Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Nokia N900 Review - Hardware

After experimenting with touch-based tablets since 2006, Nokia finally merges cellphone capabilities with their tablets to create the N900. Not to be outdone by other manufacturers, Nokia also includes common Nseries features like 5MP camera, wifi, and integrated GPS with the N900.

I've had the N900 for over 3 months now and I want to share with you my experiences with it. I wanted to make this one big review but there was just too much to talk about the N900 that I'm breaking it out over 2 posts: Hardware and Software.

More after the jump!

The N900 in this review is running V 10.2010.19-1.002 (also known as PR 1.2) the latest firmware as of this review.

Quick facts:
Name: Nokia N900
Network: GSM 850/900/1800/1900 WCDMA 900/1700/2100
Weight: 181 g
Dimensions: 110.9 x 59.8 x 18 mm
Battery life (stand by): 240 hours (WCDMA), 288 hours (GSM)
Battery life (talk): 258 minutes (WCDMA), 378 minutes (GSM)
CPU: 32bit TI OMAP 3430, 600 MHz ARM Cortex-A8
RAM: 256 MB

Included in the box:
  • N900 (with internally stored stylist)
  • AC-10U charger
  • CA-101 USB data cable
  • CA-75U A/V cable
  • WH-205 Stereo Music Headset (in ear type)

My phone was manufactured in: (your phone's country of manufacture could vary) Korea.

Using the form factor from the previous N810 and most associated with Windows Mobile 6 phones, the N900 features a 3.5 inch resistive screen with a slide out keyboard. The top half of the phone has a minimalist design with no hardware keys. The N900 is both heavy and thick. Just the bottom half of the N900 is the same thickness as the iPhone 3GS.

One of the N900 hardware center pieces is the large screen.

Vibrant colors:

Lots of details:

Prior to the release of the iPhone 4, the N900 had the highest pixel density display on a mobile phone at 266 ppi (pixels per inch) - the iPhone 4 has a display of 330, in case you like comparing. At 266 ppi, the screen is good enough that most people won't notice the pixels.

Almost as good as a retina display

The size of the display is 3.5 inches, which is the same as those found on the iPhone, with a resolution of 800 x 480 pixels. The 16.7 million colors appear vibrant on the TFT LCD screen with better viewability under direct sun than the OLED screens used by HTC.

Unlike Android or iPhones, the N900 uses a resistive screen similar to older S60 5th edition phones like the N97 and Windows Mobile 6 phones. You might be cringing at first but the screen is sensitive enough to pick up all your kinetic figure swipes. For those of you running the older firmware, the latest version improves response dramatically and definitely worth the upgrade.

You just need to keep in mind to slightly push into the screen for the N900 to register your input. The N900 resistive screen is also pressure sensitive so it can sense how hard you push the screen (try out MyPaint for the N900 to see this feature in action).

I personally love the screen and have no complaints about it. It's bright enough, large enough to comfortably read web pages, high enough resolution to not notice pixels, and responsive to touch input with both fingers and stylist.

I never tried intentionally scratching the display nor keep keys with my phone, but I haven't encountered scratches from using the screen with my nails, stylist, or finger.

The slide out keyboard on the N900 is a full QWERTY type with the space bar shifted to the right and arrow keys on the right as well. Keys have very little space between each other but each key is slightly domed upward so it's easy for your fingers to distinguish.

The keyboard is stiff with a slight feedback and a click sound on each press. I can type pretty accurately on it with some practice but I still find the E71 keyboard to be more comfortable. The N900 keys are more comfortable than the Blackberry Curve.

Lighted Keyboard

The slide out QWERTY is evenly back lit.

Kick Stand
Surrounding the N900's 5MP camera is a pull out kick stand to angle the N900 for better viewing. The kick stand holds the N900 at an angle of 25 degees which is less than the N97 and N86.

Also, unlike previous Nokia S60 devices with a kick stand, pulling out the N900's kick stand cannot trigger any applications. A magnet and spring loaded stand holds the kick stand in place.

Locking Key

The N900 locks the phone after a set time so users won't accidently trigger the phone to make calls or such. The locking key releases the N900 from that locked state.

The locking key is oddly placed right beside the 3.5mm jack, which is usually at the top when the N900 sits in your pocket while you listen to music. But if you have the N900 in landscape mode while browsing, the lock key sits in the, more convenient for right hander, right side of the phone. Moreover, the locking key is short so it's a little hard to flick but you don't need to flick it much to unlock the phone.

The speakers sit on the long ends of the N900. It's the best compromise for speaker placement. I usually end up cuping the ends of the phone to direct the audio towards myself when watching movies.

The N900 supports 2100, 900, and 1700/2100 frequencies. Maximum download is 10Mbps (HSDPA) and upload is 2Mbps (HSUPA)

It's one of the few phones compatible with T-Mobile USA's 3.5G network. it also performs well on 3G networks in Europe and Japan.

Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
Unlike the iPhone but like previous Nokia smartphones, the N900 supports numerous Bluetooth profiles:
  • Stereo Music (A2DP)
  • File Transfer (FTP)
  • Audio Video remote control (AVRCP)
  • Hands free calling (HFP)
  • Audio gateway (HSP)
  • File transfer (OPP)

I didn't experience any problems with Bluetooth on the N900. Transfer speeds during my testing was limited by my other devices and not by the N900.

USB 2.0
The USB slot also serves as it's charging port. Connecting the N900 without powering it on puts the N900 into update mode and charges the phone. Connection the N900 while it's on allows you to connect it in PC Suite mode (for interacting with the Nokia PC/Ovi Suite application) or Mass Storage.

Although I didn't experience this myself, there have been reports of USB ports breaking off. I highly suggesting being extra careful when connecting/disconnecting cables to/from the USB.

