Saturday, April 3, 2010

Android vs Maemo - Hands on Review

There is no doubt that Linux will be the dominant player in the mobile market by the end of 2010. This is namely thanks to Google's Android OS, which has been appearing on more handsets than I can count the past few months. Android however is not the only mobile Linux operating system (however it is easily the most popular) that exists. I have done more than a few posts about my Nokia N900, which is another mobile device that runs a variation of Linux known as Maemo.

I recently came into possession of an Android powered device of my own and as I such I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. For the last week I have retired my N900 to the back seat and had my SIM card inserted in my Android powered Kaiser just to see how Google's mobile operating system handles itself in comparison to Maemo. I am going to compare and contrast the two on the following key points:
  1. Hardware Selection - What of hardware do you have for running the operating system on?
  2. Computing - Does the OS function as you would expect a computer in 2010 to?
  3. Phone - Both operating systems dial out, but which functions as a phone more efficiently?
  4. Applications - Apps, apps, apps! How is the application selection on the OS?
  5. Internet Usage - Our mobile devices are our connection to the WWW, which OS shines when surfing the web?

Hardware Selection -

There is no argument about this one, one of the most powerful things about Android is it's ability to run on multitude of hand-helds (even hand-helds it wasn't initially intended for!). Big and small. Capacitive screen and resistive screen. Slide out keyboard, stationary keyboard, flipping keyboard, - heck even no keyboard at all! There is an Android device out there to suit just about everyone's needs.

Hardware Selection 10/10 - Android Total 10/10

Maemo on the other hand currently only resides on the N900. While the N900 is powerful, unique, and well made hardware there is not much choice in the matter if you would like a Maemo based hand-held. The N900 is it.

Hardware Selection 6/10 - Maemo Total 6/10

Computing -

Our hand-helds are getting more and more powerful. With each new release they become closer and close to being full blown computers - as such they require full blown operating systems. Since Android runs on a wide array of devices I do not think it would be fair to compare performance between the two operating systems (as your mileage will vary with your hardware), instead I am going to focus on the aspects of the GUI and how the operating system handles itself.

In general Android looks and feels like a (smart) phone. Which isn't bad depending on what you are looking for. Personally I find multitasking on Android counter intuitive when compared to multitasking on a full size computer. I say this because when you press your "home" button to get back to your Android desktop the application you had open has to be reopened from it's launcher icon or by a long press of the home key - not from a task bar/list of open applications like most operating systems have.

Android provides four desktop spaces on which you can place widgets/application launchers to your hearts content. Which is a good thing if you have a lot of applications on your Android device - because once you start to get a whole lot installed they all get lumped together in your application selector making it hard to navigate for the one you want. My only complaint about Android's work spaces is that you cannot loop from the desktop on the rightmost to the desktop on the leftmost, really a small thing but worth mentioning.

Speaking of widgets - I highly suggest you find one for toggling your device's wifi on and off. If you do not have one of these you have to dig through three layers of settings menus to toggle it. Want to connect to a new access point? Three layers of menus again. I think something used as often as a wifi connection should be more readily available for usage. Toggling your data connection on Android is just as annoying and you cannot even disable your data fully with a single switch. When you uncheck the "data connection" in the settings manager you are informed of the fact that some applications might still use background data - meaning to fully disable your 2g/3g to save battery you need to crawl through each of your individual applications that might use background data and be sure they are off - inconvenient to say the least (I am sure there is an application out there to fully toggle it off it with one button - but it is not included by default as it should be).

The last few things about Android that really keep it from having that full computer feeling is that you have to "root" your device in order to have full control/access to the system. Secondly of all the Android devices you can choose from - none of them have even a full gigabyte of internal storage. They all rely on MicroSD cards for storing media/files upon. Lastly, I have yet to find a terminal application I like. Namely because - and this may just be the key mappings on my device - but I cannot recall past terminal command with the up/down arrows or move back over to make an edit to a line with the left/right arrows.

