Sunday, December 20, 2009

A few words on the N900, the iPhone and on life in the mobworld

At the moment, discussions around the latest mobile devices always spiral towards one point, and that is the comparison of the new devices to the Apple iPhone. The N900 is no exception as it has been revered to be “an iPhone killer” long before release, even when the only information available for the device were the (rumored) specifications.
In this entry I will comment on this discussion and compare the two devices somewhat. I will not, however attempt to crown one of the two devices as king, but maybe find something that both devices could learn from each other.
The N900 and iPhone are somewhat similar when comparing technical specifications. They both pack the ARM Cortex A8 600MHz under the hood and both phones can be found with 32Gbs of internal storage. The iPhone can also be met with only 16Gb on board. I think this is where all the similarities between the phones end, however and this is my key point about the discussion whether one phone is better over the other.

Growing worlds apart
Just by looking at the outer physical features of the phones draws a great divide between the two. The iPhone is slick and smooth and has a certain kind of hipster feel to it. And we all know it certainly enjoys this kind of status as well. Simplistic design with only few details: the chrome ring around the phone and the sole physical button at the bottom of the phone. [image]
Looking at the N900 you see a very different shape: it is thick, covered in black plastic and out pops a physical QWERTY keyboard with more black buttons onboard. There’s no exceptional design innovation here, the N900 is more a collection of successful outer features from previous Nokia phones.
I think the reasons behind this difference are because of one thing: the phones are designed for as different purposes as their design implies.
The iPhone enjoys the attention of people also not so interested in mobile technology and having the latest devices, where as the N900’s key selling point is to woo crowds that want absolute customizability and power over their device. For the N900, the applications that can be found in the repository are very different in nature when comparing to what can be found on the App Store. There are applications for word processing, viewing MS Documents and Excel graphs, applications for showing your phone’s CPU’s load and handling your internet connections. Sure, there are some games, but they don’t come close to the entertainment value that apps from The App Store deliver.
I think this begins to deliver a clear picture that the N900 is more work-orientated, where as the iPhone leans more on the entertainment side of things.

The philosophy of killing
Like already mentioned, discussions on latest hardware always include new devices being “killers” of older devices and as a result phones that have been proclaimed to be “the iPhone killer” are later found whimpering, forgotten and irrelevant filling the landfills in a land far away. The kind of thinking behind this kind of philosophy of killing would imply that in the end, only one device can win the battle. Realistically thinking, this kind of thinking is believing in an impossibility, as people have as about as many different needs as there are different devices. No one device can ever fully satisfy everyone and I’d even dare say that therefore no device can ever fully satisfy anyone. You’ll always find things about your device that you’d like to be different or be already aware of features that are missing from your selected device.

In all fairness, it’s not fair
From now on, I will be taking a bit of a defensive tone favoring the N900 for a while, but bear with me until the conclusions section.
In my view when it comes to comparing the iPhone and the N900, a key point that’s presented as being against the N900 always includes the availability of applications for the device, or namely the amount of applications for the device. Unsurprisingly, the N900 doesn’t match the competition in this section. I understand the need to compare the amount of apps and I think it derives from two things: one, the N900 was marketed as a device that would have nearly unlimited support from 3rd party programmers as it was based on the open-source Maemo platform. Two: the survival of modern mobile devices depends heavily on how active the user base of the device is, i.e. does the device receive unofficial updates and applications.
To me it is incredible that even respected unbiased (?) professional magazines and other media  can begin to compare the two devices without any sympathy for the N900’s age. Depending on who you ask, the N900 is only about a month old at the time of typing this and yet in tech reviews the device will lose points for not having as many applications as other devices on the market. Sure Linux is much older than the iPhone OS, but it doesn’t automatically mean that every program every made for Linux will be automatically ported to Maemo. I think that a more unbiased approach to comparing any two mobile devices would be to determine which device has most functionality out of the box instead of comparing only user bases with no regard to how much time these user bases have had to develop.

