My N900 Continues to Amuse and Amaze (Me)

Apolo­gies in advance if this post ram­bles some­what; the sub­ject mat­ter is also some­what vague.  My phone, the n900 from Nokia is hard to pigeon hole.  The oper­at­ing sys­tem (Mae­mo) is shared by Nokia’s oth­er tablet com­put­ers.  The fact that it has a phone (or more specif­i­cal­ly a cell phone) is not shared with the oth­er tablets.

Is the device a tablet or a phone?  Should tablets always have phones? Relat­ed ques­tions, I sup­pose.  Most of the new gen­er­at­ed of tablets are larg­er than the n900 and also lack the phone func­tion­al­i­ty (although some very new ones have it and some old­er ones may grow the func­tion­al­i­ty short­ly).  So the answer to both ques­tions may be, “yes.”  In fact, if it weren’t for the anti-com­pet­i­tive and expen­sive cell phone net­works we live with, lap­tops and oth­er portable devices might be unthink­able with­out phones embed­ded.

Before we get too far into the weeds, let’s return to our stat­ed pur­pose: things that amuse and amaze.  The first thing on my list is pow­er.  It’s not just that the n900 is sub­stan­tial­ly more pow­er­ful than Nokia’s old­er tablets (I hon­est­ly don’t know how it stacks up to oth­er tablet entries), and it’s not just that OpenOf­fice (the full real deal) runs well on the n900; I noticed that the n900 was fast when I noticed that a 25 megabit trans­fer (pret­ty much full speed on 802.11g wifi) over ssh was only con­sum­ing 40% of the device’s CPU.  As a bench­mark, speed of trans­fer and CPU use for trans­fer of ssh is a good one (at least until proces­sors out­strip the speed of disk and net­work by a tremen­dous mar­gin like the i7).  Ssh trans­fer, as a test, com­pris­es proces­sor speed, mem­o­ry speed and I/O speed in one sim­ple and often used test — one that is rel­e­vant because some­one who uses ssh to trans­fer files will be famil­iar with the per­for­mance of each of their com­put­ers (oth­er bench­marks can be less mean­ing­ful as you don’t always remem­ber off­hand how many dhry­s­tone your last sys­tem did).

The n900, like oth­er mod­ern devices, sup­ports blue­tooth and with blue­tooth, file trans­fer.  That is not sur­pris­ing.  I was sur­prised, how­ev­er, to find that the n900 was hap­py to both NFS and SMB mount disks from my home net­work.  That is an amaz­ing­ly cool fea­ture.  I sup­pose not too amaz­ing con­sid­er­ing the n900 is based on lin­ux — but this fea­ture could have eas­i­ly tak­en more work to enable than it did.  I have been able to play movies and audio files over the net­work — which makes the 900 a handy home gad­get.  I haven’t yet tried the com­pos­ite video cable, but that’s a log­i­cal next step for a wire­less media device.  Maybe the next offer­ing from Nokia (or Nokia/Intel) can have an HDMI port?

Anoth­er thing the n900 doesn’t have in com­mon with inter­net tablets of late is spend­ing lots of mon­ey.  There has been some talk that man­aged app stores are going to be the next death of the inter­net as we know it — and I tend to agree to a point, but I also have to won­der if peo­ple aren’t start­ing to tire of refill­ing their account that they drain with so many 99 cent pur­chas­es for so many apps.  Maybe it will take awhile longer.  Maybe peo­ple have yet to fig­ure out just how worth­less many of these pur­chas­es have been.  There is even some fear among tra­di­tion­al mac­in­tosh devel­op­ers right now as the app store is added to the mac desk­top — fear that soft­ware prices will fall rapid­ly.  My first thought is that some small util­i­ty soft­ware has been tra­di­tion­al­ly over­priced for some time — but that larg­er appli­ca­tion pack­ages offer func­tion­al­i­ty that is just not dupli­cat­ed in any­one app store.

Regard­less, the n900 has a com­mu­ni­ty of devel­op­ers (many of which have fol­lowed Nokia’s oth­er tablets) that is quite lit­er­al­ly burst­ing at the seams.  In the week that I’ve had the device, I haven’t once come across some­thing I desired that would be sat­is­fied by pay­ing that wasn’t already sat­is­fied by free soft­ware avail­able, pack­aged and indexed by the device.  Maybe some of the soft­ware I have isn’t quite as sim­ple as oth­er iSoft­ware — I don’t know.  I don’t use iSoft­ware.

As an aside, I’ve often thought that  an advan­tage to being tech­ni­cal is devel­op­ing.  While ordi­nary peo­ple (in IRC today, I used the word ‘plebs’ … which is deroga­to­ry, but appro­pri­ate) pay and pay repeat­ed­ly for all kinds of soft­ware, hard­ware, sup­port and oth­er things for their tech­ni­cal sys­tems, the savvy and fru­gal geek can spend less (using free soft­ware) or get more (by mak­ing more informed choic­es) on their tech­nol­o­gy.  This is the first, save the dubi­ous Revenge of the Nerds sex appeal, advan­tage that geeks have accu­mu­lat­ed.  Inci­den­tal­ly (an aside to my aside — but I don’t have the abil­i­ty to make mar­gin­al notes in Word­Press) I was going to link IMDB there, but the dis­cus­sion of the sig­nif­i­cance of that film is so much bet­ter at Wikipedia, that I linked its arti­cle there.

There have been a host of things that have also amused me, but I’m told that they’re fair­ly nor­mal for rea­son­ably smart phones — the abil­i­ty to detect the tilt of the phone or the abil­i­ty to detect when it is shak­en… etc.  The n900 does those, but it also has nmap and tcp­dump.  I even man­aged to fur­ther diag­nose a prob­lem I was hav­ing by using tcp­dump on the phone.  This is def­i­nite­ly a geek phone.

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2 Responses to My N900 Continues to Amuse and Amaze (Me)

  1. DaD says:

    Quot­ing you: “In fact, if it weren’t for the anti-com­pet­i­tive and expen­sive cell phone net­works we live with, lap­tops and oth­er portable devices might be unthink­able with­out phones embed­ded.”

    Per­haps from your descrip­tion of this machine, it’s some­what of a way to get *around* the expen­sive cell net­works by being a phone over wi-fi …

    • dgilbert says:

      Cer­tain­ly Nokia is on that par­tic­u­lar path. Most mod­er­ate­ly smart Nokia phones include WiFi and VoIP func­tion­al­i­ty. I think Noi­ka gets away with this for two rea­sons:

      1) Nokia is seri­ous­ly large and I think that alone has earned it some inde­pen­dence.

      2) While WiFi and VoIP eat some­what into car­ri­er prof­its, the real­ly scary thing is peo­ple real­iz­ing that they don’t need phone num­bers. Once you don’t need a phone num­ber, the net­work is sim­ply an com­mod­i­ty. That is scary!

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