Computing 7/10 - Android Total 8.5/10

Using Maemo on the other hand feels like you are holding a full computer in your hand. It is easy to keep track of multiple applications you have open on Maemo because you can tap a single button to view/switch between all open applications at any given time. Similar to Android, Maemo also has four work spaces on which you can place widgets, application launchers, and contacts for quick access. Like a full Linux distro however Maemo's desktops allow you to flow one into the next, continuously in a loop. Maemo also allows you to easily edit the number of workspaces available to you in case four is too many for your needs.

Maemo also handles connecting to wif and data just like a desktop operating system would. Select from your system tray "Internet Connection" and it scans for nearby wifi networks and whether or not a data connection is available. It readily gives the user full control over whether or not a connection is active - something I appreciate.

While Maemo is not perfect it is easily the closest experience you will have to a full blown operating system on a hand-held device.

Computing 9/10 - Maemo Total 7.5/10

Phone -

No matter how much these devices do and what software we cram into them - they are at their core still suppose to be "phones".

The Android platform makes a great phone. It automatically syncs with all of your Google services to suck down your contacts, calender, and email from your gmail account first thing. While this is nice - one annoying thing you will have to deal with right off the bat is organizing your gmail contacts. If you are anything like myself most of them where un-named and just emails (no phone numbers) before you got your Android device. While it takes some time to enter all your information, it is not quite as painful as other phones because you can enter all the information on your computer and then in moments it will sync to your Android device.

The default text messaging application in Android is functional, but leaves some to be desired. Thankfully there is a free application in the marketplace called "Handcent" that provides a wonderful SMS experience on Android. It has both a sleek GUI and a "quick reply" feature that make it a wonderful application. Android makes for a great phone, but there is definitely room for improvement.

Phone 8/10 - Android Total 8.3/10

The first thing you will notice about Maemo is that other than the dialler application none of the other "phone" feature applications have a portrait mode. Personally, I prefer this - but it may be a deal breaker for some. In contrast to Android, Maemo's default SMS program works well and looks great. Incoming SMSs are displayed as a short preview over what ever application you currently have open (without interrupting your work), a handy feature when you are in the middle of something. Notably lacking by default on Maemo however is MMS functionality. There is a community written application called "fMMS" that allows for the sending and receiving of pictures that works perfectly fine, it does not support media clips currently though.

One feature that truly sets Maemo apart from Android, and every other mobile phone out there currently, is that if you have a Skype account - it will fully integrate with your contacts. Meaning if you have an active internet connection when you want to call someone, you can choose to call them from your Skype account - meaning it does not use your mobile minutes. Also fully integrated in the well designed SMS client is the ability to interface with Skype IM, AIM, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, ect. While Android has separate clients for these chat protocols I like that Maemo has them all in one central location linked in with SMS.

Phone 8/10 - Maemo Total 7.7/10

Applications -

The applications make the device - with out good software an operating system is fairly useless.

Android has a large application market, currently over 30k apps, that is easily accessible from the "market place" link on your device. There are a good number of free applications on the market place, however many of them are ad-supported. If that doesn't bother you, great! But personally I dislike ads taking up my screen space. Most all of the ad-supported applications however have an identical ad-free version for purchase. If you really like a certain application then just pay the few dollars to enjoy it with out the ads.

There are a lot good applications for Android - however I would really like to see some more quality truly free applications for it.

Applications 8/10 - Android Total 8.2/10

Maemo takes an interesting approach to applications. Accessible via the webrowser is the "ovi store", an online source for free and paid applications make by developers. The Ovi Store offers easy one click install through the browser and has some good applications both for purchase and free (and none that I have found are ad-supported as of yet). The only problem with the Ovi store is that it currently only has maybe one hundred applications in it, slim picking compared to the Android market place.

