Saturday, 18 December 2010

Nokia N900 vs. HTC Desire Z

So it happened - after almost a year spent with Nokia N900 as a default phone, I have now switched to Android in the form of HTC Desire Z. Being long-standing user and fan of Maemo (since N8x0), immediate switch to whole new platform naturally brings incentive for direct comparison, so here it is.


In terms of platform in general, there's not much I could add to the post I wrote earlier, which was indirect comparison of Android and Maemo and I was quite strict pointing out lots of Maemo's pain points.

Shortly speaking, it's a no-brainer that Android's UI is exceptionally compelling, especially on as good hardware as Desire Z. It's unbelievably fast and responsive and it seems that uptime and number of opened apps in the background doesn't really make much difference. I was stunned to see this device being consistently fast and robust on each and every day of usage without rebooting.

Plus, there obviously is exceptionally easy to use Android Market with lots of excellent apps, very good web browser with Flash support (as in Maemo5), great cloud integration with various services etc etc etc. Simply great.


If I could name at least one thing that Android doesn't do that good as Maemo does, then it would definitely be multitasking. On N900 I could any number of apps and switch between them easily, especially with help of 3rd party apps like camkeyd. In Android it's a bit less convenient. Firstly, number of "recent apps" seems to be limited, secondly switching between them is not as quick and sometimes apps brought back forward seem to be restored into their "default" state. Definite plus on Maemo side in that aspect.

Power-user access
Maemo has root access and ssh daemon pretty much out of the box. Android pretty much doesn't, however it's not impossible. It just takes voiding your warranty and putting device to risk of bricking to gain full root access to the device. However, I need to put a bit of disclaimer here, as in fact process of rooting differs between various Android-powered devices and afaik mainly depends of manufacturer (HTC in my case) trying to lock power users out of options to set their devices free.

There's also a ssh daemon available on the Market (paid) which doesn't require rooting to work, so thankfully there is still ability to send files over ssh.

Nonetheless, as Nokia N900 is in fact miniature Linux box with wide open Debian'ish distro inside, Linux geeks will definitely appreciate lots of hidden perks (apt-get, for starters) that aren't really available in Android-powered device, or at least not within my knowledge.

Another point where I think Maemo wins. Cannot play avi files out of the box? Cannot play online streaming out of the box? Surely, there's an app for that, yet Maemo does better job in terms of codecs support.

I must also say that Nokia's idea of integrating instant and sms messaging into single application is absolutely great and Android unfortunately doesn't provide the same sort of experience. I don't event think there's an app for that...


Since I am the kind of user that cannot live without hardware qwerty keyboard, this aspect of hardware is particularly important to me. And to be honest, after using Desire Z for over a week I can say this for sure - N900's keyboard is just better. I don't mind slightly smaller and tightly laid out keys. There are few other aspects that make it just better: 1) key press "feeling", Desire's is a bit too shallow and doesn't have that good tactile feedback which makes me less confident while typing on it; 2) arrow (cursor) keys, which just aren't present in Desire so users are forced to use optical joypad to navigate through text (horrible); 3) CTRL key, another big miss on Desire's keyboard, now think of cutting/pasting chunks of text quickly for example actually, there's a MENU key that acts pretty much like standard CTRL, so copy is MENU+C, paste is MENU+V etc.; 4) there is TAB key on Desire's keyboard but... it doesn't jump between input fields or even doesn't auto-fill path elements on terminal screen. Frankly, this is the most useless key across the whole keyboard.

On the plus side, there are few convenience keys (like Menu, Search, Sym) and also there's an option to assign many useful shortcuts to applications through two dedicated shortcut keys or via Search+[key] combination. Nice.

Don't get me wrong, Desire's keyboard isn't that bad and most of these gripes are probably just a matter of getting used to. Nonetheless, for someone using N900 for over a year, switch to Desire is a step backwards in terms of hardware keyboard usability.

There's one more thing to note about keyboard and it's that famous "Z" hinge that replaces usual slider approach to open up hardware keyboard. The very first impression is going along the lines of "wow, that feels extremely fragile and... cheap". But guess what. After a week I stopped being bothered and in fact I quite like it! I guess that's another thing which requires a bit of adjustment over few days...

