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Nokia N9 Preview – Part 1

The most highly anticipated Nokia phone of this year, Nokia N9, has been announced on June 21st 2011.

As it is the latest phone from Nokia and it being part of the prestigeous N series and having the highest number, you would expect it to be the flagship model from Nokia. Looking at current Nokia’s mobile phone portfolio, N9 certainly does have the most powerful CPU and the biggest amount of RAM. It also has the highest resolution screen by a tiny margin. (FWVGA vs WVGA on N900) But when you compare it to the competitors’ devices or even to its own N8/E7, it doesn’t seem “that” spectacular considering it being the latest and greatest from Nokia. Well, not hardware spec wise anyways. But hardware isn’t the end all be all. The potential of the N9 is far greater and also gives us a unique experience that we are not used to. Thanks to Nokia Australia, I have had the chance to actually try out the phone for about an hour or so. As it was stil using an early-stage software, I didn’t really think about writing up a full article at the time and so didn’t really take too much notes or photos of it. (Hence using mostly press photos for this article) But luckly, I did take some videos of the device while in use and I will also share my experience with the phone that not many had the chance to do yet.

I’ll be ranting a lot here on both good and bad and I hope some of my thoughts do provide some helpful information to you.

HW DESIGN – 9/10

The Good:
– Build quality is superb and feels great in hand
– Unique body material / manufacturing method

The Bad:
– No dedicated 2-state camera button
– No user-replaceble battery

Most of you only saw the photos and video on the web.  Yes, it is very sleek and well designed. It is a combination of a pretty design while keeping that  certain Nokia-look to it. I think they did a very good job. The material and the way it is made is also very unique. A single solid piece of polymor has been molded to make the body.This results in zero gaps or joints at the corners/edges of the body which makes it very unique. The colour is the same all the way through it as well, so even if you scratch it, it won’t reveal any ugly black/white beneath it. In hand, it feels GREAT. The first time you grab it, I’ll bet any money that nearly everyone will say “ooh, it feels heavy!” but in a really good solid, expensive, tough, indestructible and well made way. Anyways, I’m no designer/artist. But I can say that this thing is a looker. The Cyan coloured model looked the best out of the three in real life for me. It looks quite fashionable yet not too childish nor cheap. But not everyone will agree with me on that one I’m sure. Black looks just as sexy btw. =)

Buttons wise, I wish they didn’t get rid of the dedicated 2-stage camera button that nearly ALL mid-high Nokia camera phones had. I really don’t get decisions like this. Simplicity doesn’t mean it’s better. I’m now worried that one day, volume buttons will be removed from phones also. I hope that day never comes. The lock/power button on the side does exactly that. While unlocked, it locks the phone when pressed. While it is locked and screen is off, it acts just like the home button on an Android/iPhone. All it does is show the lock screen to see if there are any notifications or then you swipe the lock screen off in any of the 4 directions to unlock it.

At the top, there is a small bump which when depressed, the door flap springs open to reveal the MicroUSB socket. While the MicroUSB flap is open, you can slide out the Micro SIM holder. Then there is the 3.5mm A/V socket for earphones or for AV out. (not HDMI) To the left of the phone, there are no buttons. Nothing. On the bottom of the N9, there is a large oval shaped grille that hides the microphone and the loud speaker.

At the end, design wise, it is top notch. The look and feel of the phone alone will make many people buy it.

HARDWARE8/10

Now on to the bits and pieces of the hardware both inside and out.

The Good:
– Relatively large high resolution curved AMOLED screen.
– 1GB of RAM. At least they didn’t skimp on this one.
– Good camera hardware. Unique 14:9 ratio sensor, fast aperture lense.
– NFC support which is already put into use. (with other N9, headsets, speakers etc)
– Option of large 64GB internal storage.

The Bad:
– Weak CPU/GPU by today’s standards. (e.g. Nokia Maps isn’t very smooth)
– No HDMI out (only AV out according to Nokia specs page and to me, that means 576i/50Hz at best like the N900)
– No MicroSD slot (even if it has 64GB, it means I can’t swap it for another when needed)
– The use of MicroSIM. (it’s still nowhere near as common so it can get a bit annoying for some)

Summary of hardware specs:
– Single core OMAP3630 ARM Cortex A8 1GHz CPU and 198MHz SGX530 GPU (similar to SGS1 but weaker GPU)
– 1GB RAM (Very nice. This is just physical RAM by itself btw. Not RAM + Swap added together like the N900)
– 3.9″ AMOLED with 854×480  pixel resolution and curved (convex) Gorilla glass and anti-glare polarizer (CBD?)
– 8MP AF camera with 28mm equiv. fast F2.2 Carl Zeiss lense, dual LED flash and 720p@30fps video recording
– 16GB or 64GB internal storage. No separate MicroSD slot.
– Front camera for video calls (unsure of resolution)
– NFC Chip (already works with BH-505 and other accessories just by tapping the phone to the devices)
– Pentaband GSM (glad Nokia stuck to this)
– MicroUSB charging. AV out via the 3.5mm socket. (Most likely composite and not component/HDMI)
– Battery: 1450 mAh (Pretty decent size but it is not user replaceable)
– No HDMI out. Only composite AV out via 3.5mm socket. (Not HD output)
– Size / Weight: 116.45 mm x 61.2 mm x 7.6–12.1 mm (L x W x T)/ 76 cm3/ 135 g

