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.
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
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.