back to article Nokia N900 Linux smartphone

Once the unequalled leader among mobile phone manufacturers, Nokia still returns impressive sales, but ceded its dominance of the smartphone market with the arrival of the iPhone. It's been playing catch-up ever since, sticking rigidly to a Symbian OS that only seemed to grow older looking with each new device. Nokia N900 …


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  1. GregC
    Thumb Up

    Want one...

    Nice review, and has confirmed what I already suspected - I'll be getting one of these. Now, if only I could find a shop (and I mean a real, bricks'n'mortar shop) that has even heard of the thing, let alone knows when I'll be able to buy one...

    1. Ian Michael Gumby
      Thumb Up

      Well if you live in a big city...

      You could always go in to their flagship stores like they have in Chicago.

      The only downside is that you'll end up buying an unlocked version and you'll be paying full MSRP plus a hefty sales tax....

      1. Andus McCoatover

        er, flagship stores like they HAD in Chicago...

        Y'know, I'm trying for a job at the moment. Get the usual cretinous question:

        "Where do you want to be in 5 years' time"

        My answer nowadays is:

        "Where will YOU be in 5 years? Still in this industry, or, as most of us expect to be, shovelling shit for your daily bread? Which street do you prefer? "

        Still unemployed, natch.

    2. Tom Chiverton 1

      offical Nokia online shop

      The offical shop is but I've been waiting since last week for my order status to change.

      If you attempt to ring them, you get an answerphone saying they are too busy to talk to you.


      1. some-reg-reader

        re: offical Nokia online shop

        Don't follow that link - the official online shop is here - not at the location above:

  2. Paul
    Gates Horns

    google maps

    the n900 is a wonderful beast, it's not much bigger than the 5800 when compared side by side

    you don't need a dedicated maps app as it's powerful enough to handle the full web site

    I found it played BBC iplayer videos pretty well, I'd expect as the OS gets fine-tuned it can only get better!

    basically, I want one, but at GBP500 for the unsubsidised unit I won't be buying for a while.

    bill gates icon because he'd hate another windows mobile competitor!

    1. Ian Michael Gumby

      Why do you want to use Google Maps?

      The one nice thing about Nokia is that they *bought* Navteq so they have the most accurate map data on the market.

  3. _Ewan_

    Not at the top of the learnign curve

    --- but once you're in the menu, there's no obvious way to get back to your home page, until you realise you need to press the power button ---

    You don't need to do that; just click on an empty bit of the background and it'll take you straight back. It's not obvious, but once you've got it it's very easy.

  4. fnordianslip


    I've had the device for 10 days now, and it is awesome. It should be kept in mind that it comes from a heritage of internet tablets, and doesn't satisfy the cravings of smart-phone users who expect all the features of legacy phones, but offers such phenomenal potential that the device really should be considered as a Linux computer in your pocket.

    In one word - awesome. In two - geek heaven.

  5. David Webb


    If the OS on the N900 is Linux, isn't it just a case of compiling already created Linux applications? Sure, you may have a problem with dependencies, but on the whole, any app which is for a Linux mobile should run on the N900?

    The N900 is a phone I really want, time to save my pennies.

    1. Tony Green
      Thumb Up


      There's a complete development environment you can load on a Linux computer and port whatever you want, just like you could with the N8x0 tablets.

      As soon as I get mine I'll be having a busy time porting Apache and MySQL to it so I can use them like I do on my N800 (but with everything running faster - yummy!)

  6. Anonymous Coward

    But don't bother mail-ordering from Nokia

    As they bill from Finland which shows up as fraud for some reason.

    3 cancelled orders later and I've sourced elsewhere.

    I had this pre-ordered months ago so I'm a little upset to still be waiting.

    Mines the coat without a Nokia brick in it.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Ordering from Britain?

      If you're ordering from Britain, then I imagine that you'll fall foul of the Banks of the Britards: any "foreign dealings" are automatically excluded unless you're the Sheik of Somewhere Sandy who can presumably order anything from anywhere via a British bank on his golden telephone. For everyone else, it's all "nasty foreign transaction" and a big no entry sign in order to prevent "fraud".

