Now that the Nokia N9 is finally available (in selected countries, that is), is it worth to invest in this "doomed" platform? Would this swiping mobile phone be great for everyday use? Is it a worthy upgrade of the Nokia N900? How does it compare to the developers only version Nokia N950?
When first taking the Nokia N9 into my hands, I was impressed how good this polycarbonate unibody felt. It's thin. Really thin! It feels solid and well built. It also looks really cool, at least the black version I've been using. The curved 3.9" AMOLED display is a perfect complement to this design. Did I mention that it is THIN? I'm aware that there are thinner mobile phones available on our humble planet, but in the Nokia N9 the thinness feels just right, at least for my fairly substantial hands (WARNING: If you have puny hands, you may not find as thin as I, but that is your problem, not mine).
Much has been said about the Nokia N9's precision-crafted polycarbonate unibody with inherent colour. Not only does it feel really nice, as briefly mentioned in the previous paragraph, but any eventual scratches would be hard to see because the colour would not change. In other words, one can pretty much drop it with impunity. Having this in mind, I find it kind of strange that the sales package included a rubber cover. If you ask me, it kind of defeats the purpose.
If you have been following the news about the Nokia N9 (or the Nokia N950 which has the same OS) in our solar system, you must by now know that "All it takes is a swipe". While this might be a clever marketing term, it seems to be one of the rare ones which are actually true. More or less. In the beginning this swiping thing seems a bit strange, but once you get accustomed to it, it's surprisingly intuitive. In fact, the entire UI is very intuitive and no matter what smartphone OS one has used before, the MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan of the Nokia N9 is really easy to use.
The only part where I seem to find this swipe mania in the Nokia N9 slightly counterproductive is when receiving an incoming call. You see who is calling and under it there is this green bit with which keeps growing and shrinking. Don't get me wrong, it looks really cool and the text "Swipe up" makes rather obvious what one ought to do next, in case the call is worth answering. However, swiping up is not enough. This only unlocks the screen and brings you to the incoming call view, where you can choose to answer, hang up or mute the call. I would prefer that swiping up would answer it. If I don't want to answer the call, I just do nothing. Also, like in the Nokia N900, turning the phone so that the screen faces down mutes the call, which is much quicker than swiping up and pressing mute.
The Nokia N9 has three views. The Applications view is the traditional view with icons for all the apps. Then there is the Open Applications view, which shows off the truly fabulous multitasking abilities of the N9. In my opinion this is even better than the one found in the Nokia N900. On the N900 I always ended up closing apps, because they were taking up resources and slowing down the device, especially with some games and videos. Not so with the Nokia N9. First of all, with the faster CPU (1 GHz instead of 600 MHz) and four times the amount of memory (1 GB instead of 256 MB), the N9 has plenty of resources to begin with. Furthermore, minimising games, videos and such, freeze the app in the N9. On the N900 they would continue running. While in theory, this is what true multitasking should do, it unnecessarily consumes valuable resources of a mobile device and effectively kills the battery. With the "freezing approach" of the N9, I find myself leaving most of the apps open, because it doesn't seem to eat up resources too much and, once the up is already open, it's so fast to switch tasks.
One view to rule them all
When I first heard about the Nokia N9 having only three screens/views, I thought it was strange. After hearing there would not be any widgets, I was flabbergasted! In an age and time when every self-respecting mobile OS has them (except iOS), how could N9's MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan not have them? Android has widgets (iOS doesn't). Symbian has widgets (iOS doesn't). Maemo has widgets (iOS doesn't). Even the non Harmattan vanilla MeeGo (to be replaced by Tizen) has them (iOS still doesn't, but Tizen probably will)! So why on earth those cool customizable widgets one can clutter the screen with did not make it to the Harmattan variant (which, according to some, is closer to Maemo 6 than MeeGo) of the N9?! (Yes, as I may have already mentioned, the iOS doesn't have them, but if you are reading a review of the Nokia N9, chances are that you couldn't care less about that niche OS.)
The answer lies on the third view (or the fist, or the second, depending which way you count): Events. It might not sound like much, but believe me, it shows everything one normally needs to see on a mobile device in a very stylish and organised fashion. Instead of having gazillions of widgets randomly placed around zillions of screens, in the Nokia N9 one has this Events view which is much quicker to use. One can see the current weather, call and message notifications, current calendar events, latest Tweets, wall posts and news tweets. The best part is, that developers may use the Events view for their apps, so expect to see more soon. For example, I think it's only a matter of time before someone will come up with a stock quote app, which would push selected quotes to the Events view.
I've been using the Meego 1.2 Harmattan, on my Nokia N950 mostly, for about 3 months now, I'm finding that the Events view is the one I use the most. It's simply such a quick way to see if there is something I need to pay attention to. Yes, the Events view is by far the most used and important view. Well, I use the Open Applications view is most important too and I probably use it more than the Events view. Of course, one simply has to use the Applications view all the time to launch apps, which makes it the most critical view. But that's just me. Others may have different opinions. Their loss.
The lock screen that matters
Since the Nokia N9, unlike the N950, has an AMOLED screen, you can see the time when the device is locked. Also, it shows you some notifications by signs. For example, it shows the not so cryptic "@" sign under the clock if you have received an email. Short pressing the power button, which is the only physical button on the device (also the volume up and down buttons are only physical buttons on the device), or Double tapping the screen brings up the lock screen. Here too you can see notifications, like missed calls, new emails and texts, and calendar events. By swiping any of these notifications it takes you straight to the relevant message or event. Simple, yet clever.
