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Thread: Our review of the Nokia N9

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    Our review of the Nokia N9

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    Here's our review of the Nokia N9. It's written by our very own HC - No "i" as well as myself (it's a Howard collaboration).

    As a long time Nokia fan, the past few years have been trying times. The last Nokia phones I really loved were the e72 and n86. It used to be that S60 was my favorite smartphone operating system. It had a great browser, multi-tasked very smoothly and had a great camera experience. When the iPhone first launched, Nokia had already sold their 100 millionth S60 device. Of course, a lot has changed since then. S60’s keypad driven interface had a horrible transition to touch screen. To make matters worse, Nokia’s S60 successor Maemo was extremely late to market.

    Eventually, Maemo was merged with Intel’s still-born mobile OS Moblin and renamed MeeGo. The idea was that Nokia and Intel would collaborate on x86 powered processors like the Intel Atom, even though the rest of the mobile industry uses ARM processors. That didn’t work out either, and after a management shuffle Nokia announced that they would be using Windows Phone as their flagship product going forward...

    Have you ever wished you could go back in time to see how things would have turned out? Maybe if you never broke up with your first love? If you hadn’t turned down that job offer? If you hadn’t partied so much in school? Or maybe if you didn’t get into that big fight with the Nausicaans? Nokia is giving us that chance with the Nokia N9. Their first and probably last commercially available MeeGo phone.

    The N9 has a polycarbonate unibody, so the main body has no seams. It’s a lot smaller than many top-of-the-line Android devices and I must say, it really fits nicely in my hand. I am a little concerned that after using it for a while, the left side of it began to creak a little.
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    Polycarbonate is actually what they use to make plastic eyewear. While it should be good at withstanding impacts it remains to be seen how scratch resistant the N9’s body is. So far, no scratches. The piece of chrome in the middle of the back scratches really easily however.

    Anyways, I actually prefer the N9’s polycarbonate unibody to the N8’s aluminum unibody because the entire body sans the screen and camera, are the same material with no seams. The N8’s body was nice but I am disappointed that the ends were plastic.

    Another benefit to a polycarbonate body is that radio waves pass through it very easily. This can result in strong RF performance (we’ll touch on that later).
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    The micro USB connector is hidden behind a door. you press on it and it opens up. You have to open the USB cover to remove the SIM card tray. It’s very cool - kind of like a puzzle. Still, I question how durable it is. I can imagine my toddler breaking it if she found the N9 charging on my desk.

    The front-facing camera is located in a rather unusual place; the bottom right corner. It’s not an ideal location for video calling since my hands often cover it.
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    The OLED display measures 3.9” with a resolution of 854x480. It has outstanding black levels that are so deep you’ll wonder if it’s actually on at times. It blends in nicely with the black bezel. It also has good contrast and works well outdoors. It actually appears to be a super AMOLED display because its subpixels are laid out in a pentile matrix layout. The downside to this is that it looks a little jagged, plus solid colours are a little ‘dotty’ looking at times.

    Anyways, one minor problem is that the N9 main menu has fairly small text which I found a little distracting at times since it could be a little sharper.
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    There are 3 home screens: a menu screen with 4 columns of icons...
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    a notification screen which has your latest messages, weather information, etc.
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    and one with a 2x2 grid of running programs. Each screen can be scrolled vertically.

    The menu makes heavy use of gestures. To unlock the screen you press the power button and then swipe from the bezel to the opposite bezel (left to right). You can bring up quick launch icons for the messaging, phonebook, camera and browser from the lock screen by slowly swiping from the bottom upwards.
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    You can close programs by swiping from the top to the bottom of the screen. Tapping the very top of the screen brings up a status screen where you can adjust the current phone profile (silent, beep, ringing), volume, plus some other connectivity information.

    If you’re in a program, swiping from off the screen onto it will bring up the main menu.

    While the gestures are cool at first they seem like extra work at times. For example, a lot of the time I have to swipe the lock screen twice because I didn’t swipe far enough. It actually kind of reminds me of the lock screen on Samsung Touchwiz Android phones. I also had trouble with the gesture to bring up the quick launch icons. No matter how much I practiced I couldn’t get it to show reliably. Finally, the gesture to switch to the main menu is too similar to the gesture used to move between pictures in the gallery.

    There is integration with Exchange, Skype, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Nokia account, CalDAV, Flickr, POP3/IMAP email accounts, Picasa, SIP (VOIP calling) and YouTube.

    I wasn’t able to set the N9 up with my Google account via Exchange. Apparently version 1.1 (which I’m running) doesn’t work with it.

