I finally got my hands on the Nokia N9 – a phone which runs MeeGo Harmattan Operating System. Yes yes, probably very late, seeing it was launched more than a year back, but well, better late than never. It was something I always lusted after, from the day of its launch, and given a choice, I’d consider every other Nokia device I’ve used till date. Even the new Windows Phones. Definitely.
Now, this is not your regular review, and I don’t want to be reviewing it the normal way. It’s more like my thoughts about the N9, rather than a thorough review.
Coming back to the device itself, the N9 is one of the sexiest devices till date. Yes, even better than the HTC One X, whose shell is a single piece of polycarb. The One X might be the best looking Android smartphone out there, but when it comes to all phones out there, I’d go with the N9. It’s all beautiful, from whichever angle you look at it. The back is as minimal as it could get, with the little metal strip adding to its beauty. As you move away from the centre, you’ll notice it curves slightly on the top and the bottom. Those curves, and the absolutely stunning curved glass display, on the front – they’ll just blow you away. In fact, it was a case of ‘love at first sight’ for me. I’d fallen in love with it when Nokia announced it back in 2011, and the moment I took it out of the box, I was sure it’d be a great two weeks with it.
The glass is curved as well, and the display is actually closer to the glass than usual, making you feel as if the text and icons are flowing on the screen. As if that isn’t enough, the Surround icons (squircles) and Nokia Pure font together make it look so beautiful, I cannot express it in words. Really. You need to check it out for yourself to actually appreciate its beauty.
Enough has been said about the hardware, by many people. In fact, we reviewed it as well, where Udit waxed eloquent about just how beautiful it is. And fortunately, the beauty isn’t just skin deep. The first time you boot up the N9, the Nokia logo itself seems beautiful, better than what I’ve seen on any Nokia before this. The standard icon set, known as Surround icons, just adds to this. I used to like the fact that there were no particular standards that developers needed to follow for making app icons, on Android. I’ve also used Symbian Anna and Belle devices, which had these same Surround icons, but they didn’t seem half as beautiful as on the N9, so yeah. But once you try the N9, everything changes. Those same icons, which I used to find boring, now looked stunning on the N9.
They just seem really colourful and beautiful, and neat. No stupid glossy effects, just beautiful icons. Thankfully, they’re not cartoony (like on TouchWiz), nor are they ugly like on Android Ice Cream Sandwich.
I’m not exaggerating here. The icons really add to the beauty of the device.
The N9 comes with a unique Swipe UI. There are no buttons to take you to the homescreen. Or home, because there’s no standard homescreen on the N9. There are three screens, and one lockscreen, and that’s all there is to it. And that’s the best UI decision that has ever been made. No confusion, nothing. No fancy widgets, no fancy tiles. All you get is a grid of app icons in the center, a Notification center on the left and the Multitasking screen on the right. If ever there was an award for simplicity, the N9 would win it without any other device even giving it any sort of competition.
The real joy in using N9 is when you’ve to push an app in the background, whether to open another app, or do something else with the device. All it takes is a swipe, literally. No need to press a button fixed somewhere on the device. And no, if you say that the Galaxy Nexus comes with virtual buttons, which need not be pressed, it doesn’t count. Those virtual buttons are still fixed, and you have to reach for them to go back to the homescreen. It’s different on the N9. You can get out of an app by simply swiping across from the left, right, or the bottom part of the screen. When you do so, the said app is pushed to the background, and you’ll either go to the Multitasking screen, or the apps screen. And to close an app, all you have to do is, swipe downwards from the top of the screen.
It’s so intuitive and effortless an action, that you’ll really start liking it. And it’s fool-proof, literally. There’s no way anyone can get confused about. It’s not just best-in-class, it’s actually the best implementation, ever. webOS is okay, but it gets laggy once you have a lot of cards. The N9 multitasks really nicely, and that’s really, really awesome, seeing I’ve grown to love Symbian’s multitasking style. Apps continue to do their work in the background, without the OS interfering. Compared to more modern, popular OSs, Android and Windows Phone, this is better. No, I don’t want the OS to overact, and be over-zealous, I just want apps to do whatever the hell they want to. If I don’t like an app, or if I think it’s killing the battery, I know what to do (i.e., kill it), and I don’t want the OS to decide that for me.
And oh, if there are a lot of apps running in the background, and I’d want to close them all, I can do that as well. One long press on the Multitasking screen, and one tap on the “Close all” button. That easy. Apart from managing running apps, there’s a neat little animation in this screen. Normally, you’ll see 6 app cards, but if you pinch in, you’ll be able to see up to 9 cards. Pinch out, and it’ll be back to 6 cards. That’s not as much helpful, but the animations are really delightful. It’s really good, to be frank.
