Having looked at many articles and bits of info about the N9 since it was announced last Tuesday, I have to say I’m really excited by the device. I’m also more excited about Nokia’s Windows phone devices. So this is my early verdict, though please bear in mind that I have only see this device on the web and, sadly, not yet in my hand. If you want the more informed opinion of people who have seen the device, check the various sections of my Ultimate Guide to web reaction to the N9.
Let’s just say this now. This is a fantastic looking phone. The smooth uni-body shape looks both stylish and like it would be comfortable in the hand. The screen with it’s curved edges that fills basically the whole front looks great and flows into the body. The plastic is colored throughout rather than painted so if it is scratched, it won’t show.
So it looks nice. The display is part of it – the 3.9″ screen has an odd resolution of 480 x 854 but looks great. The AMOLED screen uses Gorilla Glass and also has anti-glare features, as well as being slightly curved at the edges, which supposedly makes the images pop out at you more.
So the hardware spec sheet is something like this:
- 1Ghz ARM Cortex A8 processor
- PowerVR SGX530 graphics processor
- 1GB RAM and either 16GB/64GB user memory
- 3.9″ Capacitive AMOLED screen with curved edges and Gorilla Glass
- 480 x 854 pixel resolution
- Global roaming phone with pentaband 3G data up to 14.4 Mbits/s download
- 8MP Auto Focus Camera with wide-angle Carl Zeiss lens and Dual LED flash
- 720p stereo video recording
- Front facing camera
- Bluetooth 2.1, Wifi b/g/n
- NFC, 3.5mm headphone / TV Out socket
- USB 2.0
- Nokia Maps with free Turn By Turn navigation
- Integrated Skype, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flikr and Picasa services.
- 1450 mAh battery giving up to 7 hours talk time (3G) and 456 hours standby (3G).
Internally it supports what has been described as last years hardware. However, it has never looked sluggish in any video so far with the 1Ghz processor and graphics chip working well. The camera is a new design, 70% smaller than N8 but able to shoot full resolution 4:3 and 16:9 images without cropping. 16 and 64GB versions are available for your photos.
And so while it performs admirably, users of current Nokia devices will spot some things missing from the list. First off, an SD card slot. So your memory is limited to what comes on the device, and it looks like USB-on-the-go is not supported either. Other features Nokia have had before that are missing here include HDMI ports, 2mm charger port, FM transmitter, dedicated lock key and a camera shutter button. Damian Dinning has explained (page 2 of the comments section in response to bluechrism, though the whole thing is worth reading) that having a shutter button was a design decision taken to keep the device having as few buttons as possible and reduce the times you need to change your hand position when using it. The latter is something I can understand – I found when using an Astound in the desert, changing my grip led to a lot of accidental pictures when my skin touched the screen which also took photo’s (this is partly due to the awkward position of the shutter button on the astound, and that I only had one hand to use it with while I rode my horse). However, I would probably still have preferred to have one.
MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan
Looks fantastic. Intuitive, friendly and original. The OS itself has 4 screens – the lock screen, the app launcher, events view and multitasking view. The last 3 of these 4 are accessed by swiping across the screen and continued swiping will loop through them. Whenever you are in an app, you just swipe it away to get back to the screen you launched it from, and the app will be added to the open applications screen. Simple. So the 3 home-screens are:
- Open Applications: This screen has either a 3 x 3 or 2×2 grid of apps on it (you switch using pinch-to-zoom) and when you exceed the number that will fit on the screen yo can just scroll down.
- The app view: A simple grid of app icons. You can tap and hold an icon and drag it around to re-arrange apps.
- The events view: This lists all your notifications and separates your primary notifications such as missed calls and text messages, from things like Twitter/Facebook updates which also appear there. This stops your important messages from being lost in a sea of other stuff.
So overall, this looks fairly simple and intuitive. This continues in other things in the OS as well. There is a centralized settings menu for all your phone and app settings, and it looks much better organized than the equivalent for Symbian. There is a nice QWERTY keyboard which works in both portrait and landscape. It appears from this video that swiping the keys changes the keyboard type and it has Swype built in. The dialer is simple and does exactly what you expect. There is a quick launch menu to take you to the dialer, web browser, search and camera apps.
All in all it’s very consumer friendly. But this is the follow up to the N900 so it does have a tick up it’s sleeve for tech geeks and developers (though how many networks will remove this remains to be seen). It can be rooted from a menu within settings – look for Developer Mode. This gives a terminal mode, ssh and other debugging tools and the ability to run apps connected to a developer PC. In the video he says you can go so far as to install a new kernel if you want. You can also turn on a setting to all installations from non-store sources. This means repositories, or just a .deb file you want to try from the Internet or an email attachment (or wherever). Turn it off again and you are locked to the Ovi/Nokia store again. So it’s very developer friendly too.
Services and apps
The OS may be simple but it comes packed with services and a decent range of apps out of the box. This includes things like twitter, Facebook, Skype, GMail, Yahoo, Picasa, Flikr, YouTube, AccuWeather and of course, Angry Birds. Many of these are integrated into the OS itself. If Skype (or any of these) are integrated half as well as Skype was on the N900 then this is great news for the N9. Speaking of the N900 – one thing it certainly beats the N900 on is MMS support out of the box, which is nice.
