Analyst: Nokia's N900 Smartphone Half-Baked
Nokia's high-end smartphone-tablet device, the N900, packs a lot of power and boasts a complete feature set, but one industry analyst is predicting it will fail in the market due to design, navigation and carrier issues.
The Finnish mobile giant in September unveiled the N900, running on the open source platform Maemo 5, and it is now available directly from Nokia's online store for $569 or on Amazon for $499 after a rebate.
While there's no question that the N900 is a powerful device - basically providing the functionality of a desktop Linux PC in a tiny package - several drawbacks are likely to hinder mass adoption, according to Avi Greengart, analyst at Current Analysis.
The quad-band GSM phone supports T-Mobile's network, though the carrier is not selling - or subsidizing -- the device, which is huge setback for the N900, given that most high-end handsets are being offered under such plans for $250 and under.
Lack of a carrier subsidy, however, is just one factor contributing to the gloomy outlook for the N900, according to Greengart, who told clients in a research note titled "Nokia N900: Lots of Power, But Not Fully Baked Yet" that the device feels "like an unfinished science project."
He cites user-interface issues as the main culprit. "We have been using a production version of the N900, it is clear that it is not ready for mainstream consumers...Maemo 5 is confusing and inconsistent, and the N900 lacks hard buttons that might help," said Greengart.
For example, he said touching the top left corner on the device is usually the 'go back' area, but with exceptions that are hard to decipher. For instance, when you are in a Web browser and a link is occupying the top left, there is no way to get back at all without first minimizing the view.
The N900 is not intuitive, he said, citing the lack of buttons for launching menus, going back, or returning to the home screen. "There is not even a single 'home' page to return to; you return to the last of the four home pages you were on when you navigated away. With no SEND or END keys, and no permanent spot on the screen for soft keys, it can be awfully hard just to find the dialer," said Greengart.
He also takes issue with the hardware itself, calling out the resistive touchscreen as a "major source of frustration -- button presses do not always register, and a stylus is needed more often than it should be."
Despite the problems referenced by Greengart, the N900 does offer some impressive functionality. The Maemo OS can handle multiple live apps minimized to little cards, similar to Palm's webOS, includes support for full use of Adobe Flash 9 and excels in Web browsing, with page rendering and scripts equivalent to a desktop browser, he said.
There's also good news for developers. They'll be able to hook their applications or Web sites into the existing core set of applications on the N900 due to Maemo's plug-in architecture. Additionally, Nokia is providing for cross-platform development with upcoming versions of its Qtools, meaning an app can be written once and then deployed across most of Nokia's portfolio.
The N900, powered by an ARM Cortex-A8 600 MHz processor, also boasts Wi-Fi, a 3.5-inch touchscreen with 800-by-480 resolution, a keyboard and has 32 GB of internal storage with the capacity for up to 1GB for application memory.
Given Greengart's negative stance on the N900, it would appear the device is doomed, but Nokia does have plans to improve the interface of Maemo.
Earlier this month, Nokia said it will remain committed to its Symbian OS, used on most of its mobile phones, while continuing to make high-end smartphones running Maemo 5 -- and that both platforms are getting a major user-interface upgrade in 2010.
The release of the N900 comes at a time when Nokia is undergoing a transformation as it retools itself as a comprehensive mobile service provider as opposed to handset manufacturer.
Though Nokia still dominates in terms of mobile phone sales worldwide, rivals Apple and Research In Motion are closing the gap in terms of marketshare.
Recently, the Finnish mobile giant has scooped up several complementary tech boutiques specializing in geo-targeting and mapping to augment its services. It also updated its developer tools for its Ovi app store.
In an effort to diversify its portfolio and get a foothold in the U.S. market, Nokia also just issued the Booklet 3G, being sold for $299 with a data plan from carrier partner AT&T.