My N900 experience compared to my FR experience (was: Re: [QtMoko] handset is (almost) unusable for voice calls with background noise)

Sylvain Paré sylvain.pare at
Thu Jul 8 13:54:48 CEST 2010

Thanks a lot for your ffedback!
hey and waht about Noko? :)
Sylvain (aka GarthPS)

2010/7/8 Nicola Mfb <nicola.mfb at>

> On Wed, Jul 7, 2010 at 10:12 PM, Michal Brzozowski <rusolis at>
> wrote:
> [...]
> > I'd like to hear how the N900 compares to the FR in hackability. Like
> > replacing pieces of software, like keyboard, window manager, etc. I
> > wasn't able to find much information about this. It seems there is
> > only one distribution that fully works on the N900, which is quite
> > worrying.
> Hi Michal,
> I have an n900 too since last November, here my (hoping agnostic) review:
> Hardware:
> Great, overclockable to 1Ghz (seems without problems), battery life of
> several days *without* suspend, 3d accelerated graphics, 32 GB eMMC (+
> slot for SD expansion), 256 MB flash, 256 MB ram, nice screen
> resolution of 800x480, good TS (even with finger only), FM receiver
> and *transmitter*, proximity sensor, IR transmitter, accelerometer,
> 5Mb zeiss rear camera, front camera, *superb* audio quality and "3.5G"
> module, wifi, bt, video output, stereo speaker, etc.
> End User Experience:
> Not comparable to the freerunner one. Maemo has a lot of defects but
> using it you feel immediately it has a common layout, defined api and
> gui guidelines. This may appear as a limit, but from the End User
> experience is very nice!
> All apps (nokia, community or thirdy part) follow this principles, are
> integrated with the DE and with the middleware quite nice.
> The phone application is based on telepathy, so due to its
> multiprotocol nature supports gsm voice calls, skype, voip, and so on.
> The same for sms and chat integrated in the "conversation" app. There
> are a lot of plugins (google, msn, etc.) to extend it.
> The DE has a nice 4 pages home, you switch by dragging them, on every
> page you may add shortcuts to applications, contacts (that shows the
> picture and the IM online status, so it's easy and natural using a
> skype/voip call instead of gsm one and save money!), web bookmarks and
> widgets that make the user able to highly customize the desktop.
> Finally there are pluggable "status" area and power button menu.
> Task switching is performed with a very nice composite dashboard where
> you see thumbnails of current running apps (that are updated in
> realtime).
> All that is full finger friendly and there is a stylo inside the n900
> when you need, (actually I use it only for precise web browsing
> without the need of zooming in/out).
> The virtual keyboard is full integrated with customized input methods
> of gtk and qt (I do not know about other toolkits), so when you tap on
> a text field you'll have a qwerty (not transparent) portrait keyboard
> showing the current editing text.
> If you open/close the HW keyboard the virtual one will hide/show.
> As you may guess peoples does not feel the necessity to change the WM
> or the VK because you loose the high number of pluggable widgets in
> the home, the status area and the toolkit interaction with the
> keyboard.
> The package management system is apt, there is an integrated GUI that
> will show only a specific section of the available apps, so the end
> user will see only good sense applications with descriptions and icons
> (of course the power user may use xterm or ssh to see the full
> contents of the repositories). The status area will signal with a
> blinking square where an update is available, so you may be uptodate
> with a couple of finger taps.
> The network manager works very well and handles wifi and 3g connections.
> Just a concrete user experience (a my tipical day):
> I have a voip public telephony (like skypein) account (eutelia) and
> skype configured, a 5euro/month 3GB umts data option on my sim, wifi
> networking at home and at work, google contacts synchronization and 3
> email account configured. My network manager is configured to "always
> on".
> The alarm wakes up me every morning (and works reliably), then I put
> the device online, automagically it connects to my home wifi network,
> signs up to skype and eutelia, check for emails, does the first sync
> with google, updates the weather and the rss and the "personal ip
> address" widgets on the desktop.
> When going to work, as my home wifi is not more reachable the n900
> automagically start a 3g connection. I may check the sent/received
> statistics with another widgets that updates informations in real time
> on the desktop to be sure I'm not reaching the 3G/month limit, and
> anyway in the settings manager I may set to be advised every time x MB
> of traffic was generated.
> While using my car I start the mediaplayer and  the FM transmitter
> (with another desktop widget), put the device near the car stereo and
> listen for some music or use sygic voice assisted gps navigation where
> going to unknown places.
> When I arrive in the office it automagically stops it and connects to
> work wifi and so on until I put it offline in the night.
> Every x minutes it continues to update widgets, and signal incoming
> email, IM messages, alarms, phone calls (of course ;)) and so on.
> Every with this intensive usage my battery may survive to more then a
> day, note that it never suspends, and this is a big feature as I can
> always open an ssh connection.
> If I need to transfer files at high rate I simply put the usb cable
> and it shows a popup dialog asking you for "PC Suite mode" (usb
> cdc-ether networking) or "Mass Storage" that exports the data
> partition of the eMMC like a normal pen drive at usb 2.0 speed.
> Browsing experience is very nice, real time zooming with side keys or
> tap gestures to help finger usage, and has flash support.
> Using it as a modem is very easy, I just plug the usb cable and the
> network manager connects to the 3g network (there is also dun support,
> but I do not have bt on my laptop).
> You may use it as a router too and share the connection with free
> applications or manually with nat iptables/ipforwarding over usb or
> wifi in ad-hoc mode.
> Developer experience:
> Very easy, you have at least 3 ways:
> * scratchbox, a chrooted debian like environment with x86 and arm
> support, qemu previewer, etc. to build an app you select the "arm"