The interesting part about Maemo - is that just like Ubuntu or other Linux distros it also has an "application manager" (powered by apt-get). Which as part of it's managing abilities also contains repositories you can download free software from. Most of the applications found here are ports of open source favourites such as Abiword and Super-Tux, however some of them are new applications designed just for Maemo. The default repositories are sponsored/paid for by Nokia (the backing company for Maemo) and they are maintained by the community.

Once Maemo has a year or two to fully mature to allow application market to expand it will be truly superb - but for now it can leave some to be desired at times.

Applications 7/10 - Maemo Total 7.5/10

Internet Usage -

Our hand-helds are most often times our main connection to the world wide web. As such having a good internet experience on a mobile operating system is a must if it is going to make it.

Android provides an average web surfing experience. The default browser is functional, but nothing spectacular. It renders all pages by default in their "mobile" version if it is offered and for most people it is more than enough. If you need something a little more powerful Opera's Mobile browser is available in the market place - it renders pages quickly and I have yet to find a website it does not display properly. I find the GUI on Opera to be slightly cluttered however, so if the page loads in the default Android browser I tend to use it instead.

Where Android really shines on the web however is it's Google Maps integration. Easily one of the best mapping systems on a hand-held device. If your hardware has a GPS it will be quickly detected and used to pin-point your current location. From there you can map your way with ease to your destination.

Internet Usage 8/10 - Android Total 8.2/10

I'm going to go out on a limb here and just say it: Maemo provides the best mobile browsing experience that currently exists. It's default webrowser is quick and renders pages properly (including support for flash 9.4). Don't care for the default browser for some reason? Maybe want something more robust or feature rich? Not a problem. Mozilla choose Maemo as the first platform to release their Firefox Mobile on. While it takes a bit longer to load than the default browser, once Firefox is running it works beautifully. It has full tab support, addons, and a download manager just like Firefox on the desktop.

Mapping on Maemo is not quite as flawless as using Google maps on Android, but it is functional. The default "maps" application made by Ovi works well with the GPS in the N900 and the routing feature provides a good number of options depending on what type of trip you are taking. If you do not care for the default mapping application, Google maps does run fairly well in Maemo's browser. It is not quite as fast as the maps application running on Android however.

I feel Maemo is currently unrivalled as a mobile internet operating system and if it had a slightly better mapping program I would give it a 10 out of 10.

Internet Usage 9/10 - Maemo Total 7.8/10

Final Scores - Android 8.2 & Maemo 7.8

Follow Up -

No operating system is perfect, Maemo and Android included. Which of the two operating systems is right for you? How should I know? Each has it advantages and disadvantages. From the final scores here you may be inclined to believe that I believe Android is the better of the two - this however is not the case. If you review all of the scores the one thing that really brought down Maemo was that it only is available on a single device currently. Meaning if you are like myself and like the N900 hardware Maemo comes on, well then that first score is pointless for you. It is hard to say where either of these operating systems will be a year from now with the rate technology advances (and who knows what is going to happen to Maemo with MeeGo lurking around the bend).

Did I miss any key points about the two operating systems? What is the reason you are swayed from Maemo to Android or vice versa?

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. Long press home button and get a task bar with all open applications for multitasking in Android. Not sure if this is an Android id HTC feature.

  2. I hope to God Meego don't take over from Maemo. Going from a deb based system to RPM based is a terrible idea.

  3. Ahh long home press works like a charm - not nearly as pretty as Maemo multi-tasking but good non-the-less. Just not very intuitive IMO, I will update the post to reflect as such.

  4. The home key doesn't actually show the active applications, it shows the most recently used.

    The android system decides when to pause/resume applications in order to keep memory available for currently used ones.

  5. I have a row of hotbuttons on my Google Android phone, with easy turn-on access for wifi, bluetooth, gps, backlight, and sync. It's at the top of the page on screen 1.
    isn't that built in?