That’s about the Multitasking and Apps screen. I love both of them. Next up is the Notifications screen, which also doubles up as your Feeds’ screen. You can have your Twitter and Facebook feeds show up here, although you can also hide one or both of them, if you want to. On the top left, the day and date show up, and to the right, the current weather and location show up. Note that you don’t need any third party app for any of this. It’s all built-in to the OS. And it’s all been done really really nicely. The weather bit actually is really good. It’s trivial, sure, but beautiful nonetheless.
It’s all really beautiful, and that, I think, in part, is due to the Super AMOLED ClearBlack display that Nokia has used. Blacks are truly black, and not greyish black. And the blacks are really what make the beautiful icons and the Nokia Pure font stand out. It all really fuses so well, I can’t it say enough.
There’s more to the N9 than just the three screens and the curved glass. For example, the Messaging app. You can not just send normal SMSs and MMSs, but even chat with your Facebook friends, Google contacts, and Skype friends as well. All built-in. No need to download any app. And if that’s not enough, you can directly call your Skype friends from the Phone app. Very neat.
I also really liked the Music Player. It’s pretty, and remains clutter-free at the same time. However, the fact that there’s no EQ is sort of a bummer, seeing you’ll have to rely on the stock settings, which may or may not give you the best experience possible. Otherwise, enjoyable.
The next thing on my list is the Camera app. Like everything else on the and about the N9, it’s good looking, too. However, the camera might not be fitting of its Carl Zeiss branding. It’s an 8 MP snapper, with dual LED flash, and auto-focus. Some macro photos turned out quite good, which I tested in both Automatic and Macro mode. Macro apart, it’s a bummer. Photos look good when you’re viewing them on the phone, but once you transfer them to the PC and view them, you might find that some of them which seemed perfect on the phone, are a bit grainy. Now it could be just me, I’m not sure, but I’ve got a lot of good results with other phones, so yeah. Apart from that, I really miss a physical camera button. A “tap anywhere on the screen to capture the image” feature, ala Windows Phone, would have been of great help, and would have partly made up for the lack of a camera button, but oh well.
I also really miss the Symbian file manager on this N9. You don’t get any file manager out of the box, but you can download one from the Nokia Store. Filebox was recommended by many, so I went with that. It sucks though. That said, it’s a third party app, and I shouldn’t be adding that bit in here, but I wonder why Nokia wouldn’t have its Symbian version ported over to the N9.
The stock web browser is quite good, and quite faster than the Symbian version. But I don’t quite like how it lacks settings. And to clear the private data, you’ll have to go through the maze that the Settings is. Quite irritating, because I clear my private data (cookies, cache, saved passwords) quite often.
The Mail app is quite nice, and very reliable. It pushes mails properly, but I don’t like how images in the mails are downloaded only when you open the mail. There’s nothing that says images are being downloaded, nor is there an option for you select for the images to be downloaded as soon as the mail is pushed. Heck, there’s no button you can tap in the mail for initiating the download yourself. Text reflow is there, but quite jerky. A thumbs down for this.
Like with every Nokia smartphone you buy these days, you get free Maps and offline Navigation with the N9 as well. You can download the maps and store them locally, and use them to help you out even when there’s no internet connection. This sounds great, but the Maps data isn’t quite as good in my city. That said, it’s always a big bonus to have offline maps, and offline, turn-by-turn navigation, for free. Forever. Other vendors don’t have any such solutions, and while Google Maps let you store maps offline, its implementation is lame.
Overall, the N9 is a lot, lot more delightful device to have. It’s really beautiful, and the OS is one of the most aesthetically pleasing ones I’ve used till date – I like iOS as well, but it gets boring after a while. Android cannot be called a good looking OS at all, in my opinion. Before you say, I hate Holo. And the icons, it’s better I don’t say anything about them… Symbian, is ugly as it is. Windows Phone is different, but not as good looking as MeeGo Harmattan. webOS looks good at first, but then it’s nowhere as beautiful as MeeGo Harmattan.
You might be thinking that I’m talking like a fanboy, and you’d not be wrong to say so. The N9, honestly, is one those devices I’ve really enjoyed using, and something I’ve always lusted after, and will continue to do so. I can’t simply have enough of it, but the fact that it was killed so brutally, pains me. Sure, it had to be killed for the Lumias and the Windows Phone ecosystem to prosper (let’s not kid anyone. The little Windows Phone ecosystem truly became relevant when Nokia jumped onto the ship.), but it still pains me.
I’m a fan of great devices, and the N9 and MeeGo Harmattan will always deserve a special place in my heart. Always.