Nokia has had a troubling few years in the smartphone market. Thank goodness they appear to be getting their ducks in a row, starting with the launch of their latest high-end device the Nokia N9. The N9 is one of the top 5 best selling devices at Incredible Connection over November and I can really understand why.
Itâ€™s beautiful. Our review sample was mat black but it is also available in lumo pink, green and blue. The case is made from high-quality plastic and glass; this makes it somewhat rugged but certainly not Bare Grylls grade!
The screen is really something at 3.9â€ it is about the same size as the iPhone, which I believe is the right size for a smart phoneâ€™s screen. It keeps the device compact. The resolution on par with the competition, at 854 x 480 it makes objects on the screen â€“ especially when browsing the web â€“ appear neither too big, nor too small. What is mightily impressive is the screen has a slight convex curve to it, this gives it a wonderful smooth, silky feel when swiping your finger around. This is rather important; as one of the first things that one notices with the N9 is that there are no buttons on the front of the device! Everything is controlled by the users interaction with the screen and the volume and lock buttons on the side.
The N9 sits beautifully in the hand, making one-handed operation rather effortless; this ease is aided by the lack of buttons! The only critique possible with the design is the corners of the device are a tad angular, this takes about 4 seconds to get accustomed too.
Like the competition the N9 is rocking some pretty cool innards. The processor is a 1000MHz ARM, this paired with the N9â€™s 1GB of RAM makes it fast. Not HTC Sensation fast, or Samsung Note fast but fast enough that you never notice any significant lag, especially in ordinary use.
Connectivity wise, it is packed with 3G HSDPA (up to 14.4Mbps download), WiFi, A-GPS and NFC (Near Field Communication), with all of this turned on and using the N9 quite heavily I managed to get 18 hours of battery life. This is on par with what I achieve with the iPhone 4, and slightly under the quoted figures of the iPhone 4s – the current leader in smartphone battery life.
Nokia have generally had rather decent cameras on their devices. The N9 sports a now industry standard of an 8 megapixel camera, but where it differs is the Carl Zeiss lens and camera technology, such as face detection and exposure compensation. Overall, this is one of the best cameras in the high-end smart phone market. Producing crisp, colorful and deep images.
This is where it gets interesting. The N9 runs MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan. This OS is somewhat unheard of outside of techie circles. Like the iPhone and Android it is Linux based but this is where the similarities end.
The OS was developed by Nokia in conjunction with Intel and the results are extremely impressive. As the phone has no buttons to speak of, all interaction is managed by the screen. Turning the N9 on and locking the screen are about the only two things that are dealt with by a button.
To awaken the N9 from sleep takes a double-tap on the screen, then a swipe upwards from the bottom brings up the main menu. When in an application, this same swipe from the bottom will minimize the open app and bring up the menu. Like iOS the navigation occurs through the applications menu, MeeGo does not have a homescreen like Android or Nokia Symbian devices of old.
There are three further swipes that are used for navigation:
The fist two, either from the right or left scroll through three screens; the first is the applications menu, the second is the social updates page, displaying updates from Twitter, Facebook and a ton of other social networks if you should so frequent them. This page also has a direct link to the weather and your personal calendar. The second page displays the currently open applications, click on one and you maximise it and can continue where you left off.
The third is more of a tap than a swipe, but it still falls under navigation. Tap the bar at the very top of the screen and down pops a brief overview of the current ringer, or media volume, what WiFi network the N9 is currently connected to and your availability on chat services such as Skype, Google and/or Facebook.
This all sounds rather complicated and daunting, and to be honest it is so different from the current OS options available that it did take a little getting used to. Although, going back to iOS or Android, I have found that MeeGo, with its fluid interface and reliance only on the touch screen makes the other two OS leaders feel old fashioned and unintuitive.
I adore MeeGo, although it does suffer from a few major problems and they have nothing, directly, to do with the OS design. Firstly, it is a dead OS, Nokia have thrown their hat in with Windows Phone 7 and I would not be surprised if the N9 ceases getting software updates mid-2012. Secondly, is the severe lack of applications available in the Nokia Store for MeeGo. Nokia saw this coming and the N9 has all of the major apps that you could want, such as Skype, Twitter, Facebook, AP News and a couple of pretty cool games â€“ even the coveted Angry Birds. But it does not have Whatsapp, which is a big deal for most South Africans and Mxit is only available via their web app.
Unfortunately these two flaws kill the N9 in my eyes. It places the user slightly outside of the current communication sphere operating in South Africa. For this reason, despite the N9 being built like a rock, having all the right features and sporting an innovative OS it simply cannot be recommended. How sad.