      Yes, the institutions now mostly owned by the government - tools and/or architects of the financial crisis - will protect us, the honest punters, from fraud. Britards, meet the new swimming pool attendant, Mr Shark!

  7. Christian Berger

    It's not a smartphone!

    I'm sorry, but that review missed the main point completely, it's not a smartphone. It's a portable computer running with a flavour of Debian. You can run any program on it, provided it's availiable for ARM in one of the repositories or you can compile it yourself.

    This is not meant to be a traditional PDA whoose only purpose it is to sync with Outlook. Neither is it a media player. It's a device you can install openvpn on, and log onto from another computer. Or you can mount shares via NFS, SMB or even sshfs. Or you can sync a directory with rsync.

    It's a computer with a UMTS modem built-in, not a phone.

    1. Ian Michael Gumby

      Go check out the specs.

      Looks like a phone to me...

      "Operating Frequency

      * Optimized for WCDMA 900/1700/2100

      * Quad-band EGSM 850/900/1800/1900

      * Optimized for 3G networks on WCDMA 900/1700/2100 Quad-band EGSM 850/900/1800/1900



  8. Wortel
    Thumb Up


    Got mine over the weekend, and i´m hooked. sent this via the built-in browser ;)

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Got one coming...

    Got it on order on voda contract from nokia retail store.

    Looks like at the moment voda is the only carrier subsidising it and you can only get it on contract from the nokia retail stores.

    And unfortunately, from the phone call i had to orange when i was getting my PAC code, doesnt look like orange have any intention to do the N900 for i think the same reasons as the N97 (but they oddly do the N97 mini?)

    1. Dominik Stansby


      ..told be that they absolutely would not be doing the N97 Mini because of the problems with the N97 and it appeared 2 weeks later.. So the N900 might end up with them!

  10. Peter Geoghegan

    The browser uses technology based on Firefox and it's a good one

    I thought that the browser was based on Konqueror's/Chrome's/Safari's webkit layout engine, not Mozilla's Gecko layout engine.

    Is this an error?

    1. mhj

      It is mozilla based

      It is MicroB, the version of FF for mobile devices. There were a couple of webkit browsers for the Maemo 4 devices, we will have to see if they are ported.

  11. Ian Michael Gumby

    Some questions and things not found in the review..

    I have the E90 now and while the article said that there were some differences in some of the tools, one thing I found missing was the voice active command.

    I think that this would be an important feature if you you wanted to pair this with a blue tooth head set.

    Nokia makes one that has caller id, so you can see who's calling you without having to search for the phone.

    The idea is that you carry the ear piece with you in an accessible place, or in your ear if you enjoy having something stuck in your ear all day... Then when the phone rings, you can see who it is and answer. If you want to make a call you can just speak your command and it will dial the number.

    Also what about the video phone calling? Did they also allow the smaller camera to be used with some form of Wi-fi IM tools?


    1. Gadgety

      N900 and video calling; voice dialing

      I agree about the voice dialing. Certainly with a pocketable computer. Leave it in the pocket and work through the headset.

      I thought Nokia could just port the stuff from Symbian, but apparently it's not as easy as that, or they would have done it alreay. Hopefully it'll be there in a year's time or so (by the time more consumer oriented Maemo6 devices start shipping). It is noteworthy that some recent top of the line Windows Mobile phones from HTC doesn't have this feature working either, not even with Microsoft's own voice command software.

      The N900 does better than video phone calling via the network, it does video chatting/and or video calling via the internet, either through a 3.5g line or over Wifi, although it doesn't work flawlessly yet. See this thread at

  12. Bod

    Price, price, price

    It's lovely, but I'm torn between getting something like this or a cheaper E series for simpler use. Why? Because I have a netbook that does everything I really would use this for. Do I really need a pocket sized computer that costs more than an average netbook? Or do I really just need a phone?

  13. handle

    "a brace of stereo speakers" four speakers (-:

  14. Anonymous Coward

    £440 for a thick brick?

    and everyone is cheering, hooray, yeah, i want one.

