The Nokia N9 was announced as being the first “pure-touch” smartphone without the need or presence of hardware/capacitive buttons on the front of the device in order to operate it. It is powered by MeeGo, a platform Stephen Elop said “inspires both confidence and excitement” in October 2010; that was before the February 2011 moment where Nokia decided to go Windows Phone and abandon the platform.
However, Espoo chose to give MeeGo a chance on its Nokia N9 and they did a good job! The phone is built around the single gesture common to all people, which is the swipe. The whole experience is built around it and with the high quality hardware Nokia has been putting to market with the N9 being no exception we get a neat little phone. Is it worth buying? Read our full review to find out!
The Nokia N9 comes, like all Nokia devices, in a classic blue Nokia box. Inside you’ll find the device itself, manuals, a wall charger, USB cable for syncing and charging, a pair of headphones and a silicon case which snaps on the back of the device, offering it protection when tossed around on a table.
The Nokia N9 lends its sexy looks to the Nokia Lumia 800 Windows Phone — except for tiny little changes like the relocated flash at the back and some needed by the Windows platform (buttons on the front and one on the side for the shutter). The design is something new and, as with the case of all new things, could be a hit or a miss. We definitely like the looks of the N9 and appreciate that nothing on the phone reminds us of the iPhone, HTC devices or any other generic design principle OEMs apply and use nowadays. It is fresh and it is unique.
The N9 is made out of a single piece of polycarbonate, meaning that you will not see any fittings, doors or hinges except for the micro-SIM slot and the USB port on the top. This also comes with a drawback: you can’t take out or replace the battery.
Polycarbonate is a material Nokia is very fond of, having great signal conduction properties. That aside, the colors in which the N9 comes in (black, cyan and pink) are deep pigmented in the material so the phone, regardless of how much you use or abuse it, will have the same color like it had out of the box. The front is just a beautiful curved-glass integrated seamlessly into the body of the phone, with very tight tolerances — we are glad to see much reduced chances of dust or pocket lint build-up between the screen and the case.
On the inside, the Nokia N9 packs a Texas Instruments OMAP3630 processor clocking at 1GHz which is coupled with a PowerVR SGX530 GPU. Together with the 1GB of RAM, these manage to deliver a very fluid user experience even when you have lots of applications open. In terms of storage space, Nokia decided to go with two options: 16GB and 64GB.
The screen measures 3.9 inches and has a curved glass to protect the AMOLED display. The Finnish phone maker decided to innovate some more and come up with a laminated technology for the screen which brings the content displayed closer to the glass; somewhat like the iPhone 4, the icons appear to be floating on top of the display. FWVGA (854 x 480 pixels) is the resolution used and, in terms of color reproduction, contrast and brightness, the Nokia CBD (Clear Black Display) competes very well against the much-hyped Super AMOLED Plus on the Samsung Galaxy S II.
The Nokia N9 features an f/2.2 camera at the back with an eight-megapixel sensor. It has auto focus and Carl Zeiss Tessar optics, dual LED flash and super wide 28mm lens, delivering 16:9 720p video recording with stereo sound. There’s also a front-facing VGA camera placed in the lower-right corner.
In terms of connectivity there’s a quad-band GSM and penta-band WCDMA radio on the phone as well as Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi b/g/n, NFC, and GPS. Also present are the other usual suspect like ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, compass, orientation sensor and a microSIM card slot.
The build quality has the Nokia signature all over. Regardless if we’re talking about the polycarbonate housing or the glass on the front, this device has “premium” written all over it. The fittings are tight as well as the tolerances and the materials used are not only high quality but they also grant you a unique aesthetic reward. If we were to find one single thing to improve it would be the chromed plate at the back surrounding the camera: it scratches easily. Because it is crafted out of a single piece of plastic you will definitely hear no squeaking sounds; the phone feels extremely solid in hand.
Measuring 116.45 x 61.2 x 12.1 mm (4.58 x 2.41 x 0.48 in), the N9 only weighs 135 grams (4.76 oz.). The front of the device is dominated by glass. Behind it you will find the 3.9-inch AMOLED screen, on top of which you’ll see the earpiece just above the Nokia branding. The bottom part of the screen holds the front-facing webcam on the right side and a white LED indicator on the left. That’s the Nokia N9’s entire front.
The back is also minimalistic, with nothing but the camera and the dual-LED flash, surrounded by a chromed bezel wearing the Nokia logo as well as the Carl Zeiss Tessar text to let you know you’re holding no ordinary camera. There’s nothing on the left side and the right side is where you’ll find the volume rockers and the power/sleep button.
On the top you’ll have your 3.5mm headphone jack and two latches for accessing the microSIM slot (which is slide-up) and the microUSB port for synching and charging. You can’t access the microSIM without opening the microUSB latch which offers a great way preventing an accidental removal of the SIM. The bottom only holds the speaker grill and that’s pretty much it.
MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan is the platform operating the N9 and Nokia is quick to push out an update for the device. While a solid little platform by itself, the PR1.1 update brings some new features to the table like music controls on lock screen, color filters (black & white, sepia, vivid, negative, solarize) for photo and video shooting, more powerful multitasking with improved memory handling, Swype for fast typing, new indicators for standby screen like charging and calendar, and some more.