Operating Times: (from the official specs)
•Talk time: (GSM/WCDMA) up to 11 h / up to 7 hours
•Standby time: Up to 450 hours (WCDMA), up to 380 hours (GSM)
•Video playback (720P): up to 4.5 hours
•Music playback: up to 50 hours

Through all the rumours and insider info, I knew quite a bit about the device prior to the launch. But I wasn’t sure about certain core specs such as the CPU, RAM etc. To be honest, I was disappointed initially when the specs were revealed as the CPU and the GPU was available in devices back in 2009. So disregarding the OS and other features, the hardware seem very weak compared to its competitors. Heck, even the 2010-released  iPhone4 has just as fast CPU and a much faster GPU. My Nokia N900 released in 2009 has the same GPU also. Nokia should have “wow’ed” the media/techs/geeks with a much more powerful hardware to gain even a bigger interest in the device. I can only guess the resource just wasn’t there for it from the beginning.

So…. N9 lacks a lot in terms of hardware if you just compare it to Samsung Galaxy S2 for example. But luckly, N9 doesn’t run Android. This is very important. It runs Maemo6 (code name Harmattan) + Meego API + Qt. Nokia calls it MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan. Nokia has done extremely well to ensure that the OS runs as fluid and speedy as possible. As you can see from my hands-on videos, it runs as smooth as you expect or want it to. Obviously, this was a test unit and I’m sure the OS and even all the apps aren’t fully optimized yet. But even taking that into account, I was very satified with how smooth it was. The smoothness during swiping off an actively running app/game/video is simply brilliant. You just  have to try it yourself to really know what I mean. Videos just don’t do it justice. So we know the CPU isn’t a dual core beast. But at least it has a whopping 1GB of RAM onboard to ensure that it remains smooth even when running a few memory hungry apps in the background.

I never really took much interest in NFC. But I didn’t know that my Nokia BH-505 bluetooth headset also had a NFC chip inside. So it was really cool to find out that you can simply tap the N9 to the headset to pair it via bluetooth without a single button press! You can also tap-tap to unpair. Now that is cool. Also, from the demo videos I saw, it seems you can simply transfer photos via NFC to another phone with NFC.

The lack of 1080p video record and playback is a pity but isn’t a huge loss actually in my books. As long as it can play up to 720p MKVs fine (which it can) and record good quality 720p videos (don’t know the quality yet), I’m happy with that for everyday use. (I have owned SGS2 and I’ve realized that recording 1080p videos requires way too much space. lol)

Having no MicroSD slot is a bummer also. Yes, it can come with a whopping 64GB storage space. But it still doesn’t mean I can simply carry a few MicroSD around with me to carry/access more stuff as needed. Also, removes the possibility of multi-booting different OS builds by simply swapping the card around. (well, if someone comes up with multiple different OS builds to multiboot like the N900 that is)

Overall, it’s a mix of emotions really. It’s not the kick ass hardware that many hoped for. (e.g. STE U8500) But trying out the phone in real life made me think a little different. The phone was definitely smooth and lag free throughout the whole time that I tried. Navigating through the Nokia Maps screen was the only place where I wished it had a faster hardware.  Well, the bootup time from power off was also on the long-ish side (nearly 1 minute) but this could be improved in the final version so not really worth commenting right now.

I didn’d or couldn’t comment on every part of the hardware as I haven’t had the time to go through it all while I had the device in hand. Once I get the final retail version in my hand, I’ll surely be posting more stuff here about it.

CLICK HERE TO GO TO PART2

If you haven’t been to swipe.nokia.com already, I also recommend you go there for more N9 goodies!

7 thoughts on “Nokia N9 Preview – Part 1”

    1. Yeah. I forgot to mention it but knew about that already. CAF definitely is a good idea and the easy touch to focus means you can sorta get away with not needing to half-press to focus. Still, I prefer taking photos like a standard camera whever possible. Also, extra 2 stage button can become really handy later on just like the N900 where it can be utilized for multtiasking, music, custom action shortcuts etc. N9 is good enough that I need to pick on the little things to find something “bad”. =p

      Thanks! Thumb up 0

  1. Well thanks for this… I feel that you really told the device from your opinion with a solid base, i like the device and maybe this was not for us hungry power users, maybe it was just to test the Media capabilities for the mass market! i mean they made it look good so they probably want to lay out the red carpet with the N9 for the following boring WP7

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  2. thanks for the review. hard to find well informed opinions as most people are only now looking at maemo.

    its def a shame theres no sd slot. i am also not looking fwd to cutting my sim card to test this device. i change phones often and this will just ruin things. very unlike nokia to make this decision.

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  3. Hopefully the less beasty hardware specs could make the phone more affordable. I know a lot of cost will go into the curved gorilla glass and amoled display, plus assembly of the device within a unibody must be extremely difficult and costly. I think this devices is one of the marvels industrial design in the mobile phone industry.This phone is already costly, can you imagine how much it will cost if it had the same hardware as GSII?

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