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Nokia N900 versus iPhone 3G quick test

Sunday 13 December 2009, by Phi, 2951 Views

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Following my article documenting the migration from Nokia E90 to iPhone 3G, I had a very time limited opportunity to play with a Nokia N900 next to my iPhone 3G. Will I buy the Nokia N900 to replace my new iPhone 3G ?


I have always been with Psion and Nokia for a very long time: Psion Siena, Psion 3mx (I think it was the best), Psion Series 5, Psion Revo, Nokia 9210, Nokia 9300, Nokia E90.

I was set to buy the next Nokia, which is the Nokia N900, almost preordered it at 600 euros on Nokia Store, but I held on for a handful of reasons mainly because its release was postponed and because I was not sure of the touchscreen interface.

As I was tired of waiting I bought an iPhone 3G (old model), first only in addition to my Nokia E90 for web, mail and iPod functions - but finally it replaced all my Nokia E90 functions pretty well - even if it required jailbreak.

I documented my migration on my from Nokia E90 to Apple iPhone 3G article.

But then, one friend bought a Nokia N900, one of the first available in France (I think there was only a 600 first batch for France). He bought it at Phone House under Bouygues Telecom, it costed around 250 euros with 40 euros per month subscription, but Nokia and Bouygues is going to refund him 150 euros so I guess he’ll have the N900 for around 100 euros only.

I’m very surprised he did, as he works more in media and music I always assumed he was an iPhone type - not at all a Nokia N900 type.

I could invite him for a coffee - and test quickly his new N900 - but please note that we had only around half an hour so this is only a quick test compared to my iPhone 3G.

Lastly I have an iPhone 3G, not the latest model 3GS, which is mostly faster, conclusions could be different with the 3GS.

Ok, I think I have not forgotten anything, so let’s start.

Nokia N900 versus iPhone 3G

Form factor

As you see the iPhone 3G and the Nokia N900 have comparable size but the N900 is twice thicker - the Nokia E90 is more bulky than both

Nokia E90 open - screen estates are similar with E90 thinner - Nokia E90 looks huge

N900 with keyboard open next to iPhone 3G - not that much larger

I actually like the N900 shape, it’s somehow more easy to hold it than the iPhone which is too thin - but I’m used to bulky phones starting with my old Nokia 9210

iPhone 3G wins - but Nokia N900 is OK too


Next to Nokia E90 keyboard - which is significantly bigger

Actually I find the N900 one to be BETTER than the Nokia E90 because the keys are slightly curved and have more tactile feedback

Even jailbreaked custom iPhone keyboard is no competition whereas it was versus the Nokia E90: I could type only twice slower on iPhone 3G

But I can type twice faster on Nokia N900 keyboard compared to Nokia E90 one, so there is still a 4x difference on favor of the N900. And the shifted up and down arrows on the french N900 keyboard, even if annoying are still way better than virtual keypad on the second page of my jailbreaked iPhone keyboard.

It could be one compelling reason for me to switch to N900.

Nokia N900 wins


Nokia interface

With exposé style switching

The surprise is the Nokia N900 interface is actually faster than my iPhone 3G - not S - interface, whereas it has far more data on screen.

But there is a big but - with finger because of the resistive versus capacitive screen of the Nokia N900, I find it more difficult to drive the interface as you have to apply pressure - or use fingernail (which somehow apply pressure) unlike the Apple iPhone capacitive screen. I already struggle with touch interface so it’s harder for me.

Oops, I lost notes widget, the cross and widgets are really too small for fingers to make a difference between dragging and closing

Another minor thing is the Nokia N900 interface is perhaps too customizable and has too many options accessible - which means that when you have already trouble with the touch screen you do unintended things with your fingers.

With stylus I prefer the Nokia N900 interface as it is far more precise - I have always 100% accuracy with the stylus and I think the N900 interface was meant to be used with it.

iPhone 3G wins by a slight margin


Customization for me is like Today View on other phones. Far more options on N900 versus non-jailbreak iPhone (virtually none) so it’s no contest here.

Nokia N900 wins

Phone and Sound

The keypads really look alike

On Nokia N900, Phone application is fast and clear, slightly better than the iPhone 3G which is a little slugglish and GSM reception seems better than iPhone.

