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Nokia debuts smartphone-like Maemo 5 Linux device

Aug 27, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 19 views

Nokia announced its “N900” heir to the N810 Internet Tablet, running its new Maemo 5 Linux distribution. Upgrading to a Texas Instruments ARM Cortex-A8-based OMAP3430 SoC with 1GB of memory and 32GB flash, the device adds 3G HSPA connectivity, and offers a 3.5-inch, 800 × 480 touchscreen and five megapixel camera.

Nokia refers to the device as having "evolved from Nokia's previous generation of Internet Tablets," but does not call the device itself a tablet or a smartphone, but rather a "handset-sized device."

While the device is smaller than the N810 Internet Tablet released in late 2007, and mimics the design of Nokia's Symbian-based N97 smartphone, Nokia continues to draw a line between the two categories of device. Perhaps seeking to quell the highly credible rumors that it will soon phase out Symbian for its high-end smartphones in favor of Maemo, the company states, "Maemo complements Nokia's other software platforms, such as Symbian, which powers Nokia's smartphones."

N900 with slide-down QWERTY keyboard

Recent reports about the N900 have referred to the device as a smartphone, yet Nokia makes no claims along these lines as far as we can see: VoIP over WiFi or  3G appear to be the only voice options for now. Still, with widespread 3G availability, the distinction between a MID, a tablet, and a smartphone is becoming ever-smaller.

N900 on fold-out stand

Nokia has previously tipped its plan to move the N900 and its open source Maemo distro toward cellular telephony. This goal appears to be a key part of its recent partnership with Intel, featuring their joint oFono telephony project.

Inside the N900

Nokia has turned to the cellular-oriented Texas Instruments (TI) OMAP3430 system-on-chip (SoC) (block diagram at right), which is very similar to its more general-purpose OMAP3530 cousin. Like the OMAP3530, the OMAP3430 uses ARM's superscalar Cortex-A8 cores, which offer far more processing power than might be suggested by the fairly modest 600MHz clock rate. A newer version of the OMAP3430, called the OMAP3440 upgrades video capabilities from DVD quality to HD.

Nokia is touting the N900's multitasking capabilities, compared to the earlier 400MHz TI OMAP2420-based N810, targeting the device at "technology enthusiasts who appreciate the ability to multitask and browse the internet like they would on their desktop computer." According to Nokia, its N900 is capable of MPEG-4 video recording and playback and Open GL ES 2.0 3D graphics, and "empowers users to have dozens of application windows open and running simultaneously."

Maemo's integrated messaging features

Such multitasking capability is based not only on the OMAP3430, but the new Maemo 5 software, which appears ready to emerge from beta with the projected October release of the N900. Maemo 5 offers a Mozilla-based browser (most likely the final version of its Fennec mobile browser), as well as Adobe Flash 9.4 support. It also adds 3G and video capture support.

In portrait mode, the N900 is the spitting image of the Nokia N97 smartphone

Maemo 5 offers improved multitasking, and a much more fluid, touchscreen-oriented user interface than Maemo 4. It provides a live task switcher, as well as gesture-based UI, including swipes, double taps, and circular motions to zoom in and out. It is also said to supply "a new tag cloud user interface that will help users get the most out of the 5MP camera and Carl Zeiss optics." In addition, says Nokia, the "homescreen can be fully personalized with favorite shortcuts, widgets, and applications." (See video demo farther below.)

The N900 backs up its OMAP3430 with 1GB of memory, split between 256MB RAM and 768MB virtual memory, or six times the amount offered with the N810. Its 32GB of internal flash also dwarfs that of its predecessor, and users can expand to 48GB via a microSD slot.

The N900 features a Maemo 5 distribution with much improved, gesture-based UI

Measuring 4.4 x 2.4 inches, with a thickness of 0.8 inches tapering down to 0.7 inches, the device is a bit less than a half an inch smaller than the N810 in both dimensions, but slightly thicker. The touchscreen display is also smaller, shrinking from 4.1 inches to a smartphone-like 3.5 inches, while maintaining its 800 x 480 resolution. A full QWERTY keyboard is provided, as well as a touchscreen version.

