Reviewing the first device running a new OS is always exciting. We recently got our hands on Nokia‘s first major Meego Phone, the N9. It may not be the flagship smartphone, but it still deserves some reckoning. So let’s start with the review.
Nokia N9 comes in a compact box following the same suit as other top notch smartphones. Beneath a set of instruction manuals you will find the handset, handsfree, data cable and an unusually shaped charger. The accessories look and feel solid but we did not like the absence of a clip in handsfree. It is sometimes cumbersome to call using a handsfree especially when you are driving as the wire is cannot be tucked with your shirt.
Build and Design
As we laid our hands on N9, we were pleased to see the build quality and finishing. The design of N9 is good and it also suits the OS running onboard, blending the software and hardware together to give a better experience to the user. The unibody design usually implies a metal case, but Nokia have played with the case brilliantly and used polycarbonate which is as good as metal due to its excellent quality.
N9 comes in three colors i.e. black, magenta and cyan (we got it in black) and interestingly the polycarbonate body is colored instead of being painted, hence assuring an everlasting paint, even scratches won’t be able to show anything except the polycarbonate body. The Gorilla glass protection it has ensures the screen won’t catch scratches easily and adds to the sturdiness of the phone. The display screen measures 3.9 inches with a resolution of 480 x 854 pixels which is on the lower side, the display is sharp and crisp and you would not encounter any difficulties while using it in sunlight.
Nokia N9 takes the touch experience to the next level by introducing an all-screen swipe experience as there are no buttons on the front of the phone. The hardware controls are limited to a power on/off button and a volume rocker only. However, both the volume rocker and power buttons are not the easiest to use. Apart from the screen, you can find a proximity sensor, an ear piece, a charging/ notification light and a front camera. Interestingly the camera is situated on the bottom of the face which is pretty unusual.
The right side of the phone is home of the volume rocker and power button, when using MeeGo you can easily go without both of these as the volume rocker is very hard to press and the volume can be controlled from within the OS whereas the power button is only really used when actually turning the phone on or off as the screen can be locked using automatic timer and unlocked with a double tap and a swipe.
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The top of the phone has a 3.5mm jack, a microUSB port and a microSIM card slot. The microUSB port is hidden under a lid which needs to be pushed with a thumb to be opened, the port is used to charge the cell and connect with PC for data transfer and Sync. The microSIM is inserted in a tray which slides out and the SIM is placed in the tray and it is slid back in. Apple has been using microSIM in iPhone but for Nokia this is the first time. The SIM insertion process is cumbersome and most operators do not offer a microSIM, hence you have two options, go to Hafeez Centre (Lahore) or cut the sim yourself, we chose the second and eventually got it in.
The bottom of N9 features the speaker (there must be a mic pinhole somewhere in the bottom too). The speaker is goof but unfortunately attracts a lot of dust.
The left side of the phone is all smooth with nothing on it.
The back side looks beautiful with great edges and 8 MP camera with words “Cart Zeiss Tessar” written on its side along with NOKIA. Dual LED is placed exactly above the camera lens which, according to Nokia is 20% brighter than the previous LED units used despite being smaller.
The battery cannot be replaced by users, which is somewhat disappointing as smartphone batteries tend to have a lifecycle of around a year maximum, after which the talk time and standby time is reduced significantly. Performance of the 1450 mAh battery was awesome as we watched a 2 hour movie on our N9 and the battery was reduced by 20% only. We were also pleased that we didn’t have to worry about charging our N9 for at least 2 days.
We have never been more impressed with any first version of an OS before. Nokia should be praised for its boldness to launch a new OS and the work which has been done on it. MeeGo is the only OS which can work perfectly without the need of any hardware buttons (except power button).
We might have discussed few features earlier here before but let’s start from scratch. A digital clock is shown by default in the standby mode, to wake up the phone both the power button and double-tap on screen work equally well. The screen lightens up on tapping and the lock screen background image is shown along with time, date, battery indicator, operator name and signal strength. This screen can be swiped in any direction to unlock the phone. On unlocking, the last displayed screen is returned which is pretty handy.
Notification icons are displayed on the lock screen as soon as new notifications arrive. Swiping the notification icons unlocks the phone and opens the notification which makes it easy to respond to missed calls and messages. If you swipe the lock screen upwards a little and wait for a second or two, four shortcuts appear on the bottom of the screen i.e. call, messages, camera and internet, this is particularly helpful if you are in a hurry and want to send a text or make a call straight away.
MeeGo is based on three screens, the central screen, which we would like to call the home screen is where all programs i.e. everything that is installed on the phone is available. This can be scrolled up or down to view programs if they do not fit to single screen. Rearranging the icons in grid is very easy as tap and hold enables the re-arrange mode which enables instant re-arrangement and uninstallation of programs. As expected, some default apps cannot be uninstalled.
A right swipe from the home screen will take you to the feed screen. On top is the date time which is followed by Twitter and Facebook feeds which you have configured. A right swipe from the feed screen or a left swipe from the home screen will take you to yet another fascinating aspect of MeeGo, the task management screen. MeeGo takes management of running programs to a whole new level by introducing swipe to exit; now you can exit any running program by swiping in any direction, your program will be minimized in the exact state and a tile will appear in the task management screen.
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Coming back to the task management screen, it has two views, 4 tiles per screen and 9 tiles per screen, the views can be change by pinch gesture. All the programs which were minimized are shown in the form of tiles; tapping on any of them would take you to the program itself where you can resume what you were doing. Closing/ killing programs is pretty easy too, a tap and hold on any part of the screen will take you to the edit mode in which a cross (exit symbol) appears on top-right of each tile, a tap on the cross will close the program instantly and you will lose all data that was not saved.
