The Motorola Droid continues to be the king of Android devices that include a hardware keyboard, and the smartphone which bore the Android flagship crown for some time before the Nexus One. Meanwhile, the Nokia N900 runs Maemo linux 5 - the operating system which - with polish and joint collaboration with intel - will soon emerge as MeeGo and power a host of Moorestown-packing devices. We're doing something a bit irregular by reviewing both phones in one article, but that's again because they're both running on the same Texas Instruments OMAP3 SoC. Let’s dive into both phones and see how they fare.

Motorola Droid - Still Does

As you probably already know, the Motorola Droid marked a turning point for Motorola, for Verizon’s smartphone lineup, and quite possibly a coming of age for Android as the first shipping smartphone with a mature 2.0 release. It wowed the market when it debuted Google Navigation, but puzzled everyone with its initial lack of multitouch support inside all official Google apps - despite packing a full multitouch digitizer.

 

Since launch, the Moto Droid has and will continue to see continual incremental updates. First, the Android 2.1 update added multitouch to the browser, gallery, and google maps, along with a number of other improvements brought alongside the entire platform update. At Google I/O 2010, we’ve now learned that the Moto Droid will see another update to Android 2.2 before year’s end - bringing a promised 2-5x speed boost to Android’s Dalvik virtual machine with a new JIT compiler, full in-browser Flash 10.1 in addition to Adobe Air support, cloud-to-device push APIs, OS-level WiFi tethering, and browser speed increases among other features.

It’s obvious that despite the recent release of the HTC Incredible, the Moto Droid will continue to hold a place in Verizon’s growing lineup of Android smartphones - and likely at a lower price point than HTC’s new flagship. Currently, Verizon is offering a buy one get one free Motorola Droid promption with purchase and a 2-year contract.

 

The Droid’s chief differentiating factor (other than likely continued lower price point) is the hardware keyboard. For so many, having a hardware keyboard is still a fundamentally important feature, though virtual keyboards aren’t as bad as they used to be - and they’re getting better. As an aside, it’s amazing how quickly ‘Big Red’ Verizon turned its lineup around and became host to so much Android hardware.

Nokia N900 - a ‘mobile computer’

There’s no doubt about it - the Nokia N900 is a unique beast. In fact, it’s that uniqueness which makes it a difficult sell for all but the most hardcore smartphone consumers, but also potentially the most powerful. The N900 is a landscape QWERTY slider with a 3.5” resistive LCD, front and back facing cameras, 3G HSPA for T-Mobile bands, and runs the debian derivative Maemo 5 OS.
 

 

I think it’s a fair argument to make that the N900 hasn’t received as much love state-side as it has abroad, or rightfully deserves. That’s probably due in part to only being sold unlocked with no subsidy, by no specific carrier (though it is targeted at T-Mobile for 3G support, and will work with 2.5G EDGE on AT&T), for $499 at retailers like Amazon. But it isn’t just Nokia grappling with that issue - Google recently learned how hard of a sell unsubsidized, bring your own plan schemes are with its Nexus One. In general, it’s hard to sell people on a $500+ smartphone if they can’t try the device beforehand, or get carrier support.

That aside, the N900 is likely the final evolution in a long chain of internet tablets designed by Nokia - starting with the N770 in 2005. Maemo linux has been as open as open source can be since the very beginning; its application manager started as little more than an APT frontend. If you prefer, it can even still be used that way from the XTerm terminal with an apt-get install. It’s a platform that’s been adorned and worshiped as the ultimate linux smartphone platform by hardcore *nix nerds ever since, and I intend to do it justice.

Similar SoC: Meet the OMAP 3430
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  • akse - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    I've got my N900 clocked to use 250Mhz idle and 805Mhz stress clocks and it fastens everything by huge amount. 600Mhz is sometimes a bit slow and if you up it a little bit, everything starts to get smoother..

    The custom kernel is using lower voltages but higher clocks than nokia stock kernel.. which is why 805mhz drains just about the same amount of power than 600mhz with stock kernel.

    I just love the fact that you can do that kind of things on this phone..

    One guy was asking how to backup sms messages.. well there wasn't any app for it so you could just run a command with sqlite in Xterm to search through the database for all sms's and forward the results with > to a text file :)
    Reply
  • Exodite - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    That's a truly epic article, the in-depth look at both the hard- and software side of things is far and above what I'm used to reading regarding smartphone reviews. Many thanks for that!

    Looking forward to similar articles in the future.
    Reply
  • medi01 - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    Epic, right, and you don't care that Apple's device is visible where it has advantage but is not shown, where it doesn't. Like on contrast comparison images.

    Misterious.
    Reply
  • Exodite - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    No, can't say I mind that at all really.

    Then again I'm not in the market for an iPhone anyway.
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    I actually completely spaced on that one - I probably had a 3GS in my pocket when I took those photos.

    There's no conspiracy - I just thought that the Incredible's AMOLED display would make an interesting comparison with the Motorola Droid's LCD, and the N900's resistive layer would mix things up a bit.

    The iPhone screen really shows its age in the numbers from the bench though. It leaks light pretty badly and obviously the lower PPI is... well... bad.

    Cheers,
    Brian
    Reply
  • Rayb - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    Nokia has been making devices that work without much hoopla for a long time. It is not for everyone but it beats the available iPhone in more useful ways than is possible. Reply
  • Helmore - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    The Adrena 200 is based on the AMD Z430 GPU. A Z340 does not even exist AFAIK.
    I know, I'm nitpicking here, but I just thought I had to mention it.

    The Adreno 200 runs at a frequency of 133 MHz, giving it a theoretical performance of 133 MPixels/s of fill rate and 22 Million Triangle/s. The Adreno 205 is the same core but running at 200 MHz and is what will be used in the MSM7X30 and QSD8X50A (45 nm version of the current Snapdragon chip with some small tweaks). The SGX530 used in the Droid (OMAP3430) runs at around 100 MHz, which should give it a theoretical fill rate of 250 MPixels/s and a 7 million Triangles/s. On the OMAP3630 the SGX530 will run at 200 MHz AFAIK. That's all theoretical performance, as we all know they're only part of the story. Just take a look at the GTX480 and the Radeon 5870 and you'll know that theoretical performance doesn't get you very far.
    Reply
  • fabarati - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    1) there was a mistake on the N900 hardware page: it's a 3.5 mm jack, not a 1.8 mm. You probably mixed it up with 1/8"

    2) The N900 can do Video calling over 3G, like most 3G phones in Europe have done since 2003. It works ok, but it's hella expensive, so no one does it more than once or twice.
    Reply
  • Brian Klug - Friday, June 11, 2010 - link

    Fixed! Thanks!

    -Brian
    Reply
  • wobblysausage - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    Lies! It cannot make a 3g video call.

    It can make a skype video call (or a google chat video call) over a 3g data connection but this is not the same thing. Not nearly.

    I've had my N900 since November and this is the 1 thing I really miss.
    Reply

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