MeeGo is something you might not be that familiar with. While trying to be unique, it still borrows features from iOS, Android and Windows Phone. You’ll immediately think of iOS’ icons and Android’s application drawer when you look at MeeGo’s home screen. You’ll see a bunch of icons and nothing else. There are no widgets but there’s a second and a third panel to the left and right of your Home screen. You can scroll the panels endlessly.
There’s a dedicated panel for all your news feeds. Aside from featuring the time, date, weather information and notifications (for emails, missed calls, texts, etc.) it aggregates the news feeds for all your social apps installed. Here you will find updates from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even Skype. When the list gets too cluttered you can clear out a certain service’s updates (or all of them) for a fresh start. The polling interval as well as the number of posts is configurable.
The third panel is the multi-tasking one. It has a card-like representation of all your open applications, pretty much like webOS, Windows Phone and more recently, Ice Cream Sandwich. You can choose to have small cards or slightly larger cards displayed. The most recent application will always be your top left one and you can either long tap and close a certain program or choose to close them all.
Swiping from any part of the screen towards the opposite end allows you to operate your phone: bring the Home screen to front or switch to another panel. There’s a setting you can activate for when you swipe top-down: instead of taking you home you can close the application (something Nokia added as a default in PR1.1).
Nokia has always been renowned for its attention to camera quality and not only on flagship camera phones like the Nokia N8. The Nokia N9 is no different as it packs an f/2.2 camera with an eight-megapixel sensor. It has auto focus and Carl Zeiss Tessar optics, dual LED flash and super wide 28mm lens, delivering 16:9 720p video recording with stereo sound.
The quality of the pictures and videos is above average, though not as good as in the case of the iPhone 4S. You’ll occasionally get some noise when snapping pictures in darker environments but nothing close to ruining your shots. Bright outdoor images look great, focus is quick and, because of the wide 28mm lens, you can capture widescreen images — meaning you can see more displayed. Same applies for video capturing too, with the need to mention that the N9 unfortunately maxes out at 720p recording.
If you feel you need to quickly adjust the pictures you snapped, there’s no need to download them to your computer as the N9 has built-in picture editing tools. And what’s really great about the tools is that picture editing is non-destructive; any changes applied will be saved to a new file so that your original shot is left untouched. You can reduce red-eyes, adjust brightness, contrast, levels, crop pictures and more.
The dual-LED flash on the back is powerful enough to allow you to snap pictures of dark objects, though they shouldn’t be more than 12 feet away. To further improve the camera, there are already reports of Nokia preparing a software update that will hopefully allow for better captures.
The front-facing camera is currently useless on the Nokia N9. You can’t use it for video calling (neither native nor Skype) and the camera application will not allow you to switch to your front-facer in order to capture self-portraits. There are however a couple of mirror applications in the Nokia Store if you want to check on your hair or make-up.
The specs of the Nokia N9 allow for a very fluid user experience on MeeGo. Scrolling is fluid and the overall snappiness of the device is rarely affected, even if you have many applications open. You’ll get lots of checkerboard effects while browsing the web and we’re not sure whether it is the processor, RAM or the actual browser to blame.
Gaming is fluid, even when you’re spending your time driving around Need for Speed Shift, which is a rather demanding game. Editing pictures is also fast and application load times are nothing you should be worried about.
The quad-band GSM and penta-band WCDMA radio offers great possibilities in terms of network operator frequency range compatibility. Call quality is good and the handset produces natural sounds. We tested the N9 out in environments with both great and average cell signal coverage; there were no dropped calls or data outages.
The battery life on the Nokia N9 is above average. There’s a 1450mAh pack included which is non-user-replaceable but delivers. It will last you for a full day even if you’re sending lots of e-mails. We had two accounts setup with push, automatic weather updates, same for Twitter and Facebook, we sent around ten text messages, a dozen emails, browsed the web for 30 minutes, took 30 pictures, recorded 5 videos and played for 15 minutes battery was still at around 25% by the end of the day.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
The Nokia N9 will not come to the U.S. market but that shouldn’t stop you from importing one. You can check this Nokia page to see which regions and countries have the Nokia N9. The 16GB variant is going for 430 (roughly $580) while the 64GB version will set you back 480 (around $650).
+ Sexy (and new) design
+ Excellent build quality
+ Awesome performance
+ Great screen
+ 16GB and 64GB internal storage
+ Great battery life
– No microSD expansion slot
– No support for 1080p video recording
– MeeGo is not a leading platform and you might not be familiar with it
– Not too many apps in the Store
The Nokia N9 is a solid phone and MeeGo is a nice little platform. With the swipe gesture at its core, the Nokia N9 brings a neat concept to the table: the button-less phone, or “pure-touch” as Nokia calls it. Of course Google adopted this concept with Ice Cream Sandwich but the Nokia N9 was there already.
You will probably not switch over from iOS, Windows Phone or Android to MeeGo but if you are new to smartphones, the Nokia N9 is definitely a choice you can consider. The phone looks very good, build quality is excellent and it will allow you to live your digital social life, listen to music, and snap great pictures in a great way.
If you worry about the possible lack of support from the manufacturer, you really shouldn’t be. There are already reports of PR1.1 being sent out to Nokia N9s and Espoo is well-known for not abandoning devices.
We rate the Nokia N9 a 4/5.