One major new addition is the five megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics and Tessar lens. The camera offers 3 × digital zoom and autofocus, as well as a dual LED flash feature. Video capture using MPEG4 is said to be available at up to 25fps. Additional N900 hardware features include GPS, Bluetooth, and a Micro-USB connector.

Like the N810 (pictured at right), the N900 offers 802.11b/g WiFi, but the faster "n" mode is not offered, nor is there the WiMAX capability that was briefly provided for the N810 before it was discontinued due to lack of network support. Instead, Nokia has added 3G data support, with quad-band GSM EDGE (850/900/1800/1900MHz) and WCDMA (900/1700/2100MHz), supporting 10/2 HSPA connections.

Numerous calling features are offered for VoIP connections, and Nokia supplies its Nokia Messaging service, which supports IM, as well as up to 10 personal email accounts per device.

Specifications listed for the Nokia N900 include:

  • Processor — TI OMAP 3430 (ARM Cortex-A8 core @ 600MHz) with PowerVR SGX and OpenGL ES 2.0 support
  • Memory — Up to 1GB of application memory (256MB RAM; 768MB virtual memory)
  • Flash — 32GB internal storage
  • Flash expansion — Up to 16GB via microSD slot
  • Cellular data — Quad-band GSM EDGE (850/900/1800/1900MHz); WCDMA (900/1700/2100MHz); supports GPRS, EDGE, WCDMA, and 10/2 HSPA networks
  • WiFi — 802.11b/g
  • Bluetooth — Bluetooth v2.1 including support for stereo headsets
  • USB — Micro-USB connector, High-Speed USB 2.0
  • Camera — 5-megapixel with Carl Zeiss optics, Tessar lens, 3 × digital zoom, autofocus, dual LED flash
  • GPS — Integrated GPS, Assisted-GPS, and cell-based receivers; Ovi Maps app; automatic geotagging
  • Input — QWERTY keyboard and QWERTY onscreen touchscreen keyboard
  • Other hardware features:
    • 3.5mm AV connector
    • TV out (PAL/NTSC) with Nokia Video Connectivity Cable
    • Digital stereo microphone
    • Integrated FM transmitter
    • Stereo speakers
  • Web/email/messaging:
    • Mozilla browser with support for rich HTML
    • Adobe Flash 9.4
    • SMS, IM, Nokia Messaging service
    • Email attachments
  • Calling features:
    • Call waiting, hold, divert, timer, logging
    • Speed dialing
    • Vibrating alert
    • Volume, mute/unmute
    • Contacts with images
    • Conference calling with up to three participants
  • Multimedia:
    • 16:9 WVGA video playback
    • Supports MP4, .AVI, .WMV, .3GP formats
    • Supports H.264, MPEG-4, Xvid, WMV, H.263 codecs
    • Video recording with .MP4, using MPEG-4 codec, at up to 848 × 480 resolution, 25fps
    • Maemo media player for .WAV, .MP3, .AAC, .eAAC, .WMA, .M4A audio
    • Supports FR, EFR, WCDMA, and GSM AMR
    • DLNA compatibility
  • Other Maemo apps:
    • Conversations, Contacts
    • Photos
    • Calendar
    • Ovi Maps
    • Clock, Notes, Calculator
    • PDF reader, File manager, RSS reader
    • Sketch
    • Games (Bounce, Chess, Mahjong)
  • Battery — BL-5J 1320mAh
  • Dimensions - 4.4 x 2.4 x 0.7/0.8 inches (110.9 × 59.8 × 18.0/19.55mm)
  • Weight — 6.4 oz. (181 g)
  • Operating system - Maemo 5 Linux

Stated Anssi Vanjoki, EVP, Markets, Nokia, "The Nokia N900 shows where we are going with Maemo and we'll continue to work with the community to push the software forward. What we have with Maemo is something that is fusing the power of the computer, the internet and the mobile phone."

Nokia N900/Maemo demo
Source: Nokia Corporation
(click to play)


The Nokia N900 will be available in October for an estimated price of a hefty 500 Euros (about $713 US), excluding sales taxes and subsidies, says Nokia. The Nokia N900 will be displayed at Nokia World, Stuttgart, on September 2.

More information on the N900 may be found here. A blog on the device from Nokia may be found here.

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