The last day of my first Week with my nice new Blue N9 came and went without much new to report on, and that would have been some time ago. So to make up for the lack of day 7, here is a review.
The Nokia N9 was one of the most hotly anticipated devices launched this year and is also one of the hardest to get at a feasible price, at-least in western Europe and north America. Does it live up to the hype? I’ll be answering the first question here.
- 3.9″ curved Clear Black AMOLED screen with Gorilla Glass
- 8MP Auto Focus camera with dual LED flash
- MeeGo Harmattan 1.1
- 1Ghz processor with Broadcom graphics accelerator
- 16MB on board memory
- 3.5mm headphone jack which also supports TV out cable
- Bluetooth 2.0
- WiFi b/g/n
- Micro USB port for charging and data connection
- Pentaband 3G world phone
- Micro-SIM slot
Wow, this is one gorgeous device. The 3.9 inch AMOLED screen is the best I have ever used and the colors are nice and vibrant while the blacks stay nice abs black, thanks yo the clear black technology used. The body of the pillow shaped phone is finished in matte plastic which is smooth but not slippery like the aluminum N8. With a button-less front this device looks great in both black and blue (i have not seen the magenta/white versions in person). One you realize this, you also realize how fictional barren it is externally.
The left has nothing, the bottom just a speaker, the top has a headphone Jack, micro-six slot and Micro-USB port. The latter 2 are under covers which protests the ports front the elements, but given how frequently the USB ports will need to be accessed, it could be questioned how long that cover will last. It doesn’t feel too flimsy though, but it is still inconvenient.
The right has power/lock and volume keys. The latter are hard to tell apart by touch. The plastic case shipped with the phone adds some definition though as well as protection.
the front had the screen as well as front facing camera, light and proximity sensors, and speaker.
The Swipe UI is a unique experience and frankly, a pleasure to use. It really is easy to snipe around between the three home screens, as well as to close apps.
The the home screens are for apps, events and multitasking.
(Apologies for the horrible screenshot for the Feeds-trying to protect privacy etc).
The apps screen has a schooling grid of apps and is the apps launcher for the device. There are no folders, widgets, or groups, but you can re-order the said by long pressing on an icon, and then dragging it around. to uninstall an app, long pours and click the red “x”. You will be prompted to confirm before it its removed to avoid accidents.
The events screen hosts your notifications of new texts, emails, missed calls and alarms I’m the top part, along with a weather widget. Below that will be your feeds from RSS, Twitter and Facebook. Clicking on an item the event screen will open the relevant app at the item you clicked on. (Apologies for the horrible screenshot-trying to protect privacy etc).
The multitasking screen shows your running applications. It’s a live view and I enjoy seeing various things change as I’m moving between apps. Apps are sorted so the most recently used is always top left, and the screen can site either 4 or 9 apps before you have to start scrolling, with a punch-to-zoom style gesture to switch between the two views. You can close apps here by long-pressing an app and clicking the”x” to close individual apps, or use the close all button to close all apps.
The home screens only work.in.portrait by default but there are apps in the Nokia store to enable landscape view (just remember that if you are swiping down to close, it down whichever way you hold the phone).
There are 2 more bits that form part of the main is experience. The lock screens and the shortcut menu. The standby lock screen shows a clock and icons to indicate various notifications. The secondary lock screen – the one all new touchscreens phone go to when you first try to unlock it, also has the clock. However, there is more detail added to the second lock screen -it has a customizable background, notifications are expanded to show more detail. There are also media controls below the clock, along with the current artist and title, if you are playing music. To leave this lock screen, swipe it away any direction, or swipe the notification to be taken to, for example, the text message you had revived. This is one of the nice, simple but effective things that makes the N9 a joy to use.
Phone and communications
So unlike many other Nokia’s, gone is the hardware call key, or the ability to call quickly from any home screen. Instead, the phone is an app like any other. Access it from the applications screen, or, if it’s already open, the multitasking screen. In the end, this is similar to Windows phone, and many android phones, and really isn’t a big deal.
You get all the usual stuff, notifications on the lock screen when you miss a call or get a voice-mail. You get to swipe the lock screen icon away to go right to options to return a call or retrieve voice-mail. The contact book is complete and offers options to call or call with Skype, a nice added bonus, which I used today to call overseas and callers said that the line was very clear. Sadly Video call are not supported at present. For normal voice calls, quality seems good, though the volume through speaker is a bit quiet.
Music and Media
The N9 does a good job with Music and Media. It has wide support for audio and video formats and presents a nice clean UI for both. The music player is quite striking. On launch the top portion of the screen shows a grid of album covers of recently played artists, though one of them always includes the text “all songs”. Tap to play any of these, or use the library by clicking the categories in the bottom half of the screen for Artist, Album, Songs, playlist. Lastly you can use Ovi Music to get songs.The grid in the top half has a bigger square for the current track if music is playing.
Each list is sorted alphabetically and you can flick through the list. For quicker access to later letters, drag a bit, then move your finger to the right side of the screen and drag again and you’ll now be moving quickly through each letter.
The player interface itself is clean but with plenty of options. The top half is for album art, or if there is no album art present, it shows the album title in big, colorful letters as a custom album cover. Beneath that is the usually artist/album/song information, the track number in the current playlist, a button for extra info and the usual forward, play/pause and back buttons, as well as dragable progress indicator. A toolbar at the bottom has favorite, repeat, shuffle, menu and back (to music player front page) buttons. The Play/Pause and skip forward and back buttons are doubled really as tapping the album art will play/pause a track, and flicking it left/right will skip, a really nice feature and useful if using the music player when driving. The extra info button gives detailed info from the id3 tag, the file, and also info on similar tracks from the Ovi Music store.
