With the myriad of developments in the mobile phone industry in these recent years, it is hard to understand why Nokia, one of the largest and most successful brands in the world, decided to take a leave of absence when it was out in front. While this giant slumbered, many other new players emerged in the field of smartphone development. HTC, Samsung, and Apple are arguably the most prolific players in the market today, while Motorola, Sony Ericsson and Nokia have gradually fallen behind.
After what seems to be a rather rude awakening, Nokia seem to have bounced back from its stupor, and the N9 is the latest contender in the smartphone market. The N9 is Nokia’s latest flagship model, boasting a redesign, new operating system, unibody construction, and minimalistic design characteristics.
The box that contains the N9 (together with the charger/usb connection, Dolby earphones, and miscellaneous manuals) bears an uncanny resemblance to the iPhone’s box. Not reassuring, given that the latest slew of smartphone offerings have been iPhone-inspired. The phone unit itself, however, was a dramatic shift in terms of design from the regular copycats of the digital world.
The N9 has no buttons on the front, which almost looks as though it is trying too hard to NOT look like the iPhone. I wouldn’t blame the designer(s), though, given the similarities between the iPhone 4 and the N9. Both have more or less the same dimensions, weight, and even functionalities.
Despite appearances, however, I feel that the N9 is a very original product. It’s capacitive-touch curved screen, made from Corning’s Gorilla Glass, has a certain premium look to it, as does its polycarbonate matte unibody casing. The 2.5D Gorilla Glass is used because of its more robust, scratch-resistant nature, enabling Nokia to reduce the thickness of the screen, granting both weight savings and higher brightness to its users. The ClearBlack AMOLED screen is comparable to the Samsung Galaxy S II’s, as I can not see much difference between the two.
The N9 feels good in my hands. I am thankful that Nokia’s designer(s) are able to resist the current weird trend of offering humongous smartphones. The width of 61.2mm is nearly perfect for using the N9 with one hand, particularly for somebody who is always on the go. The cover is also nicely designed and manufactured, as it wraps nicely around the body.
The front of the N9 is simple and elegant, with tapered top and bottom ends, reminiscent of the N8. One can see a small slit on the top of the phone, right above the Nokia logo, with the obvious function of being the earpiece. There is a charging indicator (LED) on the top near the logo and a proximity sensor for dimming the screen during voice calls. A significant majority of the front fascia comprises the Curved Gorilla Glass with ClearBlack polariser and AMOLED multitouch screen, with the video call camera located on the lower right side of the phone. The 3.9 inch screen has a resolution of 854 x 480 pixels, which should be the highest pixel count to date on a Nokia mobile phone.
At the back, a similar tapered design completes the classy, minimalistic look. The only noticeable feature is the logo and camera, and it is located on the upper 3rd quarter of the N9, with a dual-LED flash cluster situated beside it.
The top of the N9 houses three connectivity/docks; the 3.5mm jack, the micro USB2.0 jack (both for charging and data transfer/syncing), and the microSIM slot. The right hand side of the N9 is adorned with chrome-laced volume keys and power/lock button.
Internally, the N9 is run by three processors; 1 GHz ARM Cortex A8 central processing unit (CPU), Imagination Technologies PowerVR SGX 530 graphics processing unit (GPU), and a 430 MHz TI TMS320C64x image processor for the camera. All these combine to make the N9 a serious contender in the smartphone industry, if a bit late into the game.
The only Nokia phone sporting the MeeGo “Harmattan” operating system, the N9 is unique, and quite simply, groundbreaking for the Finnish telecommunications giant. The user interface is simple, elegant and effective, although, in my honest opinion, the icons are a bit on the cartoony side.
There are three primary pages/panes that a user can view on the N9, the events, applications, and opened applications, in addition to the lock screen. The simplicity in design means that the user will have an easier time navigating through the N9 as compared to other similar phones. The events page shows notifications, like sms messages, reminders, and missed calls, the application page shows the apps that are installed in the phone, and the opened applications page shows the list of apps that are opened or active in the phone.
Due to the lack of any physical buttons on the front of the N9, there are a number of gestures that a user will need to learn to fully utilize the N9. The act of swiping is a very important factor in the user experience of the N9. Swiping will enable the user to switch between panes, get out of a running application, and to switch between tasks. The fact that Nokia made a curved screen for the N9 is indicative of the importance of swiping in the overall user experience of the N9.
The OS is nicely made; it is fast, simple, effective. Swiping between panes is seamless, and opening any application (pre-loaded ones) is lag-free. Closing applications are nicely done as well, with a red “X” on the top right corner of each application (on the opened applications pane), and they respond well to the touch. Tapping on the top of the screen allows the user to switch between profiles (ringing, silent, etc.).
The N9 comes nicely pre-loaded with many cool apps; Nokia Maps, Nokia Drive, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, AP Mobile, AccuWeather, Ovi Music, Angry Birds Magic, Galaxy On Fire 2, Need For Speed Shift, and Real Golf 2011, and one can practically use the N9 off the shelf.
The N9 is equipped with an 8-megapixel CMOS sensor, Carl Zeiss optics with a 28mm equivalent wide angle focal length and a maximum aperture of f2.2. In a nutshell, that means that the camera on the N9 is pretty awesome. The white balance and autofocus is pretty good, and the dual-LED flash works, as nicely as two LED’s can work. Nokia also claims that the camera on the N9 is the fastest in the world, from startup, focus to capture. While that has been true from the moment the N9 was launched, the recent launch of the Galaxy Nexus seem to put this title into contention.
By the way, the camera also takes 720p video (30p), which, honestly, was impressive before the latest slew of smartphones were released.
Although the N9 has come very late into the game, many critics have been rather enthusiastic of what Nokia can churn out given the correct corporate mentality. The Meego Harmattan OS is pretty slick, and works well with the N9. As far as aesthetics are concerned, I am in love. The tactile sensations when using the phone is beyond most, if not all, of the current competitors. Practically, I have not encountered any significant problems (yet) when using the N9, especially with one hand.
The N9 is a winner in my mind, with the sad realisation that this might be the only phone sporting the MeeGo Harmattan OS (Nokia previously announced a partnership with Microsoft, and will utilize the Windows Mobile 7 OS in all future smarphone offerings).
Will anybody willingly buy the N9 now that the future development and support ecosystem is taken off the grid, even with the impressive aesthetic value and user experience? As for myself, I am torn; it is a beautiful, premium and professional-looking phone, but the price versus future-friendliness is not encouraging. If I had the cash to spare, it would have been a no-brainer. However, in today’s market, I would say that Nokia still has a long way to go… a long way to go…
If anything, I feel that Nokia’s propensity to derail itself every time they get in front is frustrating. And for the people who have worked so hard to get the N9 out into the market, even more so.
-Sleek, sophisticated design
-Potent pre-loaded software/apps
-Feels good to the touch, and fits into most people’s hands.
-Lack of a physical home button