Friday, May 31, 2013

Dated Hardware, Waiting for Hardware and the Nokia N900 in 2013

The Nokia N900 was released in November of 2009 - three and a half years ago. When I bought my first N900 in January of 2010 it was a huge upgrade for me in terms of both speed and software freedom (coming from a Blackberry). The idea of having a computer - a true computer - that was also a phone was amazing. The same device I used to send text messages, I also installed applications on using apt-get. True multitasking - my applications stayed open until I closed them, not until the operating system decided it wanted to kill them. I didn't mind paying the 450 USD it cost to purchase the brand new N900 out of contract - this was an awesome piece of technology!

Fast forward to 2013. Three years later I have gone through 2.5 Nokia N900s (I say 2.5, because the first two each broke in different ways and I was able to build a working device from their left overs) and still have it sitting on my desk as I write this. Three years is a long time in the world of mobile hardware and the N900 easily shows plenty of signs of aging. Compared to my wife's Nexus 4, it loads applications and web sites slowly.

So why is it I hold onto hardware/software that deserves an upgrade? Simple - no one has released a comparable replacement. At first I did not want to trade my true Linux operating system in for this dribble called Android everyone raves about. Upon giving Android a chance though - I could make do with it. The HTML5 supporting browsers on Andriod really provide a decent web experience (which beyond text messaging is what I mainly do on a mobile device).

The hold up then? The hardware. I'm not talking about the speed of the hardware though - I'm talking about the lack of design. Almost every modern mobile that is sold today is a pure touch device. Hardware keyboards are a thing of the past it seems.

Am I truly the last person left alive who doesn't like a software keyboard taking up half of my sub-10 inch screen while I type something?

When I search for modern cell phone hardware I certainly feel that way.

I have hope though! Within the next year we are expecting at least three new mobile operating systems to enter the landscape:
  • Ubuntu Mobile
  • Tizen
  • Firefox Mobile
I hope against all open that one of the hardware makers supporting these operating system breaks the current tread of touch-only devices. Maybe then I and stop picking up old N900s on Ebay when my existing one breaks!

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. Hi Jeff!

    I'm kind of envious because, where I live, the N900 never came.

    But I wanted to give some advice, I know it won't 'do-it', but I may be something. My GF also likes physical keyboard and doesn't like the 'half-phone keyboard', so she bought the Xperia mini pro.

    Ok, is not the fastest phone in the market, but is a neat one, has a good keyboard, decent battery life and supports ICS.

    Anyway, I think I'll wait for Ubuntu for Android to get a better phone and have E17 deep within :D


  2. Disclaimer: I'm involved in development of one of software keyboards :)

    Well, back in 2012 there were multiple Android phones with hardware keyboard:
    But it looks like in 2013 situation get worse:
    I don't know if those androids of 2012 are better than your N900 so.
    I personally chosen on-screen keyboard phone because:
    a) I prefer bar form factor (I just don't like sliders and flips) and
    b) typing is not my main activity on the phone. So it's ok for me to type on software keyboard sometimes, but use that valuable screen space for other things when I do not type.

  3. You're definitely not alone. While we haven't sprung for smart phones in our family, we are all happier with a decent hardware keyboard on which to type text messages. Our current hardware of choice is an LG Rumor Reflex messaging phone. Beats a soft keyboard hands down, although even my petite younger daughter admits that the keyboard is kinda small. And my ASUS Transformer tablet spends most of its time connected to the keyboard dock. That said, an on-screen keyboard that recognizes swiping for text entry isn't a terrible thing, other than the screen real estate it occupies. And my wife and I hung onto our PALM IIIs for an ungodly length of time, running an XP virtual machine under Win7 to be able to sync them, because nothing since has been nearly as effective a PDA for people who don't wish to sync their life to "the cloud".

  4. check out about someone in the same situation as you, who's now using a Droid 4 and a laptop-like Atrix dock.

  5. Hello Jeff,
    Very well illustrated articles. I'm frequent visitor of your blog and have seen gone through many articles on your blog.Keep up the good work

  6. The upcoming Jolla Linux phone based on Mer (by ex Nokia people who got kicked when Nokia went with M$) is probably something for you Jeff. The phone is somewhat modular, and there's strong demand for slider phones in the community, a keyboard addon (as other half might appear)

    But see for yourself:

  7. Hey, Jeff, I'm with you, gotta have the hardware keyboard. If you can stomach Android I know pics of the Motorola Droid 5 have been leaked online and it appears to have a hardware keyboard. Not sure when its hitting the streets though. I'm still rocking the Droid 3 with a hardware keyboard but it shows its age with only 512MB of RAM and Android 2.3

  8. N9110, 9200, e90, n900 and an e7. Need I say more?
    e90 was the best actually. n900's slider is 3 rows, touching the screen is not always successful and the e7, although the hardware is strong as nails, the screen and the processor lets it down. Missed opportunity. My daughter "forced" me to use a Galaxy mini S3 for at least two weeks since sunday.
    I don't like the integration, the sometimes open and sometimes sneaky integration of databases, contacts and pictures. (Same thing on some e7 apps too..)

    Does anybody know if the symbian on e7 can be replaced by FF OS? Or ubuntu? Or...?
    Or could I use my n900 more than what it's now: My bed MP3 player?
    JP -also from NL -

  9. wait wait wait :)