Screen and buttons
Desire Z features exceptionally sharp, bright and very sensitive capacitive panel. I am hugely impressed by its quality. Performing UI tasks with it is absolute pleasure, where even lightest touches are flawlessly registered. I even caught up myself touching N900's screen to lightly after using Desire Z for few days.

When it comes to touch sensitive buttons under the screen, I found no issues using them at all. These are nearly as sensitive as the screen itself and it very rarely takes more than one touch to recognize it.

5 Mpix camera and 720p video - it just cannot be bad, I was thinking. Surprise surprise, it is bad! Camera is one of the greatest disappointments of Desire Z in my eyes. Pictures look great on the device itself (thanks to the screen, I would presume) but on further inspection on computer monitor it turns out photos, especially those done in low light conditions, are blurry and have lots of grain. Exactly the opposite to the N900, where photos don't look good on the device but much better on computer screen.

720p video mode is also quite disappointing. It just records 1280x720 pixels video resolution but it doesn't mean high quality, unfortunately. Shame, as I was looking forward to get fairly decent (as for mobile device, of course) photo/video shooter in my pocket.

It's definitely hard to tell for sure after one week of use when I still abuse my new phone a bit too much by just playing with it or exploring various settings or apps. Nonetheless, I have an impression that battery performance is a bit better than N900's, yet with all online and wireless bells and whistles at least daily recharge session is a must.


I must admit that on the day when Santa took me by surprise with Desire Z I initially felt something like "oh, well... I don't think I am ready to make switch to Android just yet!". I was still "married" to my beloved N900 back then, even if that marriage was quite rough at times and featured lots of "quiet days". But once I tasted that forbidden fruit of Android eden, I quickly realised my marriage with N900 must be put into separation, at least for a while. Simply speaking, Desire Z with Android is a kind of device that is just fun to work with. There's no more waiting ages for applications to start or the UI to respond to my basic input. There's no more wondering whether rtcom-call-ui plunged somewhere deep into swap space so it won't be able to catch up in time for incoming call. There's no need for rebooting every 3-4 days to keep my own sanity... List of gripes against N900 and Maemo could go on and on, even if Android doesn't quite offer all the openness and flexibility as N900 does and which geeks just love (so I do). Who said that geeks don't appreciate decent user experience anyway? So while I keep using my new shiny Android-powered Desire Z, I can't wait to see what future brings and how Nokia learns its lesson...


  1. for me android is just aplication in java working on linux kernel, maemo and meago are linux kernel and under it i feel free to do everythink i whant to do whitout buying anythink. I've iphone, htc hd2 and n900 and i love only n900 others are only for taking phone calls :)

  2. Right decision, man. N900 is dead. Nokia is dead too. When my N900 fails I go to Android too.

  3. Yes, I can feel with you. I switched from a n770 to an n800 and then needed the phone capabilities. So there was the choice: going n900 (expensive, bulky, bad little screen) or an android.
    There came the milestone/droid, shortly after the desire (got it dirt cheap) and finally a Dell Streak. What a big, beautiful screen.
    The community on android is also great. And now where is Nokia? No good device. Only the f... Symbian crap. Where is maemo? Meego... what? Not real..... Sad....
    There was a time where Nokia was number one. Now it seems going back to rubber products.

  4. Before the N900 i was still using my n95 for almost a year i was toying what replacement should i go for, Android or Iphone, kept looking and finally i decided to get the N900 and i wasted almost a year because this is the best "phone" Device i have ever owned, its my baby. The Android/ iphone gang love to slag my baby as a geeks phone, they say its a brick, they say it weighs a tone and they say there is no apps which is not true, there may not be as many but my baby can do apps as well, a friend who has the so called mighty iphone4 laughed when i finally got the n900, so we compared phones, Best at multitasking n900 was better, accessing the internet quickly n900 troused it as i was on page 5 of a site before a home screen came up another friend with the desire said his could do better guess what n900 put them to shame, the moral of this is yeh its a brick that weighs a tone with a few apps but when it comes down to it using it as a smart phone the others come close but their so far behind, after all its been a year since the n900 was releaseed yet the other so called better smart phones still haven't matched the raw power of this fantastic device, and when nokia set the standard of having a standard of 32gigs onboard memory.