    The level of integration lies somewhere between Android and WebOS. It works fine for Twitter and Facebook but the photo and video integration is ONLY for uploading. You can’t view photos and videos stored on Flickr, Picasa, YouTube with the built-in gallery application.

    You can have information pushed to the N9 but sometimes the messages didn’t always show up right away.

    The on-screen portrait keyboard isn’t terrible but it’s not as good as the iPhone, Windows Phone 7 or many 4”+ Android phone keyboards. That said, if you take your time it’s very usable. My favorite thing about the keyboard is that it has outstanding haptic feedback. When you touch a key it actually feels like you’re pressing something in. In that sense the keyboard is extremely intuitive.

    The auto-correct has a sense of humour; if you type in “walmart” it auto-corrects it to welfare.
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    The camera can capture photos with various screen resolutions and aspect ratios. 7MP at 16:9 is the default setting probably because it matches the N9’s screen ratio. If you want to capture 8MP pictures you have to switch to 4:3. Basically the 7MP setting is a 8MP picture with the top and bottom chopped off.

    Image quality and AF speeds are quite good provided there is enough light. I found that both the autofocus and white balance struggled indoors.
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    I liked how the camera saves images with both the date and location in their file names.

    While I appreciate that there are a lot of camera options they feel a little cluttered. Do people really care about being able to capture images with different aspect rations with 3 different resolutions? I’d rather it capture images at the highest quality and then choose if I want to crop or resize when I’m ready to share them.

    The video capture quality is decent. I also found that the sound captured in video mode could be better. It’s not as bad as say the HTC Raider/Amaze but it’s a few steps down from the iPhone 4s.

    I tested the N9’s browser with Sunspider, a benchmark that runs within a browser. Scores are in ms so the lower the score, the faster the browser.

    Nokia N9 3658
    Samsung Galaxy Nexus 1996
    Apple iPhone 4s 2252
    Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray 3169

    So the N9’s browser is a little on the slow side. There is Flash support but it’s not fully implemented so it doesn’t work with all sites. I tried to install Opera for MeeGo but it’s not compiled for ARM devices like the N9..

    While the N9 didn’t score so well in the SunSpider overall I found it pretty responsive. Generally speaking, I thought the N9 had pretty snappy performance. Gesture effects and transitions are nice and smooth. The N9 really excels at switching between programs. It’s very impressive.
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    I found that the maps and navigation programs could use some work. Routing recommendation feels arbitrary with no provisions to adjust like in the N9’s Symbian counterparts. Here’s an example for Toronto. The N9 kept trying to get me to take the 401 even though I was heading east on the QEW to Danforth Ave. There was no traffic on the QEW. Speaking of traffic, there doesn’t appear to be any support for it.

    The downloadable text-to-speech voices don’t sound that great. It sounds like they were recorded with low sampling rates plus they’re muffled and distorted when you turn up the navigation volume.

    Video playback may become a problem with higher bit rate / compression video codecs e.g. baseline L1.3 AVC is fine but choppy with the high L4 AVC. It may due the processing power or lack of optimization.

    Media playback sounds great whether it’s through the headphone jack or via Bluetooth headphones. The built in speaker could be a bit louder.

    Incoming sound quality is good though the earpiece’s sweet spot is kind of hard to find. Outgoing sound is nice and clear.

    I love the music player’s UI. Unlike the "hidden" info approach in Google Music, this one shows most of the relevant information upfront. The control are also very intuitive. There doesn’t appear to be an FM radio or built in support for internet radio.

    The N9 comes with a couple of games built in. I tried Need for speed and Angry Birds. I’m not a heavy gamer but they appeared to run well. If you’re really into games steer clear of the N9 as I don’t foresee many games coming to it in the future.

    Battery life is exceptional, it can easily last more than a day as my main phone. For comparison I can only get half a day with my Samsung Galaxy S II. There are a few reasons for this, the N9 has a single core processor and a smaller display. I also get the feeling that MeeGo itself has far fewer apps running in the bavkground. What’s more impressive is that the N9’s battery capacity is only 1450mAh compared to 1650 on the Galaxy S II.

    USB performance is extremely fast, and when I say extremely fast I mean blazingly fast. I used a 400MB video file and observed write speeds of 18.6MB/s and read speeds of 25.1MB/s.

    RF performance is excellent. I tested it head-to-head with a HSPA Motorola RAZR and the N9 is actually slightly better.

    Over a week of usage, despite an open mind I couldn’t fall in love with the N9. It felt like a one night stand that I tried to turn into a relationship. It was fun at first but after a while things turned a little sour. I was frustrated mostly because I couldn’t get comfortable with its gestures.

    The price tag is also a problem. Sure, it’s cheaper than an iPhone 4s but it’s expensive for something that really has no future (and no past).

