Here's the Nokia N9 MeeGo phone and you can't have it (review)

Summary:The Nokia N9 MeeGo-powered smartphone is starting to ship in select countries and I've had the chance to spend a bit of time with it.

I have been a Nokia fan for years and in late 2009 I bought the Nokia N900. This device is a bit clunky, but it is extremely powerful and does an excellent job with online service integration and communications. Earlier this year Nokia announced, and then shortly after effectively killed, the Nokia N9 MeeGo device that is now shipping to people outside of the United States. You can check out several photos of the device and some MeeGo screenshots in my image gallery along with a hands-on video and some initial thoughts below.


Image Gallery: Check out some photos and screenshots of the Nokia N9 MeeGo device.
Image Gallery: N9 retail box
Image Gallery: Nokia N9 in hand

Why can't I have one?

The Nokia N9 was announced in Singapore in June and then just a few days later Nokia CEO Stephen Elop announced Nokia would not return to MeeGo even if the N9 is successful. Nokia is committed to Windows Phone for the high end and it seems the N9 and MeeGo is another one of their experiments like the N900 and Maemo was a couple years ago. Unfortunately, if you think what I showed you looks attractive and something you might want to try it isn't going to be easy or cheap to get one in the United States. Here is the official Nokia statement regarding the Nokia N9:

After the very positive reception to the launch of the Nokia N9, the product is now being rolled out in countries around the world. At this time we will not be making it available in the US. Nokia takes a market by market approach to product rollout, and each country makes its own decisions about which products to introduce from those available. Decisions are based on an assessment of existing and upcoming products that make up Nokia's extensive product portfolio and the best way in which to address local market opportunities.

The N9 is selling in 16GB capacity for EUR480 (about US$650) and 64GB capacity for EUR560 (about US$755). It feels like a very high quality device, but these prices are even out of my price range for a device with a limited ecosystem and support.

In the box and first impressions

The Nokia N9 comes in a simple blue box with a full scale image of the device and application launcher page on the front. Inside you will find the N9, USB cable, USB a/c charger, stereo headset, and Quick Start Guide.

After pulling the N9 from the box, I was immediately impressed by the sleek feel of the N9 including the high quality feel of the plastic. The display is soft and smooth and I can't stop myself from rubbing the display with my finger. The glass on the display is curved and molds around the edges into the front shell. The design is fantastic and if Nokia brings a Windows Phone device in this form factor I know what device I am going to buy.

Specifications

Specifications for the Nokia N9 include the following:
  • MeeGo 1.2 (Harmattan) operating system
  • Penta-band 3G radio and quad-band GSM radio
  • 1 GHz Cortex A8 processor
  • 3.9 inch FWVGA 854x480 pixels AMOLED display
  • Antiglare polarizer and Gorilla Glass integration
  • Preinstalled 16GB or 64GB storage
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 8 megapixel camera with dual-LED flash and Carl Zeiss optics
  • Proximity sensor, light sensor and digital compass
  • Integrated A-GPS
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n)
  • Bluetooth 2.1
  • NFC-enabled
  • 3.5 mm headset jack
  • 1450 mAh lithium-ion battery
  • Dimensions: 116.5 x 61.2 x 12.1 mm and 135 grams

The battery is non-removable and there is no expandable storage capability. A microSIM card form factor is used in the N9. TV out is functional through the 3.5mm headset jack and Dolby Mobile sound is present. It is nice to see integrated WiFi hotspot capability, but the HSDPA radio looks to be limited to 14.4 Mbps.

Walk around the hardware

The Nokia N9 hardware is absolutely beautiful and I am having a hard time putting it down. The glass on the front is curved and designed to give it a wonderful feel. The back is angled nicely at the four corners and it is tough to stop rubbing such a nice back design.

The front is dominated by the 3.9 inch display and unlike every other mobile phone there are no physical or touch capacitive buttons on the device face. Everything is controlled via touches and swipes. There is a front facing camera down in the bottom right corner, but I have yet to figure out how to access it.

There are volume buttons and the power/lock button on the right side of the N9. You will use the power/lock button quite a bit since there are no other buttons on the front to turn on the display.

There is nothing on the left side and the only thing on the bottom is the mono speaker.

The 3.5mm headset jack, microUSB, and microSIM card slots and openings are found on the top of the N9. You press down on one side and let the door open straight up to access the microUSB port and then slide the other door over to have the microSIM card try pop out.

Nokia has a solid 8 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics on the back of the N9, about 1/3rd of the way down from the top and in the center. Two LEDs are placed near the camera lens with at least one app present to use it as a flashlight.

Quick thoughts on the software and performance

MeeGo reminds me a lot of Maemo and webOS with a similar application launcher, visual task manager, integrated service functionality, quick launch bar (brought up like the webOS bar with a swipe from below), and more. Swipes similar to the QNX OS are used too. You swipe from off the display to the center to unlock the screen and to go back to one of the three home screens when you are in an application.

The three home screens consist of the application launcher, task manager, and notifications/feeds. You can move app shortcuts around the launcher page and scroll up and down to view the apps you have installed. The task manager shows you live thumbnails of open apps and I was able to run 27 apps at once (I'll test it out and see if I hit a limit) with very little impact on the device (shown in my video). The notifications/feeds screen show you new text and IM messages, email, missed calls, social network updates, and news service updates in one easy view.

I have only been using the N9 for a few hours so cannot comment on battery life, camera performance, and a host of other functions, but will be spending more time with it and report back on my findings. It really is a slick device with a nice OS, but it is also sad that so few people will ever be able to experience it.

Please let me know if you have any questions on the Nokia N9 and I'll work on a follow-up article after spending more time with the N9.

Topics: Mobility, Nokia, Operating Systems

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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