  5. thanks for your review... I'm very happy with my n900, but I will change for an Android in a few days. the lack of apllications on maemo-ovi is very too much important. You confirm my feeling about the n900's keyboard : it's good and very usefull. I've wrote some posts on my blog without problem.

    I think it's very important to try the phone-keyboard before to buy. I don't know if I'll take one Desire Z or one Motorola Milestone 2.

  6. Thanks for posting. I was running FroYo on my n900 yesterday for few hours and it shown how slow Maemo UI is. How poor apps are - Modest can not be compared with K9 Mail - K9 knows what push email is, how to use screen resolution etc.

    Being able to normally use applications in portrait and landscape mode is huge thing which nokia never found out...

  7. I have found that after getting a few devices like the HTC G1, Htc G2, Motorola Milestone, HTC Touch2....I keep coming back to my Nokia N900, the fact is that simplicity out of the box can not be beat with Android and its apps, I have found the usefulness of the phone and all its features that no other phone has been able to match. Aside from the Codex support, front facing camera with Skype, MSN, and Google Video chat integration has not been matched by anyone, the full desktop browser, large internal memory and adding another 32gigs externally makes this device a total package. Android is a fine OS, but truthfully it has not matched my N900, you can verify this by going to all my reviews of Android phones as well as Symbian, Maemo and IOS are there.

  8. Even though Android is based on Linux, it only runs Java applications. The majority of the open source programs available for Linux are NOT written in Java, but in programming languages like C or C++. Therefore, most standard Linux applications cannot be ported to Android. This is why applications like LaTeX or gnuplot are simply not available for Android.
    On the other hand, Maemo is a true Linux system, allowing its developers to port existing applications to the mobile device with relatively little effort. The Maemo/Meego platform is the only major mobile phone OS giving this kind of freedom to its users.
    As long as Java is the only programming language supported by Android, I'm not going to switch.

  9. right decision, I'll be making the switch next year to a LG optimus or Nexus S. I think this migration is unstoppable since the n900 is a really good but abondoned device

  10. in my case, the biggest downside of my nokia n900 is the battery life. it can barely last for 4 hours after a full charge, especially if i stay online on my IM services. the other downside is on the support from applications provider, which is very low, compared to android and iPhone.

    so, now i am considering either android or iPhone to replace my nokia n900. but the feature of nokia n900 that i cannot live without is the integration of IM (googletalk, facebook chat, SIP, skype etc) with the phonebook. i know there a 3rd party app for android and iPhone to serve this purpose but it doesnt integrates with the phonebook.

    i guess i will stick to my nokia n900 until i find my "perfect" device.

  11. @gjoe:

    Might not be what you want to hear, but my battery life has improved vastly since using the Titan Power kernel with 'ideal' profile undervolting. I'd recommend it (with warnings of course).

  12. I had to buy a new phone and I was hesitating between the two, but finally I decided for the N900. Being very similar, it is 35% cheaper, it can do skype video call (desire z does not have a front camera) and it still has a long life.

    It is true that over the time Android will probably win in terms of applications and functionality (I don't see how nokia alone can beat a software company like google), but I think it will take another year or two to have the ultimate device.

  13. I was thoroughly disappointed when I had to use a Android for a couple weeks instead of my N900. The N900 simply beats Android or Iphone in almost every respect accept for gui snappyness. Though to be far Android's gui can be dogslow too somethings... Even worse I had android barely responding and crashing at me quite a lot.

    With no package manager updating your 'apps' is a hellisch task. Without decent keyboard typing is simply no use. And with 'app' marketplace/appstore idiom your continously looking for apps at times where you just need something to work.

    As a Linux user and developer the N900 gives you everything you need and more.

    How many phones can basically replace >2000 dollar conference equipment ?
    When my companies setup broke, I hang my N900 on the big television screen, added our skype account and presto an instant conference call replacement setup.

    Yes the video is not as good as 8mp big lens camera, but we had conference calls running for an entire day on the N900 while services guys where repairing the expensive equipment :)

    This is one of the strength from a phone and platform like Maemo and the N900.

    That sayed... I'm still very much afraid of the future... Meego still havn't delivered anything that is in the same ballpark as Maemo was. Also Maemo was already aging a lot when the N900 come out. Just calling something Meego 1.1 does it make it work okey...

