Category Archives: nokia

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!


This is a first post from the Nokia N900, using not my own wifi but O2’s mobile 3G (or whatever it’s called these days) network.

I have to say, I’m a bit disappointed.  I’m sure I’ll get used to the touchscreen, but altogether less inspired by this keyboard.  Having lived a year with the beautifully-engineered E71 and the world’s smallest (but nevertheless easy and pleasurable to use) QWERTY keyboard, I had some faith in Nokia’s designers.  It was evidently misplaced: this keyboard is poorly-designed and will always be a pain to use. Next up: try it with a full-size USB or bluetooth keyboard, but that doesn’t help when out in the hills, or on the bus.

I still expect to find uses for it.  It’s already better for Web than the E71 (bigger screen), and being Linux means I can presumably install things like decent mail and IRC apps.

[update] fix the typos that were inevitable on the N900 (but which magically don’t happen on the E71).

Mobile Maps

I’ve been using Nokia’s maps and GPS on my ‘phone for some time.  It works well on the road, but has basically no information other than roads (and while the roads data are good, other data such as rivers and railways are often inaccurate).  An annoying artifact of the software assumes you’re on a road, and tends to “correct” the computed fix if you’re not.  This leads to an illusion of greater accuracy, but ensures poorer reliability[1].

Recently I tried Google’s maps app.  It’s very pretty, and contains rather more information than Nokia’s, though it’s also much slower e.g. to zoom/pan.  From home it could see two GPS satellites, and computed a poor fix, nearly 200m away from me (I presume it combined the two GPS satellites with non-GPS info – maybe it knows individual mobile phone masts or something).  Surprisingly, the fix was consistent: it gave me the same incorrect position the next day.  But since that was from indoors, I gave it the benefit of the doubt: surely it’ll do better in the open.

Then I tried it while out walking.  No use: it insists on a data connection (does it need to ‘phone home)?  Unlike Nokia’s map, which asks for a connection on startup but works fine without one if I hit “cancel”, google’s refuses to proceed without it.  Bah, Humbug.

This morning I tried another variant: I fired up google maps at home, then kept it running as I went out.  No use: a short way down the road, it lost my WIFI and insisted on a new connection.

So, back to Nokia maps.

[1] A subject I do know about, both in theory (as a mathematician) and in practice (as someone who has done quite a lot of work in the field).