Motion blindness
Here’s another thing that always has me cringing when reading tech reviews and that is the short memory of the fruit fanatic. People seem to forget, that to get the iPhone to meet modern standards of smart phones took three to four (depending on where you live) releases of essentially the same product and therefore for some, three to four purchases of the same product. Perhaps Nokia can be criticized for not coming up with sufficient amount of new features for their new devices, but why then is this policy of intentionally releasing outdated technology only to have something “new” to release in the next generation device so widely tolerated? Nokia phones have packed pretty much everything ever included in mobile phones in almost every new smart phone category device since 2005. The N900 is technically nothing new either, the same 5Mpix camera and GPS etc. features and functions were found already in the trendsetting N95.
It is strange how people can think on one hand that more is more and yet think at the same time that somehow this doesn’t have to apply to the iPhone. They are happy with their iPhone 3G(S) and yet will find for eg. Sony Ericsson devices sporting the 1GHz Snapdragon processor “a Nokia killer”. Somehow it seems like ill-logic to me.

Another lesson learned (aka pre-conclusions)
There is, however something that both devices can learn from each other. I’ve talked perhaps more about where Apple can learn from Nokia before, so I will try not to focus on this too much anymore here.
So for example, Nokia could learn from Apple about user experience. Apple’s device is fun and easy to use and ever since day one has been optimized for finger-control only. This is a bold and decisive decision that aided I’m sure in the design process of the iPhone OS and applications that would later follow. Nokia, however decided to fidget somewhere in between stylus and finger-control and didn’t really even optimize their “touch screen” version of the S60 UI for, well touch based operation. The S60 5Th edition looks just like previous editions of the OS, only that you can now use your finger to operate the phone. This is something that should’ve been done the other way around.
Another thing that Nokia could focus on in the future is cutting down the amount of products in their line of smart phones (at least). Most new Nokia models have had a feel of immaturity to them, possibly due to Nokia being hurried into releasing devices to counter the competition. The 5800 Xpress Music was the first example of this. Like representatives from Nokia have said, Nokia has only been reacting to competition when as a market leader they should be creating the competition. Apple on the other hand decided to go with one mobile device only and therefore the iPhone has most probably enjoyed the undivided attention of its developers, thus resulting in such a finalized (and stable) end product.
Apple is also often criticized for its control over the device with creating strong ties to operators and Apple itself. Sometimes control is good, for example when making sure that there is no duplicate content in the device’s app store, or when making sure that no app duplicates the functionality of what’s already present in the device. Sadly, even the Maemo repository already includes applications that duplicate the phone’s basic functionality. Who knows though, if these apps were created already before the release of the device?

To tie the ends together I will say that the N900 is not an iPhone killer, but for the same reasons the iPhone won’t be a N900 killer. Both phones have their own strong points and weaknesses that can be thought to be fixed in the other device. I see the N900 as a powerful phone for business and the iPhone as something that is more about entertainment. Therefore comparing the two devices is like comparing a hammer to a pair of scissors; both have their own job to do and you can’t do with scissors what you’d want to do with a hammer and vice versa.

Peace on earth.

© Christopher Peake 2009

Sources and additional reading:

Friday, December 18, 2009

The N900 and the N97 - mobile computers?

Nokia's latest smartphone, the N900 is currently being marketed as a mobile computer. So is the predecessor of the N900, the N97 (and naturally the N97 Mini as well). Is it in place to call both phones mobile computers, or is the term used as means for creating a certain kind lf image?

In this entry I will ponder my views on the true nature of both devices with this simple question in mind: can they both be called 'mobile computers'?

The Nokia N97 was an anxhiously awaited smartphone that finally arrived in July 2009 to most consumers. Before its release it was marketed as a continuation to the line of mobile computers in the N-series of phones, albeit the device was supposed to "revolutionise mobile computing". The predecessors of the N97 were quite logically the N96 and N95, both of which were marketed with the catchphrase "What computers have become". Too radical (read: advanced) for most was the N95 to be classified as a smartphone, but comparing it to what is marketed today as a mobile computer, the N95 now falls into the category of a phone more than anything else.

