I can safely say that my Nokia N900 is the first mobile phone I’ve truly loved. It’s a brilliant device – and having a phone/netbook/camera/iPod/game system on me at any given time is hugely addicting. I also find the N900 to be a fine example of a device that “sells itself,” since anyone who plays with it is likely to want one.
Unfortunately, the sticker shock of a $549 phone (at the time of this writing; you can find it as low as $469) can be hard to stomach in the U.S. Because the N900 can only be bought unlocked, its price doesn’t compare very favorably to similar smartphones. (The Motorola Droid, for example, is a similar price unlocked – but only $19.99 with a 2-year contract.) Most Americans have a false sense of what a “fair” smartphone price is, since all advertising focuses on the price when subsidized by a two-year contract.
So it got me thinking – if an individual were to individually purchase all the separate “features” of the N900, how much would it cost? This isn’t meant to be strictly scientific – more just a “what if” exercise. I’m also going to use some of my favorite free apps as part of the exercise, so the price for your N900 arrangement may be different. I’m also going to try and minimize overlapping features by starting with the most comprehensive feature equivalents.
(FYI – you can view the official N900 spec sheet here.)
Thanks to the magic of Easy Debian, the N900 is capable of running OpenOffice.org, GIMP, and other desktop Linux apps. The presence of a great hardware keyboard and touchscreen make the transition less difficult then you’d think, and 1gb of RAM (inc. virt) and a 600mhz processor (easily overclocked to 900, 1100, or even 1700mhz) make most desktop apps usable. The easiest cost comparison for this feature would be a low-end Linux netbook. ZaReason’s Terra A20 seems as close a match as we’re likely to find; the Atom N270 is obviously more powerful than the N900’s OMAP 3430, but 1gb of RAM, a 32gb SSD (+$129), and 3G (+$99) match up reasonably well. Since this exercise isn’t claiming to be scientific, let’s say the N900 represents 75% of the above Terra A20 configuration ($577), or $430. Fair enough?
Portable Media Player
Technically the netbook comparison overlaps some of the media abilities of the N900, but since it’s not the same level of portable I think it’s okay to include a comparable portable media player in our analysis. We could look at iPods… but they lack some of the N900’s key features (like FLAC support) while adding unrelated features (the AppStore).
A good comparison appears to be Creative Labs ZEN X-Fi2 32gb – a 3″ touchscreen, similar storage capacity, FLAC support, microSD slot, video out, FM radio. Close enough for our purposes, anyway. The ZEN X-Fi 32gb currently retails for $199.
(Running total: $630)
Unfortunately, the current Ovi Maps implementation on the N900 is weak. The omission of turn-by-turn nav is a killer, as is the inability to save waypoints. Satellite view is awesome, and the GPS is very accurate and reasonably fast. Pathing also works as well as any other phone solution, though it clearly favors European-formatted addresses over U.S.-formatted ones.
All-in-all, I consider the GPS a 50% implementation at present. The eventual addition of turn-by-turn will go a long way toward resolving this, and if you don’t want to wait, Sygic provides a very good (if expensive) 3rd-party solution.
Since most low-end standalone GPS solutions are in the $100 neighborhood, I’m going to say the N900 currently represents a $50 solution.
(Running total: $680)
One of my favorite N900 features, the FM Transmitter is one of those things that makes you ask, “why don’t more companies do this?” A quick online check shows a range of prices, with a mid-range transmitter costing $40.
(Running total: $720)
5mp Camera (w/ flash and 480p video recording)
I’ve written about the N900’s camera before. It’s a fine camera for a phone – excellent quality outdoors, “pretty good” quality under artificial lighting conditions. The dual-LED flash is a nice feature, as is 800×480:25 video recording (though honestly, I’d find more use for 720×480:30). Autofocus and 3x digital zoom are pretty standard.
5mp is a disappearing resolution among consumer cameras, but I was able to find something comparable at Amazon. 5mp, VGA video, similar digital zoom – $50.
(Running total: $770)
Optional Features (e.g. free repository software)
So far I’ve stuck with stock N900 features. Now I’m going to switch gears and start looking at the value added from free repository applications.
(If I’ve missed any apps with wide appeal and a clear cost benefit, let me know.)
- Programmable universal remote (qtlrreco): $17
- Game console emulators (Sega Genesis, Sega GameGear, NES, GameBoy, GBA, SNES, ColecoVision, PSX, even more): price varies by console
- Pedometer (widget): $8
- LED flashlight (app): $9
- Instrument tuner (app): $15
- Cooking timer (tickstill): $8
- TI83/85/86 Graphing Calculator (app): $88
Note that I’ve deliberately tried to select apps that aren’t easily reproduced on any of the above devices (including the netbook).
Optional Features total (not including game console emulators): $145
Grand total: $915
Like I said, this isn’t meant to be scientific – it’s more just an attempt at representing the cost value of a high-end smartphone. Assuming you are able to find an N900 for under $500, you’re essentially halving the cost of piecing together the phone’s many features yourself.
Feel free to (politely) assess my calculations in the comments below!