    But it's pretty easy to move common tasks to the various home screens (like wifi settings) which is how i've dealt with the menu layering.

    Otherwise, i really like my 'droid. Much better than the iPhone.

  6. I have had my n900 about 3 weeks, and I love it's power and it's hardware. I've not had a smartphone before, so I won't compare and contrast. I'll just say that I've been quite disappointed with the quality of the software that comes on the phone.

    My #1 complaint is it's problems syncing with my Google Calendar and Google Contacts. This seems like a critical feature, and something I would have worked on as a developer before I worried about Skype integration. I've eventually had to just disable this as I was losing information, especially in contacts, and the two were still not syncing correctly.

    My second complaint is the general bugginess. Applications, including built in ones, sometimes fail to launch, and there is often a very long lag before the web browser opens when launching some function that uses it. I've also managed several times to get into a state where everything still works except icons and widgets on the desktop. I have to resort to menus to launch apps until I reboot the phone.

    My third complaint is with the Nokia software for my PC. Both the Calendar and the Contacts applications fail to match the functionality of the on-phone equivalents. How do I access my tasks on the PC? Why are the fields not the same in the Contacts application? This phone fails to be a good PDA since it's PC software is bad and it doesn't work well with the Google equivalents.

    I've also discovered that the front camera is of so low quality it's basically unusable; I've heard a firmware update will fix this?

    Overall, I hope that MeeGo will solve my problems. They all seem to be software issues, and it seems nearly all of Maemo will be replaced with the Moblin innards and new Qt4 GUI.

    Like a commenter above, I prefer the Debian-based system theoretically, but I've not had the time to take advantage of the power that gives me. I'm far more interested in the functionality I am using than the functionality I may use in the future.

  7. I've used Better Terminal Pro on my G1 and now on my Nexus One. Scroll ball up and down steps backwards and forwards through command history. It's possible that doesn't work on a phone that didn't come with Android but it works on the two Android phones I've used.

  8. > My second complaint is the general bugginess. Applications, including built in ones, sometimes fail to launch

    Do you have a lot of 3rd party software (especially statusbar or home applets) installed? 3rd party SW can do anything it likes in the N900 (they aren't restricted in any way, this is by design) and can cause also pre-installed SW not to work properly e.g. by taking too much resources (see

    I think the community QA for the packages in the Maemo Extras community repository could be better in regards to how they affect the device long term stability (battery and resource usage).

  9. I'm sorry...but I would never buy a phone with a resistive screen. While it's a good resistive's still not going to be as responsive as a glass capacitive screen.

    The N900 also has no multitouch and never really will have full multitouch. That is an issue as often multitouch is much better than simply tapping +/- buttons.

    In terms of Games, Android has a huge advantage as well. More and more 3D games and full console emulators on the market.

    Also, Android is getting Firefox very soon. While Android still needs full flash support, it is getting it too. This is perhaps the only thing I can see Maemo doing better...but only in the short term and hamstringed without pinch and zoom.

    The inability to run programs in portrait mode is an instant dealbreaker for me. I use my phone one handed all the time. Having to always use two hands is very limiting!

    The current state of Maemo's apps should be much less than a 7. Maybe a 4. 100 apps? lol...that is nothing. Yes we'll see in a year or two's time...but the N900 is not new and Maemo has been out for 5 years since 2005. That is a long long time. Android on the other hand came out in October of 2008 and already has 30,000 apps and is exploding at an accelerating rate.

    The issue of toggling your wifi or data is minor. If you really care and don't want a widget, just get a different desktop. There are a good half dozen decent launchers on the market and some pretty cool and creative ones at that.

    Your justification for why Maemo gets 2 points higher than Android for computing is very weak. A better app switcher and toggles? Those add to the experience but do not actually let you do anything more.

    Yes you need to root your device to access somethings...but do you really want the average joe and his apps to have su permission everywhere? It would be too easy for an app to be malicious if all phones were had su permission. Android denies almost no apps from the market, this is vital for security.

