Remember Nokia? The Finnish giant pretty much defined the way we used mobile phones from the late 90s to the first decade of the 2000s, but these days, Nokia doesn’t get much play in the smartphone conversation.
This is why the Nokia N9 is such a pleasant surprise. The stunning-looking phone, unveiled at the CommunicAsia trade show earlier this year, finally lands in Singapore following a wave of enthusiastic reviews. But how well does it hold up against the competition? We go hands-on to find out!
Design & Hardware
Right off the bat, the N9’s hardware displays an edge over its competitors in several areas:
- It offers a massive 64GB of storage at a reasonable S$899. (S$799 for the 16GB version.) In comparison, most smartphones come in 8GB out of the box, and max out at 32GB.
- It’s clad in a sturdy, one-piece polycarbonate body, a nice break from the market’s current obsession with low-grade plastic or glass and metal.
The biggest advantage of going all-plastic is the antenna performance, which is superior to reflective metal or glass. That means better reception, better voice quality, and fewer dropped calls.
The face is dominated by a smooth piece of 3.9-inch curved scratch-resistant glass, with nary a button in sight. Instead, the N9’s main method of navigation is through the use of swipes (more on that later).
On the back lies an 8-megapixel camera with the signature Carl Zeiss autofocus sensor Nokia always includes with its premium phones. A wide-angle lens coupled with a large aperture guarantees that this is one of the best phone cameras around.
Display & sound
With a 3.9-inch screen in true 16:9 widescreen format (854 x 480 pixels), the N9 is great for watching movies. Videos look great on the OLED display and Nokia’s proprietary ClearBlack technology makes the colours more vivid.
On the audio front, the N9 comes with Dolby Digital Plus decoding and Dolby Headphone post-processing technology, which gives music a tad nicer sound than most other smartphones. We tested the speakers and while it’s not going to please any audiophiles, the performance is good enough for on-the-go listening.
The N9 runs on MeeGo, a Linux-based operating system jointly created by Intel and Nokia. But the interface should be familiar to many as it’s very similar to Nokia’s recent Symbian phones.
Nokia is introducing some interesting concepts with the N9. As mentioned earlier, there are no buttons on the front of the device. To wake the phone up from its sleep, you can either press the button at the side, or double tap the screen.
The N9 lets you navigate its three screens through swipes. The main one is the standard grid of apps.
Swipe to the left and you’ll see a screen display of your social media updates and other notifications. The last screen shows all your open apps – you can either close them or switch back to another app.
This is where you can fully sense the multitasking feature of the N9, as videos continue to play and clocks continue to tick as you scroll through your open apps.
This swipe paradigm pervades the entire phone, and can be executed from any screen – whether you’re checking your email or playing Angry Birds, a simple swipe will bring you to any of the three main screens.
It takes a little getting used to, but after some practice the experience is indeed rather fluid. Plus, it contributes to the lack of buttons on the front of the phone, giving the N9 a sleek and minimalistic look.
We’re very pleased with the multitasking. Apps actually run in the background and can be resumed instantly. Nokia seems to have executed this very well, with no discerning lag even with more than ten apps open at once.
The N9 is a whole different ball game when it comes to apps because it runs MeeGo, a completely different operating system from Nokia’s earlier phones. In theory, it is possible to port old apps over to MeeGo, since they can run on the same underlying framework called Qt.
Nevertheless, we saw a healthy amount of apps in the N9’s app store, and familiar ones include Facebook, Twitter, AP Mobile, and Skype. Of course, let’s not forget Nokia’s free maps and navigation apps which come with every Nokia phone.
The phone might be a winner in itself, but a few other factors will certainly hamper its reception. For one, Nokia is moving to Windows Phone 7 as its primary smartphone operating system, and it’s unsure how the N9 will be supported once that happens.
Some have already proclaimed the N9 dead on arrival and not worth any consumers’ time. But we think that the phone brings unique offerings to the table, and is a good buy for consumers who have not already pledged allegiance to a particular smartphone platform.
Plus, if the N9 does well in the market, Nokia might just re-look at releasing more MeeGo phones.
Check out a photo slideshow of the N9 here.