The Nokia N9 is, without doubt, one of the most fascinating phones of the last few years. The tale of its development and launch interweaves almost all the multivariate strands of the Nokia narrative.
I say this without any qualification: the Nokia N9 is beautiful. Everything about this phone’s design exudes elegance and harmony. Lines flow seamlessly into one another, fit and finish is perfect, and the feel in the hand is sublime. Aside from the intentionally squared off top and bottom, there are no straight edges on the N9. It’s evocative of supercar design in the way it simply transitions from one curve to another, albeit in the pursuit of a cohesive, unified look rather than aerodynamic excellence.
I was impressed by the N9′s battery life, particularly since it runs an aged and not particularly efficient OMAP3630 processor. The phone makes a habit of lasting over 24 hours on a charge, with typical use involving push notifications for Gmail messages and regular updating of the Events homescreen with Twitter updates.
The thing that ties everything together on the N9 is Nokia’s new concept of a Swipe UI. There are no physical or capacitive menu buttons on the N9 because of this one devastatingly simple and equally effective innovation. Swiping in from any edge of the screen drags the app you’re in out of the way and brings up your most recent homescreen. It’s so easy and natural that I honestly started doing edge-swipes on other phones, an experience that filled me with equal measures of disappointment and embarrassment.
None of the foregoing would be worth much if the N9 didn’t offer a responsive user experience. The good news is that when the N9 works properly it is the very embodiment of quickness, though the bad news is that it doesn’t work properly all the time. Let’s start with the good. From the moment you unlock the N9, screen animations flow around your finger like gentle waves of awesomeness. Transitions between homescreens, scrolling, and pinch-to-zoom are all delectably smooth and fluid....
Unfortunately, I’ve been able to make the N9 freeze up for several minutes at a time on numerous occasions. This is down to a pair of causes. Firstly, the N9 tries to pull the old familiar trick of appearing ready for new instructions when it is in fact still loading things in the background. That’s an acceptable risk to take with a patient user, but I habitually clashed with short periods of unresponsiveness while that long-toothed OMAP3630 (the second cause) tried to figure out how to juggle the backlog of requests I was throwing at it.
The N9′s app ecosystem is the software equivalent of Chernobyl. It’s just not a place you (or any sane developers) will want to be in. Stephen Elop has personally shut the door on future consumer products running MeeGo Harmattan, which renders the N9 and its developer-focused sibling the N950 the only exhibitors of this essentially abandoned OS.
The N9 is flawed and doomed, but you have to understand, I don’t care. The universal experience of using this phone is one of delight and desire. Yes, it can get bamboozled and freeze up, and no, you won’t be finding an avalanche of awesome new apps for it, but those downsides fade in comparison to the abundance of positives. The Harmattan UI is fresh, slick, and as natural as anything the smartphone world has yet introduced, while the physical design is unmatched. Not even the shiny new iPhone 4S feels as luxurious in the hand as the N9.
I started off by comparing Nokia’s latest handset to a supercar and the parallels run deep. Like Italy’s finest mechanical produce, the N9 won’t be found in many shops, has a tendency to break down, and inspires an emotional rather than pragmatical response. There’s an added underdog charm in knowing it has been discarded by its maker and deemed unworthy to carry the Nokia crown. I’m unwilling to describe that decision as a mistake until I’ve seen Nokia’s Windows Phone range that will be introduced later this month, but one thing’s for sure: the N9 has delivered on Nokia’s promises of 2010. It’s just a shame that the Nokia of 2011 didn’t believe in itself enough to see them through.
Edit2: here's the review from Engadget posted today (22 Oct)
edit: here's a video review from cnet
Edited by hajile - 10/22/11 at 12:19pm