    ElReg's reviews are very much like their flawed predictions. You simply couldn't make them up.

    1. GregC

      Missing the point...

      At least as far as I'm concerned - I have no interest in this device as a phone, as someone else already said this is a very compact tablet pc that happens to have a modem. It does everything I would want from a netbook, but with a much more useful form factor.

      Frankly, it's the device I've been waiting for since the N770 was first announced and I'll be getting one as soon as I can.

      1. Ian Michael Gumby

        Huh? This isn't a netbook.

        Nokia offers a netbook, however they only have cell data connection only.

        N900 is a *true* cell phone.

        U must be a H8tr.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: £440 for a thick brick?

      God, where to start...

      Not everyone is cheering, if you read the review and the posts you will see it's quite measured, trying to assess it for what it is, and seeing promise.

      'ElReg's reviews are very much like their flawed predictions. You simply couldn't make them up.'. Well, you could make them up actually, that's why they're called predictions, you fool.

      Oh, and the convention seems to be El Reg (notice the space). If you are going to post an insult then you really should learn the basics first, otherwise it's like fish in a barrel.

      The thinly veiled subtext here seems to indicate that you're a fan of of another company's products?!

    3. Greg J Preece

      So what you're saying... that it's shit because it's too thick?

      As O'Briain would say, get in the sack! So long as it does what I want it to do, and it's smaller than my current HTC Athena, I couldn't give two flying monkey faeces whether or not it's slim and sexy.

      Besides, a lot of top end devices are apparently that expensive on PAYG these days. No-one except iPhone users are stupid enough to pay the quoted price, though.

  15. mhj
    Thumb Up

    I have one, and it's good.

    Mine arrived this morning. Out of the box, a major showstopper is that it wouldn't recognise my 3 sim card, but apparently this is fixed in the internal dev versions, it is just a case of waiting for it to be released. The software on the device is a good first release (Of Maemo 5), there are a few things that need work.Overall it is stable and responsive. I could play youtube videos with no stuttering (I'm running the 42.11 fw.

    The big issue is the maps application, trying to get map data onto the device is a pain at the moment, nowhere near as good as the old wayfinder app for the N800/N810.

    I am very happy with the device, it has combined the features from my N95 and N800 into one handy brick.

    1. majarambuz

      Map loading

      @hml, Maps CAN be loaded with MapLoader, latest version

  16. Bad Beaver
    Dead Vulture

    half-assed review

    C'mon folks, is it really that hard to include some realworld-relevant information such as whether is freakin' syncs well with whatever M$-suite and OS-X? I totally appreciate your moody candle-shot but it's about the last thing relevant to my purchase decision. Nokia's Symbian devices sync well with OS-X via their iSync plug, so how about this one?

  17. Andus McCoatover


    "...a major showstopper is that it wouldn't recognise my 3 sim card..."

    So, you bought a brick. Did I get it right? Or, do you have a different SIM card so you actually bought a (cough) phone...? Pray do tell.

    1. mhj


      The bug is supposed to only affect recent 3 sims, mine is about a year old, so must be one of the first accepted ones. You can still use the device except for the functions that require the sim, at the moment I am using a vodafone PAYG sim. The issue has been fixed in the internal development version, it is just a case of waiting for it to be released. (Bug Report here : ).

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Took me a day or so to get used to it, but rarely - only to take pictures and a handy resize/volume control - do I have to use the keys.

    Will happily run recompiled applications - am running python and PyQt/PySide. Using the unix command line is a bit of a pain :-) but that's what WLAN and ssh are for ... I'm starting to wonder why I keep a windows laptop with me ... oh yeah, as an X-terminal for the N900.

    Very very very happy customer :-)

  19. David Heffernan

    Ceded to iPhone, really?

    In what sense has Nokia "ceded its dominance of the smartphone market with the arrival of the iPhone"?

    They are still, by a distance, the biggest supplier of smartphones by volume. I think RIM are second with Apple languishing in third place.