Good history on Nokia N900 like iPhone

Sound is loud and clear on the Nokia N900, on the iPhone it was always somehow not loud enough for ringtones and phone calls (I don’t test headphones maximum volume here) so that in a noisy environnment (street, tube) you wouldn’t hear the ringing or the voice at the other end of the line.

No problem on the Nokia N900 here.

Nokia N900 wins there


Pleasant SMS interface like iPhone on Nokia N900 - the keyboard is a killer feature

There is no MMS on the N900 for now - I can’t have a phone without MMS as more technically challenged family and friends only use MMS.

iPhone wins because of MMS


Nokia N900 is far faster, perhaps 5X to render lemonde web site

Rendering of the web page are really similar - but of course the resolution of the N900 is higher, which means it’s easier for your eyesight

The zoom with the keys are very pleasant, perhaps even better than the finger gesture on the iPhone. I don’t like the rounding gesture with the Nokia N900 because of resistive touch screen except of course with the stylus.

The stylus is far more precise than fingers (zooming before clicking is not a prerequisite with the stylus unlike fingers) on iPhone or N900.

I had some troubles with the N900 browsing history features though - perhaps because I cancelled some web pages loading.

At double tap zoom which works the same on both - there is no advantage in resolution as it is almost too much even for the iPhone lower resolution. Note that the iPhone somehow displays more with the default tapping

Of course N900 is a full web browser with flash and video - couldn’t properly test it because somehow there is a bandwidth problem which makes it pretty slow

It’s a surprise for me - I didn’t think the N900 navigation could be better than iPhone - it is better because it’s faster and you use the stylus.

Nokia N900 wins

Video playback

It’s not what you think - it’s a preview from the Proposal movie with Sandra Bullock - not an R-rated film ;-)

Another surprise here. I didn’t think it video could be better than with iPhone and iTunes synchro but it is - it reads DivX directly without needing reencoding, the screen is gorgeous and you actually see a difference in quality with the increased resolution, the sound is loud and clear, and there is even a little bar behind to keep the N900 upright so you are not tired of holding the Nokia N900 ...

Nokia N900 wins

Digital Camera

5 Mpixel with flash versus 2 Mpixel without autofocus (I have a 3G not 3GS), N900 far better.

On operation it’s not that much better thought, shutter lag are both fast - and processing takes time on both cameras.

Nokia N900 wins


Couldn’t test it properly as the owner hadn’t configured mail yet - we tried quickly but time was running out.

I guess iPhone still wins though - because it’s the same as Mac OSX mail with great synchronization.

The Nokia N900 seems to download all mail and attachments which can take forever (or cost forever) if you have an EDGE connection / are roaming. This is inferior to the iPhone which scales the download to your download bandwidth (headlines first, no attachements - or even only part of the message and click to further download) so you can have immediately a quick view of your emails whatever the connection.

iPhone wins


The owner has a Mac - and couldn’t sync much compared to the iPhone (which synchros bookmarks, calendar, address book, iTunes music, iTunes videos, mail, applications and music purchased etc).

No contest here - except if Nokia hack iTunes like Palm for their PRE

iPhone wins


At least the Nokia N900 has a week view even if it’s not the best

Better options versus a non-jailbreaked iPhone 3G - except if you use Google Calendar and Saisuke on iPhone (and lose iTunes calendar sync)

Why can’t they have a nice week view like MyWeek on jailbreaked iPhone or Handy Calendar on Nokia E90 ?

Nokia N900 wins versus iPhone without jailbreak


Bounce on Nokia N900

I tried Bounce game: it definitively loaded quicker than on my iPhone 3G, the graphics were at least as good as well as the accelerometer controls.

Fieldrunner on the iPhone 3G, no better graphics

And I think the stylus could give way to more Nintendo DS games with far more precise controls than the Apple finger ones - but the virtual pad would not work as well because of the multipoint pressure which would be tiring very quickly compared to capacitive screen.

