N900 MicroB Browser Basics

Every new phone has a learning curve, however brief.  When I got my N900 I expected to have to put a fair amount of effort into figuring out how to use the device.  After all this was not only a new handset for me but I'd never used  Maemo before. Plus, I'd heard that the N900 was a geeky device, not really suited for normal mobile users.

MicroB Toolbars

OK, maybe I am a geek, but I think I got up to speed with the N900 and Maemo as quickly as I did with my first exposure to Android or S60. The Maemo user interface maybe daunting initially but with a little research and experimentation it reveals itself as powerful, easy to use and efficient to terms of quickly accomplishing both complex and simple tasks.

My focus is browsing and web apps.  I believe the N900 's MicroB browser is the best built-in mobile browser ever and maybe the best mobile browser, period.  Here are some tips to help you make MicroB work for you.

Understanding the MicroB GUI

MicroB's UI is very clean and quite intuitive. Most actions are accomplished using  the toolbars at the top and bottom of the screen:

  • The toolbars are hidden by default except when pages are loading. When the toolbars are hidden, tapping the screen brings up a full screen toggle icon in the bottom right corner (visible in the image below) that can be pressed to display them as shown in the image above.
  • The top toolbar has an icon to switch browser windows, a clock, connection and battery status indicators, the page title and an X icon to close the window.
  • The page title in the top toolbar doubles as the browser menu button.  Tap it to reveal buttons to open a new window, find text, save the page, view downloads, see page details, refresh the page and open the browser options screen.
  • If you want the toolbars to always be visible, tap the page title to bring up the browser menu, tap "Settings" and un-check "Open initially in full screen".
  • The bottom status bar  has the URL entry field and icons to open bookmarks, add a bookmark, refresh the page or stop a page load in process and what looks like a back button but actually opens a visual history screen similar to the one in the iPhone and  Symbian browsers.


MicroB is Firefox at it's core.  As such it can handle just about any site that works in Firefox on the desktop.  It also uses many of the same shortcut keys as Firefox.Like:

  • Space: Page down
  • Shift:  Space Page up
  • Ctrl - N: Open a new Window
  • Ctrl - R: Refresh the current page
  • Ctrl - B: Open the bookmarks page
  • Ctrl - D: Bookmark the current page
  • Ctrl - C: Copy selected text
  • Ctrl - X: Cut selected text
  • Ctrl - V: Paste copied or cut text
  • Ctrl - Shift - P: Take a screenshot
  • Backspace:  Go back one page in browser history
  • Shift - Backspace: Go one page forward in history.

These are only the shortcuts that I found useful in the browser. Other applications and Maemo itself have many more shortcuts.  See Nokia Experts for a comprehensive list.

Zooming and Fit To Width

When you first load a site, Micro B fits the page to the screen width. This is fine for some sites like HowardForums, shown above, where everything is quite readable in full page view.  But on most pages you will want to zoom in. There are three ways to zoom in MicroB:

  • Double taping a column of text will zoom in fit the column to the screen.
  • You can scroll smoothly in and out with the volume rocker on the top edge of  the N900.
  • Press and hold anywhere on the screen and rotate you fingertip clockwise to scroll in or counterclockwise to scroll out (video).

On pages that use small fonts and wide columns, double tapping to zoom in doesn't always give you readable text.  That's not a problem, MicroB can re-flow text at any zoom level.  If text is too small after double tapping:

  • Zoom with the volume rocker or finger swirling until the text is readable
  • Press Ctrl - Shift - I: to reflow the current column's text to fit the screen width.

Long Press Context Menu

A long press is MicroB's equivalent of right-click. It brings up a menu that has diferent options depending on where on the page you long press.

  • Long press an image to:
    • Copy the image's address
    • Save the image.
  • Long press a link to:
    • Open the link in a new window
    • Copy the link address
    • Bookmark the link address
    • Copy the link address
    • Save the link's target page as a file
  • Long press anywhere on the page to:
    • Save the page
    • Open it in a new window
    • Bookmark the page
    • Add a shortcut to the page to the desktop
    • Subscribe to the page's RSS feed

MicroB Select Text

Gestures/Copy Page Text

MicroB has a couple of shortcut gestures. The most important one  lets you copy page text.

MicroB's UI for copying text from a page is seems unnecessarily complex. Here's the process:

  • Drag your finger from off screen on the left onto the screen .  An arrow icon will appear in the bottom right corner of the screen indicating that you are in "Hover Mode".
  • Tap the Hover Mode  arrow and red line should appear across it.
  • Tap the screen near the text you want to copy.  An I-bar cursor will appear.
  • Move the I-bar with the arrows to the start of the text you want to copy.
  • Hold down Shift and select text with the arrows (see image above).
  • Press Ctrl-C to Copy the text

The other gesture is an alternate way to open visual history.

  • Drag you finger from off screen on the right on to the screen to bring up visual history.

Enable Portrait Browsing.

The latest V. 2.2009.51-1 Maemo firmware adds  an undocumented portrait browsing mode to MicroB.

  • Press Ctrl-Shift-O (letter Oh, not zero) to enable portrait mode switching.
  • Once enabled, if the keyboard is closed the display will switch from landscape to portrait when the device is turned to vertical orientation.

