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Clash of the N-series Titans: N900 versus N8


It isn’t everyday that one gets the opportunity to carry about two of the most capable devices on the planet. The Nokia N8 is the latest device in Nokia’s N-series range. It is a pure touchscreen Symbian-powered device. The N900, on the other hand, has been around for over a year, but this QWERTY slider device running Maemo 5 is still very much a capable device in the smartphone market.


When I recently announced that the N900 is my smartphone of the year 2010, there were cries of “foul” from Nokia N8 fans – and that is testament to how much the N8 has come to be loved and regarded in the mobile space. Nokia certainly has hit a home run with the N8. It is indeed a lovable, capable device that meets the needs of lots of people.

Same Father; Different Strengths

Children of the same parents often have different strengths. Having used both devices extensively, I am qualified to present to you in what areas one outshines the other. This will help people in understanding how to choose devices that cater to their specific needs.

Note that this is not a detailed comparison, but a quick list of areas where the differences of the two excellent devices stand out.


Browser: While we are still waiting for the new Symbian browser that Nokia promised us (and I am hoping that Nokia will copy the N900’s browser to the dot), the N900’s Mozilla-based MicroB browser clinched the spot as the best mobile browser at its release and holds that spot till date. The Symbian browser on the N8 pales in comparison so badly that it is an uneven match.

Camera: The tide is turned immediately here. The N8’s stunning 12 -megapixel camera simply leaves the N900’s 5 megapixel camera in the dust for both still shots and video capture. The N8 does HD/720p video capture. No contest here too.

I took my wife out on a Friday night date yesterday and we took some shots. The N900 generally was left in the dust. Glad I took the N8 along with me.

Display: The N8 has a brighter, more colourful display, while the N900 has the greater resolution. Both of them work well in sunlight. Most people will opt for the N8’s display for video playback, but for web browsing and reading documents, the N900’s greater resolution makes it the preferred display.

Also, the N900’s resistive display is almost as responsive as any capacitive, but you will notice the difference.


Video Playback: Both devices handle playback well. The N8’s AMOLED display produces brighter colours, but the N900 has the better WVGA resolution of 800 × 480 pixels against the N8’s 360 x 640 pixels. Also, the N900 handles more video codecs than the N8 does, especially with DviX and Xvid files. There were video files that I could not watch on the N8 but the N900 handles them fine.

Customisation: Symbian has much more applications available than Maemo. Yet Maemo is much more highly tweakable via plugins, scripts and apps than Symbian. For example, the N900 is easily overclocked just by installing an app, and can have Linux desktop apps installed on it. Other mobile OSes e.g. Android, have also been installed and run on the N900.

UI and Multi-tasking: The N8 handles this like a champ, but my impressions are that the N900 does it better with more resources and a better UI. The N8 sports 256MB RAM, but the N900 takes it a step further with 256MB RAM and an extra 768 MB of virtual memory. This means that the N900 has a total of 1GHz application memory at its disposal.

The N900’s PC-like approach to tasks makes it the better user interface in every way. The N8’s UI is not bad; the N900’s is simply better. Having used iOS, Android and Symbian devices, the Maemo 5 UI is the closest thing to iOS’s sleekness, simplicity and ease of use. In my opinion, the Maemo UI actually matches iOS in user experience.

Mass Storage: N900 has 32GB and N8 has 16GB. No contest.


Maps: Simply put, the Ovi maps application on the N8 is miles better than that on the N900. No contest.

Social Networking Integration: Out of the box, the N900 has Skype and GoogleTalk integrated into the contacts and conversations applications. Install a few more plugins and you add Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook, and lots more. These are not separate apps, but plugins running right in your Contacts and Conversations apps.

Your chats show up in your Conversations as threaded messages. Your Contacts can be arranged according to online availability, so your available contacts show up at the top when you open the app.

It is simply incredible.

Text Entry: The N900 offers you the best of both worlds – an onscreen keyboard and a slide-out hardware QWERTY keyboard.


Battery Life: Of the two, the N8 has the better battery life. Linux-powered devices tend to consume more resources than Symbian. In this case, the N900’s battery life is prey to this as well. The N8 simply keeps going after the N900 has given up.

Conclusions

Slider QWERTY devices have never been top sellers in the market. They have always been niche devices. Naturally, the majority of people will opt for the N8. Form factor aside, the N8 is the device that you need to buy if you are looking for media content creation. You simply cannot go wrong with buying a Nokia N8 if that is what you are after.

The N900 is a mixed bag and has a much smaller targeted audience – people who are looking for a more PC-like experience on a small device, a better social networking and web experience, as well as office content viewing, creation and editing. That’s where I fall. That’s why the N900 is my smartphone of the year 2010.

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