Review: Nokia N9

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The Nokia N9 represents a milestone of sorts for the Finnish manufacturer. It’s undoubtedly one of the finest devices they’ve ever made, and reminds us of the days when Nokia’s devices were the products to beat when it came to mobile phones. It also represents the last time that the firm from Espoo will be marching to the beat of their own drum, and the first and last time that MeeGo will be making an appearance on their hardware as the company will be going all in with Microsoft’s Phone 7 OS for all their smartphones from here on out. It’s all too bad really, as the mix of Nokia’s hardware and MeeGo make the N9 one of the best smartphones we’ve tested so far this year.

We’ve talked about how the N9 looked before, but there’s no harm in refreshing what most already know – the N9 looks drop dead gorgeous. The Nokia claims that the N9 is the world’s first pure touch screen phone, and we believe them. Aside from the power button and the volume rocker keys on the right side of the screen, the whole thing is devoid of physical controls. All of the navigation is done through the gorgeous, 3.9-inch capacitive AMOLED touchscreen.

Like all self respecting Nokia devices, the N9 also has a 8-megapixel camera with LED flash on board, as well as a front facing one for video calls. Oddly enough, the front facing camera is located on the bottom right of the device, which is odd, since it’s usually located on the upper right on other mobile devices. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – the simple contours and shape of the N9 make it one of the prettiest smartphone’s we’ve seen so far.

The device kinda sorta flows into your hand, and the body is made out of a single block of poly-carbonate. Though we wish the N9 was made out of aluminum, the plastic body is just as sturdy and the overall heft of the unit is good – heavy enough to tell you you’re holding something substantial and light enough that it doesn’t feel like a brick in your pocket. The charging and SIM slot rests on the top of the device and is hidden from view, to access them you’ll have to pop open the hinge that hides the USB slot on the top of the device, then slide the SIM caddy to the left to and pull up free it from the device. Surprisingly, the N9 uses a microSIM card slot (like the iPad and iPhone 4) , so if you are dead set on getting this unit, you’ll either have to cut up your old SIM or get a microSIM version from your carrier. The N9 uses a non-removable Li-Ion 1450 mAh battery. There is no space to put in a microSD card – you’re pretty much limited to the 16 and 64GB storage that comes with it.

The internals of the N9 isn’t as peachy as it’s beautiful exterior on paper. It runs on a single core 1GHz Cortex A8 CPU powered with a PowerVR SGX530 GPU providing the graphical horsepower for games and the OS. Connectivity wise, you’ll be getting all the smartphone essentials – WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n (with WiFi hotspot functionality), Bluetooth EDR 2.1 and full 3G functionality. Surprisingly enough, the N9 is also equipped with NFC.

The real star of the show is MeeGo, which was in version 1.2 (Harmattan) when we got the device. We first had our doubts when we first heard that the N9 would be a pure touchscreen device, but after we used it we can’t imagine going back to our old ways (actually, yes we could, but you know what we mean).

You unlock the screen by swiping from the bottom of the screen up, which reveals the main menu of the device.

Swipe left, and you’ll see all the currently running apps, swipe left again and you’ll catch a glimpse of the social network feed (depending on what you’ve linked with your account).

Getting out of an app is ridiculously easy – you just need to swipe up from the bottom of the screen and the offending app is banished into the running app list and takes you back directly into the main menu. To unlock the phone, you simply have to swipe up from the bottom of the bezel or tap the screen twice.

Another nice thing we liked about MeeGo was how well it integrated accounts right out of the bat. Like Android, you can link your accounts to the N9 which, in our case, included Facebook and Google.

Normally we hate typing on touchscreens, but here too the N9 excels – there’s a slick predictive system in place and the phone vibrates softly with each button press. The keys are all spaced evenly and we rarely if ever struck a wrong key while typing on the screen.

You can also instantly kill any running app by holding your finger over the app and waiting for the X button to appear over the icon. Once you’re done, click on done and you’re taken back into the running apps screen.

Like any self-respecting smartphone, there’s also an app store on tap here, though understandably there are far fewer apps present, especially when you compare it to Android or even iOS. Our demo device had a bunch of free apps already pre-installed including a couple of games, but we’ll be concentrating on NFS Shift and Real Golf 2011 for now.

While it seems that the N9 seems a tad underpowered when compared to other devices on paper, you’ll be happy to know that the processor and GPU combo is perfectly capable of keeping the entire experience smooth. There are a few slowdowns here and there (especially when running some of the apps for the first time, or when refreshing the social feed after a good while) but the experience is pretty good overall. The two games that we mentioned – NFS Shift and Real Golf 2011 were both visually appealing games, and the N9 had no problems at all handling both.

Call quality was excellent, but then again, it was never in doubt – this IS a Nokia device, after all. Another constant for Nokia devices are awesome pictures, and the N9 is no exception to this. The device lasted about a day with moderate use, and we reckon it’s one of the few smartphones that would probably be still standing even if you forgot to charge it the night before.

There’s a huge but to everything that we said, and sadly we’ve come to the point of the review where we tell you what it is. The N9 and MeeGo are, for all intents and purposes, dead. They’re legacy products even before they left the gate. Nokia’s ditching everything not running Windows Phone 7 on their smartphones (and sooner or later, Symbian too) and that includes the N9 and MeeGo. It’s hard to recommend a product without a future, and that’s what the N9 is – it’s an awesome device that was released too late. If it came out back in January, it would have been hailed as revolutionary. Sadly, now it’s a curious relic of a time when Nokia was still an independent being, capable of dictating where their software goes.

So, the question is: should you get the N9? Here’s our take on it – yes, yes you should. Sure, the lack of apps is disheartening and the fact that Nokia’s switching to WP7 and leaving MeeGo is a bit of a bummer, but that shouldn’t obscure the simple fact that we’ve realized while testing this device: it is the best device Nokia has ever made, bar none. Too bad it just came far too late.

 

What’s Hot:

Beautiful screen

Solid build quality

MeeGo is simple and easy to use

Excellent camera

 

What’s Not:

MeeGo (on Nokia devices, at least) is deader than a doornail

Few apps, weak ecosystem overall

 

Bottomline:

The N9 is undoubtedly Nokia’s finest device to date. It’s just too bad that it was killed before it was able to strut its stuff. Don’t let that stop you from getting it though – the mere fact that it’s a piece of Nokia history should be enough to justify it’s purchase.

 

Buymeter: 8.8

 

TECH SPECS
  • Operating System: MeeGo 1.2 (Harmattan)
  • CPU: 1GHz Cortex A8 CPU, PowerVR SGX530 GPU
  • LCD size: 3.9-inch AMOLED
  • Physical Dimensions: 116.5 x 61.2 x 12.1 mm
  • Weight: 135 g
  • Band: GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900, HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100