Portrait mode has quite a few limitations.  There's no way to enter text, view history or go back and forward. Gestures and the long press context menu don't work.  But you can  click links and zoom using double tap, the volume rocker or the swirling gesture.  In spite of the limitations I ind myself using portrait mode a lot. It's great for browsing one handed in a crowd or while standing on a bus. And mobile web sites, which are designed for narrower screens, tend to look better in portrait mode.

I hope you found these tips useful. If you discover anymore undocumented features or tricks for using MicroB please share them in a comment.

21 thoughts on “N900 MicroB Browser Basics

  1. I have problem with N900 since I uninstall fennec. It cannot play youtube. It says 'Your browser does not currently recognize any of the video formats available
    • You could try a factory reset but YouTube not working might be unrelated to uninstalling Fennec. YouTube stopped working on a couple of old my Android phones running Cupcake and Donut. I think Google is removing support for old browsers and operating systems.

      If you want YouTube why not reinstall Fennec?
    • It sounds like either you don't have data enabled on your mobile account or the settings are incorrect. Contact your operator, verify that data is enabled and have them send the settings to your phone.
  2. Opera mobile works but doesn't do flash video which is a pain. Firefox does everything but is a bit slow and painful especially when zoomed in. I agree MicroB is excellent but it seems some websites like hotmail have problems with it running as a full browser and limit it to mobile mode ... probably another stuff up by microsoft
    MicroB needs a portrait keyboard badly and also needs to have the extra button to minimise the screen. Shows nokia has no done their homework properly. In portrait mode without keyboard extended it should not need to change to landascape to enter text. Also you should not be having to go to landscape to minimise the screen. Opera has reasonably good portrait keyboard so this is an oversight. Another gripe is that the space bar on the physical keyboard is notin the centre which takes some getting used to.
    An excllent phone but does have some quirks which will put them average person off.
    I loaded debian lxde which comes with good browsers like Epiphany and Iceweasel but kept finding it going to sites via other sites in an indirect manner which raises concerns about malware. Probably for the same reason the pages loaded a slower than expected.
  3. just got an n900 and it works great. awesome phone! i do have one problem however. i cant access secured sites with my microb browser. eg. sites with an https prefix. as a result i cant go through any login process with my phone. i have no idea why this is happening. any ideas?
    • Hey, sorry this fix is coming a bit late and you may not have that fone anymore or you got help already... If you're failing to open secured sites while u're using wifi its most likely because your fone has been configured only for the http proxy server and not for the https proxy server... In most cases, its the same i.p address and port number as its http contemporary. So, under settings, choose Internet Connections; Connections; then select your wifi network; choose Edit and click next twice then choose advanced. Under Proxies, make sure that the https proxy and its port number are entered then choose save and in the following window click finish. The wireless connection will then restart and then your secure sites should be working...

      Hope it works for you hey...
  4. Hi, i'm new N900 user. i have web brower(microb). but it dosn't open the page.what kind of problem is there. plz help me..
  5. Thanks Dennis! I've been trying to figure out how to select text to be copied for a while now, after having done so a few times by "accident", and having no idea how I did it. Also a pleasant surprise to discover that the screen can be portrait-orientated!

    @deeps: my battery life is terrible too. But it can withstand a lot more than an hour of music! I heard a better battery will be coming out (unless it has already), and I hope it sorts our problems out! Otherwise you can try to conserve battery by ensuring that your internet isn't unnecessarily connected, not having too many windows open and not spending too long on phone calls. And if all fails, switch it off! Though I can't see that being of much use, unfortunately :p!
  6. Pingback: Nokia’s N900: Not for vertical markets. | Open attitude.

  7. I belive the battery issue is caused by wifi, lots of people mention a bug with it draining battery on the maemo.org forums, no fix atm. Still a full day of battery for this sort of phone isn't bad.

    Anyone get an issue with megavideo videos being very jumpy? Anyone got a fix?
  8. I have had my n900 for few days ago and find it hard to get through the day with a fresh overnight charge. Nothing significant, ~ 1 hr headphone music, ~ 10 sms messages, T-mobile 2.5G, backlight @ 1st level. Talk time = zilch. Anyone have similar battery issues?
  9. Pingback: Nokia N900 Web Browser Tips | Just Another Mobile Monday

  10. Sounds like my kind of a device :) I'have gradually started to use smaller and smaller PCs, and always dreamed of compact "communicator". Finally it looks like there's somewhat affordable device for geeks who want the phone and true Internet device in same package.

    I personally think the physical keyboard is better than doing everything on touchscreen, and traditional phone keypads are just too cumbersome for more serious writing. In practice I just manage to give better comments on forums and blogs when using full keyboard.

    My only concern about N900 MicroB Browser is the speed and bandwidth needed, since it is full browser, unlike Opera Mini. Moreover, it would be nice to be able to run Opera Mobile using Opera Turbo on N900, but because of OS it is impossible, I guess. Opera Mini can be installed on N900 by using some emulators but I have heard it's quite awkward to start and use Java MIDlets that way.

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