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By 4 February 2010 | Categories: feature articles

     
Background
 

Nokia’s Maemo (aka Fremantle) was hatched in the Nokia labs a little over four years ago, the OS was designed as a Linux-based internet tablet OS and is open to developers for customisation. Now in its fifth iteration, the platform is still an internet tablet OS rather than a smartphone OS. Maemo 5 just happens to have voice calling capabilities strapped on, and a touch interface. This fact is no more obvious than in the primary orientation of the display – which is landscape for all applications, except for the dialling pad and photos.

 
User Interface
 

Maemo offers four customisable home-screens, called a “panorama desktop”, which you swipe through from side to side. You can place icons and widgets where ever you like, so that your most used apps are exactly where you want them. It really is one of the most flexible setups we’ve seen. The entire OS is built around single menus, which means there is no more drilling down into an overly complex menu structure. You simply tap the menu button (top left on all screens) and a straight forward grid of apps appears.

Notifications on the device, like SMS and missed call notices, are less clever. They briefly appear on the home-screen and are then moved to your dashboard. The dashboard is a screen that sits between the home-screen and the menu when you have active apps or unread notifications. While the dashboard screen is a touch of brilliance, allowing you to manage all your open apps and multitasking, notifications should really be left on the home screen.

The lack of a dedicated back button also confused us at first, but Maemo rather cleverly blurs the background of apps you’re working in. To go back/ exit a screen you simply click on the blurry section.

Multitasking is surely the Maemo’s most impressive feature, just look at the N900. The phone features an ARM Cortex-A8 processor, up to 1GB of application memory and OpenGL ES 2.0 graphics acceleration (read the N900's full tech specs) – in combination with powerful hardware Maemo is able to multitask like a normal PC OS, with very little influence on performance.

Another impressive feature is the integration of IM and regular phone calls. Skype and other IMs come preinstalled, and work seamlessly with the phone and contacts apps. We were able to manage Skype and regular calls as if they were the same thing.

 
Browser and Apps
 

Maemo makes use of a Mozilla built browser that is capable of playing embedded flash video. Need we say more? It offers one of the best browsing experiences we’ve ever had, although moving between multiple pages playing flash video did cause a few hiccups.

Maemo 5 is a little thin on apps at the moment. Nokia have modified the Ovi Store to make it compatible with the platform, but the volume just isn’t there yet. It will be interesting to see how Nokia encourages development; another Calling all innovators competition maybe? For the best and most popular apps on the platform visit Maemo Select.

 
Room to grow
 
Maemo really impressed us. While it has an open-source feel to it, it’s more than usable for non-developers. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that it is at the leading edge of smartphone interfaces, even though it’s still rough around the edges. Maemo 5 does look to have legs though, and we are interested to see more devices for it to run on and a little extra polish.

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