Nokia N900

In a world full of powerful Android devices, is the Nokia N900 the best Linux computer you can fit in your pocket?
Other Default Applications

The N900 comes with quite a few applications out of the box, and although I don't cover them all here, a few are worth mentioning. One of the most important of these is probably the package manager. This program acts much like any other graphical package manager you might be used to on Linux. Maemo packages everything in debs and provides its own APT repositories. In fact, if you are comfortable with apt-get, you can install the same programs via the command line. You also can add additional repositories, including ones you've made yourself if you want, but out of the box, you have access to Nokia's own repositories along with the stable repository. is the central site that organizes the Open Source community behind Maemo and is loaded with documentation, news and the main community forum. Many of the most popular applications from prior versions of Maemo have been ported to the N900, although you might not see them all out of the box. Although the main repository is on by default, only applications that have been throughly tested show up there. If you are willing to risk some instability, you can add Testing and Devel repositories that somewhat mirror the Debian testing and unstable system. Applications that are shown to be stable in Devel move up to Testing and eventually are promoted to the main stable repository.

The N900 also includes a media player, photo management, calendar and e-mail program. None of these applications stand out, but they all seem to do an adequate job. The media player can take advantage of hardware acceleration, and with the right third-party packages, you can get support for most media formats you'd want to play. Although the calendar application can't natively sync to Google Calendar, you can somewhat work around that with its native Exchange sync feature, even though you still can sync only your first Google Calendar. The good news is that most of the limitations you might find in these default programs can be solved with third-party software available from the repositories.

GPS navigation is the one main exception to being able to solve application shortcomings with third-party programs. I found the Ovi Maps application included by default to be a bit sluggish and unintuitive and overall wasn't too impressed. Unfortunately, although a few other third-party GPS programs are available for the N900, none available at the time of this writing seem to be able to provide a better set of features than the default.

Interesting Third-Party Applications

Maemo's software selection may not have the numbers that Android or the iPhone have yet, however, in the short time that the N900 has been available, quite a large number of useful programs are already in the repositories. Also, the Maemo platform provides you with more options as a developer, and you can write programs in C, C++, Python or even bash and with either the GTK or Qt graphics toolkits. The repositories are where the most interesting and useful applications are, and it's where the N900 really shows some of its strengths as a platform. Here are a few third-party apps I've personally found useful:

  • OpenVPN: open-source VPN to tunnel into my home network from anywhere.

  • gPodder: excellent podcast program.

  • BlueMaemo: turns the N900 into a Bluetooth keyboard, mouse and gaming pad.

  • VNC and rdesktop: connect to and control remote desktop sessions.

  • fbreader: great ebook reader with Project Gutenberg integration.

  • DrNokSnes, iNES and SDLMAME: SNES, NES and MAME emulators.

  • qtirreco: uses the IR port to turn the N900 into a universal remote.

  • Duke Nukem, Doom and Quake III: enough said.

  • Panucci: media player optimized for podcasts and audio books.

Beyond these programs, many interesting small packages extend the functionality of the N900, whether it's adding extra IM protocol support, remote control via wiimote or applications like MPlayer, nmap or even AbiWord. In fact, one of the most interesting programs is easy-deb-chroot. It sets up a complete Debian ARM chroot image on your filesystem and gives you access to a regular Debian ARM install. This means that even though GIMP, for instance, hasn't been ported to Maemo yet, it,, Konqueror, Wireshark and just about any other app from the Debian ARM repositories are available on the N900 and can run from within the chroot environment.


Kyle Rankin is Chief Security Officer at Purism, a company focused on computers that respect your privacy, security, and freedom. He is the author of many books including Linux Hardening in Hostile Networks, DevOps Troubleshooting and The Official Ubuntu


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Maemo in N900

Hobbyist's picture

Anyone tried the Maemo dualboot option this one?

great phone. a little thicker

logan's picture

great phone. a little thicker than i'd like. processor is faster though than my old unlocked blackberry phones. simple to use, texting and web browsing is good. my partner loves it for the gps and the wifi and my family loves their unlocked mobile phones for the facebook and games. speaker is really loud and it hooks up to my computer simply. also the camera and recorder are great. got our last couple unlocked mobile phones at 2 thumbs way up

Sygic GPS

Anonymous's picture

Unfortunately, although a few other third-party GPS programs are available for the N900, none available at the time of this writing seem to be able to provide a better set of features than the default.

Obviously you have not tried Sygic Mobile Maps. It is not free, though: $40 (US version) / 59 EUR (European version).

No Canadian 3G support :(

jamie dalgetty's picture

If this thing worked on the Canadian 3G networks I would have bought it instead of my iphone. I still think this is one of the coolest mobile devices on the market today.


Tony Green's picture

For a good replacement for the awful default OVI maps, try Mappero ( which is in the Extras repository.
Admittedly I've never felt the need for GPS before, so I can't compare it with other programs, but it works well for me and has shown me just how useful GPS can be, even when you don't need to rely on it for directions (though it has that functionality anyway).

Oh, and thanks for the pipe tip - very useful.

better workarounds

Viqsi's picture

My preferred method for adding the pipe character (among others) was to edit the xkb symbols file for the N900 - it's /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/nokia_vndr/rx-51 - and edit the entries for the arrow keys so that they have useful alternate characters with the Fn key. There's a tutorial at - I've got tab, escape, |, and ~ associated with Fn+left, right, up, and down respectively.

The nice thing is that doing this lets you get rid of the toolbar (gconftool-2 -s /apps/osso/xterm/toolbar -t bool "false") and thus have more terminal real estate. Which is, of course, a Good Thing. :)

good n bad- no lonely

bills2north's picture

I agree it's an awesome phone but I fear it'll be short lived. A geek market? Whoa comeon. Real geeks can tweek anything into something awesome. Yes I like n900 but there are more downsides to note. Biggest being- loading beta when nothing else is out there. This tablet's been out a while now and I still need to trawl..and fMMS is great but slow like some beta. So I gotta great tablet running maemo 5 and MeeGo coming before x-mas and got no time to tweek or write code. But will I put this n900 down? No.. cos this is an investment. Like the bomb squad would say.. I gotta N900- and I'm gonna use it!!! -good review, thanks :) ps. typed on n900 on the couch ;)

Great you wrote about how to

Anonymous's picture

Great you wrote about how to add the pipe charater to the toolbar. That has frustrated me many times trying to do some quick on call work :-)

A bit ahead of its time.

Kent Crispin's picture

Thanks for the review -- I've owned one for quite some time now, and it's a sad that the device hasn't gotten more exposure. For a geek open-source purist, it's a much better device than an android phone. (Nothing against android -- just a different market niche :-)).

I think, though, that it's a product ahead of its time. I suspect (and hope) that in a couple of years there will be more devices that sit in a similar design space -- a bit bigger, and much,much more powerful...

Nice review Mr. Rankin

Linuxbass's picture

Yep. went out and bought one, on sale at one of our better online market places. Cheers! Never did get that email :-)


Balaji 's picture

That was good article do you have a Blog or some ting i can subscribe to
would like to read more and more


Thank you :)

Ernesto's picture

Your nice article removed all my hesitations on this beautiful device... I will get one :)

Excellent Review.

Sandeep's picture

I am a linux fan and currently own a N73. Seems I will end up buying one N900 soon..