Nokia N900's GPS is "Amazing" – But it does NOT have a Digital Compass.

| September 18, 2009 | Reply

My phone’s been off all day, so I’ve only just found my messages from Jussi Makinen kindly answering some more of my questions on the N900 (Very hard to do concisely express questions on twitter).

I asked about the video codec support, whether it could play videos without needing the likes of mplayer. – Jussi said

Video playback file formats: .mp4, .avi, .wmv, .3gp; codecs: H.264, MPEG-4, Xvid, WMV, H.263 …. something for everyone.”

Now whether the N900 will play those formats properly in practice is another thing.

I also wanted to know whether the N900 will receive firmware updates as often and as easily as the likes of the N97. Jussi wasn’t so sure as he wasn’t familiar with N97, but he says “Maemo updates will be very smooth”.

What I really wanted to know was about the presence of a digital compass. Unfortunately, the N900 DOES NOT HAVE ONE. 🙁 [Note, also confirmed by MickyFin from NokiaUsers]

Apologies to those who read my (p)review on the N900 – I thought I heard my source mention something about ‘no infrared and no compass in specs but they’re there’.


What does lack of digital compass mean?

  • No Augmented Reality style apps (using traditional methods..well traditional on a phone anyway, like iPhone/G1/Even S60’s “ARound”) for the N900. Currently still gimmicky but it would be nice to have the option.
  • No self orienting/aligning maps. Not so bad if you’re in the car = GPS is good enough because you’re always moving fast enough to know which direction you’re headed. But if you’re on foot, particularly if you have a poor sense of direction, it gets very difficult to determine which road you’re actually facing without having to walk towards that road. The digital compass makes this easier (or it’s supposed to) as it’s always aligned with all the roads and buildings so you never have to work out what’s what.

Why have they not included it?

No official answer yet. I don’t want to contemplate that Nokia do not see the advantage of such a feature or are leaving it out for the N9XX. The only reasonable explanations are perhaps either that there just wasn’t the space (really?) or that their current technology is still not good enough to be worth it.

E.G. N97 has a digital compass, but you must calibrate it each time, and even if it does calibrate, it swiftly forgets like a retarded puppy at obedience school. When it works, it’s absolutely fantastic (it works all of the time when I’m just playing about with maps). When it doesn’t (when I actually need to use it), you just want to pull your hair out. Reliability please.

What I don’t get is how it can just work properly all the time in the iPhone – it’s pretty much instant with NO calibration. Exactly what you need when you’re in that 10-second window of just wanting to know where abouts you are (if you’re somewhere unfamiliar) and in the context of your surroundings (provided by the compass). You don’t want to be staring at your screen for so long, working out where you are and what’s what when you could have simply just asked someone. GPS performance on the N97 is also hit and miss. Sometimes it gets a perfect lock in 5 seconds, full green bars and holds it- other times, it thinks its in another country. N900’s compass is supposed to be really good with practically immediate lock – we’ll have to wait out to see if it’s like that in real life.

Can we live without the digital compass?

Of course. As we can with most things.

In this context – for most Nokia users who are yet to experience how a proper digital compass should work, then I guess so. It’s the whole, you don’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone. We haven’t experienced good digital compass for that feeling to disappear.

I’m disappointed that it doesn’t have it. I may not use it that often, but I’d like the choice to decide if I would or not.


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Category: Maemo, Nokia, Nseries

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Hey, thanks for reading my post. My name is Jay and I'm a medical student at the University of Manchester. When I can, I blog here at and tweet now and again @jaymontano. We also have a twitter and facebook accounts @mynokiablog and Check out the tips, guides and rules for commenting >>click<< Contact us at tips(@) or email me directly on jay[at]