First impressions of Nokia N9

Noka N9 has three start views. This one contains pre-installed and downloaded apps, and possible links to web too.Last Tuesday Nokia invited Finnish media to a demo launch of Nokia N9, the first and the only MeeGo coming from them with today’s knowledge. It had been announced officially in Singapore by Nokia CEO Stephen Elop and design director Marko Ahtisaari a couple of hours earlier.

Nokia’s local executives emphasized they had created something very new to Nokia, an improvement in useability and they way we act with user interfaces. This development would be taken advantage of in future devices and Uis, they said. Quickly we moved to hands on demos with Nokia N9.

My first experience was promising. The MeeeGo Harmattan (or actually ”Maemo 6 Harmattan”, as it has been argued to actually be) was fast, smooth and reacted to gentle touch. It felt a lot better than Symbian 3 (I’ve used Nokia N8 for 10 months now) or even the updated Symbian Anna, based on my first couple of weeks with Nokia X7.

The three startup screens felt logical, and this smooth touch gesture (which Nokia calls ”swipe”) navigates from screen to another. The first view contains a traditional grid menu of phone apps (browser, camera, messages, tools, settings, etc). The second one has notifications of new e-mails and SMS messages, missed calls and so on. The last one is visual view of running apps, the last used ones shown first. You can’t add more screens.

There were also things I didn’t like. N9 does not have a physical camera button, so taking quick pictures of some moments can be tricky. However, there’s a shortcut to the camera from the idle mode, so I need more time with UI to see if it works.

Startup screens, telephone calls and many other basic apps only work in portrait mode. So if you browse the web, check something from the home screen and return to browser, you have physically turn your device twice.

The WebKit 2 based browser felt fast, but there isn’t Adobe Flash support, so you can’t directly compare it to the Symbian 3 browser with Flash enabled. Many have critized N9 already now has an outdated CPU and a 3D chip (GPU), but to me the UI and apps felt very responsive. I guess the technical specifications just show it has been developed for quite some time.

I still can’t assess picture quality of the camera which Nokia claims is one of their best ones, if not even their best one. It has a 28 mm Carl Zeiss lens with aperture size of f/2.2, superior to f/2.8 in Nokia N8. However, taking pictures tapping on touch screen is more unstable than having a physical button, in my experience anyway.

As hardware and software alone, I’d happily change from Nokia N8 to N9 immediately it’s available. But then again, it’s very uncertain how many games and software will be launched for Nokia N9, as Nokia has not promised MeeGo any role in their future product lines. Vice versa, Stephen Elop has repeatedly said N9 will definitely be their only MeeGo phone.

N9 will have many nice apps when it ships. There already are Angry Birds, Facebook, Foursuqare and a few other games and applications, but what about Fring, Skype, Spotify and many, many others? A smartphone without the most popular apps is not very tempting.

But then agsin, I believe you don’t need all those thousands or more apps for the platform to succeed.  Instead you need to get the 20 or maybe 50 most popular applications of which everyone speaks about in at blogs, schools and work places. The rest is a nice extra.

The way Nokia introduced N9 to Finnish media was strange. They denied to comment availability and price of the device in any way, even though they had announced in Singapore it would become availabity as ”autumn 2011”. I called Nokia’s communications after the press meeting, and even then they said no shipping schedule has been announced for N9.

According to online rumours, N9 is expected in stores in September.

Earlier, Stephen Elop had promised they would nowadays announce products just before they start shipping, so this was a disappointment anyway.

I met Research VP Carolina Milanesi from market analyst company Gartner a couple weeks ago. She argued MeeGo is unlikely to get support from developers, because they have to prioritze their efforts to the three most popular platforms. These are usually Android, iOS and RIM (Blackberry) in the U.S., and still today Symbian (instead of RIM) here in Europe.

Even after the N9 announcement, Ms Milanesi said N9 is a nice piece of hardware and the best UI Nokia has developed so far, but there’s still no ecosystem to support it

For many Qt developers and Linux geeks Nokia N9 will be a nice gadget. It’s a bit sad this prodict series never got a chance to tempt mass market audience, even with this fifth generation (earlier ones were Nokia 770, N800, N810 and N900).

To find out more, check the Nokia Conversations blog  for images and videos, and there’s a recorded webcast of the Singapore keynote at Nokia’s press site.

The task manager view in N9 for open apps felt fast and smooth. You can choose from two views, and the most recently used apps are shown first.

The task manager view in N9 for open apps felt fast and smooth. You can choose from two views, and the most recently used apps are shown first.

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