We’ve just hot footed it from Nokia’s London offices, where we got to grips with the Nokia N9, a MeeGo smartphone that the company appears to be treating like a red headed step child. It’s a crying shame, because what we’ve seen is nothing short of delightful.
Why’s that bad? Allow us to explain.
From the polycarbonate shell to the 3.9-inch, 480x 854 screen, the Nokia N9 is a beautiful, functional piece slab of smartphone. At 12.1mm deep, it isn’t remotely thin, but it doesn’t need to be, and somehow it feels lighter than its 135g weight.
But it’s the operating system itself, MeeGo, with Nokia’s Harmattan user interface, that’s the most mesmerising – and also tragic – thing about the phone.
You see, it’s everything we’ve been calling for from Nokia for years. It’s a spruced up interface that’s easy to grasp. It’s a touchscreen keyboard that isn’t awful. It makes sense. Hell, it’s innovative, something we’d never thought we’d say about Nokia software.
Nokia’s swiping controls for unlocking the phone are a buttonless revolution: the screen shows the time in standby, but only uses power for the few pixels lighting up the numbers since it’s an AMOLED screen, and lights up when you double tap it. Then it’s just a swipe to take you to the home screen.
The three screen interface is easy to get around, with an iPhone/Android like grid of icons to apps and internet bookmarks (It nicely uses website favicons as icon art automatically) holds no surprises. Swipe one way however and you get your feed of Facebook and Twitter updates, but a look in the settings shows the Nokia N9 supports all sorts of account syncing, from Flickr to SIP internet calling (Something also offered in Android 2.3).
Swipe the other way, and you get to the multitasking screen, which shows screenshots of your open apps. A long press lets you close what you see, and a prod takes you straight to them. The 1GHz CPU is actually a little behind the curve, not that you’d ever know it from how fast the Nokia N9 zips along.
Even better though: this can be accessed from any app just by swiping up or down on the screen – even while a video is playing you can roll it down smoothly and seamlessly. It’s the best multitasking UI we’ve seen on any phone, though we can’t imagine Google and Apple will stick to stock icons for apps in their task bars for long.
We also got to test out the Nokia N9′s camera, though it should be stressed it was a prototype model. The eight megapixel camera didn’t take thrilling shots, but the Carl Zeiss optics and auto focus mean the final model should grab much more impressive stills than Nokia phones with EDoF sensors (extended depth of field), which are useless for macro shooting.
So yeah. The Nokia N9 is genuinely great.
Which makes it all the more devastating that Nokia is quite clearly trying to wash its hands of the phone as it moves to Windows Phone. A company representative would not confirm if the Nokia N9 would be going on sale in the UK – though stock indicators on Nokia’s website suggests not. Last week’s highly suspicious “leaked” footage of CEO Stephen Elop revealing the Nokia Sea Ray Windows Phone was likely no coincidence either: with almost identical hardware on board, it was a clear snub to MeeGo.
Ah well. We can hope but Nokia comes to it senses and pushes both platforms when the Nokia N9 goes on sale later this year.