Smartphones are all the rage and Nokia is set on restaking its claim in this area with their latest N900 device.
Not to be mistaken as the successor to last year's N97, the N900 succeeds the Nokia N800 Internet tablet.
As Nokia's current flagship phone, the N900 is the first of its kind to support the new Maemo 5 platform. In terms of physical design, the N900 is really clean and squarish in nature, lacking any buttons on the front panel.
It is comparably thicker than most modern smartphones and it is kind of like a throwback to older N-series phones like the N95.
Still, the phone remains at a pocketable size though it may be a little squeeze in a tight pair of jeans.
Featuring a large 3.5in touchscreen, the phone is primarily touch driven. The screen doesn't use a capacitive touchscreen like the iPhone so it doesn't do multi-touch gestures like pinch to zoom.
Instead it uses the same resistive touchscreens implemented in other Nokia phone models so it isn't as responsive as the iPhone's capacitive screen.
The screen is quite a fingerprint magnet, often leaving lots of smudges and prints after each use. It has a generously large 800 x 480-pixel resolution, which gives the extra real estate needed to render full webpages.
The N900 has a slide-out keyboard that comes in handy for text messaging and web browsing. Though the buttons are well laid out, they are densely packed into a small area so users with large fingers may have problems typing.
The phone also features a pair of stereo speakers that are of decent quality for casual music listening and is sufficiently audible for taking calls on loudspeaker mode.
The back houses a powerful 5-megapixel camera that takes both photos and videos. A nifty slide-out cover protects the camera lens when it is not in use and instantly activates the camera when opened.
There's also a little kickstand that holds the phone up on a flat surface at an angle which is useful when you want to watch videos on it.
The Maemo 5 operating system is the core of the N900. The first thing that struck us upon using it was just how different it looked and felt in comparison with the Nokia's Symbian-based smartphones.
The N900's home screen is an entirely new environment that has been completely rehauled to be visually pleasing.
It is a highly customisable environment that allows you to set your desktop anyway you like it to be.
You can drop widgets, bookmark websites or create shortcuts to your favourite contacts across four panels that you easily switch between by swiping across the screen.
Menu navigation on the N900 feels smooth and seamless, giving users easy access to settings without having to go through multiple windows.
Powered by a powerful ARM Cortex A8 600MHz processor, the N900 runs very smoothly when transitioning between different applications and is more than capable of handling multitasking applications.
Tapping on the upper left icon takes you back to a screen that Nokia calls the "Dashboard" - here you get a full view of all active applications and allows you to freely switch between them.
The web browsing experience on the N900 is much improved and it delivers a browsing experience that very close to the desktop experience.
The flexibility and compatibility of the N900's default browser is quite astounding and it has full support for Adobe Flash.
This means that visually-rich Flash-based websites are no problem for the N900. We loaded Facebook on the N900 and used it exactly as we would on a desktop, even as far as playing Facebook games like FarmVille on it.
Another cool thing we liked about the new Maemo platform is how the N900 is able to integrate contacts from your phone address book with those online on your instant messaging client.
This means you can pull up a contact and choose between calling, SMS or instant messaging them all within one simple interface.
One drawback to the phone is its short battery life. With 3G turned on, the phone could just barely make it through the day on a single charge.
Applications for the N900 can be downloaded via the Ovi Store or application manager. However the catalogue of Maemo applications is still very limited.
Though majority of applications are free to download, the Ovi Store lacks applications for Twitter or Foursquare if you're into social networking.
Sadly, the only two useful Maemo applications that are worth mentioning on Ovi Store are Firefox and Facebook.
However the Facebook 'app' has pretty limited functionalities as it can only show you status updates and notifications. It acts more like a widget and you cannot update your own status or do anything else with it.
The only game worth playing that is available on the Ovi Store is Angry Birds, which is ported from the iPhone.
The drawback to the Maemo version of the game is that it is limited to just 21 levels and users will need to pay for additional levels.