    What about Google Voice integration? It's visual voicemail and texts that you can also check on your computer. Didn't mention that at all.

    What about Google Maps Navigation? It completely replaced my TomTom...for free.

    What about cloud syncing? I see a post above where someone is talking about crappy Nokia Software. Guess not much has changed since my N75. An Android phone doesn't need to be connected to a computer to sync anything. The only time I do is if I'm putting media on or hacking my phone.

    There's really only one thing Maemo has that I want...Skype support. But with Verizon and Skype's deal...that is not far away.

    I do not see how Maemo can ever become in the top 3 Smartphone OS. I forsee Android #1, iPhone #2 and Windows Phone 7 Series as #3 in a couple years time. Blackberry will be #4 and then Maemo #5. Somewhere Palm will be waiting to die at #6.

    I haven't even seen an N900 in the wild and I go to a University with 50k people and spend most of my time in the Engineering/Computer Science department...

  10. You forgot to check one point: Openness!

    I got the Motorola Milestone (Droid GSM) and it has the kernel partition signed :-S

    So I can not change the kernel. For me Maemo is running in a more open HW.

  11. Very detailed comparison, well done!

    Perhaps some plus points can be added to N900 if you include the offline Map feature of N900 into the comparison. You do not need to spend a single cent while viewing Ovi Maps offline on N900. :)

  12. @Deathwish238

    It is true the N900 does not currently have multitouch. That is however software so it could be added (I personally have no use for multitouch and like the option of writing with stylus)

    Maemo has emulators of every major game type (GBA, SNSE, etc.). Native games will come with time.

    Your logic of Maemo having been out for several years and Maemo 5 not having a multitude of applications right away because of this clearly shows you do not understand how normal Linux distributions work. Just like Ubuntu/Fedora/Debian Maemo needs new packages created for each release and since doing this is largely a community effort it takes time.

    I'll have to look through the market place for some these toggles you talk of. IMO a control functionality like this should be readily available from the start, not something I have to go hunt down.

    The multitasking on Maemo is much smooth than Android (even with pressing and holding home to see recently used applications). Again a point of control within the operating system – I want control over which applications are loaded, not having it close things automatically to make things run a small bit quicker. Some may like this, but for me it is a turn off.

    Sorry about missing Google voice – I do not use this service and perhaps I should look into it. As for Google maps, I mentioned this and it is fantastic under Android.

    Thanks for reading.

  13. ??? not sure what you mean
    "..but I would never buy a phone with a resistive screen. While it's a good resistive's still not going to be as responsive as a glass capacitive screen."

    Best to understand that a capacitive screen is LESS accurate than a resistive screen - that is why is is so hard to type on an iphone. For my self - no keyboard or workable graffiti and I'm not buying..

  14. I really love my N900!

  15. It's odd your choice of Hardware Selection. With Andriod a 10 and nokia a 6, it's completely skewed the final averages. Do the math. With a low score representing 20% of the total, it's game over. That's really a weird way to compare. If you are going to use points, at least add them up.

  16. @Last Anonymous

    Did you read the full article? I addressed this point.

  17. It's interesting that your review of the phone/messaging functionality on Maemo seems much more positive than Android, but you give them both the same score. Is this on purpose?

  18. That was not intentional. As stated in the review both platforms are lacking in messaging with only the default software (no MMS in maemo and poor sms in android). Both are fixed by adding a package though.

  19. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  20. To me another deal breaker is the file system supported on the phone itself and on the external card. A FAT will not cut! I had very bad experience with FAT fs on my Palm T3 and N-Gage QD losing data after a year of usage. I would really appreciate a mobile unit independent of PC sync and can live on its own. Checking over the web, I discovered SD cards on Android has to be FAT formatted, at least in the 1st partition of the card. And so far I have not found any solution to override that. Correct me if I am wrong.

