Convergence between the ‘puter and the mobile ‘phone is coming.  My existing phone (E71) is a step along the way, and arguably skype on the laptop is approaching from the other direction.

Now Nokia have released the N900, and I’m thinking this looks interesting.  Have they bridged the gap to the point of being worth buying as a converged device, or is this still no more than an interesting device that nearly makes it?

On the plus side, it’s a Linux box, with builtin display but also the capability of plugging in to a monitor, keyboard and mouse when at a desk, all in a unit that’ll fit in a pocket, and can be used in a smaller space than a conventional laptop/netbook.  And with a SIM card it offers builtin connectivity.

As against that, it’s on the bulky side for a mobile ‘phone, and lacks the battery life of the E71 or a simpler device.  One wouldn’t want it to replace the phone.

And the crux of the matter: is Maemo really Linux as we know it, or am I going to find it a waste of time to attach that keyboard and monitor and try to use it as a porta-‘puter?

I guess a good proxy for that question is, does it run X11 natively / without fuss?  If it does, I think enough follows from that to make it a real ‘puter.  If not, what I want may still be vaporware.

Anyone using the device as I envisage?  Or tried but found it problematic?

Posted on December 14, 2009, in linux, maemo, telephony. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I bought one, and so far really love it.

    It definitely is a step closer to a converged device (a co-worker has an E71, so I can compare and contrast fairly well).

    It does run X, though I’m not sure how usefully.

    I have already found the ability to ssh to and from the device to be of huge usefulness (mostly from), but then I’m a network admin, so if you gave me a box that could just ssh and do nothing else, I’d probably be pretty close to happy.

    I’m not familiar with the mechanism to attach a monitor to the device, though I’ve supposed that keyboard, mouse, et al could be done through bluetooth.

    The device is, clearly, a Linux device in behavior…and a well-behaved one at that. Though I suspect its probably a bit underpowered for any serious attempt at using it as a replacement for a desktop or laptop, though it might be feasibly used in place of a netbook depending on the usage needs.

    In general, I think it lands nicely between a netbook and a typical smartphone like a blackberry, E71, iphone, etc.

    Feel free to ping me and I’ll do my best to answer any more specific questions you might have.

  2. It’s already trivially easy to use a laptop as a phone for outgoing calls – but no sane person would see it as a replacement for a phone. It’s huge, heavy, and has a battery life of about one-fiftieth of what you’d want in a phone.

    So we’re looking at convergence from the other direction. But when you try to make a phone more like a computer, you start to lose the qualities that make a phone so useful. You mention portability and battery life, but there’s also flexibility/ease of use – the ability to make and receive calls, and SMSs, at any time, in the rain, one-handed, and if necessary without looking down. If it can do all that, then I’ll start to respect it as a phone.

  3. I got my N900 this morning (yay!), and as a Linux box it’s pretty friendly. From the home screen with no applications running it’s 3 clicks to get an Xterm in the default setup (Applications > More…. > X Terminal). It runs a /real/ X11 server (xorg), you can easily install openssh, and I have ssh’d from my phone into my desktop and run xeyes, and had the application appear on my phone as expected with the eyes following my finger[1].

    There is a way to easily get root on your phone, and it’s “application manager…” uses apt (and if you poke it the UI enough it’ll even give you the apt logs).

    The wiki describes how to tinker with new kernels, which I’ve not yet had a chance to look at.

    The default shell is busybox’s ash, which is simplistic, but as far as I can see theres no reason not to install bash yourself.

    It has vi installed (i presume the busybox version), and has the option to install vim. I haven’t checked if emacs is available.

    I’ve only just got the phone, so I haven’t had too much time to experiment, but I’m off to see if I can get the dialer app to X forward from the phone to my 30″ Dell monitor at 2560×1600

    [1]: Xeyes used shaped windows which seemed to confuse their compositing window manager, nothing serious, just that the background behind the eyes was whatever was there when I started the app and didn’t change.

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