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Programme 163 covers:
"No, no, this isn’t the Nokia Lumia 800, this is actually its predecessor - and it runs an OS that you almost certainly won’t have seen before. You may remember the old N900 qwerty running Maemo? This is effectively the latest evolution, with some of Intel’s 2010 Meego input. Officially the N9 runs ‘Meego-Harmattan’, somewhat confusingly, though the OS doesn’t actually make much difference in the long run since the N9 was a one-off product even when it was announced.
If you’re looking for a finished product with fully rounded ecosystem, if you’re looking for every app under the sun to be available, if you’re looking for a device which will be officially supported for years, if you’re looking for something which ‘just works’ - then go get an iPhone or similar.
The N9, competely unashamedly, is a true geek’s smartphone. Stephen Quin kindly sent over this review unit and in my initial tests I’d say that the OS and core apps were about 80% finished. Three days ago, a big new OS release, PR 1.2, arrived over the air, whereupon I had to re-check everything and re-write my review notes. I’d say that the N9 is 95% there now. Will it ever reach 100%? No, but then that’s half the fun.
As a geek, you’d buy the N9 because you want the excitement of wondering what will be added next month, which core ecosystem apps will finally arrive, which patches and hacks come out of the N9 community. There’s always something to add, something to update, something to look forward to. An example - I was bemoaning the lack of a camera shutter key - I look in the Nokia Store and there’s a utility to remap volume ‘up’ to launch the Camera and take photos. Good stuff...
Like the Lumia 800 which followed it, the N9 is unibody polycarbonate, but this time with 3.9” ClearBlack Display AMOLED with Gorilla Glass. 854 x 480 resolution, making by my calculations the highest ever in any Nokia device? It’s an elegant design, with ports and slots hidden under flaps at the top and only three buttons - the aforementioned volume up, plus down and keylock, on the right. Speaker on the bottom and a somewhat horribly exposed 8mp camera on the back, with dual LED flash.
And that’s your lot. It does feel great in the hand though, with the rather unique Swipe UI working BRILLIANTLY with the convex glass - swiping from side to side to switch apps feels utterly natural.
Yes, swiping from side to side. There’s no menu button, no back or home, no anything. Instead, there are three main views that you can cycle through. Firstly, the app launcher (looking suspiciously similar to Symbian Belle - Nokia is doing a great job of converging the icon style and UI elements between its different OSes). Then the multitasking view - just tap the app you want to switch to - and a notifications pane. This latter is interesting, offering confirmation of date and time, current weather (which you can see out of the window, to be fair, but tapping on this does give you an Accuweather forecast in detail, shown here), notifications from various services and applications, including Email - tap to read and reply - plus a feed of updates from all your social services.
And you can do this swipe from anywhere in the UI, which is VERY clever. A swipe down the screen closes the current app and a swipe up brings up the last used homescreen pane. Love it.
Applications are familiar, yet not quite the same. Heavy elements of Nokia’s Symbian apps, with other influences creeping in. Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive star, as they do on Symbian and Windows Phone, plus there’s Nokia Store and a decent set of bundled applications, including native Facebook, Twitter and Skype applications - none of these will set the world alight and there’s no Skype video calling yet, but they’re a good start. And Twitter, in particular, has a number of super alternatives in the Nokia Store already. There’s the NFC-enabled 20 level version of Angry Birds, plus full versions of Galaxy on Fire 2, Need For Speed Shift, and Real Golf.
There’s a YouTube icon, but it sadly only goes to the mobile web site - workable, but hardly an elegant client. Again, third party software comes to the rescue. Talking of videos, I was disappointed by the built-in video player - it seems the OS and graphics chip aren’t up to the job of anything but very basic and patchy 720p playback support, meaning that almost all my test videos would have to be transcoded down to a lower resolution in order to be played. Music’s great, mind you, very good quality if you bring along your own in-ear multimedia headphones - you’ll hate the supplied cheap, control-less outer-ear ones.
Powering all this is a 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM, easily enough to keep this Linux-based OS chugging along, though even with the latest update I did experience a number of glitches and blank screens, plus a nasty moment when I thought I’d broken it. Again, all part of the ‘not completed yet’ excitement for the hardened Phones Show viewer?