All in all, a nice package and made better by the presence of music controls on the lock screen, and support for Dolby surround when listening through headphones. The mono speaker on the phone is a bit quiet, but the supplied headphones deliver reasonable audio quality, and allow play/pause and skip functions from the in-line remote.
As for movies and videos, Videos on the phone are shown in a list with a screenshot. Surprisingly video taken with the camera isn’t auto added. Even so, the video files i used play well. The player controls are hidden but can be brought up by a screen tap. When swiping back to the home screen the video is paused, and resumes exactly where you left it. Colors look sharp and sound is good.
The N9 boasts an 8MP camera with auto-focus and a dual LED flash. It also boasts the Carl Zeiss name, and a new lens which is oval and can take 8MP photo’s in 4:3 and takes 16:9 widescreen. pictures at 7.1MP. This means that rather than crop the 4:3 image for widescreen pictures, like most phones do, the 16:9 image contains extra data not in the 4:3 image. Nice.
But are the images any good? I have so far had some great pictures, and some very noisy ones. I have had both super sharp and very blurry ones. One thing to get used to is it has (at least in some modes) a 2 stage on screen shutter, something I haven’t been used to before and took me a while to realize. Still indoors, I get plenty of pictures with grainy backgrounds, even when the foreground is sharp. Outside, performance is much better.
So what else is there to say about the camera? Well, The UI is very different to Symbian here too:
The camera UI is easy to use with a single settings screen containing options for scene modes, flash, white balance, ISO, resolution, Geo-tagging and more. The gallery is a big grid of pictures you can scroll. selecting a picture you can then pinch to zoom, swipe to move between pictures, or launch an edit menu with a series of options such as red-eye removal. When you are happy with your pictures you can favorite them or share them by NFC/Bluetooth/MMS/email, or per-configured social networks lick Facebook,Flickr or Picasa (You can share via twitter but only from the Twitter application.).
Incidentally, Nokia Beta labs had a experimental enhancement for the gallery which put’s it in map mode, so you can brows your photo’s by location. Not perfect by any means, but hopefully beta labs will bring this to completion.
The N9 web browser has a nice clean interface with only the address bar at the top. Pages render well, though there is a bit of checker-boarding when scrolling, and there is no flash support. It does have a few quirks however. One is that bookmarks show up on the applications view, and secondly I can’t see how to edit the list of top sites you get when you launch the browser. Out of the box, these all point to Nokia N9 related sites which is fine, but would be nice if i could change them.
Other Apps and Features
Some included apps are the Calendar, Calculator, Twitter and facebook clients, Maps, Documents, WiFi hotspot, Angry Birds Magic, and NFS shift (There are plenty more, but these are the ones I’m going to write about here).
Maps: Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive are pre-installed and provide a pretty good overall solution, although not quite as full featured as on Symbian. If you rely on the live traffic updates or the lane markers that show up at intersections when using drive, you will miss them here. Despite this, drive particularly looks great on the N9 screen and is easy to use in the car – which it’s meant to be. Even nicer, when you swipe away from drive so it’s in the multitasking view, you can still see the drive screen updating as you move along. The downloading of maps offline is still there and is easy to use.
Social Networks: OK, so i usually haven’t commented much on this section, partly because I don’t have a Facebook account. However, I do have twitter, linked in, Flickr, YouTube, and Skype. And all these things (except LinkedIn) can be configured out of the box. The Feeds page shows your Twitter feed, though to read a message it opens the native twitter app. It does the job, and is better than the Nokia Social Twitter client from Symbian 3, but there are probably better options in the Nokia Store. Flickr (and Picasa) enable sharing from the photo gallery. YouTube allows Video Sharing, Skype integrates with the contacts book and phone system to allow calls to Skype users or regular numbers (but no video calls yet). All in all, very nice.
Productivity: Documents and Notes apps are nice and simple, and Documents will open excel, word and PowerPoint files. The only problem is it can’t edit them, and so far I’m not sure anything in the Nokia Store can. The Calculator is very basic, but nicely laid out. And if you need to get online on your laptop or whatever, you can use the WiFi hotspot app to connect your laptop. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to work where I am so this may be network dependent, even for unlocked devices.
Games: Several games come pre-installed. They are Need For Speed Shift, Angry Birds Magic, Real Golf 2011 and Galaxy on Fire 2. All in all a decent start for your gaming entertainment. And compared to the N900, there is a treasure trove of titles in the Nokia Store (compared to any other device, there’s …well..ok, not that many, but enough to get by). Game play is pretty seamless and I didn’t notice any performance issues playing games, even with many apps open.
Overall the performance has been good but with 2 caveats. One is that I have had horrible WiFi performance at home and it does seem like there is an issue with WiFi some circumstances that seem to depend on both the phone setup and network setup. Thine second is I have felt in necessary to reboot once or twice, after one or two apps crashed on me. This has been a rare event (much more so than on my N8). That aside, the only think I can say bad is there is some lag opening apps (or doing some other actions) at times, leading to occasional double presses of a button. Hopefully Nokia will fix this in an update soon. (I upgraded my home network with a new WiFi router yesterday, no more WiFi connectivity issues.)
In general swipe UI performed well, audio quality was good, pictures are great, in app performance is great. Yeah, so, Great.
It’s a great device and I am so happy to own one. It does have it’s rough edges, much like Nokia’s last great experiment, the N900. It does seem like the N9 will get a bit more love from Nokia then the N900 did and there are certainly more apps available for it, plus it comes well stocked out of the box. It is a bit of an enthusiasts phone, but it’s a very good one.
The fact is there is very little wrong with the phone and most people can do everything they need with it. However, there are issues. One being lack of document editing, another being a relatively slim app store and the last being more awkward contact syncing. from some services.
But still, I like it, and I’m sure many of you will too.