As you all know I’ve had a N900 for review from the good people at WOMWorld. I’ve been playing with this device for quite some time and for a change I do not want to talk about the a phone in the usual manner that I do. This is primarily because I don’t consider the N900 to be a phone, it is a device that can make phone calls, but it is not a phone.

So what’s different about the N900 you might think?

Well, the N900 is a computer or rather an UMPC (my understanding) which can also make phone calls. Obviously you might say that’s what smartphones have been since the N95 burst onto the scene. But, I beg to differ, the N95 was smartphone, the next generation of it and the N900 is the first of it’s kind – a PC that can be used as a phone.

But that still doesn’t quite answer the question, What is different about the N900? The N900 represents a new breed of devices that fill the gap between mainstream PCs, laptops etc. and mobile devices like MIDs, cell phones, etc.

And something this complex needs an operating system that thinks more like a PC than a phone. This is where Maemo (read as MeeGo soon!) comes into the picture. Maemo is a revolutionary new platform from Nokia based on Linux. It is of open source nature and largely unfinished from the point of view of a phone. It still has many features such as a user profiles, flight mode, etc. which have still not been been written for the OS and therefore, the N900 too. Yet there are certain other things that have been built into the OS which are not currently existing in the Symbian OS and maybe even other OSes. Features like – the internet browser which is clearly ahead of the current crop browsers mobile phones have; Google, Yahoo, MSN, Facebook integration of addresses in a manner not seen before; an application manager that is so much more than just the regular app manager found in phones; a programming terminal to reprogram or add more features into the default programming, to name a few.

The OS is what makes the new ARM Cortex-A8 600Mhz powered processor, 32GB memory, 1.9GB of dedicated phone memory, 256MB RAM equipped device something else. The N900’s OS is supplemented with some great hardware and what I have stated is just the tip, there’s a lot more to it. With specs like this the N900 cannot be dismissed as an experiment, or even a flash in the pan. It clearly shows that Nokia is planning to make a big leap and Maemo is going to be the tool to make help Nokia make that leap. Maemo or MeeGo is a completely new operating system that is being developed by Nokia and Intel, one that is not limited to just cell phones but one that encompasses various other kinds of devices. This OS does not require too much time to get accustomed to, I did not take more than a couple of days to understand how the OS functioned and how to access the various features and apps on it (and this is without going through a manual). In fact once you have seen how it works you will really admire the simplicity it brings to phones.

But this also does answer the question of what makes the N900 different. The N900 is device that has brought back an experience that many people had with the Symbian OS during it’s early years. I’m sure many of us spent hours surfing the net for that one killer app every week or month that could make our phones do things no one else’s phone could, like changing the channel on the TV using the IR and an app on the phone, or interpolating the VGA camera to give photo quality equivalent of a 1.3MP camera. The list is endless. But there is one thing common to all of it. We all loved to explore and push the boundaries of cellphones and what it could do. Although we hated the fact and even complained about how Symbian could not implement such features into their OS, the truth remains that the joy of installing an app to make the phone into a smartphone was something that made Symbian so huge. Then Nokia began releasing S60 based devices and before long, unstable, buggy version of S60 began to roll out to meet the increased demands for this OS. Firmware updates allowed the OS to be ‘upgraded’. While some of these updates did bring along increased functionality to devices, more often it was to address some unresolved issues. At first it seemed like a novel concept to lug around beta level software almost to the point that beta level softwares became an alternative to finished software. But like every concept, this concept soon became outdated with better OSes and devices. Touch became the new way of doing things and iPhone became the standard in cell phones.

S60 clearly seemed like something from the stone age even though it had a touch variant of it developed. It had the strength but lacked the teeth to make the kill. [This has changed to a large extent now with the Symbian Foundation to going the way of Open Source.]

The N900 has brought back those times when one could explore and customize his or her device in a manner that is akin to Symbian S60 powered devices’ formative years. This new OS has more than enough strength and also looks very capable of developing the teeth to bite into its competitors – Android, Mac OS, Bada, Windows 7, etc.

Today, the fact that I can add some features written and developed by somebody onto my phone to give it some of those functionalities which I consider for granted or what seemed impossible till now is what gives me a high, the joy of making a device which was not capable of doing something earlier, do that thing is unparalleled; This sense of exploration and thrill is what seems to have died down to a large extent in a lot of smartphones today. This phone is not meant for the people who want a smartphone. This device is meant for people who want something that is much more than a smartphone and are not deterred by an OS which is a community developed initiative than one designed in a lab.

This is a phone for the classes and not the masses and despite it’s unfinished state deserves to be the true flagship device for Nokia as it has successfully captured the emotions and feelings of owning a smartphone.

This sense and emotion is what sets the N900 apart from the rest!

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