But of course the sheer catalog of iPhone games just now trumps everything else (I even play more on iPhone than my NDS, not because all games are great on iPhone - on the contrary on average the iPhone games are far worse than the average NDS game - but there are enough very good games on iPhone).

iPhone wins


Almost no productivity software available on N900 (Word, Excel, Banking), didn’t have time to test the DTG viewer (needed registration).

Documents To Go Excel on iPhone 3G

But the keyboard could lead to far better N900 productivity software (for a start half of the screen won’t be hidden by virtual keyboard).

iPhone 3G wins for now

Navigation / GPS

Nokia Ovimaps, worse than Googlemaps on iPhone

Not much software yet on N900. But I guess it could eventually be better on the N900 as the iPhone 3G GPS is far worse than the internal Nokia E90 one (so I assume it will be the same compared to the N900 - it’s certainly cannot be worse).

iPhone wins


You can really do everything with your iPhone, but it requires jailbreak, and lots of software tweaks to do even the slightest things like having a Today view, themes, or download files.

iPhone jailbreak

Seriously it’s a pain - and it means your iPhone is instable (not the OS which almost never crashes but the software). I reinstalled everything from scratch (and only what is needed) and the iPhone is rock stable now - but I counted at least 20 to 30 hacks !

Nokia N900 wins

Battery Life

On average I have 4 hours of usage of my iPhone - which means one or two charging each day which is a lot. That means in 6 months you do the 400 charge cycles of the iPhone battery.

The owner of the N900 didn’t have the Phone for long yet (3 days), but N900 battery life reported on the net is more 10 hours which is far better than iPhone.

Nokia N900 wins


Let’s summarize Nokia N900 versus iPhone 3G quick test:

Nokia N900 pros:
- Screen resolution (forgot this 8-) )
- Keyboard
- Customization
- Phone and Sound
- Web
- Video playback
- Digital Camera
- Calendar
- Openness
- Battery Life

iPhone 3G pros:
- Form factor
- Interface
- Mail
- Sync
- Games
- Productivity
- Navigation GPS

Other minor things:
- iPhone doesn’t multitask with third party applications - but it can with jailbreak and most software are well written so it’s not that much a problem. Of course, Ipod music can multitask, most games support your own music
- Most N900 software don’t work in portrait. Not that much a problem either because Phone application does (which allows one handed operation), and most of the time you want to use the stylus anyway which means both hands.

More important is that the N900 seems fast and reliable compared to my iPhone 3G which is slow (didn’t feel slow before the test ...), and jailbreak customizing of the iPhone is not for the fainthearted whereas it is not needed to the same extent for the N900.

Please note however that I have a 3G and not a 3GS, I guess the 3GS will be generally faster (application launching, interface, internet) as it is rated up to 50% faster than 3G - however the N900 will still be faster I think.

So will I buy a Nokia N900 to replace my iPhone 3G ? Honestly not now because of SMS/MMS and the clear current advantages of the iPhone on software (Games, Productivity, Sync) - there are lots of things I wouldn’t be able to do now with the N900 which I can’t do without anymore (spoiled by Apple and jailbreak software).

But it is clear that the N900 has the potential to better than the 3G on almost all counts - if only good software could follow. I certainly would buy a N900 if I didn’t have already an iPhone, and I might buy one if only for the keyboard once good productivity software are available for the N900 - perhaps I could really write these web pages on the N900 whereas it’s not feasible on my iPhone because of the virtual keyboard and resolution.

For your information, the owner of the N900 is delighted with his new phone - and he is not a geek at all. It allows him to link and update to all his social internet life (twitter, facebook, web pages), with the full browser, widgets and keyboard - and to take good quality pictures to document it.

Lots of people assume Nokia N900 with its Linux roots are for geeks, but it might not be at all the case - it might instead be the best solution for the internet connected youth because of the above - you can see many of them with blackberries nowadays for example

Useful links

From Nokia E90 to Apple iPhone 3G Original article on my migration to iPhone

My Nokia E90 review Includes software migration from 9300 to E90

Apple iPhone 3GS versus iPhone 3G Results of my benchmarks (in french)

My-symbian N900 vs Iphone 3GS thread

Maemo France Great videos and review of N900 (in French)

Nokia N900 preview Great preview at My-Symbian

Nokia N900 first look

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