The lock screen seems to be the only place where wallpapers are used. So all those of you who are wallpaper aficionados may sigh with relief, the Nokia N9 has wallpapers. Or perhaps I should say wallpaper in singular form, as it's only used in one place. I think. I really do not care, to be frank.
There is no need for an app for that
Whatever you choose to call the Nokia N9, be it mobile phone, mobile device or smartphone, the point is one should be able to communicate with it. And communicate it does. Superbly! Like the Nokia N900, the N9 has a deeply integrated communication system, which seamlessly brings together Skype, Google Talk, SIP and so on with the regular mobile calling and text. This was one of the best features in the N900 and I was glad to see that it carried on to the N9. There is no need to open a separate app for placing, for example, a Skype call. You just do it from your regular contacts screen. Also, receiving any call, be it Skype, Google Talk or anything else, doesn't need you to have any special app open. It just works. Actually, it seems to work more reliably than in the N900. The only thing I'm missing in the N9, is the Skype video, although the N900 did not initially have it either, so hopefully it will be incorporated in some future update.
To use this great feature, one only has to setup the accounts in the cunningly called Accounts app. Here you can also setup your email, Exchange, Flikr, Facebook, Picassa, Twitter and many more accounts. This is the place to change the status of the accounts you are using in the Nokia N9. Or you can simply click the top bar to change your status. Wherever you change your status, if you ever do, having one app with all the account settings is a really neat way of doing things. Not a unique way in the mobile world, granted, but neat. Anyway, the point is that there is no need for an app to communicate in various ways, expect for the app to setup all the accounts, obviously.
N9 or N950, that's the question, but not really
When it comes to the OS and the UI, the Nokia N9 and the Nokia N950 are identical (if we do not take into account that the N950 is still running with an older firmware). The inner parts almost the same. The camera is slightly different, the N9 having a better one, I think. The N9 also has the NFC, which the N950 lacks. Other than that, they are exactly the same. Physically there is no difference at all. Well OK. The screen in the N9 is slightly curved giving a nice feel to your swipes, while in the N950 it is flat. It is also a 3.9" AMOLED in the N9, instead of the 4" LCD in the N950. So there 0.1" difference in screen size, but it's only visible when I compare the two next to each other. I also think the AMOLED of the N9 is slightly better than the LCD in the N950. Again, this is only based on my feeling and not any boring scientifically accurate test.
So there are two devices (or smartphones, if you prefer to think that a thing which travels around in your back pocket without ever complaining is smart), the Nokia N9 and N950, which are physically virtually indistinguishable. Apart for the keyboard in the N950, that is. And the completely different body. But which is better? The bigger N950 with the best ever keyboard I ever used in the device of that size or the really sleek, cool looking with perfect thinness N9. I personally would choose the N9 for two reasons: 1. the onscreen keyboard is surprisingly good in portrait mode and I find using it quite often even in the N950. 2. The size and the shape of the N9 is really good for carrying it around in any pocket. 3. The curved AMOLED screen of the N9 is simply better. 4. NFC. With NFC Bluetooth pairing is a breeze. 5. Because.
But which of the two would I recommend? The Nokia N9 or the Nokia N950? It doesn't really matter, because, unless you are a developer and you already have the N950, chances are that you will never get one. So the only choice is the N9. Of the two, it clearly is more of a sleek smartphone most people would find desirable, instead of the N950, which seems to appeal more to the geeks. Don't misunderstand me. The Nokia N950 is a great device. The Nokia N9 just is better. Sans the keyboard. And it's available. In selected markets only, unfortunately.
The Nokia N9 is truly a great device and a good upgrade for anyone who has been using the Nokia N900. What about non N900 users? Could I honestly recommend the N9 with its "doomed" MeeGo OS? Yes I could and I just did. What difference it makes that there will never be another MeeGo smartphone for a normal smartphone user? Most people buy the current device and not the next upcoming. The important part is that it does what it's meant to do and that the N9 does really well.
When it comes to available apps, I wouldn't worry about that too much. Already now the Nokia N9 seems to have more apps in Nokia Store (formerly known as Ovi Store) than Nokia N900 and, more importantly, Angry Birds is already preinstalled in the N9. Furthermore, the thing that matters, when talking about apps, is the Qt framework and not so much the OS. There will be plenty of new apps in the future too, which, as a developer, is not that great, because it means annoying competition. But as a consumer, it's not too bad.
The Nokia N9 is great device, but it's not perfect. For example, I really do not like the fact that it uses microSIM instead of the regular SIM. For me that is a big deal, since I travel a lot and I usually get a local prepaid SIM to avoid astronomical roaming charges for data connection and getting a microSIM isn't that easy. Also, while the new Drive app for navigation is a good idea, I find it really annoying that I cannot access my favourites from it directly, but I need to open the Maps app, select a favourite and tell it to drive there, at which point it opens the Drive app. I hope this will be fixed in a future update. Other than that, those two apps continue the tradition of Nokia's superb navigation apps.
I did not cover all the aspects of it, like the camera (which is rather good), web browser (not bad at all) or how well Exchange synchronization works with the calendar (really well), since there are/will be plenty other reviews that can cover that. I don't have the time nor energy for that (Nor enough readers to justify extensive reviews like these). But yes, I really like the Nokia N9, which, by now you must have understood already and I think it's a great device. Others may disagree with this conclusion. But, then again, this world is full of idiots.