> target, apt-get install your *-dev packages, and go with configure,
> make, etc. with debian tools is trivial to create .deb packages. I was
> able to cross compile, package, deploy and run asterisk in few minutes
> and use it with the phone application without any problem.
> * madde (I do not know it much)
> * Nokia Qt SDK, with automatic cross compilation, deploy and run, on
> dev box, qt simulator, and the real device over ssh. I configured
> public keys, and due to my "always on" profile, I simply open
> qt-creator, write some code, hit "control+r" and see the app running
> on my n900 without doing other things!
> API changes are *rare*, only very few low-level packages suffers after
> a firmware upgrade.
> Python lovers are welcome, and application load time is not critical.
> Software and repositories:
> The OS is debian derived, many peoples complains it's not full debian,
> anyway a phone or tablet is different from a normal desktop linux box,
> software has to be patched to provide a good user experience and
> integrate with the system. For example here apps request internet
> connection with the icd deamon and its libraries, and uses maemo api
> to access contacts etc.
> So the "forked" debian is not critical for me, on the freerunner the
> 99% of users uses patched or scratch-written software in many cases
> adapted at least for FSO, debian users access the entire repository
> but a lot of apps are not suitable for the tiny display, while OE
> derived distro does not provide a big number of upstream packages.
> Geek users that know how to patch or tweak an upstream application are
> for sure able to run it over maemo ;)
> About repositories you have nokia official ones, third part and
> "extras" (community), the last is subdivided in:
> * extras-devel
> * extras-testing
> * extras
> Typically the developer submit sources to the autobuilder without the
> need of contact maintainers, after that there is a QA and vote mech to
> "promote" the package to testing and finally to extras (default
> enabled).
> The user may choose to enable or not testing/devel repository to stay
> with unstable/testing or stable packages.
> Available packages are good quality, and some of them enhances maemo a
> lot, for example FMMS.
> In addition there is the "garage" where you'll find a lot of more
> experimental apps (and above all some debian upstream repackaged for
> maemo).
> Stability:
> If you stay with extras only, and enable devel/testing only when
> needed (and know what you are doing), the system is quite stable, no
> calls/sms losed, the maximum uptime for me was ~30 days, I had to
> reboot becouse trying to take a shot with the camera resulted in
> "Operation error". With the older firmware I had to reboot at least 1
> time for week, but I installed a lot of experimental application
> without much care, so I'm not sure if the actual stability of my n900
> is due to PR 1.2 or my care ;)
> Hacking experience:
> Maemo has some userland closed sources components (of course kernel is
> free) that prevents you to run a 100% free linux distro, I was able to
> run debian on the external SD card without adding those components but
> you'll be not able to use the phone or charge the battery.
> Things is going to be different with meego, here only BME (battery
> management) and SGX (3d acceleration libraries) are closed, and rumors
> seems to confirm that at least BME may be opened. All the other is
> openend (wip), for example the closed modem control will be integrated
> in ofono, the pulse audio routing path is now free, etc.
> So I'm quite sure that in very few time peoples may port that to FSO,
> the only critical step may be the BME that has to be replaced in some
> way (if it will not be freed).
> IMO the n900 is a good hackable device and a perfect candidate for a
> new reference platform for FSO (I remember an old thread to cofund and
> donate an n900 to Mickey).
> And would be very nice to write an FSO plugin for the qt-mobility
> framework in order to run thousand of maemo/meego applications on
> debian or SHR!
> If your hacking needs is compatible with maemo meego/harmattan and
> full meego, you may prefer do not install a new linux distro, but
> install "easydebian" with a couple of finger tap, and run a chrooted
> environment in Xephyr with your preferred WM, I was able to launch
> openoffice in that way on my n900. Of course you may always use
> debootstrap and tweak all yourself.
> Actually I have maemo on the internal flash, meego and  debian +
> neophysis specific apps on an external sd, I can decide which of them
> run with bootmenu that is activated taking the hw keyboard out when
> powering up the device (but uses always the same flash in kernel), and
> I'm waiting for git pushes of the modem control part and audio routing
> to see if neophysis may run nice on the n900. When I want to try a new
> kernel I use the flasher util that has a nice one shot kernel load
> option.
> The bootloader is closed, but meego devs are working to fix kexec
> problems, when done the bootmenu will be able run every linux distro
> with the preferred kernel without the need of an usb cable ;)
> It seems all good, but of course there are some bad things:
> * Nokia seems to support its devices only for some months with a
> couple of firmwares upgrades and then abadone them
> * Nokia maemo project management was quite closed, community is not
> much involved in inside decisions (but this seems be happened in the
> openmoko age too), it seems meego is a different story with the
> influence of Intel and the Linux Foundation that have a different
> story, but before trusting them they have to demonstate their openess
> with facts!
> * software is not always complete, and at least the maemo platform
> laks for high press community needs (free gps navigation with ovi maps
> and flash 10), that should be addressed with meego or meego/harmattan
> but...
> * it's not sure if meego/harmattan will be available for the n900
> * it's not sure if meego will be official available for the n900, for
> sure it's the arm reference platform
> * feelings is much better with freerunner, OE, debian, gentoo, FSO,
> etc. and the hard community effort against the multinational payed
> employeers ;)
> * the above mentioned organizations are really open to external
> contributions!
> Hoping this will help!
> regards
>     Niko
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