The internal GPS on the N900 is fairly strong, comparable to the one found on the N82 (which I've praised numerous times). Locking from a cold start does take 2-5 minutes depending on conditions such as weather and building interference. To see more detailed information about the GPS satellites during GPS locking download GPSJinni.

The internal GPS is also aided by network positioning from

The N900 supports both 802.11b and 802.11g but doesn't support the newer 802.11n found on the Apple AirPort. Official specifications do not list the N900 as supporting 802.11a either.

WiFi signal strength on the N900 is stronger than the E71 but weaker than the N82. Obviously weaker than a laptop. Much like any PC operating system, the N900 holds WiFi signals as long as possible. You can download AutoDisconnect to save battery life on the N900.

FM Transmitter
Easy to start within the built-in Music player but hard to find anywhere else.

FM Transmitter strength is weak. Within a car, the N900 could not broadcast over an existing radio station. Using an open frequency yields a lot better audio quality but it sounds muffled and occasionally breaks in audio.

FM Receiver
Oddly, the N900 doesn't include any software for tuning into FM radio and marketing material doesn't even make reference to it. But if you download FM Radio Player, you can turn the N900 into a FM radio. The included headphone's cable is the antenna so you must have it connected to the phone to use the FM receiver.

To hold all your photos, videos, and apps, the N900 includes 32GB of built-in flash memory. For users who always want more and more, there is a slot for an additional microSD card to give a boost of up to 16GB.

It's nice to see Nokia use a high quality hinge for the microSD card.

The N900 includes a BL-5J 1320mAh battery. It's smaller than the N97 and slightly smaller than the iPhone 4. Battery life isn't the N900 forte with occasional web surfing, music listening, and movie watching quickly draining the battery within a day. With my normal usage, the N82 would last about 1.5 days while the N900 lasted about 1 day.

Charging from 1 bar to full takes about 3 hours with the included charger.

The N900 features a Carl Zeiss 5 Megapixel camera with autofocus.

The N900 is capable of capturing photos at 2584 x 1938 pixels in JPEG format. If you're very technically inclined, the N900 is also capable of capturing photos in High Dynamic Range (HDR) like those found on DSLRs. The sample photos are impressive to say the least.

The camera application is very simplistic

Comparison between N900 and N82:

The N900 (left) captures far more detail while the N82 (right) blurs too much as seen by the building and grass.

Original photos (N900, N82):

Macro comparison between N900 and N82:

The N900 (left) shows much more accurate color than the N82 (right) and smoother photo.

Original photos (N900, N82):

It is clear from the sunlight photos that the N900 outshines the older N82 even though the N900 wasn't targeted for photo euthusiasts.

Sadly, photos in dimly lit places are still challenge without Xenon flash:

The camera software doesn't compensate enough for the bluish LED flash.

The camera application is very simplistic with minimal controls. The following are available settings:

Camera Mode
- Automatic
- Macro
- Portait
- Night (unlike previous NSeries devices, autofocus does not work in this mode, use Live Focus to manually focus the N900 camera)
- Landscape
- Action

Capture Settings
- White Balance
---- Automatic
---- Cloudy
---- Fluorescent
---- Sunny
---- Tungsten
- ISO sensitivity
---- Automatic
---- 100
---- 200
---- 400
- Exposure
- Resolution
---- High
---- Medium
---- Low
---- Widescreen

Sadly, the N900 has less settings than the older Nseries camera application found on S60 FP1 devices such as the N82. Missing features include timer, burst mode, sharpness, and contrast.

More sample photos:


The N900 is capable of recording videos at 848 x 480 pixels (WVGA) and up to 25fps.

Video Mode
- Automatic video
- Night video


Video capture settings
- White balance
---- Automatic
---- Cloudy
---- Fluorescent
---- Sunny
---- Tungsten
- Resolution
--- High 16:9
--- Fine 4:3
--- Low 4:3
- Exposure

The N900 includes 2 white LEDs and single red LED between.

- Automatic
- Always on
- Red eye reduction
- Always off

The white LEDs are very bright and possibly similar to the ones used on the N86. The red LED isn't bright enough to light anything and is only used as a warning light for others to know the N900 is taking a photo or recording video.

The white LEDs do a decent job lighting my room. You can download and install Live Focus for manual control of the LEDs.

Build Quality

The top half of the phone is a fingerprint magnet. It's almost impossible to avoid having some kind of smudge on it.

Thankfully, I have not had any dust issues with the screen yet. But dust has been settling around the top half trim or getting under the trim.

Opening up the phone requires you to slide your fingers along the edge to pry open the panel covering the battery, SIM card, and microSD card. It's the worst part of the phone. I always worry about breaking the plastic hinges on the cover or warping them:

There's a gap where you start prying off the battery cover

Oddly, my N900 had a piece of eyelash or hair stuck in the front facing camera. The other N900s I have don't have the same problem.

Overall Hardware Impression

Nokia spared no expense putting the N900 together with a solid slider, amazingly detailed display, and full Nseries features. Thankfully, Nokia has included a decent amount of RAM on the N900 and they've included the latest ARM processor. Next review, Nokia N900 Review - Software, will cover the most important aspect that distinguishes the N900 from any other phone on the market, the N900 Maemo software, so stay tuned!


Anonymous said...

great phone. a little thicker than i'd like. processor is faster though than my old unlocked touch screen phones. simple to use, texting and web browsing is good. my partner loves it for the gps and the wifi and my family loves their unlocked at&t phones for the facebook and games. speaker is really loud and it hooks up to my computer simply. also the camera and recorder are great. got our last couple unlocked cheap phones at 2 thumbs way up

Droid Galaxy said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)