This is the 1st article from Alvin’s Nokia N9 review.
Say hello to the Nokia N9, the last real Nokia flagship smartphone.
Even before pulling the device out of its signature Nokia blue box, I knew the N9 would be an extremely special device. It represents the pinnacle of Nokia’s hardware and software prowess as it exists today. It represents what could have been if Nokia had stuck to its guns. It would have been Step 5 of 5 in Nokia’s plans for Maemo/MeeGo to come of age and replace Symbian. It is the first, and probably last, MeeGo Harmattan device to come out of Nokia.
It’s hard not to be extremely impressed with the design and form of the N9 the moment one sets eyes on it fresh out of its box. If you think the iPhone 4(S) is the best-looking phone in the world, you should think again because the N9 is simply beautiful. From the curved sides to the sloping glass covering almost the entire front to the tapered ends to the cut-off ends to the precision-cut speaker grille and earpiece slit, it is wonderfully simple and quietly elegant. The superlatives continue when you power the device on and realize you can’t quite see where the display ends and the bezel begins, and marvel at how the little ‘squircle’ icons on the app grid seem almost painted on instead of being pixels behind glass. This is, without question, one of the most solid and well-built phones I’ve ever held. All the seams are consistent, there’s absolutely no flexing or creaking in the unibody shell and it feels reassuringly hefty in my palm, comfortably slim but not overly large. It is made of plastic unlike the N8, but the plastic used here shares no similarities with what Samsung uses. It’s got a smooth matte finish that does a great job at hiding fingerprints and scratches. Meanwhile, the front is dominated by a beautiful curved sheet of Gorilla Glass (my review unit has actually accumulated a couple of scratches already, so this glass either isn’t really all that scratchproof or a previous reviewer had been rough with it) that perfectly complements the MeeGo user interface. It’s not often that one sees hardware being designed specifically to suit the way the software is used, so I think Nokia’s design team have once again done a fabulous job with the N9.
The display is a 3.9-inch 854×480 AMOLED capacitive Clear Black Display with a ‘PenTile’ subpixel arrangement. I do understand why PenTile haters exist after using the N9; if one looks really closely at the N9′s display it is possible to make out a very faint checkerboard pattern across the entire display as if some pixels are not lit, and some pink or green fringing around text and even the edges of the app ‘cards’. I personally don’t think it’s ideal, and I think it compromises the look of the UI a little, but in real-life usage I hardly noticed any anomalies. If the idea of a PenTile display bothers you, then you will definitely find fault with the N9′s display; I just don’t think it’s a big deal at all and I could easily live with it. The high resolution, vivid colours and inky blacks more than make up for the PenTile thing.
The only buttons on the N9 is the volume rocker and the power/lock key, which are both located on the right edge of the device. These buttons feel slightly loose on my particular unit, but it’s not a huge issue since I only really felt it when running my fingers over the buttons instead of actually pressing them. This, however, is a good time to launch into a couple of gripes I have with the N9′s hardware. I really wish there was a camera shutter button – I don’t understand why Nokia decided to skip this on the N9 and then add it to the Lumia 800 which has virtually the exact same design. I also fear for the longevity of the microUSB port cover – it’s a thin strip of plastic that pops up at a 90-degree angle and I can totally see it snapping in half. The N9′s loudspeaker isn’t the best I’ve heard; it isn’t tinny and shrill like some other devices but it is pretty soft. And the fact that I had to get my SIM card cut in order to use the N9 as a phone was rather annoying. Still, I guess I’m now ready for any microSIM-using phone that comes my way!
The N9′s battery life hasn’t been brilliant. I haven’t got detailed figures but having 3G on and constantly connected does suck the battery dry just as quickly as on an average Android device (i.e. in around 5 to 5.5 hours or thereabouts). Of course, disabling 3G and turning off the data connection when not needed does allow the N9 to last a whole lot longer (easily an entire day and a bit) but that doesn’t change the fact that the N9 is not quite suitable to be used as an always-on, always-connected smartphone. The N9 has a sealed-in 1450mah battery so it’s not like you can buy a second battery to swap in when the device gives up by mid-afternoon. Still, many of today’s smartphones don’t do all that well in the battery life department either, so it’s hard to knock the N9 too hard.
Overall, I’m really bowled over by the N9′s hardware. It’s pretty much the best-looking and most solidly-built device I’ve ever had my hands on. If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned anything about the internal specifications, that’s because I really don’t think it matters. Smartphones are so much more than just a list of specifications, and the N9 demonstrates this more than any current high-end Android device. MeeGo Harmattan is still smooth as butter with no hints of lag even if it’s running on what is considered a rather aged set of chips. Also, I’m reluctant to discuss the presence of a front-facing camera on the N9 – there’s no way to make use of it currently in MeeGo and these things have always been pretty useless from the beginning anyway.
I’ll be covering the N9′s software in greater detail in a future post, but here’s a quick video tour of MeeGo-Harmattan describing how the UI works and some of the functionality that’s present in the N9. Enjoy, and stay tuned!