There’s A Special Spot In Heaven For The Nokia N9

For the past two days, I have had one of the most elite and exclusively available smartphones in my hands: the Nokia N9. Prior to trialling this unit, I was what you can call an N9-virgin: I knew it had something called Swipe, I knew there was a PR1.1 firmware that fixed a lot of bugs and added the possibility to share a picture to Twitter, and I knew everyone loved the design. That’s about it. I hadn’t seen any videos or read any extensive reviews because I wanted to avoid adding any other expectations about the N9. The device, and the OS, had already a lot of baggage and prejudice attached to them, what with Nokia’s decision to go with Windows Phone as its main platform, so I needed to leave a little bout of mystery around the N9 and give it the chance to surprise me.

In this post, and the following one that will come tomorrow, I will discuss the different aspects of the Nokia N9 and Meego that WOW’ed me then the ones that made me swear to the gods of mobile phones for the torture they were putting me through. These are, by no means, a full review of the N9, and I will try to stray away from all the tech talk that you can find in any other N9 posts. So let’s focus on the positive first.

I haz Mango on the N9! And a lot of candy next to it 🙂

The first Nokia device, in 2 years, that made me wake up at 5am the next day to play with it

I received the Nokia N9 at 8pm on Thursday and even though I took my time to set it up and get used to it before sleeping, I was still giddy with enthusiasm and a little bit of intrigue, that I woke up at 5am on Friday to continue tinkering with it. I call it like it is, and no Nokia phone has made me do this since the Nokia N900. Not the N97 mini, X6, C5, E5, E72, N8, C7, E7 or E6. They were all the same’ol thing I was used to, in Symbian, so there wasn’t any real excitement when I received them. The N9, well, it’s different, and it makes you want to play with it.

Nokia knows hardware design. Period.

I used to look at all these Samsungs and HTCs and LGs and whatnots and sometimes, I wanted to rip my eyes out. They are all the same thing. Cheap plastic or flimsy metal, disgusting designs, open ports, useless keys… Then I would look at my orange N8, with all its aluminum glory, clean design that makes you want to caress it for hours on end, and I sigh. If only the others learned a lesson or two there. Ever since the E71, Nokia has been impressing me with its hardware: the N97 and N86, the N8 and E7; and now, somehow, they found a way to top it off with the N9. It’s minimalistic, clean, and the curvatures make it fit so comfortably in your hand. I’m pretty sure there’s about zero wasted space inside this slim beast.

You won’t notice Swipe until you go back to a device with no Swipe

As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t seen any videos of Swipe to know how it works beforehand, but it took me about 10 seconds with the N9 to become a swipe-ninja. I was swooshing at my screen so fast, I could make Chuck Norris pee his pants. And as I picked up my HTC Desire Z after an hour with the N9, I tried to swipe away an application on it and stared in awe when nothing happened for two seconds before realizing that Android does not work *that* way. Swipe is a natural interaction, and the animations that go on when you do it are deliciously geeky. I could spend 10 minutes swiping an application away to the mid-screen and then back to its normal spot, looking at the menu icons grow and shrink in the background as I do so. Fantastic entertainment value. Swiping down to close applications, left to go back to the main homescreens, up to reveal 4 shortcuts, they all work wonderfully. The only thing I expected to be there was a swipe right (from the left edge of the screen to the right) to go back one step inside an application. I know there’s a Back button in the toolbar below, but somehow a swipe-right feels a ton more natural to me and in harmony with the rest of the UI.

A person-based approach

Although already present to some extent in WebOS, Maemo and Android, the N9 and Meego are the first time I see a person-based approach to contacting people that actually works and looks good. Previously, if you wanted to send a Facebook message to someone or make a Skype call, you had to open the Facebook or Skype applications first and then pick your contact. With the N9, you pick the person and from there, you can go on to see all means of contacting them. It looks great, it’s integrated throughout calls and messaging, and it’s way more intuitive than picking the application first.

A free case in the box!

An awesome surprise awaiting for me inside the tiny, incredibly tiny actually, N9 box, was a silicone case. Upon further research, I saw that this was a standard in all N9 retail boxes, and I have to say I love it. It fits the N9 like a glove, more like a very-tight-takes-5-minutes-to-put-on glove, but it’s an additional protection, it’s officially made by Nokia so every port opening comes at the right place, and it’s so slim you will barely notice it’s there.

Just like the tight case, everything on the N9 fits together so amazingly well

The included silicone case is a more visible image of how everything fits together almost perfectly on the N9. The way you hold your phone is well associated with the rounded edges and the curved glass of the N9, the curved screen glass is smooth for the UI interactions and the swipe gesture, the Meego UI with Swipe are greatly aligned with the way you hold and interact with your phone. It goes a full circle to make a tight package between Meego, the N9’s hardware, and Swipe, and it works in tandem to create a classy united whole that is a bit superior to sum of its parts.

But all is not rosy with me and the N9 so do not forget to tune in tomorrow to see why the N9 also deserves a very special spot in hell. Ah the torture!