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# Nokia's heir and hardware keyboards

Yesterday I randomly stumbled upon my trusty old _N900_ in a drawer and decided to charge it and revisit past times. Maybe I am becoming older and more nostalgic and this is clouding my judgement but I feel that in _2009_ mobile devices had more character. Booting up the _N900_ and being greeted by the familiar but nowadays seldomly heard _Nokia_ jingle followed by a actually usable mobile Linux distribution makes me feel right at home in a way that today's devices - in my case a _Jolla_ with a _TOHKBDv2_ external keyboard - somehow simply can't.


While the _Jolla_ may have much faster hardware, a bigger screen, multipoint touch and shiny fluid animations it just doesn't measure up to the old _Maemo_ devices when the primary use case is to have an actual mobile computer instead of a communications gadget.

The first and foremost problem is of course the lack of hardware based user interfaces such as unlock sliders, camera protectors, buttons and of course hardware keyboards. While the latter is at least partially solved by the _TOHKBDv2_ external keyboard I helped fund last year and received two months ago it - like everything else concerning the user interface - is just not as good as what was already available as a complete package back in _2009_.

To prevent misunderstandings: I am very grateful for the work _Dirk et. al._ did with [FunkyOtherHalf] to produce a usable external keyboard for the _Jolla_ in a very limited production run of only a few thousand devices. If you view it as what it is - a prototype - it actually exceeds all expections one could have reasonably had.  
But sadly this does not change the reality that at least my other half keyboard is not consistently usable in a day to day fashion. The magnet based connection between the keyboard part an the backcover of the _Jolla_ is rather flaky and sometimes requires reconnects during usage. Furthermore some keys, in my case _U_ and _N_, don't work as well as the other keys which frequently disrupts the flow of typing. If you were to disregard these issues, the keyboard itself, especially the layout, would be better than the _N900_'s - sadly only in theory as its slider mechanism and feel of use in practice is still superior.

![Jolla with TOHKBDv2](https://static.kummerlaender.eu/media/jolla.png)

Of course the _Jolla_ has its strengths: _SailfishOS_ is a pleasure to use[^0] and the faster internals are essential to using it without having to wait on the device every other interaction. Also the replacement of _GTK_ with _Qt's QML_ as the primary _UI_ framework was definitely the right step and being able to execute _Android_ applications is useful for when there is no _SailfishOS_ counterpart.  
But while slow the _N900_ is superior in other situations such as direct sunlight and precision usage using a stylus. The transreflective background of the display means that one can turn off the backlight completly if the sun is shining bright enough and use it as a source of light whereas the _Jolla_ display is often not readable in bright sunlight.

While _SailfishOS_ is more fluid and looks nice, _Hildon_ with all transitions turned off feels quick in a way that an animated UI simply does not. Add to that the various unlock methods such as sliding out the keyboard, sliding back the camera protector or sliding the unlock button and the daily usage of the _N900_ feels more intutive and quicker than any touch based interface I've tried. This problem is increased by the recent _SailfishOS_ UI overhaul that replaces gestures with buttons in various parts of the interface. Many of the nice properties of _Jolla's_ interface such as sliding from the top of the display to lock and sliding up to access the application menu from the lockscreen now have to be patched back into the UI using custom repositories. Admittedly it is great that this is even possible without requiring deep changes to the system such as _jailbreaks_ as in other mobile systems. Furthermore with the right set of patches from the _Warehouse_ it is possible to e.g. enable nearly system wide landscape mode support which is very nice.

What this all boils down to is that the best device for me today would be a _N900_ from _2009_ with updated internals[^1]. However there is not really any question that the _Jolla_ is the better _Smartphone_ and more painless in day to day usage[^2] but the _N900_ is still the better if not only _mobile computer_. Contrary to the _Jolla_ it feels _natural_ to use CLI applications in _Hildon_, ticker with the system and use it like I use my laptop - until I have to wait for the dated hardware to finish computing what to do about my press on the _close window_ button.

[^0]: …or at least was until the update to _2.0_ which in my opinion changed the linear and gesture based concept for the worse. Even worse the official reasoning for e.g. the replacement of sliding cover actions to buttons was that it would be - of all the things - more intuitive to users coming from other operating systems. If the goal is to sell devices to _Android_ users why not simply produce an _Android_ smartphone?! The whole point of _Jolla_ was that it is _unlike_ (to cite their marketing slogan) and caters to users who don't want _Android_ or _iOS_ but something more in the spirit of the old _Maemo_ devices… This situation is just so _sad_. _Nokia_ is finished after their management failures and subsequent hostile takeover, _Jolla_ is divided into two companies, their founder has left and their future is becoming questionable - I fear what the hardware landscape will look like in a couple of years.
[^1]: [Neo900](http://neo900.org/) aims to change that but it is slow moving, very expensive and the updated hardware is not that much better than what we already have. Nevertheless this shows that I am not the only one who dreams of the good old times with the _N900_.
[^2]: Which is why I have switched from the _N900_ to the _Jolla_ in the first place and will continue to use it as my primary mobile device despite my newfound _N900_ nostalgia.

[FunkyOtherHalf]: http://funkyotherhalf.com/