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.