18
Oct 11

N9 v N900

So I’ve been using the N9 for a few days now, and wanted to compare it to the N900 I normally use, the same way I compared the N900 and E71 before. So I’m going to go through the points of comparison from then and apply them here.

First off, boot time – the N900 wins here, by a good ten seconds, both in time from power-on to PIN entry and from power-on to able-to-make-a-call, with the N9 taking a good minute to get ready to call out.

Quality of the screen? The N9 wins here. Hands down, no contest whatsoever. The display is crisp and bright and vivid, and just a joy to work with. The N900 screen is by comparison drab and washed out, though the resolution isn’t awful in comparison.

The touchscreen, on the other hand, is an interesting comparison, and oddly, one that I think the N9 loses. It’s not that there’s a flaw in the touchscreen – it works at least as well as the iPad/iPhone/iPod touchscreens that I’ve used in the past – it’s just that for those of us whose fingers couldn’t be called “dainty” with a straight face, capacitative touchscreens are a clunky sort of thing at times.

Ease of use? Hm. Hard to call for me here because I’m so used to the N900. I think I’d have to give it to the N9 though – it might not be the easier of the two for me, but for anyone who’s not gotten used to the N900, the N9 has to be the easier to use of the two. Though I will say that the swipe features are sometimes a bit… finicky about what is a swipe and what’s not. But that’s a minor quibble at best. And it’s not like the N900 doesn’t have glitches either (I’m getting tired of the widgets vanishing from the screen, for a start), but I’ve not had the N9 long enough to see its glitches so that’s not a fair comparison to try to make. The UI on the N9 does seem much more responsive… when it correctly picks up your input, that is. The N900 is definitely slower, but I’ve not had it misinterpret a swipe or a poke at an onscreen button yet.

In terms of audio quality, it’s a very slight and hesitant win for the N9. Honestly, I don’t think the difference is very noticable, and it could easily be something random (like the actual line quality) but it felt like the N9 slightly edged it here. However, the N900’s audio is perfectly fine itself, so it’s a fairly academic point at best.

Physically, side by side, here they are:

N9 and N900

N9 and N900 (keyboard open)

N9 and N900, thickness (with otterbox)

The thickness comparison isn’t really fair with the N900’s otterbox on though, so removing it:

N9 and N900, thickness

So physically, they’re about the same footprint but radically different thicknesses, with the N900 twice as thick. However, for some reason, the N900 actually feels smaller in the hand (that footprint must be near the tipping point between “okay” and “big” for my hands I suppose).

I will say that the N900’s taken a year’s abuse or more, and even with an otterbox to protect most of it, it’s weathered it very well indeed. But I don’t think I’d feel comfortable using the N900 without a protective screen cover and something like the silicon case that it comes with (or an otterbox of some kind). Not when it’s selling for around the €600 mark. And that brings up a point I think is a design flaw with the N9 and it’s the camera:

N9 Camera

N9 Camera

The lens for the camera is right there, exposed on the back continually. There’s no protection for it. One good scratch from your keys, and that camera is toast. Every image from then on will be ruined. To me, that’s a bad idea, and it’s one the N900 avoided with a lens cover:

N900 Back Panel

That cover’s worked perfectly for the N900 for a year for me now. The lens on the camera is as good as the day it arrived and all that’s needed is an occasional dusting. Why they ditched a perfectly good feature like that, I don’t know. I will say though, that the actual camera software in the N9 is a massive improvement on the N900’s, which wasn’t all that bad to start with. Being able to select an off-center point for the autofocus by touch is very useful, the options screen is well-executed, and while I found the lock button not doubling as a shutter button to be annoying and daft, once you get used to the operation of the camera, it works really well.

So, what about the camera’s image quality then? Well, it’s the N9 here I think, and not by a small margin:

N900 ISO 12233 test image

N900 ISO 12233 test image

N9 ISO 12223 test image

N9 ISO 12223 test image

Yes, the N9 looks darker (it was shot under artificial light while the N900 was shot in brighter natural light) – but look at the moire patterns in the bottom center and the crosses above and below the slanted H’s on either side – far more definition and resolution there. Click on the image to see the full size for comparison.