  21. I love my N900. It's absolutely fabulous!

  22. N900 is the best..maemo OS is much better than android OS.

  23. Unfortunately Nokia will not release Meego on N900, bad news for all the N900 owners!

  24. Who cares what nokia is releasing and not releasing for the N900? There is a mostly functional (already, will be fully functional within a couple months) MeeGo port for the N900.

  25. Multitouch cannot be added to the N900, it's resistive. I also fail to understand how Maemo and Android earned the same score in Phone and Messaging. SMS, Skype, IM are all better and integrated in the N900, yet they get the same score. This whole review does seem a bit unfair.

  26. It's November, got to add something here though this article is months old. I have N900 and Samsung Galaxy phones and I can definitely say N900-Maemo is far user friendly and than android. Android still needs to be improved. You got to use both to know the difference.

  27. Speaking of widgets - I highly suggest you find one for toggling your device's wifi on and off. If you do not have one of these you have to dig through three layers of settings menus to toggle it.

    In fact, Android does comes with such widget: "Long press on your Home > Widget > Power Control" and you can easily change your Wifi, Bluetooth, GPS, Sync, and Screen Brightness. A more comprehensive version exists in the market.

    Want to connect to a new access point?

    Whenever there is an open wifi around, Android will show you a notification on the Notification Bar, which you can click to connect. I agree though, that connecting to password/encrypted network is a bit of hassle, but that's one-time only as you can easily tell Android to remember the access point and automatically connect in the future.

  28. maemo is unbeatable in my view because it has so much power so that it can multiboot with android itself.

  29. If you ask me, comparing the two is like the age old Apple vr Orange thing. Maemo (N900) is a computer with phone funtionalities, Android is basically a phone OS with some computing functionalities.

    The sheer fact that one can DUAL BOOT both Android- Honeycomb as of recently- and Maemo says a lot about the two platforms. And Android IMHO is too much a watered down Linux, Maemo IS Linux.

  30. What best is for Maemo and Android join 2gether to be one of the world seem like they can complete each other pro and cons.

  31. I know this is an old thread but I've just come upon it. I used a Samsung Android phone for 5 months and wanted to play with Maemo so I bought an n900. I can't believe the difference. The Android phone was 2.1 when I got it and it updated itself to 2.2 later. Version 2.2 was faster and I only needed to reboot it once every 3 or 4 days to get it to keep running smoothly. With 2.1 it was daily. Multitasking on it is pretty poor but when the competition is the iphone it doesn't have to be good. The idea that you can't close applications you no longer use without installing a third party app is insane.

    I wasn't expecting much when I got the n900 because people said it was only a device for geeks and was pretty raw. Mine had 1.3 on it and outside of the phone app and mapping not being as nice as Android it is a head over heals better experience. The Android phone's screen is capacitive, the n900 resistive. There's NO difference in sensitivity except I can use my fingernail to click on something small with the n900 and I have to zoom with the Android. Zooming way in, clicking, zooming out, scrolling, zooming in, clicking etc.. is insane. The amount of time it takes me to do things on the n900 is a fraction of the Android device.

    I've pondered Android a lot and I think it just comes down to Google not knowing anything about usability. I gave the Samsung to my daughter and on occasion when I want to use the Yelp app I pull it out and I am once again shocked at how poor the experience is. It's 200 mhz faster than the n900 but feels about 50% slower.

    So for Android mapping, some apps (yelp) and the phone are better than the n900.

    The n900 is better at absolutely everything else. It's on screen keyboard isn't that great but who'd use it when you have a real one?

    I wonder why all messaging isn't merged like the n900, why people insist that using a stylus is a bad idea when it's the only thing that allows me to do my job, or why never exiting an app is good. I just don't get it.

    What the n900 needs: Some missing apps, a better onscreen keyboard, a better phone app. Well, while I'm dreaming it could be thinner and have a bigger screen.