The browser is nice and clean with the maximum space for the page. It’s the first mobile browser based on Webkit 2 and scores an impressive 283 at www.html5test.com showing strong HTML5 support which surpasses the desktop versions of Internet explorer and Safari, and is just behind Firefox 5 and Opera 11.5. At present it is the top scoring mobile browser. One nice feature is that you can pin bookmarks to your apps menu. Oh, and as for flash support, not right now, though it may come along at some point.
One thing that N900 users did complain about (me included) was the lack of a mapping application that was close to the Symbian equivalent. For the N9 we have full turn by turn navigation and 3D maps out of the box so it looks like if functionality isn’t identical to Symbian 3, it’s pretty close.
The N9 is well quipped for multimedia and supports a good range of audio and video codes. The audio player is nice and simple to use, and looks similar to the Symbian one in some respects, such as having the combined cover-flow and track list view. However, it only works in portrait mode, as with many other apps, as they tried to create a one-handed experience – Basically the exact opposite of the Landscape optimized N900. It plays video smoothly and if you exit the video, on returning it will resume from the frame you exited on.
The 8MP camera is really 8.7MP, but is capable of 4:3 pictures at 8MP and 16:9 pictures at 7.1MP which is nice because the normal thing to do would be to just crop 4:3 pictures to make them 16:9, but here you get a true wide angle experience.
Ecosystem and the future
So this is the bit where I am supposed to say something like “The N9 is a fantastic device, but with Nokia pursuing Windows Phone, the OS is effectively dead on arrival and will get minimal support from Nokia and not much in the way of apps.”
I can’t disagree with the fact that Nokia’s focus is on Windows Phone 7. Nor do I expect it to have a thriving app market, and I don’t expect there to be a second MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan device from Nokia (though it may not be ruled out, maybe if it generates enough drool).
What I will say though is that the phone is a fantastic device, and if you like it and like the services and apps it comes with then why not buy it. It comes pretty well stocked and it does have one trick up it’s sleeve and that is Qt. Qt is the framework Nokia wants developers to use and move away from lower level development of apps with the Symbian or Maemo SDK’s and many developers are listening and creating Qt apps. So all developers need to do is take their app which they created for Symbian 3 users, and optimize it for the N9’s higher resolution and styling, and resubmit it to the OVI/Nokia store. I don’t think there will be as many apps for the N9 as there are for Symbian 3 (unless Nokia commits much more to MeeGo than they are doing now) but this should mean there will be a decent amount and hopefully some of the stuff from Beta Labs (Bubbles for example) will transfer nicely too.
You will have the OVI/Nokia store, you will have Ovi Mail, Ovi/Nokia Maps and basically as much of an ecosystem with MeeGo as you will with Symbian. The question is, is this enough for you.
Then there is the MeeGo community. A lot of these people have done some good work supporting Maemo and the N900, will that continue with the N9? MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan is a proprietary UI on a open platform, but not the same platform that the current MeeGo project is using. It uses a lot of it, sharing many of the same API’s and enough that the Linux foundation is happy for Nokia to call it MeeGo. There are critical differences though and some apps for MeeGo may not work on the N9. In general, MeeGo apps should work on the N9 though, provided a .deb is provided (rather than .rpm). Both real MeeGo and MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan are also Qt enabled environments so the community and the MeeGo/Intel AppUp store should have apps that will work happily on both the N9 and other Qt enabled MeeGo devices in the future.
As for the future, it’s clear that the uni-body design will turn up again in Windows Phone devices. Probably so will the camera module. They have talked about the UI living on elsewhere too, the theory being they are talking more about Series 40 than Windows Phone but we will see – you already swipe sideways between live tiles and the app list – Will Nokia have a Windows Phone that ditches the little arrow and uses the full screen for tiles, and takes the app list and converts it to a grid. Will they be able to do convince Microsoft to adopt their multitasking view (which is far superior to any scrolling card view where you can only really see one app at a time). Would they want to? How much of this will be kept for Future Disruptions?
Hopefully we will see the N9 released globally and hopefully it will sell well. And hopefully, Nokia gives it full support and if it does sell well, perhaps improve on the OS and release another. Not because people who have seen it (including regular Nokia critics like Vlad at Engadget) were blown away by it, not to be nice to the developers who worked on it, and certainly not because I liked it. Put simply, based on everything that has been seen so far, it has created that drool that Elop talked about. It is a device worthy of a full ecosystem and full support from a company that wants to see it do well and release more like it. I hope if the bloggers drool translates into sales to customers, Stephen Elop will regard it worthy of support and worthy of a successor.
Whatever backing the N9 ultimately gets from Nokia, and I am sure it will get solid support for at least 2 years regardless of anything else, I am interested in getting my hands on one and if I see one and like it in person, why not? And that goes for you all too.
For galleries, and opinion from folks who have seen the device, check out my Ultimate Guide to web reaction for the Nokia N9