Showcase: Maemo 5 (On A Nokia N900)
A brainwavez.org Tech Review

South Africa By: Mandy J Watson on 5 March 2010
Category: Tech > Software > Features
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Maemo 5 is a Debian Linux-based operating system that is installed on the Nokia N900 cellular phone. As it's a customised version of an operating system that is designed to run on all sorts of devices, including desktop machines and laptops, it has lots of productivity features and tools. This is a showcase of some of what the OS has to offer the phone.

With Nokia recently announcing that it's collaborating with IBM and they will be merging their two phone OS platforms (Moblin in the case of IBM and Maemo in the case of Nokia) to form MeeGo, I'm not sure whether this will be much of an informational article or rather just a description of brief historic tech ephemera (unless you actually have a Nokia N900 or are running Maemo 5 on a desktop machine, which is possible as Maemo is just a version of Debian Linux).

Regardless, I spent a bit of time looking at the Maemo 5 operating system as I was testing the Nokia N900 and I downloaded load-applet (100 KB), which allows you to monitor CPU usage, take screenshots, and capture screencasts (I never quite figured out how that worked - it saved AVIs in the Video clips folder on the phone but none of my programs seem able to play the files). Therefore, here's an introduction as to what the OS looks like on the phone and some of the features that are available.

First, a note. The original screenshots are all at a resolution of 800x480, even though it doesn't seem possible that a phone could display such a large resolution (you don't realise it's the case because the screen is not that big), so they've been scaled down in most cases. You can click on some (those with the "plus" icon) to see larger versions if you are interested.


On to the showcase:

Maemo 5 - click to enlarge
Above: These are two views of the home screen of the desktop (the background can be customised, hence the two different designs, both of which are part of the default image library). On the left the phone is registered on the Vodacom mobile network. On the right the phone is operating in offline mode (note the crossed-out SIM icon).

You can also see the two different switching/activating icons in the top-left corner of each screenshot. When clicked, the icon depicted in the left-hand screenshot pops up thumbnails of your open windows and programs, working like Alt-Tab in Windows. The icon depicted in the right-hand screenshot opens the first page of the menu screen.

[ Click the image or here to see full-size versions of both screenshots. ]

Maemo 5
Above: Activate views. There is a setting that allows you to customise the number of screens comprising your desktop (maximum four).

Maemo 5 - click to enlarge
Above: The very, very, very long desktop home screen. This is a composite of four screenshots. As each screen is 800x480 pixels you can have a desktop that's as large as 3200x480 pixels if you activate all the screens.

[ Click the image or here to see a full-size version of the entire 3200x480 desktop. Highly recommended! ]

Maemo 5 - click to enlarge
Above: As I mentioned in the Nokia N900 article, the menu system is a little weird. If you tap the menu icon you get what's depicted on the left. Shortcuts for most of these functions are already sitting on your desktop or the programs can be activated directly via buttons on the phone. If you tap the "More..." icon here you get the screen on the right, which has a scrollbar on the right-hand side (not depicted - for some reason the screenshot app didn't grab that graphical element) so that you can scroll through the list of icons that run off the screen and into infinity (or thereabouts). If you install new apps their icons will be addd to this screen, although you can also, of course, make shortcuts for them to place on your desktop.

[ Click the image or here to see full-size versions of both screenshots. ]

Maemo 5
Above: Application manager allows you to view a list of your installed applications and widgets as a scrolling list, obtain a summary (developer info) and description of each program, and uninstall an item.

Maemo 5
Above: File manager: disappointing (read the Nokia N900 Testing Notes article for more on that). If you "right click" (tap and hold) you get a pop-up menu (bottom image) with basic functions such as copy, rename, and delete but delete doesn't work on microSD cards; instead you get an alert message saying the task cannot be performed.

Maemo 5
Above: If you click the Battery icon this information pops up, bar the camera icons at the bottom, which will only appear if you have load-applet installed. (The one on the left is to capture screencasts - AVIs of what's happening on the screen that don't seem to want to play in any media player - and the one on the right is for screenshots, which gives you 20 seconds to click the camera button on the unit to take and save a screengrab). It's a very useful utility. It also provides information such as CPU usage/load, so you can see when your processor is being hogged. The icon on the right-hand side of the icon bar with the little white (and occasionally red) bars that you may notice on some of the other screenshots is what depicts this. You won't see it on the Nokia N900 if you don't have load-applet installed.

Maemo 5 - click to enlarge
Above: The phone defaults to portrait orientation when you want to make a call (left). On the right is a composite image of the phone's settings menu. You can customise the notification light, set up TV out to view your photos and videos on a TV (a cable is included in the Nokia N900 package for that), and access the FM transmitter functionality, as well as the usual phone and connectivity setup options.

[ Click the image or here to a full-size version of the settings screenshot. ]

Maemo 5
Above: This is the Memory settings menu, which you will find under the "Settings" menu that's illustrated above. It details used and available storage for the built-in storage as well as your microSD card, if you have one inserted, and the space available for applications, which, for some reason, has its own designated, unconfigurable storage area that isn't particularly big (in comparison to the entire storage available on the phone).

Maemo 5
Above: This screenshot illustrates connectivity options that were available at the time - in this case 3G and a collection of both secure/private and non-secure Wi-Fi networks.

Maemo 5 - click to enlarge
Above: The screenshots demonstrate both Conversations and the multi-window display that you can "task switch" between. The image on the left is of a pop-up notification that you've received an SMS (in this case... six hours beforehand...) and the right image illustrates the Conversations inbox and a single SMS/conversation.

[ Click the image or here to see full-size versions of both screenshots. ]

Maemo 5
Above: These are some of the browser's menu options. The copy and paste functions are there because the URL is highlighted in the browser bar. You can't select, copy, and paste text on a page.

Maemo 5
Above: This is an example of the tap-and-hold ("right-click") pop-up menu that you wil get in the browser. This was specifically from a hyperlinked image element on the page, hence the "Save image as" option, which usually wouldn't be present. "Copy image address" would usually be "Copy link as". The "Save link as" option allows you to save an archived version of the page onto the phone - either just the HTML file or the HTML file as well as all the images, JavaScript files, and so forth.

Maemo 5
Above: Media player comprises four options - "Music", "Video", "Internet radio", and "Shuffle all songs". The menu screen is depicted at the top, followed by two screenshots of MP3s playing in the music player (the one on the left has an embedded album cover, whereas the one on the right doesn't), and the final image is of the video media library. (The black, rectangular artifact in the bottom right of that screenshot was caused by load-applet not being able to grab the screen properly.

Maemo 5
Above: The Camera app's interface controls. There's not much to say here - you control everything via the touchscreen, although there's also a camera button on the device. The controls and settings are the same as what you would expect to find on any other phone.

Maemo 5
Above: X-Terminal: do your geek things here.

Maemo 5
Above: A selection of games (clockwise from the left):
Blocks is very much like a copyright game that rhymes with... um... "metris".
Marbles: I nearly lost mine because I don't know what the point of this game is - and it didn't have any instructions and I couldn't figure it out.
Hex-a-Hop: I downloaded this puzzle game from Nokia's Maemo Select site. It's free (and provided by the Maemo community at maemo.org) and it's about 3.5 MB.
The other games that come with the phone are Chess and Mahjong and there is also a drawing app called Sketch.


There you have it. A brief tour of Maemo 5 on the Nokia N900. It's a powerful operating system with a great, well-designed, good-looking interface with only minor flaws and it's, for the most part, a pleasure to use.

The Nokia N900 review unit was provided by Nokia South Africa.



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