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Analysis: Nokia N97 vs Nokia N900

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N97 Home screenN900 with keyboard out

ONSLUNDA, Sweden – With the announcement of the upcoming Nokia N900, speculations and opinions are running wild on whether this device will replace the Nokia┬áN97 model just a few months after it was released. The N900 will be showcased at the Nokia World, starting tomorrow, but below is an overview of the similarities and differences between the models known so far.

Starting off with the hardware, the N900 clearly triumphs. It has an OMAP (generation 3) 3430 processor running at 600MHz compared to the ARM11 processor (OMAP generation 2) running at 434MHz found in the N97. The 3430 is without doubt faster. The N900 also features graphics acceleration which the N97 lacks. This should be noticeable when running games or other graphic-intense applications. The N900 also features a higher screen resolution (800×480 compared to 640×360) although the actual screen size is the same (3.5″). The N97 has higher battery capacity on paper, although real use capacity can’t be determined by simply looking at the specifications.

The most obvious hardware difference though is that the N900 included 256MB of RAM compared to 128MB on the N97. The N900 also supports up to 768MB of virtual memory and thus has 1GB application memory available. The lack of RAM on the N97 is widely seen as the biggest flaw of the device. Since the N97 (and the N900) contains 32GB of internal flash memory, many users anticipate virtual memory support to be included in a future firmware update for the N97. The amount of internal memory available to applications is in many situations more important than processor speed.

Apart from what’s mentioned already, the hardware specifications are more or less the same on both devices.

N97 with and without keyboard outN900 calling screenLooking at the software, the N97 runs on the Symbian S60 v5 as its operating system, while the N900 will use the Linux-based Maemo 5. S60 v5 has received some criticism for being just a port from v3 with added touch support and not really suited as a modern touch operating system. Overall though, user feedback has been mixed, more on that in a second.

Maemo 5 is not yet available for testing, but looks on paper like a more modern operating system better suited to the kind of mixed multimedia and internet device both N900 and N97 represent. Judging from currently available information, Maemo 5 will feature rich multitasking possibilities and a modern user interface with 3D effects, menu transitions, etc.. Being Linux-based, in theory it also offers endless configuration possibilities and a wide range of third-party software support.

Overall, it’s always hard to compare a released model to another device that is hyped but not released. The N97 hasn’t fared too well in reviews and is widely criticized by its users on the internet, especially after the N900 was announced. Unhappy users being the loudest in the debate is not uncommon though, this applies to virtually every mobile phone out on the market. It’s also obvious that Nokia hasn’t been able to attract new users with the N97, the happy users are with few exceptions people who have used the N95 or other S60 v3 devices before. The N97 doesn’t really compete with Google Android or the iPhone since the inheritage from the S60 v3 is so obvious. It’s still a smartphone with a smartphone OS for savvy technical users who want total freedom with their phones. Android and iPhone offers something else.

If one looks deeper and analyzes the more balanced opinions from users who constantly uses the N97 in everyday life, the impression is mixed. Two months pass quickly, and many users tend to forget the big advancement that the N97 after all provides compared to previous Nokia models. The home-screen support for widgets such as Facebook, e-mail and news feeds, offers possibilities not seen before and has changed the way many people use their phones. On the other hand, there’s no doubt that the N97 was released with serious flaws. Buggy software, insufficient amount of RAM, a camera that’s not really an improvement over the N95 released two years earlier and hardware struggles both with the GPS and the USB connector. And since the N900 looks so good on paper, one can certainly understand that many users feel cheated and would have waited for the N900 if they would had known in advance what was coming.

Still, there is no guarantee that the N900 will be a success. It is, after all, built in the internet tablet tradition, a segment that has never really reached the mass appeal the N900 aims for. So will Nokia be able to mix this tradition with first time phone functionality and the first release of a new OS? Only time will tell, but looking at history, there are reasons for doubt. It will also be interesting to see how open ended Nokia will allow the Linux architecture to be upon release. A completely open architecture with root access and command line support is of course what most power users hope for, but is that really possible to combine with the easy operation and stability that regular phone users will expect and require? And of course, there is a reason that Linux hasn’t really been able to make a huge impact on the PC market so far, competing with Apple and Microsoft. Maybe this is the release that will change all that, but it’s not unlikely that the N900 will at least partly suffer the same faith as previous Nokia internet tablets and Linux: beloved by power users but not really appealing to regular users.

Regardless, the N900 will definitely be an exciting model to follow, starting at the upcoming Nokia World.

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By , Nokia-affairs Correspondent on Sep 1st, 2009 GMT +2


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