The form factor of the N95 was very different to current 'mobile computers'. Missing a full QWERTY keyboard, it does indeed look more like a regular slide phone. Technology-wised it is still very much the same as current models: it has a 5Mpix camera, GPS, e-mail synchronisation, fast 3G and WLAN capabilitities and the possibility to expand the memory greatly by additional memory cards. Focusing on multimedia funtions made, in my opinion, the N95 (and N96) more multimedia phones.

It's really all about OS

So why am I going on about older models when I promised to compare the N900 and the N97s? Well, in my opinion, the N97 seems more like a continuation of the saga that the N95 started. Let's look at why. One thing that the N95 and N97 share is of course the Symbian based operating system. Looking very similar to the UI of S60 3rd edition, the S60 5th edition in the N97 differs really only in touchscreen support. Otherwise the devices' UIs look very much the same.

It's not only about the way the UIs look, but also about the way they work. Setting up your e-mail and reading it happens in a very similar fashion on both phones. Functional and powerful, there's not much to gripe about what you can do with the platform. Almost anything goes. There's just always that little something you always want a bit more of...

It's not so much about size...

... it's also the emphasis on how you can do what you want to do what makes the difference between the two devices. The N900 is famous for its wonderful web browser and it is not a praise just caught from the wind; The N900 delivers the most computer-like experience of web browsing than any other mobile device at the moment. With the possible exceptions of the previous tablet devices. You don't need an application for YouTube, you watch videos in your browser window and all other sites open up like they would on your PC as well. Tabbed browsing? You got it. Kind of, windows work just like tabs. Password manager that remembers even dual accounts to the same website? Check.

It is also the possibilities of the Maemo platform that sets the device a part from the N97. Sure, you can use the built-in e-mail client, or get Nokia Messaging and view your e-mail somewhat computer-like on your screen in the N97. The difference to the N900 lies in the possibility to view the same mails in an interface seamless with the rest of the UI, with such "advanced functions" as adding attachments and configuring other kinds of e-mail accounts, not just webmail accounts. All this straight out of the box. Everything and anything missing can and will be fixed in the future.

The open-box syndrome

Speaking more about the possibilities of the N900, already available for Maemo are applications that integrate themselves right into the OS smooth and simple. The S60 platform usually has support only for additional applications that you have to launch seperately in order to use them. If what I've understood is correct, every aspect of the Maemo interface is wide open for changing and optimizing.

Another thing worth mentioning, is the handling of internet connections in the N900. Changing from 3G to EDGE and from 3G to WiFi is almost seamless. It is also possible to disconnect the phone from the internet entirely. The point is that you get absolute control ie. the choice to decide what you want to do with the connection. In the S60 devices you aren't given this much control as some internal apps might connect you right back to the internet or a 3G connection might launch right after logging on to a secured WiFi.

To go back to the claim that the N97 is more a "limited" multimedia phone, I must take some of that back. Why? Well consider this: the N97 has playback support for tonnes of multimedia types and file extensions to get you viewing your stuff without hassle. The N900 packs everything the N97 does, with the exception of codec packs. As I write this, a codec package is already available for Maemo. You'll never have to figure out how to get
a video working, you'll just have to get the right codec. Again another feature of Maemo that proves it's capability to be used in true mobile computers.


The N97 has representations of things you are used to on your desktop, it shows you all the mobile websites - but only in mobile form. You get to add e-mail accounts to the system, but with limitations. You can download programs and applications, but they'll never integrate seamlessly into the system. All things on the N900 work like on a (Linux) PC. When programs crash, you'll be notified that it needs to be closed and will close.

Of course, the decision to allow the N900 to only work in portrait mode is a clear indication from the developers that its not a phone, but a device also capable of doing phonecalls over cellular networks. The N97 developed the other way around: first they wanted phones with a little extra, then with a little more extra and advanced features and eventually they came up with the N97. The only problem was (and is) that it was created from a platform that in its earliest forms was all about calling and sending textmessages. Also, when Symbian first emerged, software updates and 3rd party software were but dreams of the future.