Also inside the N9 is either 16GB or, as here, 64GB of user flash memory, with no expansion, a NFC transceiver, naturally, plus a sealed 1450 mAh battery. Non-user-replaceable batteries are a big no-no with me at the moment, as I’ll rant about in a future show.
Being AMOLED and Nokia, there’s the familiar always-lit up screensaver, here with some useful - and some not so useful icons. The ? marks almost certainly refer to the way the review pentaband N9 categorically refused to work with my GiffGaff microSIM card, despite it working perfectly in every other phone here. Stephen, supplying it, had had no isuch issues - ah well. Just one more tech mystery to solve?
The N9’s camera was much -touted at launch, with genuine wider 16:9 window onto the sensor and indeed photos are pretty decent, though a long way from N8 quality. You have to capture via an on-screen icon though - I REALLY missed a proper camer shutter button! There’s a somewhat weedy dual LED flash - thankfully video is at 720p and great, as seen here, with continuous auto-focus.
There’s stereo audio too...
Web browsing on the N9 is elegant, with new windows appearing as separate browser instances and available via the multitasking window - text can be copied, iPhone-style, by adjusting markers on-screen. There’s no Flash support, not that I missed this much. One oddity is that I’m using to swiping around web pages on touchscreen phones - try that with too much flair here and you end up activating the built-in Swipe UI gestures - erroneously! Along the same lines, do the industry down-swipe to get notifications absent-mindedly and boom - your app just got closed down! Swipe with care, folks!
As a geek myself, it’s impossible to dislike the N9 though - it’s a serious investment in something whose future you can enjoy helping shape. Kind of a DIY smartphone. The Nokia community is already running at some pace supporting the N9, but I did see some brave soul even porting Android Ice Cream Sandwich to this thing. Wow.
Personally, the sealed battery and the use of a OS with even less developer support than Symbian are a little off-putting, but even so I was absolutely able to understand the enthusiasm this lovely slice of polycarbonate has generated and I’ll be sad having to send it back shortly!"
Steve Litchfield, (C) 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, email me at email@example.com.
All content on this site and in the Show is copyrighted to Steve Litchfield and to the relevant guest reviewers. All rights reserved, please do not distribute the video files further than your own computing equipment.
176 - News/odds and ends, My favourite bits of Android 4.1 Jelly
Bean, and a brief look at a new mobile-centric music system.
175 - Hands-on review of the HTC One V, plus news catch up and a
tour round my personal 808 set-up
174 - Hands-on review of the Nokia 808 PureView - the best Symbian
smartphone ever made - can its monster camera make up for other
173 - News, A hands-on review of the Huawei Ascend G300 and my Top
5 Phones for June 2012
172 - Hands-on review of the Samsung Galaxy S III, 4.8" screen and
quad core processor - the biggest and best phone in the world?
171 - Hands-on review of the Motorola RAZR MAXX with massive
170 - News, A rant on the non-take up of
Android 4.0 virtual controls, and a hands-on review of the Nokia Lumia
169 - Hands-on review of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Active and some
further thoughts on the Samsung Galaxy S III
168 - Hands-on review of the HTC One S, a blow-by-blow comparison
between the Nokia Lumia 710 and HTC Radar, and news of the Galaxy S III
167 - News, My top 10 second hand
bargains, A look at the very first touchscreen smartphone - 7 YEARS
before the Apple iPhone
166 - Hands-on review of the HTC One X, the biggest and fastest
phone in the world - but is it the best?
165 - Hands-on review of the Sony Xperia S, are the super 720p
screen and 12mp camera enough?
164 - An editorial on the death of a
form factor, my Top 5 Qwerty candybars in 2012, and my hands on review
of the Asha 302
163 - Review of the Nokia N9, running Meego, plus 'What you need to
know' from MWC 2012
162 - Review of the Google Nexus X(!), plus a look at the Nokia 500
and thoughts on Symbian Belle
161 - Hands-on review of the Samsung
160 - Review of the 4.65", 720p-screened Galaxy Nexus
See my personal selection of recommended smartphone accessories, all 10% off at the Proporta 3-Lib store!