  20. worxx

    too bad...

    i would get a n900 immediately - if it only would be possible to use it in portrait mode too... ;(

  21. Nick Kew

    Maps - @Ian Michael Gumby

    Nokia's maps are great on roads data, but crap on anything else. Very limited non-road information, and big errors in rivers, railways and coastlines.

    I have both Nokia and Google maps on my E71. The Google requires a data connection, but when that's available it's far and away the better of the two. The Nokia maps are a fallback for when there's no data connection.

    (Much tempted by a N900 as a highly-portable mini-pooter. Never seen the point of a netbook - can't see how it would be usable anywhere the macbook isn't.)

  22. Nexox Enigma


    I have a feeling that I'm going to get one of these things and then no matter how good it is, I'll use it as much as I can. I already carry an n810 with me everywhere I go, so this n900 should seem rather tiny in my pocket in comparison.

    Problem is I'm in the states, which means TMobile is my only viable provider. That might be good or bad, but it irritates me that the usability of the device is directly tied to a single service provider...

  23. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD


    Might buy one if it's geeky enough.

    Anyone here know of its true geek potential?

    With my luck, the gui toolkit's probably Qt... Oh wait, it's Nokia isn't it? I expect it is.. :(

    I hope this phone lives up truely to its implied nerd potential. The iphone is also suitably geeky I guess but I'm not having any of that Apple DRM BS.

    1. mhj

      Moving to Qt

      Maemo 5 is GTK based, the next version will use Qt.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Please stop comparing things to the fucking iPhone

    If I wanted an iPhone, I'd buy an iPhone.

    I'm a geek, I want some decent technology not a pretty interface.

    I want to: be able to bluetooth files around; write my own apps easily and at a low level; have access to a decent range of non-censored app; run stuff in the background; have a decent keyboard; etc

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Everything will naturally be compared to the iPhone because the general consensus is that it is leading the industry in its current form (3GS/OS 3.0) in terms of both its fluid software design and revolutionary App Store as well as public mindshare. Whilst not an Apple fan, the iPhone is indispensible and fun to use in a way that none of my other phones have ever been. Nokia need to consider what their phones look like, as although this is a curiosity, as with the N97, the market for such ugly phones is not vast. Apple concentrates huge resources on marketing and design because people's first impression of a phone is the look of it, and their strategy pays off. Does anyone realistically think that normal non-IT people in the street are counting the days until this (or any Nokia) is released or thinking of writing their own apps for it for sale in the 'Ovi'? store? I can tell you now that they aren't, and a cursory look at how well Nokia smartphones are selling should tell you why.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Resistive screen =

    No multi-touch = Browsing with a stylus = MISERY

    Just say no to 80s technology at 2010 prices.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Resistive screen not so bad

      I have the original N770, with resistive screen.

      Comparing it to my iPod Touch, with capacitive screen I'd say that it's nice to have a touch screen that you can use properly with a stylus. The iPod touch screen doesn't recognise anything that isn't a fat finger; there is no resolution at all e.g. selecting where the cursor should go in text is a pain.

      With the N770 screen, it works great with the stylus; especially for typing on a small on-screen keyboard so you can actually see the text you've typed, or for drawing / writing. It also works just fine with a finger too, either for browsing with the same flick action for scrolling, selecting items and doesn´t do a bad job with the on-screen keyboard either.

      As for multi-touch, there is nothing preventing the design of resistive multi-touch; both technologies are array based, the same techniques work for both. It just requires development of the driver electroncis and software.

      I'd say that the screen is the bit that Nokia got right with the N770. It was a little slow, but mainly let down by very poor app support and appaling customer support.

    2. Bod

      Stylus browsing

      There are some things that are a little more tricky with a big stubby finger. A stylus would actually be quite handy on capacitive displays on occasion, but oh, you can't because they're capacitive ;)

      And as for multi-touch. a) don't need it. iPhone's only real benefit of it is for a zoom and you can replace multi-touch with gestures. b) Apple have a patent on multi-touch I believe.