Therefor, I think that claims of the N97 being a mobile computer are false. Everything stating this claim true about the N97, has actually come to reality in the N900, making it the only true mobile computer on the entire market.

(C) Christopher Peake
Written entirely with the MaStory client!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Katsaus N900 kalenteritoimintoihin

Päätin ottaa Nokian uutukaispuhelimen N900:n kalenterin tarkemman ruopimisen kohteeksi. Koska puhelimeni on suomenkielinen, en uskonut suomea taitamattomien saavan paljoakaan käyttämistäni kuvankaappauksista irti. Tästä syystä tämänkertainen postaus on suomeksi.

Itse olen kännykän kalenterin tehokäyttäjä. Jo pitkään kännykän kalenteriominaisuudet on ollut sen hetkiset puhelinmallit kahtia jakava seikka minulle - toiset kelpuutan, toiset en. Symbian käyttöjärjestelmästä löytyvät kalenterit ovat mielestäni aina olleet kaikista käyttökelpoisimpia ja mm. näistä syistä olenkin juuri aina Nokialaisia suosinut puhelinvalintoja tehdessäni. Odotukset Maemon kalenterisovellukselle olivat siis suuret.

Tyyli ennen kaikkea

Maemon kalenterin kuukausinäkymä ja kalenteri yleisesti ottaen on sanalla sanoen tyylikäs. Itse kuukausiristikko sulautuu mukavasti blurrattuun taustakuvaan ja noudattelee eri teemojen värejä. Kalenteriin tehdyt merkinnät näkyvät eri väreillä siitä riippuen, minkä luokituksen kuville antaa. Tästä lisää myöhemmin. Kalenterista loistaa poissaolollaan aneemiset tekstilaatikkokentät ja kellonajanasetus boksit, jotka piinaavat vielä S60 5th editionin kalenteria. Tämän sijaan kellonasetukset asetetaan eräänlaisia rullia ylös ja alas vetämällä, joka lisää käyttöliittymän näyttävyyttä. Ne tuovat myös sellaista pientä elävää tatsia jollaista ei olla Nokian puhelimissa hetkeen nähty.

Mistään järkyttävän loisteliaasta innovaatiosta ei ole kyse, mutta tahtoisin toivoa tämän olevan vain esimakua Nokian tulevista, graafisesti miellyttävimmistä käyttöliittymistä.


Kaappauksessa näyy uuden kalenterimerkinnän luomiseen pyhitetty dialogiboksi. Siihen voi syöttää mitä, missä ja milloin sinun tulee muistaa. Hieman ärsyttävästi kalenteri oletusarvoisesti asettaa merkinnälle hälytyksen 15 minuuttia ennen ajankohtaa. Itselläni on kalenterissa rutkasti merkintöjä joista ollaan jo myöhässä jos vasta varttia vaille tapahtumaan havahtuu, joten tämä ominaisuus tuntuu kummalliselta. Oletushälytystä ei saa asetuksista vaihdettua pois, joten toivon tulevien ohjelmistoversioiden korjaavan tämän.

Merkintöjen värikoodaus on sinänsä mukava ominaisuus, joka ainakin lisää väriä merkintöihisi. Toisaalta on joskus mukava vain vilkaista että minkä väristä merkintää seuraavilla päivillä on voidakseen nopeasti palauttaa mieleen tulevia tapahtumia. Toisaalta erityisesti kuukausinäkymässä merkinnät ovat niin pienellä, että ne joutuu ottamaan kuitenkin tarkempaan tarkasteluun jossei heti muista, mitä merkintöjä on tehnyt. Itse värikoodasin tapahtumia luokkiin työt, koulu, bileet, yksityinen.

Muu käyttäminen

Kuvassa näkyy kalenterin oletusnäkymä, joka avautuu kun kalenterin avaa. Itselleni tärkeämpi näkymä olisi kuukausinäkymä, koska avaan kalenterin useammin vain tehdäkseni merkintöjä, enkä katsellakseni niitä. Ko. näkymä näyttää tulevat tapahtumat sinänsä näppärässä listassa, mutta tämä informaatio on turhaa, koska seuraavat kalenteritapahtumat näkyvät työpöytä widgetissä. Siksi 9/10 kerrasta kun avaan kalenterin, niin tämä näkymä on minulle turha näkymä. Oletusnäkymää ei pääse vaihtamaan mieleisekseen, eli esimerkiksi kuukausinäkymään.