    In the end, the N9 takes Nokia on the right track to move away from Symbian. The only problem is that it’s too late. Nokia has already decided to abandom MeeGo os the N9 is the first and last of its kind. Still, it’s design language can be seen in the Lumia 800 (and the future products). The N9 is sexy and sophisticated on the outside, it’s just not quite finished on the inside.

    Ups:
    fastest USB performance I have ever seen from a phone.
    extremely strong RF performance
    nice body
    camera works well outdoors
    great haptic feedback

    Downs:
    browser isn’t that fast
    UI can be frustrating

    Interesting:
    the last of its kind
    shares its styling with the Lumia 800

    Check out more pictures of the N9 at HC - NO "i" Flickr.
    Attached Images Attached Images  

  2. #2
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    What are the UI frustrations you had?
    The word 'Pentaband' means '5 Bands', from the Greek word 'pente' meaning '5'. For a phone to be pentaband it has to support 5 bands. If the phone has AWS support, it doesn't automatically mean that it is pentaband.

    Don't send me PMs for questions that can be asked publicly.

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    Wirelessly posted (iPhone 4s: Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 5_0_1 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/534.46 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/5.1 Mobile/9A405 Safari/7534.48.3)

    Great review! I found humor and disappointment in reading your review, as I was eagerly awaiting this device. I've always been drawn to Nokia products, but over the course of the last few years, seasoned cell phone junkies like us have learned to proceed with extreme caution when considering Nokia products.

    This offering by Nokia is truly an insult to all former and prospective Nokia customers in my opinion. They managed to produce one of the finest pieces of hardware, and then they slap a half baked operating system into it. They claim that they will support the os for a few years yet. Hold your breath on that one!!! Then, they proceed to launch a Windows based phone with the same hardware. WTF? Does that not scream out " c ya later"

    Who are you kidding, and at $600 retail?

    I would personally skip the N9 and buy the 800. No matter how much you may hate or despise Microsoft or Windows, spend your hard earned dollar where you will get a better sense of satisfaction.
    Last edited by Byzantio99; 12-20-2011 at 08:56 PM.
    http://www.howardforums.com/showthre...ght=byzantio99
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    Quote Originally Posted by migo View Post
    What are the UI frustrations you had?
    The gestures don't work that well. They'd probably work better if the screen was bigger.

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    So basically the whole Swipe thing that they made a big deal of is something of a dud?

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    Quote Originally Posted by howard View Post
    The gestures don't work that well. They'd probably work better if the screen was bigger.
    Were you using PR1.1 or PR1.0, a lot of issues have been fixed via PR1.1.
    Swipe is anything but a failure, it is by far the most intuitive design ive ever dealt with.
    Nokia N950

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    migo,

    My experience has been the same with the fellow HC. Perhaps I am old school, so I do not buy into the whole swipe concept. However, devices powered by other OS are heavily involved with the gesture input and touch screen. So why am I being frustrated by the MeeGo powered N9? Not only the screen size that made my fingers to travel all the way from top to bottom, left to right, but also the inconsistency i.e. sometimes it works for some apps opened, sometimes it does not work. There are no global back or home keys (though some apps do have those like Nokia Store). I wish there would be some intuitive gestures for these actions - but no, there are not! So it makes switching between apps or mundane tasks a few more steps / levels to accomplish... This kind of UI experience frustrates me. It is a shame as the N9 can really handle multitasks really well with many apps running and/or set aside at the same time.
    Last edited by HC - NO "i"; 12-22-2011 at 12:43 AM. Reason: typo
    --

    HC - NO "i"
    I am NOT "the" HC, we are TWO different individuals!


    "If we amplify everything, we hear nothing!" - Jon Stewart, Comedian

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Samanosuke View Post
    Were you using PR1.1 or PR1.0, a lot of issues have been fixed via PR1.1.
    Swipe is anything but a failure, it is by far the most intuitive design ive ever dealt with.
    Samanosuke,

    Greetings.

    The reviewed unit is running on PR1.1 as we have mentioned in this review already...

    Quote Originally Posted by howard
    I wasn’t able to set the N9 up with my Google account via Exchange. Apparently version 1.1 (which I’m running) doesn’t work with it.


    Regarding the swipe gesture concept, different person have different opinions. We are just giving our insights over our first-hand experience. Like I have mentioned in the previous post, I wish there would be more than just taps, pinch, drag, hold, swipe from top to bottom, swipe left / right! But more importantly, I wish there would be more consistent response / feedback, not sometimes it does not work or require extra efforts. This is totally ruining the objective of the UI, disrupting the flow and becoming counter-intuitive.
    Last edited by HC - NO "i"; 12-22-2011 at 12:26 AM. Reason: link to the screenshot

  9. #9
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    I guess one good thing is that these problems can probably fixed via software quite easily. For me it would only require a small adjustment for the gestures to become intuitive.