Another point to be appreciated in MeeGo is its ability to run (in minimized state) a lot of programs simultaneously. We opened all the programs onboard our N9 including a movie and a football game and experienced no lag whatsoever. This is probably the force of 1 GB RAM which makes MeeGo the work smoothly even when tens of programs are running.
The status bar on the top drops down when tapped and shows current profile, volume, status of internet connection, Bluetooth and availability on IM networks. Profiles can be instantly changed, volume controlled through a swipe gesture and internet, Bluetooth and IM settings accessed from the task bar. However, WiFi signal strength is not shown in the status bar, only a dot depicting whether it’s connected to a network or not is displayed.
The default search app included in MeeGo is cool as it searches everything including contacts. There weren’t many things that we disliked about MeeGo, but the inability to rotate screen automatically to three sides was a disappointment.
The App Store understandably features a limited number of apps as compared to other platforms but we hope that it will grow as the OS gets old. Both paid and free apps are present in store, the paid ones can be bought in Pakistan using a credit card.
We tested a few games including Real Football 2011, NFS Shift and Angryi Birds with Magic. RF 2011 resembled Pro Evolution Soccer of Android and Windows Phone, there were hardly any lags and we were able to play games as smoothly as it gets.
Contacts, Calling and Signal Strength
The Phone Book and Calling is nice. Contacts can be searched from the stock search app and the search available in contacts. Contacts can be associated with social network profiles and these are listed either alphabetically or on their availability on social networks. But you cannot tag friends when using Facebook.
We made a few calls from the phone and were impressed with the call quality and signal strength. But the WiFi signals caught by N9 are uncharacteristically weak as other Nokia cell phones have historically performed well in this area.
Messaging is one of the most brilliant features of Nokia N9. It consolidates SMS, MMS and IM on one place giving you more control over you conversations than you have ever expected. Messages can be filtered easily if you want to focus on one form of text communication only. A new text message is automatically converted into a new MMS as any attachment is inserted.
You can tap and hold on what you have written to initiate a magnifying glass which makes reading your unsent message pretty easy, swiping the finger over your text enables you to read all the text you have composed. However, there are no navigation buttons to go between words to change them; you have to tap a word to edit it, which is sometimes very annoying
The gallery app is simple but effective; there is no audio recording app by default and music player is simpler than expected. When music player is minimized, the music continues to be played, but unfortunately no controls are shown on the lock screen or status bar to quickly turn off the music or navigate between songs. This feature was expected as it is available in Windows Phone and Android.
Video player is once again simpler than expected; it includes a nice feature of finding videos like the one being played on YouTube. However, there is no fast forward or rewind button which made it very difficult for us to watch a movie as we had watched some parts of it already. It was very cumbersome to take the playback to the exact time and we decided to see the parts again.
Nokia N9 boasts an 8 MP, 3264×2448 pixels camera which has Carl Zeiss optics, autofocus and dual LED flash. The lack of camera button makes it difficult to take self snaps, as is very common in cell phone users these days. The camera performance was good but not excellent; its performance was below par in dim light situations. When flash is turned off in bright light, the images are not as clear as are expected from a Nokia 8 MP camera with Carl Zeiss optics. The unorthodox position of front camera was very annoying at times as we tended to hold the phone upside down until we eventually got used to it. It was very disappointing that Skype does not support N9’s front camera for video calling. Some pics taken by the camera are included to enable you to assess its quality.
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We were unable to check it as we didn’t have another NFC enabled device.
Office documents & Browser
Nokia N9 Supports PDF, Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats but there is no document editing software by default. The browser is pretty snappy but lacks Flash support.
Nokia might have introduced N9 and MeeGo on the worst possible time. Its gearing to launch Windows Phone based Lumia series and cheap smartphone like devices in Asha series; it is pretty hard to understand where this fits in the equation as Nokia is also determined to continue its Symbian legacy with Symbian Belle.
Price: Rs. 52,000
The hefty price tag will confine it to an extremely small niche and the N9 will be out of reach of the mass market. Lesser number of users will mean that the developers will not be attracted which means that the brilliantly knit MeeGo will be doomed in its infancy. But if you are not interested in using a lot of apps and fall in love with the smooth transition between programs and the tightly knit OS which gives an unparalleled fluidity to the UI and you are willing to dig deep in your pockets to get your love, then Nokia N9 is the phone for you. But beware, we suspect that the new concepts introduced in MeeGo will be adopted by other OSs soon and you might be looking at phones far cheaper than yours with same fluidity and tens of times larger app store in future.
Pros and Cons
- 3.9” AMOLED screen with 16 million colors
- 8 MP autofocus camera with Carl Zeiss optics and dual-LED flash
- MeeGo v1.2 (Harmattan OS)
- 1 GHz Cortex A8 CPU
- 1 GB RAM
- Polycarbonate colored unibody
- Active noise cancellation
- 3.5mm audio jack
- microUSB port
- WiFI b/g/n
- Great SNS integration
- Smooth and intuitive UI
- No Music short keys to control music when minimized
- No fast forward/rewind in video player
- Lack of flash support in browser
- Battery is not user-replaceable
- No office document editing
- microSIM card slot
- A very limited app store
Have we missed something in the review? Do you want to ask something about this phone ? If yes leave a comment and we will reply asap. Your comments and suggestions are the main driving force of our blog and we are looking forward to hear what do you think about this review.