Conversely the iPhone version of the game has 63 levels available. There's also noticeably lag on the Maemo version of the game though it does not impact the gameplay greatly.
There are however a lot more applications you can download through the application manager, either via WiFi or 3G connection. Admittedly this alternative source for applications feels half-baked.
There's no way to quickly search through the catalogue for applications so you'll need to manually scroll through hundreds of applications to find something you're looking for.
Though its application library spans a variety of categories such as games, multimedia and office productivity tools, the selection is rather limited with only a handful that are actually useful.
Still, there are a few gems that can help customise your phone such as a WiFi switcher to turn your connection on or off as when needed; or a brightness adjustment bar on the status/notification menu to quickly access these basic functions.
If you want to play games on the N900, there are also a few emulators that you can download for running Super Nintendo, Sega Master System and Amiga ROMs.
Some of the useful applications preinstalled in the phone include an RSS reader for aggregating news from your favourite websites and a podcast download tool.
The fact still remains though that the Maemo platform still has a long way to go in terms of apps before it can be a contender to the iPhone and Android.
Perhaps with time more applications will populate the Ovi Store and there will be some actual killer applications for the platform.
Great for music and videos
We didn't quite expect the N900 to be a phone for media playback but the default media player application does a very decent job. Within it you can access your music, videos and even stream live Internet radio.
There are notable improvements to the music player in the N900 - not only does the player look better but it is also easier to find songs now that they are arranged by albums.
The video player is really quite amazing as it supports a wide variety of formats such as MOV, WMV and AVI files out of the box, thus making it useful for watching videos.
You can also download additional video codecs via the application manager to enable the media player to play MKV files as well.
Video playback quality is reasonably good and smooth for down-coverted videos, though the N900 can also play unconverted movies meant for larger screen resolutions. But the drawback to this is that the videos tend to stutter.
The 5-megapixel camera takes good quality pictures and the addition of a dual LED flash helps it take pictures when it's dark. The phone can also record videos but we found the performance to be disappointing.
The camera doesn't auto focus as you are recording videos so when you switch from recording something close up and then pull out to a wider angle, things get out of focus. Additionally there are noticeable dropped frames even as you record and videos subsequently stutter during playback.
Overall, the N900 is an interesting smartphone from Nokia that is a refreshing change from the old Symbian platform. From what we could tell, Maemo 5 is a stable and reliable platform with its main strength being able to run multiple applications simulatenously.
The N900 also serves as a great device for web browsing and its support for Flash means the experience is really close to browsing on a desktop. Also it plays both music and videos very well so you won't be short of any entertainment when you're out on the road.
However, the platform as a whole still feels very experimental. Much of the interface is new so there is a bit of a learning curve to using the device.
Furthermore there's a need for more applications as the current pool is just too limited. Another point of contention is the device's poor video recording and the short battery life.
But on the whole, the N900 is a great workhorse that let's you do a lot of things. If you're a mobile tech enthusiast who enjoys tinkering and customising your phone to suit your needs, this is the phone for you.
Pros: Great for web browsing; Flash support; superb video and music playback; able to multitask.
Cons: Limited number of applications at the moment; poor video recording; poor battery life.
CAMERA: 5-megapixels (dual LED flash)
DISPLAY: 3.5in, TFT resistive touchscreen (800 x 480-pixels)
OPERATING SYSTEM: Maemo 5
MESSAGING: SMS, E-mail
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth, GPRS, EDGE, WiFi
PHONE MEMORY: 32GB
EXPANSION SLOT: microSD (up to 16GB)
BATTERY: 1,320mAh lithium-ion (BL-5J)
STANDBY/TALK TIME: 10 days/6 hours
OTHER FEATURES: Full keyboard, A-GPS, geotagging, accelerometer, FM radio, Media Player with DivX/XviD support, Maemo Internet browser, Ovi Maps
DIMENSIONS (w x h x d): 110.9 x 59.8 x 18mm