Ruudun ylälaidasta pudottautuu alas valikko, josta voi mm. vaihtaa näkymää tai mennä asetuksiin.

Kuvassa näkyvät "Tehtävät" ja "Muistiinpanot" ovat löydettävissä ainoastaan tästä valikosta, ja siksipä en usko ihmisten käyttävän niitä, koska ne löytyvät näin vaikeasti. Mitä ikinä tapahtui Sympparista tutulle merkintäboksille, jossa pystyi määrittelemään merkinnän luonteen?

Kuvassa vielä desktop widget, josta näkyy mukavasti päiväys ja seuraavat kalenterimerkinnät, tehden kalenteriohjelman oletusnäkymän tarpeettomaksi.

Viikko kerrallaan, eihän sitä muuta voi

Kalenterista löytyy luonnollisesti myös viikkonäkymä. Viikkonäkymään pääsee nopeiten viikkonumeroa painamalla kuukausinäkymässä, jonka jälkeen silmille avautuu kuvassa näkyvä viikkonäkymä. Tässä näkymässä saa kenties selkeämmän kuvan tapahtumiin kuluvasta ajasta ja värikoodaus näkyy tässäkin näkymässä. Ruudun rajoitettu koko rajoittaa käyttöä kuitenkin sen verran, että en loppujen lopuksi kokenut tätä näkymää kovin hyödylliseksi. Saadaksesi käsityksen aikasi kulumisesta tässä näkymässä on sinun rullattava näkymää eestaas ylös ja alas. Ei kovin kätevää mielestäni.

Bonuspisteitä satelee taas kuitenkin viikonäkymän miellyttävästä ulkonäöstä joka elävöittää kalenteria entisestään. Kenties joku hurahtaa tähän näkymään ihan vain tämänkin takia.


Loppujen lopuksi olen tyytyväinen Maemon kalenteriin. Se tarjoaa perus toimivuutta näyttävällä käyttöliittymällä. Ainoa murheenkryynini on kalenterin kustomointi omiin tarpeisiin, sitä ei ole riittävästi. Kokisin kalenterin minulle hyödyllisemmäksi jos pääsisin suoraan kuukausinäkymään ja toisaalta kalenterin muu hiomattomuus (esim. tehtävien ja muistiinpanojen tekeminen) syö toisten ominaisuuksien käytettävyyttä. Kaiken kaikkiaan kalenteri kuitenkin edustaa sitä missä Nokia on ylipäätänsä N900 mallissaan onnistunut: yhdistämään näyttävyyden ja käytettävyyden. Pienet viatkaan eivät maailmaa kaada, sillä eihän olemassa ole mitään mitä Maemo yhteisö ei korjaisi.

(c) Christopher Peake 2009
This post was created entirely on the N900 with MaStory!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Testing the MaStory blogging client

Eventhough Nokia's own Ovi service doesn't support their N900, the device luckily comes with easy access to the Maemo Repository. This is a test blogupload with the MaStory blogging client from this repository.

The application lets you configure your blogging account very easily and it only took me a quick run through my username and password and blog URL. The application supports adding images to your posts from your phone, but also from online sharing networks Picasa and Flickr. Pretty neat!

MaStory also supports the easy adding of links, HTML tags, tag adding and categorizing your post. To top it off MaStory offers you to preview your text before publish. :)

Only things I might like to se in future versions would be the implementation of keyboard shortcuts for editing the text, such as ctrl + b for bold. However, standard HTML is supported so you can always type away or just use the cool HTML adding graphical menu.

This app is very functional and has a great, seamless look to it. It blends right in with the rest of Maemo and with the help of a few good apps you can get blogging needing nothing besides your device. This is true mobility.

