N900 Bricked and Back from the Dead

Aaron Poffenberger

I didn't have much time to work with the N900 yesterday but enough to plug it in for a charge and turn it on. Unfortunately it didn't boot. But I was able to get it back from the dead with the following steps.

Bricked from the Get Go

I'm not sure whether I did this or it shipped from the factory this way but my N900 wouldn't boot from the first moment. I had opened the box and my first thought was to charge. Perhaps I'm so used to iPods and my MacBook Pro with sealed batteries but I forgot the N900 ships with a user-replaceable battery. This of course usually means the user has to insert the battery the first time. I didn't. I plugged the device into the mini-usb charger and left for an hour or so. I came back and tried to turn it on. No go. I then remembered the battery and inserted it. While still plugged in to the charger I tried to turn it on. The screen would light up and after a few moments go dark again. Not good.

After a few moments of frustration I remembered reading about others having bricked theirs already and that one fix is to put the N900 into R&D mode and then putting it back into production mode. I found the flasher-3.5 tool for Mac and turned the device on while pressing down the correct keys. The device launched in usb-connected mode and I was able to put it in to R&D mode. Part of the procedure was to let the device boot in R&D mode. The first time through I glanced at the boot message and saw something very surprising:

no init-fs

Very surprising. I went ahead with the procedure I was working through and put the N900 back into production mode, rebooted and again, the device shut itself off again. The "no init-fs" message began to loom larger in my mind. What if the device had shipped without the default OS or perhaps I had borked it when I tried to start the device without the battery. There's one easy way to find out.

Back from the Dead

After a bit of research I found some discussions about re-flashing the device to fix boot problems. I found the Maemo wiki page about how to reflash the various Maemo devices. Most of the procedures for the N900 are the same but there are some differences highlighted in the article. If you find yourself reflashing, definitely take note of those.

Reflashing isn't hard. You do have to give Nokia the IMEI of your device before they'll let you download the latest firmware. One part of the process that wasn't entirely obvious is which image to download. I don't mean which version, but which image. I don't remember this being true of previous devices but for the N900 Nokia separated the OS image from the data. Smart move on their part. It just wasn't clear to me at first.

I picked the correct image (both OS and version number), flashed the device and rebooted and voilĂ , the device booted. Yay!


I'm a bit disappointed that my N900 was bricked out of the box. Even if I did brick it by charging the device without the battery installed that shouldn't have ruined the boot partition. Nokia have been around long enough to have that level of quality control nailed. But I'm not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I'm still going to give the N900 a fair test and see whether I want to make it my pocket internet device.

More comments and reviews will be coming.