Living with Maemo

OK, I’ve had the new pocket-puter a couple of weeks now, and apart from that keyboard I like it.  As predicted, I’ve come to terms with the touchscreen and find it easy to use (except for some web controls which can be hard to pick up: e.g. the volume control on the BBC iplayer).

Overall, I prefer the hardware on the old E71, with the obvious exceptions of the screen and camera where the N900 excels.  But the Maemo software is incomparably better.  Just to take one example, I want to connect to the ‘net using a wifi network where available but otherwise defaulting to the telephone network.  While Symbian requires a deal of faffing to do that, Maemo “just works”.

When I was contemplating the purchase, I asked on this blog what Maemo really is, and was assured that it’s a real Linux.  I can confirm that it is indeed that, and that I can install Linux packages through the Debian tools (apt-get et al).  I have yet to install gcc and a developer environment, but I don’t anticipate any difficulty with it.

Maemo is not stripped down to a toy: rather it takes a Debian base, and adds an alternative GUI, which is optimised for the small screen.  It’s intuitive and easy to use, and makes brilliant use of available screen space and the touchscreen.  Interactive applications toggle easily between fullscreen, fullscreen-with-toolbar, and thumbnail (minimised) with a consistent look-and-feel.  The web browser is a small-screen skin on gecko (firefox), and is not bad.  The mailer is positively nice, or will be when I figure out how to fix composition to get rid of pseudo-HTML: much better than some mainstream mailers I use, including thunderbird and to a lesser extent Mac mail.

One thing has me baffled: how do I bootstrap a password either for root or sudo?  After googling for a solution, I worked around it by installing a rootshell which gets me passwordless root powers (!), but that’s not the kind of hack to which I expect to have to resort.  /me shudders.

I’ve looked at Nokia’s OVI store, but I don’t see so much point to most of it when I have the whole repertoire of *X apps at my fingertips.  OK, having said that, I’m sure I’ll install some things: the radio player, for instance.  I installed a weather widget, but I don’t even recollect if that was from OVI or pre-loaded, and it’s only really a toy.  The only serious app I installed was the root shell, which seems to be a prerequisite for using apt!

One more slight niggle: on the E71, Nokia’s maps are nice, but Google’s are nicer.  On the N900 there’s no google maps: I can get them on the ‘net, but that loses the GPS functionality.  So it’s Nokia or nothing with the GPS.

But in a sense, all this is mere detail.  What I now have is connectivity from anywhere I can get the ‘phone network.  So I needn’t lose email, ssh, etc (and be fretting to get home) when I spend a day or two somewhere with no wifi available, whether it be in a technophobe house or up on the moors.  Yay!

Posted on January 24, 2010, in linux, maemo, nokia. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Theres a google maps optimised for n900, at http://google.com/maps/m and if you’ve installed the html 5 location provider plugin from apt (it might only be in extras), then you get GPS and a N900 optimised google maps.

  2. Thanks for the pointer. Should’ve looked before making a fool of myself!

    I missed my much bigger niggle: battery life. Why does this flagship device with all the demands of a big screen/etc have a *smaller* battery than the exemplary E71?

  3. Thanks for the views Niq following the comment you left on my blog http://techastro.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/bye-bye-n900-it-was-nice-not-ever-knowing-you/

    The battery life is a concern on the N900, I find the E71’s is fantastic. On the other hand the larger screen on the N900 would be great to have, scrolling around on the E71’s 320×240 screen can be a pain even using the brilliant Opera 5 Mini, Opera 10 and Skyfire browsers (yes, I have three installed, besides Web!)

    You’re absolutely right that the E71 and N900 are different beasts and this lends towards a two-box solution. I’ve always preferred this, though I’ve found myself simply using the one phone – my usage is changing and ‘evolving’.

    Personally, I think the clincher for me is cost – I got a free upgrade with my mobile provider on the E71, hopefully can get the same with the E72. I’m not expecting O2 to supply the N900 anytime soon – so the only way forwrad is to buy it outright, which is personally prohibitive for me.

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