Back in December I was sent a Nokia N900 on a six month trial. I've been living with it as my everyday mobile phone in a special test and having the device for this extended period of time has allowed me to find out lots about this tiny Linux computer. Now that the trial is nearing an end though it is a good time to take things down a gear and relax by listening to music or watching some videos. However, just listening to some local MP3 files on it would be dull, so what else can it do? The N900 has some interesting features in this department, and the inclusion of a TV-out lead and an FM transmitter adds an unusual twist.
So first the basics. As you would expect the N900 has a built in media player which is capable of playing a variety of formats. You can browse songs by album, artist, genre and song title. One thing I did notice though is that with a large number of tracks on the device (I was using it instead of an iPod), the list of available artists would take quite a few seconds to load, so if the artist you liked is towards the end of the alphabet you had to be patient. If you want to sing along you can add the TuneWiki widget to your home screen which will show you the lyrics to the song in time to the music.
The high resolution 800x480 display means playing videos is a great experience. To get the best out of the video player and to make sure that it is in a format supported you can convert your video files using Handbrake, an open source program that converts file between video formats. Further information can be found at: http://wiki.maemo.org/Video_encoding. Files can be transferred to the N900 by just putting the device in mass storage mode or using Bluetooth (much slower), both of these methods work with Ubuntu.
When playing media files not physically located on the Nokia N900 things get interesting. First (and second) some bad news. There are no official clients for Spotify and Last.fm for the N900 which is a great shame. There are third party clients, but your mileage will vary. Vagalume which can support Last.fm didn't work for me. YaSpot, a Spotify client did work, sometimes, but was good when it worked despite lacking off line playlist functionality. I also had only mixed luck with Qtify. Both of these projects will develop over time I am sure, but not being able to use Last.fm and Spotify was a real disappointment for me as one of my favourite pastimes is listening to music.
Don't let this revelation make you feel too sad though, there are plenty of other fun things you can do with the N900 and remote media. If you have a large music collection you might not be able to fit it all on the device itself and instead might be interested in streaming it around your house from a central server. The N900 can act as a UPnP client. I set up MediaTomb on my Acer Aspire Revo and was able to stream my audio and some of my video files to the N900 and select the file I wanted to play though the N900's media player. The media player also has built in Internet Radio functionality with has some presets for various stations around the world, you can also add more if you know the right details or for certain countries by adding extra packages.
One of my favourite features on the N900 is the built in FM Transmitter. This is pure genius, especially when you car is old like mine and you only have a radio-cassette! No fiddling around with adapters or cables, you can just set up the transmitter, tune in your radio and enjoy your music. You can even use this feature with the Internet Radio too. A friend and I experimented with this and enjoyed listening to Göteborgs Studentradio while on the motorway to Coventry thanks to the magic of mobile broadband. It was a bit odd hearing a Swedish radio station in such a setting I suppose. An FM Receiver application is also available for more local radio stations.
If you like radio from around the world you might also like television from around the world. WorldTV99 is an add on for KMPlayer that has lots of links to television channels from around the planet. This was pretty interesting stuff, the streams could be temperamental. I found myself watching a Bulgarian music channel for a bit, just out of curiosity. As the N900 has Adobe Flash 9 installed you can sometimes play content from the Internet that is Flash based. Here your mileage will vary. SeeSaw stubbornly refused to work as it did not like the version of Flash available. Amazingly BBC iPlayer did work! Yes, the normal BBC iPlayer – no need for a mobile client or special version. I followed the instructions at: http://mynokiablog.com/2010/04/02/how-to-getting-your-n900-to-play-smooth-videos-on-bbc-iplayer-despite-the-bbc-update-that-stopped-the-old-solution/ and watched part of a random programme (about libraries in Timbuktu) for ten minutes or so and it all worked well, even subtitles.
All of this is great on a 3.5” (8.89cm) screen, but you can go one step further with the TV Out lead. This lead plugs into the headphone socket of the N900 and on the other end has stereo audio leads and a composite video lead. I plugged this into my TV and could see a large version of everything on the N900's screen! The resolution of 800x480 is high for a 3.5” display but not high for a large TV screen so the way it rendered things like menu screen seems a little bit fuzzy, but video seemed to play fine. Everything that can appear on the screen of the N900 can appear on the TV screen, so you can do things like watch BBC iPlayer, play games and browse the Internet on a full size TV. I could see this being very useful when you are away from home, you could bring the TV Out lead and enjoy your own entertainment on the TV in your hotel room for example.
The N900 offers a lot of options, some unusual, for enjoying audio and video on the move. The lack of official clients for Spotify and Last.fm are real issues and maybe Nokia should approach these companies to encourage and help them to develop clients for it. It is something that would put me off buying the N900. The TV out lead is a great addition and opens up using the N900 as a mini media centre, and the FM Transmitter is my favourite media feature of the N900. Every mobile should have an FM transmitter!