You can also see the colour reproduction is better:

N900 color test image

N900 color test image

N9 color test image

N9 color test image

Colors are just brighter and more vivid with the N9’s camera. That might be down to lighting for the test, but looking at sample images taken in the last week, it holds up:

N900 Target image

N900 Target image

N9 Target image

N9 Target image

Compare the colours’ vividness and the lack of moire stripes in the N9’s image, and the N9’s the clear winner here. Also, what you can’t see is that the N9 can get the same quality of image without the moire effect kicking in from a lot closer to the screen than the N900, which is a lot more convenient. And in wider-field shots of non-emissive targets (ie. what you normally take photos of):

N900 portrait test

N900 portrait test

N9 portrait test

N9 portrait test

Even with the seriously demanding lighting challange the firing range always gives, the N9’s image just holds up better under examination.

So, which wins?

Well, for use as just a phone, the N9. Hands down. Easier to use, smaller, lighter, longer battery life (longest I’ve ever gotten from the N900 is 36 hours of idle – the N9’s already gotten past that with 40-odd hours), and slightly better audio (though that last one’s a very, very slight advantage at best).

For the camera, it’s the N9 by a country mile.

But as a smartphone/communications device, it’s a tie at best and it’s more likely that the N900 wins here. Even after a week, I can’t send a single SMS message on the N9’s on-screen keyboard with ease, and email is out of the question. And it’s not a question of more practice – onscreen keyboards really are just inferior to the real thing, so the N900’s physical keyboard – small and clunky though it may be – just wins. Not to mention that the resistive touchscreen, while definitely not as slick and pretty as the N9’s capacitative screen, is easier to use for us fat-fingered folk. And the N9’s browser, while good, isn’t as good as the N900’s default browser or Opera Mobile (which doesn’t seem to be available for the N9 and I’ve looked).

So would I trade in my N900 for an N9?

No. I’m too used to what the N900 lets me do, and my fingers don’t get on with the N9 – but (a) that’s me, not someone with normal-sized fingers, and (b) if I was still using the E71 or something similar, then hell yes, I’d trade them in for the N9. It’s a wonderfully polished end product that’s very usable for the average user, it does everything it says on the tin and more, and honestly, it’s a monumental kick in the crotch from Nokia’s engineering team to the Nokia management decision to drop the Maemo/Meego platform in favour of Microsoft’s Windows Phone.

N9 Target image

N9 Target image


10
Oct 11

N9 trial

So a while back, I got offered a trial of a Nokia N900, which worked out reasonably well – to the point where I went off and bought my own, which is still my primary phone today.

However, my N900 is two years old now and starting to show its age a bit. The core functions still run well, but two years is long enough to have found the rough edges – some of them in places where rough edges shouldn’t exist, like in the telephony functions. Yes, it’s more a netbook with a phone function than a phone with a netbook function, but still – the screen rotation and UI responsiveness have caused dropped calls in the past, and I’ve had to reboot from lockups a few times, and if the camera app crashes with the lens cover open, that’s a hardware reset; and there are other small niggles. It’s still my primary phone, and I still maintain that it’s better than an iPhone (or an Android for that matter, though the gap there is smaller); but I have been looking at the Nokia N9 since its initial leaks with avarice.

Original leaked N9 design

Original leaked N9 design

The original N9 has since morphed into the N950, and the new N9 is a more iPhone form factor, lacking a physical keyboard, but I still wanted to give it a try, so I asked WomWorldNokia if I could do a trial with it the same way as I had with the N900. They didn’t have one at the time, but put my name on the list and the other day I got this on twitter:

WOMWorldNokia twitterAnd in my email is the paperwork for the trial, which I sent back that day and this afternoon, the package arrived at work. So tonight I’ll unbox it, and for the next fortnight I’ll use it in place of my regular N900, and we’ll see if I have to try for an upgrade 😀

Nokia N9

Nokia N9


10
May 10

Why the Nokia N900 is fundamentally better than the iPhone





Nokia N900As I said before, with the trial N900 gone back to WOMWorld, ï»żï»żI wanted to compare the Nokia N900 to its most obvious competitor, the iPhone, and the outcome was important enough to do in a seperate post. So here goes.

