard) in a more "compact" design.
The 800×480 screen is simply stunning. You won't ever be able to distinguish two adjacent pixels. Compared to other "high" resolution screens, the N900 screen has a gorgeous resolution. In the first days of usage I said that the brightness level was not that stunning but after seeing how performed the N900 compared to an iPhone 3GS while in sunlight, the iPhone (much lower resolution and simply useless in sunlight) just bite the dust.
The N900 is always "landscape"-oriented ("portrait" only supported for phone, at least on early 2010 firmware releases): this means that lots of existing computer software get excellent ports, and everything looks natural. Almost every web site is organized for 800-pixels displays (the N900 has 800-pixels wide display); browsing in "portrait" mode is quite a pain in the ass (as many iPhone guys already know; and they whine and complain that webmasters do not yet "portraitize" websites...).
I stunned some friends showing them the full-featured Facebook pages in "landscape" mode, both in MicroB and in Firefox (d'oh!)
My rating: "design and screen" score 10 out of 10.
GPS Built In: true, and it works.
The GPS receiver has reasonable precision; the AGPS (assisted GPS) function sends to supl.nokia.com the phone cell data to quickly get some approximate position. GPS worked without problems even while in the gunnysack.
The Ovi Maps also did a great work; currently (February 2010) it is not yet complete (it shows the map but does not allow to make up a path to a target), but helped me in the real field many times.
Other software can access GPS data, which is available through the common gpsd software daemon (many softwares at the same time can access the same GPS dataflow).
My rating: "GPS" scores 10 out of 10. Currently it's very hard to imagine some better GPS unit for the N900: size constraints and non-trivial power requirement for full GPS-based operation will need next-generation GPS units/antennas (like the uBlox6), which are everything but cheap...
Connectivity: true, you just get everything.
"3.5G" broadband is there (I experienced some 300 kb/sec downloads), downto GPRS, autosensing; WiFi 802.11 is there as well (in the very first day it found my SSID-less WPA2 network, asked for SSID and password and two seconds later I was browsing); USB connection is selectable as a wired USB-based network (ifconfig usb0) plus broadband-to-serial (ATD*99# ppp, to use the N900 as a modem).
The only function missing is "router" (sharing the N900 internet connection to wifi/usb0 clients); a third party commercial software did the trick, but we are waiting for a Linux kernel compiled without disabling the iptables/masquerading stuff.
My rating: "Connectivity" scores 9 out of 10. Will update to 10/10 when the router function will arrive.
Extra hardware: nice!
There is an infrared port (not a FIR/SIR-standard, currently - Feb'2010 - no software uses it). I don't think I'll ever need... except when someone will create a TV-B-Gone utility! :-)
An FM-radio receiver using the earphone cable as its antenna: very nice. Works.
An FM-radio transmitter, to send audio output to a local FM-radio receiver. I did not yet test it.
Web browsing: nice!
The MicroB ("Maemo Browser powered by Mozilla technology") was optimized for low memory requirements. I can see 3-4 Facebook windows (you know, they require lots of resources because of the large number of files/images/java/etc) before it starts swapping. Quite fast, compared to other browsers, but you'll miss your home computer speed. Anyways it's great to browse most of the websites without problems (people like the iPhone fans always cry for "problems while browsing in portrait mode").
It features Adobe Flash 9.4 as well (yes, you can watch YouTube videos).
Funny thing: somewhere in the web does not believe that the Nokia N900 has a full-fledged browser. Most notably, Wordpress and Facebook, from time to time, try to switch over to the "mobile" version. Thanks, but I want the full version. I have a gorgeous 800×480 display, "landscape"-oriented like a normal desktop computer, not a 320-pixel like a cellular phone.
I installed Firefox but I found that MicroB has lower memory requirements (and some more speed in certain cases) than Firefox.
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