(C) Christopher Peake 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Struck by Maemo - A first look into the N900

The N900 is Nokia's awaited new mobile phone, although the super corporation markets the phone as a mobile computer. Rightly so as it is a continuation in Nokia's internet tablet line, but the ability to make normal phone calls on the device has raised the interest of the device and brought it closer to a mass market. Another attention raising fact about the N900 is the Maemo 5 operating system that's never been seen before on a Nokia mobile phone. The selection of Mameo 5 as the OS is driving people to declare the previous Nokia phone OS, Symbian dead. Here are some of my initial thoughts on the device.
This preview was written on the N900.

The first thing I noted about the N900 was its hefty weight. As a mobile salesperson I've had the chance to try out a number of prototypes (and even dummy-phone mock ups of the device) and it certainly is larger and heavier than my previous device, the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic. Every time I got to use the device I felt the size justified, however.

Maemo 5 is a wonderful OS that impresses and delivers above all functionality and pleasing design. In my experience this the first Nokia design in a while that looks as nice as it feels, while providing all those functions and features you (don't) need.

Setting up my e-mail, IM clients and contacts was a breeze. In addition to that, it was fun. The e-mail application in Maemo 5 is very simple, neat and sits in perfectly with other parts of the OS. In comparisant to the Nokia Email client that looked OK, but really stood out from the general UI this was a pleasant surprise. Nokia's Symbian phones had the ability to set up your e-mail inboxes in the same menu as your SMS inbox was, but I never got along with this feature.

I spiced up my contacts by downloading Hermes, a client that will pull your friends' Profile pictures from Facebook and attach them to your contacts. This way every time they call, you'll see their image. This simplified things for me in the sense that before I used to pull my friends pictures down from Facebook manually (and into my phone's limited memory, ugh!) and assign them to contacts. What would result was my friends (especially the female kind) noting that my image of them was "so last month, I look terrible" that from now on, I'll let "them" update their images on my phone for me. :)

Another excellent thing about the N900 is the integration of SMS, e-mail, Skype and other IM accounts directly into the system. Now when I open my contacts, I can see their MSN and Skype status and decide to call them, Skype them or IM them with one click. I am determined to move more and more of my mobile traffic to be covered by my data plan.

The camera in the N900 is superb as well. I've never had a mobile camera this good and as I don't own a seperate pocket camera, I don't think I'll ever l get one now. Sure, it is a bit sensitive about the surroundings being too dark, but pictures turn out alot better than on the 5800, let me assure you.

The web browser is also very good, as expected. Being an internet tablet the browser is the center piece of the whole device. Based on Mozilla Firefox it's light, fast and gets out of your way when you surf. You can make all borders dissappear and have only the webpage on the screen. What I like to do is scroll the webpage by using the keyboard. This way no borders or tool icons will get in the way if I'm simply reading the webpage. The web browsing experience on the N900 is superb.

What's become apparent while writing this review is the quality of the keyboard. It has a wonderful click to it and pretty much all computer short cuts (such as ctrl-c, ctrl-x...) all work just like you're used to. With the easy e-mail integration apps for taking notes and sending them, this truly is a mobile computer with great communication capabilitites.

The media player in the N900 is my biggest gripe, as it doesn't quite function with the stability and usability I had hoped for. Missing is an equaliser, although sound quality is very good in the device. Using my old SD card from my 5800XM, the device scrambles up my songs into a somewhat random order, where as everything wes perfectly alligned on my previous device. I think that I just need to understand how it puts my songs into order, however. At the moment if you connect your N900 to your PC, there's no way to browse the contents of the memory card. This is probably due to lack of full-out support for the device in Nokia PC and Ovi suites. Really waiting for this to be fixed!

There are some rough bits to Maemo 5 still, however and as I'm typing this the device has received no updates, and therefor I feel this is only the beginning. Scheduled for release is a software update addressing the small bugs I've encountered I'm sure, and we're still waiting for the arrival of Qt.

If you want a phone that will enable you to communicate on the go, you don't mind the size and want to be part of something completely new for Nokia, the N900 is your choice.

© Christopher Peake 2009