    I really really wished they did not killed maemo and moved over to moblin, it would have been much better if they rebased from Debian, removed/reworked all the closed source changes to it in favor of some opensource platform/plugin architecture to build the new 'maemo' on top of.

    Then had the mooblin guys contribute to that project.

  14. Great comparison. I've had Nitdroid "Gingerbread" running on my Nokia N900 for over a month now and it's definitely got me yearning for an Android OS device, but once you've experienced a N900, finding another device similar is proving to be very difficult. There is nothing on the market or in the world that comes close to the N900's capabilities. I rekon if the team of guys programming Nitdroid can pull off the unthinkable and get the phone and SMS functionality working and all the little extra features than an Android phone has by default, then the Nitdroid OS on a N900 will be unbeatable. Speed wise I have my N900 running 850MHz and it lasts a day quite easily, and with heavy usage 5 hours max. I am very tempted to get the Desire Z, but after reading your comparison I want to thank you for making me think I should wait.

  15. @MyNokiaN900: after nearly 2 months with DesireZ I must say I'm very happy with it and don't regret a switch. There are few things I miss from N900, yet overall it was good move forward. I even got used to the keyboard completely (albeit I miss arrow keys *a lot*).

    To be honest, I thought of DesireZ as a stop-gap before MeeGo/Harmattan-powered Nokia device, yet with yesterday's Nokia+Microsoft deal I'm inclined I'll stay with Android for much longer...

  16. HI, I'm thinking to buy a new device and I am watching nokia n900 (around 250 euros for a good used or 280 new) and the desire z (330/350 euro).

    I didn't used a android or maemo until now, only symbian. I like the bigger capacitive screen of desire Z, and the Android new "phenomena" with a lot of applications and the evolution of OS; but 32 Gb onboard of n900, the good community and the multimedia possibility (I like the idea don't convert a movie before to pass on the device)
    I cannot decide myself (the price difference is not secundar... :( )

  17. Frankly, if Nokia haven't decided to marry Microsoft, I'd recommend to wait until Nokia-MeeGo device is released but in current circumstances I'd rather go for Desire Z. Alternatively, if you've been using Symbian up until now and you're happy with it, consider N8 or E7. I am going to post my detailed review of Nokia N8 today, maybe tomorrow.

  18. Hi. Will the fring video call work on the n900? If not when?

  19. I jumped from a Nokia N73 to the N900 and it was love at first sight.
    Unfortunately after a small month the love for my N900 vanished and turned into hatred.
    My device just couldn't stay stable, 4 to 5 spontaneous reboots per day, and i returned it.
    When i got it back after 3 to 4 weeks i was slightly thrilled again apart from nokia only be able to say that a component was exchanged not stating what exactly.
    It was working again and that is what counted.
    It worked ... great .... for one week...
    I even got a dos kinda box with the message stating the device encountered a critical error and that it will reboot in 20 seconds.
    The frequent reboots where there again etc.
    Back to the shop..
    The phone was gone for almost 6 weeks without any kind of progress.
    I knew for sure, my love for nokia was blasted to pieces.
    I came to an agreement with the shop to take another phone.
    I wanted something for easy texting of large messages and a keyboard is part of that.
    Then the HTC Desire Z was blinking at me and without hesitation i picked it up and took that baby home.
    Till date it did not fail me once from december 2010, i found my new brand and that was HTC.

  20. Nokia used to be the best option but that was the case few years back! Nowadays, I think if mobile phones are concerned Android works the best. I have HTC Desire and honestly I am very convinced with the same. Earlier I used to use N79 and I was having so many problems, shit! Thank God, I got the best piece!

  21. I'm still happy with my N900Maemo. Soon, planning to test-drive HTC Desire Z.

    Have a good day guys!

  22. I had the Desire Z. Then I bought the Nokia N900. I would say I am not a 'geek' but there is this feling about the N900 that attracts you. It is a SOLID machine. Despite the dearth of applications on the N900 compared to the Desire Z, the few on the N900 are thoughtfully put together. You have this feeling of having in your hand a well made machine; by comparison the Desire Z feels like a good useful toy. Some strong Nokia N900 points- Camera (you are given 2)especially useful for SKYPE, better quality pictures and keyboard, integration of the SMS, Facebook etc etc