The thing is, the N900 is not just a phone, it’s more than that. Yes, every marketing department says that every time they bring out a new phone, but in a very few cases it’s actually been true. It was true about the first smartphone; it was true about the first iPhone; and it’s true about the N900. The first smartphone was the start of the smartphone market, the first iPhone was the start of the app store and marked the real birth of the mobile web; and the N900 is the first real convergent device and it marks the first time there’s been a real, compromise-free choice between a walled garden from Apple and an open platform. There are two reasons why this is true, and why the N900 is fundamentally better than the iPhone, and more importantly, why it will remain so, and they are:

  1. Convergence. Right now, you have several communications streams — email, twitter, facebook, IM, SMS, VoIP, voice, and more. Convergence is about handling all of those in a single device, all fully supported and fully integrated, and with the ability to both consume and create content. Nothing else on the market today can touch the N900 for this, including the iPhone. The N900 takes convergence as a design principle from the hardware level on up; the iPhone does not. And the iPhone is not likely to even try to compete with the N900 in this area because Steve Jobs does not want convergence. As Charles Stross pointed out recently, computing as we know it is just past a major tipping point that will see mobile computing change the field utterly. Whomever owns the the app store and the communications streams will own that market, and Steve Jobs realises that that ownership is key to Apple’s business model. Which takes us into the second point:
  2. Freedom. What the N900 does is to take existing communications streams (voice, VoIP, twitter, etc) and bring them all to you over one single device using open standards. The point of the N900 is to be a tool for you to use, whereas the point of the iPhone platforms is to be a tool to allow Apple to own the communications stream (ironically, that means that Nokia is now being more like Apple’s earlier days thanks to a change in philosophy at Apple that Slate recently noted). It’s a difference reflected in the nature of the two companies; Nokia makes communications devices to work on standardised networks owned by several other third parties; its products must interoperate with others well or it goes out of business. Apple, however, makes products that must not work well with other products or Apple’s business model won’t work and they go out of business. Got an iPod? How do you get music to it? Yup, iTunes. No drag-and-drop, no straightforward file transfer, you have to go via an Apple product, and not just some application they sell to you once, but an application they maintain ongoing involvement in via the app store and iTunes store. The iPhone platforms lock you in, while the N900 allows you the freedom to do whatever you want. The N900 is probably the closest thing to a phone that both Richard Stallman and Steve Wozniak would be happy to use as we are ever likely to see. It runs linux, you can code for it in a range of languages, there’s no wierd licencing deal going on, it plays with every existing communications stream out there; even in hardware, it uses industry-standard connectors for the headphones and microUSB ports and other subsystems. This phone is an object example in how to build a device that’s about giving the user a better tool to use; rather than building a better EULA to force the user to use your device; and it’s also an object lesson in why something that sounds as hippie-flower-power as ‘Freedom’ is actually a serious end-user issue.

In an Apple-v-Nokia comparison, the Nokia N900 kicks the iPhone’s backside. In design, the N900 does convergence far, far better. In ideology, the iPhone isn’t even playing the same game as the N900. In price, the N900 costs 25% less than the iPhone (and does more than it). Granted, there are implementation bugs, but comparing what the Nokia represents to what the iPhone represents, I’ll take the Nokia any day of the week. The N900 only lacks polish — the iPhone lacks substance and that’s a far more serious problem.

So why doesn’t Android kick the iPhone’s backside in this way? Because in terms of convergence, Android isn’t quite as far along as the N900 (yet). And because in terms of freedom, Android is just another walled garden but this time with a different name on the wall. Granted, Android’s walled garden is a better place than the iPhone’s but it’s still got walls. The N900 is just that little bit better at convergence and just that little bit better at being open. For example, you use standard Debian repositories on the N900, not an app store. Want to get your software on the N900 from a distribution point of view? You don’t have to go via Nokia. That’s a pretty fundamental difference, and so long as Nokia don’t try to alter that, they’ll have the better product from an end-user’s point of view.

So should you buy an N900? Will I be buying one?

Yes, in short. It’s far cheaper than the iPhone, it does more, it restricts me less, it’s more expandable and usable, and it makes my life a lot easier than any other smartphone or netbook ï»żwould. It would reduce the amount of stuff I have to cart about the place with the E71 and do the jobs I need doing better than I can do them at the moment. I just need to find a local place to buy from so I can get a fast fix/replacement in the event that bug 6063 shows up again.