The N9 release is a monumental step for Nokia, it is the culmination of the years Nokia has spent creating a premium high end smartphone that not only excels in hardware, but also shows that when it comes to software, Nokia’s still got it. Feb. 11 changed everything inside of Nokia, yet Nokia’s MeeGo Harmattan project was not killed completely. Perhaps Stephen Elop felt that it would be a good way to demonstrate to the world what Nokia is capable of, or perhaps it was the internal resistance that forced him to release this one last MeeGo Harmattan device, the end result of the sweat and blood of hundreds of Nokians who had devoted themselves to create what in their mind was the pinnacle of modern smartphones.
What happened inside of Nokia, we’ll never know, but the N9 is now real, being demoed in Singapore as I write this and it looks delicious. A beautiful monoblock design, a 3.9″ AMOLED display with curved gorilla glass, an 8 MP Carl Zeiss auto focus 16:9 camera with f2.2 for great low light photography, Dolby Headphone and Dolby Digital Plus support, NFC, a 1 Ghz processor with 1 GB of RAM, and most importantly runs Nokia’s MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan.
Nokia for long has said that its MeeGo/Harmattan vision was about a new UI, a UI that would make one handed use a breeze and at the same time make getting to our favourites apps faster, and with the all new Swipe UI Nokia is doing just that. The N9 doesn’t have even a single physical button on the homescreen, it is even unlocked by tapping the screen twice. Once unlocked, you have three basic views, the app view, the events view which pulls in things from Facebook etc and the multitasking view where all your recently used apps reside. In order to get to these, all you need to do is flick from one side of the phone to another depending on which view you would like to go to. The UI is best experienced yourself, and I recommend going through this detailed demo that Nokia has primary created for developers, but it also gives you a great look at the device. Then there is Nokia’s brand new swipe.nokia.com that has everything that you’ll need to know about the N9, pictures, demos, features and videos.
You will also be pleased to know that the N9’s super wide 28mm 8MP Carl Zeiss camera is also the fastest smartphone camera there is in the market, and it lets you shoot in true wide screen, not the cropped wide screen modes that all smartphones have these days. Thankfully no EDoF and HD video at 720p with 30 frames a second with continuous auto focus. And if you every drop it, feel safe in knowing that the unibody design is all polycarbonate material solid colour right till the inside, so dropping the device will not chip the paint off it. This material, according to Nokia also means that the N9 will have superior antenna performance over most other competitors’ smartphones.
But lets come back to software, as that’s where Nokia’s been taking a hit recently. You look at one video, and everyone will agree that the UI looks great, but what about core apps and functionality? First, Maps and navigation is a go, then there is the Web Browser that is built using the latest Webkit 2 technology and support for HTML5 which translated to access to rich web applications and fast video playback. Then not only does the N9 support Qt, but a lot of its core apps are written in Qt. But what really wows you is the integration of the third party services like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Vimeo, Skype all of which support a single sign on and work out of the box. For example you can sign in once with Facebook and you will have access to Facebook events and notifications in the N9’s events screen, have integration with your address book in contacts, have Facebook chat and so on.
Infact, Nokia has a special page to show the preloaded apps, which include Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, AP Mobile, AccuWeather, Angry Birds, Skype, Vimeo and so on. There is also support for WIFI Hotspot functionality out of the box, which is great. They have really done a good job in getting the basics covered, all of the above is pretty much everything you use on a daily basis. The real challenge is to get developers to build for the N9, knowing its the last MeeGo product to come out of Nokia. Because there is Qt, some apps that work on the N900 and Symbian^3 should also be easily ported onto the N9, but you will have to reign in the optimism when it comes to quality third party apps that Nokia isn’t involved with. That being said, there is still hope, Nokia is making available N950 devices to developers to get their apps ready for the N9.
At the end of the day there will be people who will buy one right now if Nokia made it available, there would also be people who would have bought it with their eyes closed had Feb 11 not happened, there will also be those who are torn, torn because they would love to have what is one of the finest phones to come out of Nokia, but are worried about future updates and support specially when Nokia itself has clearly said the N9 will be the last of its kind. Finally there will be those to diss the N9 completely, because from their perspective MeeGo/Harmattan is dead. Where you stand depends on what do you want from the device, Nokia has the basics covered with great support for the popular services, knowing Nokia, it’ll also have a great camera and judging by the N900, a great browser. If that satisfies your priorities, then the N9 will be great. The community has made the N900 much better with time, and because the N9 will be as open you can expect all sorts of hacks and apps from the devs. But if you want a phone which will have all the latest apps the day they come out for iOS, then this phone isn’t for you.
For Nokia, the N9 is their statement to the world that look, we can still innovate and create class leading products. We can not only do great hardware, but kick ass when it comes to software too. It is also about pride for a lot of people and for the rest, a look at what could have been.
Nokia, you’ve still got it!