  26. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

    @AC with the python running on the phone

    I'm intrigued. I'm gonna really have to follow up on this.

    If you're still around, can you actually give me an idea how usable this thing is? It's not just the fact that it's a linux box that will influence a purchase but overal build quality, the screen, the keyboard - I expect this would be a 'thumbboard' really wouldn't it?

    And the software? I believe if I get your meaning, you've managed to tunnel X thru ssh, what sort of wm does this thing run? I'm hoping it's something reasonably lightweight?

    And is there anything in this phone that is actually locked down with any sort of DRM? Can you actually rebuild the kernel if you wanted to?

    Nerds want to know :)

    1. John Hughes
      Thumb Up

      Build your own kernel if you want to.

      No DRM.

      Build your own kernel if you want.

      Mostly open source (some nokia provided bits still closed - in one case because they lost the source! see for details.)

  27. batfastad
    Jobs Horns

    Looks like the one for me!

    Wow, a new phone that isn't touchscreen only!! Praise the Lord!

    I've got an SE P1i which is excellent - my only criticism is the way the Symbian UIQ OS deals with Java applications

    So if this has better J2ME functionality... I will be all over it!

    Shame I'm on O2 though... the only thing they want to sell me is a damn you-know-what phone... and I don't want to be one of those <beep>s

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    n900 vs Droid

    Everyone draws the parallel to the iphone but I'd like to see it up against the Droid. I've been a Nokia tablet user for several years and the OS always let the device down. I eventually got my n800 to do most everything I wanted but it took a long time of trying out one crappy piece of software after another. Each successive Nokia firmware upgrade got a little bit better but overall it still to this day is a hack. I was hoping that Nokia is really behind the Maemo 5 platform but most of the reviews still say it's a mish-mash of different apps and functionality. I'd say the Maemo 4 OS was alpha and Maemo 5 is beta. Maybe they'll get serious about Maemo 6?

    Overall it's probably a great geek toy since it's basically an n810 with more CPU, Storage, faster graphics and a video out port and 3G network. I don't think this device will compete with the iphone, Droid and Pre in the consumer space and neither does Nokia since it's the only Maemo device to be released in the next year. If they were behind it they'd be pushing Maemo into different directions.

    I may still consider buying one but I'd have to question why. The Droid has the same CPU, Video, a bigger screen, a keyboard, is much thinner and the OS will actually amount to something (as in Google is behind it and people will actually write apps for it).

    1. michaelh

      No one will write apps for it?

      I must be imagining these oodles of applications in my application manager, as well as the thousands of existing Linux FOSS projects that can be ported with minimal effort then.

  29. brimful

    N900 on Tmobile UK

    I've confirmed with Tmobile uk that they will be shipping in Q1 2010. Also, they said that CPW will have it before them so if you can't wait then head on over. I should've really kept this nugget of info for myself until I got one but since I'm helping out fellow IT nerds, what the hell.

    On a more serious note, I WANT ONE. I NEED ONE. My HTC is fubar.

  30. Fred Pilcher


    Nokia has no plans to release the N900 in Australia.



    1. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD
      Thumb Down

      "Nokia has no plans to release the N900 in Australia."


      Bastards... Bastards...

  31. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

    Bring this phone to Australia, please

    I'm sure hoping there are some Nokia people with the right influence reading this...

    Anyhow, just found this on Tom's... bit more about the phone:,review-1468.html

  32. mattbrawn

    PUSH N900

    hi guys,

    thought some of you might be interested in what's been happening in the PUSH N900 project. Basically, it was a competition for hackers/modders/developers where they were asked to use the power of the N900 and attach it to 'something they love' - whether it be a skateboard, a geo-location belt or an etch-a-sketch. The submission date for entries has passed so now it's just a matter of watching the five winning teams starting to bring their creations to life.

    They'll be regularly updating the PUSH blog with progress reports and there will also be video updates from the teams.

    Check it out, all the winning designs are looking like they could be awesome!

  33. REMF

    proud owner of an n900

    great phone, love it. buy one.