    Quote Originally Posted by HC - NO "i" View Post
    migo,

    My experience has been the same with the fellow HC. Perhaps I am old school, so I do not buy into the whole swipe concept. However, devices powered by other OS are heavily involved with the gesture input and touch screen. So why am I being frustrated by the MeeGo powered N9? Not only the screen size that made my fingers to travel all the way from top to bottom, left to right, but also the inconsistency i.e. sometimes it works for some apps opened / running, sometimes it does not work. There are no global back or home keys (though some apps does have those like Nokia Store). I wish there would be some intuitive gestures for these actions - but no, there are not! So it makes switching between apps or mundane tasks a few more steps / levels to accomplish... This kind of UI frustrates me.

  10. #10
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    Fellow HC,

    Let's hope so. Perhaps an end-user accessible calibration can facilitate that... adjustable sensitivity, responsiveness, etc. Still, I wish there would be a few more gestures added to the UI.

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    Unhappy R.I.P. MeeGo

    Quote Originally Posted by Byzantio99 View Post
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    Great review! I found humor and disappointment in reading your review, as I was eagerly awaiting this device. I've always been drawn to Nokia products, but over the course of the last few years, seasoned cell phone junkies like us have learned to proceed with extreme caution when considering Nokia products.

    This offering by Nokia is truly an insult to all former and prospective Nokia customers in my opinion. They managed to produce one of the finest pieces of hardware, and then they slap a half baked operating system into it. They claim that they will support the os for a few years yet. Hold your breath on that one!!! Then, they proceed to launch a Windows based phone with the same hardware. WTF? Does that not scream out " c ya later"

    Who are you kidding, and at $600 retail?

    I would personally skip the N9 and buy the 800. No matter how much you may hate or despise Microsoft or Windows, spend your hard earned dollar where you will get a better sense of satisfaction.
    Byzantio99,

    Greetings.

    You have said it better than myself!

    I am also a big Nokia fan (not quite die-hard anymore ) but it is pity to see the once iconic brand going downhill to this point. Really, the N9 could have redeem Nokia from the burning rig. Yet, the Trojan.M$.Elop has decided to abort and jump the ship... Nothing wrong with this executive decision. Perhaps M$ and Nokia could really take off with the Windows Phone. In all fairness, I give Elop some benefits of the doubt... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iISX8Se8qwY&t=01m04s




  12. #12
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    HC - NO "i", you have to stop posting photos of this beauty. Just the same, I have to stop following this phone.

    Maybe I will tame the beast when and if I ever get to see a real working model of the N9. The hardware is what drives this primal urge to fondle it. The software, as stated in the review, and summed up a little more bluntly, sounds like a boring lay.

    I shouldn't be here to talk about the Iphone 4S, but since its my current phone, it has become the benchmark by which I compare all the other offerings in the market. The 4S (and I don't care which manufacturer you love, adore, support, sleep with, get paid to promote, hate, despise, you name it) is a wild phone. The right combination of materials and design. The only minor gripe I have with the overall design is that I wish the screen size was 4". The OS works for me, I couldn't care less to get into a debate about IOS vs. Android vs. etc......

    I'd love to revisit this phone in 6 months and see how far they have matured/developed the OS, just to see how it holds up against the Windows based phones that Nokia will release. Will Steve Balmer have an N9 voodoo doll in this drawer, poking needles into it's backside just to make sure it will not succeed?

    Most of us here have atleast one backup phone, if not half a dozen. In my earlier years, my impulsive years, I would have already bought one. We chased the hardware and adapted to the os. Times have changed now...lol I choose the OS first, the entire eco-system, then the hardware.

  13. #13
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    Byzantio99,

    LOL

    Do you know why I pick these two photos i.e. Nokia Lumia 800 on the top and the Nokia N9 on the bottom? Of course, I shot those photos during the reviews. But, I also want to poke some fun on the situation. Nokia gambles the whole farm on WP (which the M$.Troj.Elop thinks it will bring Nokia to the top of the "Mango" world) by sacrificing the MeeGo (lying down in the beautiful sunset as the 2-year old dream becomes reality)...

    Anyway, I think we all will find our own roads. You are happy with iOS, I am satisfied with Android, some are still believing in BlackBerry and some will have a dream with Windows Phone. Of course, there are also nostalgic dying (or dead) platforms... webOS, Symbian and MeeGo.

    Happy Boxing Day

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