November 22nd, 2010
So, I finally gave up waiting for the next generation of Meego phones, but happily I didn’t have to settle for an Android or WebOS phone: I got me a used N900, for a decent price, and I’ll be setting it up on the Mobilicity network tomorrow. That’s a new network that’s just started up in Vancouver; their coverage isn’t awesome but should serve my purposes, and they have some extremely good introductory pricing. Most importantly, they use the 1700MHz band that the N900 supports.
I’ve been having fun playing with the phone so far. I can imagine it’s a nightmare for anyone used to using, well, phones, but it does indeed feel weirdly natural if you’ve been using a Linux desktop for any length of time; there are repositories, and they’re stuffed with rebuilt Linux desktop apps, and there’s lots of little tweaky things you can do. And there’s a console right there in the apps list. And there’s an ssh client. I’m feeling at home.
The biggest nasty surprise so far – Modest is a pleasantly fast email client, and from what I’ve read about it and tinymail it seems to be well engineered, but it has some major usability issues. You can’t restrict the folders it lists. There doesn’t seem to be a way to restrict it to only loading the last few days worth of messages – no matter *how* well engineered it is it’s going to have trouble with my fedora-devel folder, unless I can tell it not to worry about the old mails. It’s missing a lot of the neat functionality of something like Android’s K9 Mail, which makes for a really usable portable email client – you can’t set up a combined inbox of the folders you really care about on a phone and ignore all the others. The biggest feature it’s missing, which seems pretty unforgivable in the main mail client on a platform used mainly by F/OSS geeks, is multiple sending identities. I mean, really? Surely just about *everyone* who uses the N900 has more From: addresses than they having incoming servers? Someone’s come up with a rather clever workaround for this, but it really really shouldn’t be necessary.
I was also slightly disappointed by Firefox Mobile; it looks pretty good but very, very slow, and the second time I tried to launch it it just died at a white screen. I’d love to have this (with Firefox Sync! Firefox fricking Sync!) on my phone, but if it’s going to be so slow as to be basically unusable, it’s a no go. There also didn’t seem to be a functional way to make it the default browser; I found Browser Switchboard but it doesn’t seem to actually work, after I set Firefox Mobile to be the default browser, whenever I clicked one of the shortcut links on the home screen which previously opened some website in the built-in browser, they now just did nothing at all. There’s also no AdBlock or NoScript yet, apparently. So for now I just set the default back to the built-in browser.
Other than that I’m mostly hitting just pleasant surprises. Even without Firefox Mobile, the default browser is actually really good: it’s fast, it’s great at rendering complex pages (not surprising since it uses Webkit). It can do really cool stuff like use the desktop (non-mobile) interface for tt-rss really well – even the arrow keys work. Syncing with my Google contacts/calendar was surprisingly easy. The media player seems good and (not surprisingly) it popped right up in Rhythmbox ready to have files transferred to it when I connected via USB. Xchat works great, as does Password Safe for managing passwords (happily, Revelation, which I use on the desktop, can export in Password Safe format). The interface actually feels pretty nice, smooth and responsive – especially for a phone that’s over a year old – and the screen is awesome. I can see why people say the old ‘personal computer’ tag of the previous, non-phone models hangs around: it does feel like something between a phone and a tablet.
So far I’m feeling pretty pleased with it, especially for the price (I paid $250). Any seasoned N900 users out there have any good tips?