  34. Dylan Fahey

    FLAC gets no respect

    Is it that god damn hard to put a FLAC codec in the media player for christs sake.

    Because PARIS wants FLAC too!

    1. foo_bar_baz

      FLAC support

  35. Bruno Girin
    Thumb Up

    Happy N900 owner

    I've had a N900 since Tuesday and I'm loving it. Yes it's a bit of a brick because of the slide-out keyboard but no worse than the N97, in a handset that is more versatile than the good old Communicator phones.

    In terms of hardware, it feels very responsive thanks to the Arm processor and the GPU. The touch screen is very nice to use, a lot better than the N97 and on a par with the HTC Tattoo. The stylus is useful when browsing web sites set in small size fonts as it's easier to hit the links with it than with your thumb, but the rest of the interface doesn't require the stylus. In fact, the only hardware snafu is that the headphone socket is located such that the headphone jack interferes with typing on the keyboard when you have it plugged in.

    As a phone, it's the best one I have owned for a very long time. The sound quality is excellent and crystal clear. Signal reception is also very good. The past 3 handsets I've had would be unable to get a signal if I strayed more than a few metres away from the windows in my flat. The N900 shows maximum reception throughout the building. I suspect this is because it's very good at switching back to stronger 2G or 2.5G signals when it is out of range of a 3G signal.

    In terms of connectivity, Wi-Fi also works flawlessly and the phone will automatically switch to Wi-Fi for internet services as soon as you are in range of a known network. In my case, as soon as I am back home, it reconnects to the home Wi-Fi and disconnects 3G services. This can have an interesting side effect as the N900 can also work as a Skype phone: configure your Skype account and it will give you the option to call Skype contacts through VOIP rather than a standard call. I haven't tried that yet though so I don't know how well it works.

    Push email is very easy to set up and it knows the defaults for a number of well known providers, including Google, in which case you will get a simplified wizard. Calendars can only be local at the moment but the interface suggests that shared calendars are on the roadmap and should be available at some point.

    When it comes to software, Maemo is indeed based on Debian and you can add more repositories to get access to more software. In particular, you can enable the Extras repositories to have access to admin tools such as an ssh client and server. What this also means is that, contrary to a lot of network branded handsets out there, whenever an update is available in the Maemo repositories, it will offer you to update your system. So any bug fixes or new features will make their way down to your handset.

    If you want to develop your own apps, there is a whole development kit that you can install on Debian, Ubuntu or Fedora and that enables you to write Python or C++ apps (sorry, no Java). Or you can simply write good old Python (2.5), Perl (5.8.3) or shell scripts. You can even do that directly on the handset: it comes with a terminal app, it's got vi installed and if you really miss syntax highlighting you can get vim or PyGTKEditor from the Extras repositories.

    The N900 is not for everybody but it's a geek's dream, in addition to being an excellent phone.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No Wi-Fi?

    This phone doesn't seem to have Wi-Fi. Why would one buy such a device?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @No Wi-Fi

      Im not sure where you got that idea, it certainly does have wifi

  37. Andus McCoatover

    I finally got to see one.

    Local nutter at the bar's got one.

    He's been using it constantly - always on the phone. I get a couple of calls per day, he seems to get 10 per hour! Amazing.

    Problem is, he's totally deaf and dumb, just makes strange unintelligible grunting sounds instead of speech, and he's as mad as a hatter. Only way he can order a beer is to point. Laser pen, natch. Early adopter, obviously.

    Would've been even better if said nutter had a SIM card for it, but....keeps him happy.

    But, I had a look, and it's quite neat. Physically. Without the SIM, it didn't do much, however.

    Not at that price - thanks, but no thanks.

  38. Michelle D'israeli

    Another eager Orange user

    Just talked with Orange, and sadly their phone upgrade line staff don't seem to know much about the state of the phone market. Which is a shame, since I got through to an otherwise charming young lady :P

    I've told them that they need to get it in stock, or truthfully, I might find myself switching network.

    Here's hoping they get some in, and don't fiddle with them too much, either.

  39. REMF

    teh awesome

    i love my n900.

    get one.

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