Nokia N9 hands-on preview

By on September 26, 2011
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Slide, swipe, no dice.

Coming to the star of the show- the N9, like all Nokia phones, is a beautifully designed product as far as the hardware and construction quality is concerned. Nokia took the CMYK palette and has used a single piece of polycarbonate in the construction of the N9 meaning it is not a simple paint job applied on top of the phone that will scratch off.

On the software side of things, the Nokia N9 is the first and only device from Nokia based on the Meego operating system (N900 was the based on Maeemo as pointed out by @dot1ne.) However, the N9 marks the inauguration of Nokia’s new UI that is heavily focused on swipes with a button-less design. The N9 has no buttons whatsoever other than volume and power keys on the side of the unit and Nokia is heavily investing in a swipe based navigation which will also be seen on their upcoming Symbian based products.

I thought I’d experiment the intuitiveness of the Nokia’s new UI and thus did not see any videos introducing it or any person walking me through it. So the following video could somewhat give you an idea on how you might go through the phone in the first ten minutes. Do keep in mind that I use iPhone and Android on a daily basis as well as Windows Phone 7 on and off so I can somewhat be considered an experienced touch user :)

The first thing you must’ve noticed in the video above is the different methods I tried to unlock the device. Considering that Nokia’s marketing term for the N9 is “Swipe”, I was expecting a swipe to unlock it but as you saw, that did not work no matter which direction I tried. I had to press the lock button on the right to unlock it but I’ve been told that double tapping also unlocks the device.

The N9 introduces some neat concepts and I do like the three home screen focus- one for your agenda, one for your installed applications and one for all the running applications. Generally, the interface is usable but I did not find it as natural or intuitive as Nokia would have me believe. There is a definitely a bit of a learning curve and at times, you will be confused on how to go back to where you were or back the start. The iPhone does this really well with the home button and that is the reason I see everyone from a kid to a grandpa using one with real ease. Even Android and Windows phone with their Home and Windows key provide some kind of a visual cue that you can always turn to.

The N9 somewhat reminds me of the BlackBerry PlayBook which also does not have any buttons and is swipe based. I remember handing it to my wife and she was totally lost on how to navigate it. On the other hand, the iPad felt a lot more natural to her- to the extend that she has checked her laptop away and uses the iPad as her primary device. I’m not trying to downplay the swipe interface that Nokia has built- but I think it will appeal more to someone who is open to experimentation.

The other issue with N9 is that is the last and one of the only two Meego based Nokia devices you will ever see. This means that you might get support for some time from Nokia itself but third party support will fizzle out in the coming months, event though you can develop for it using the Qt framework that is used for the majority of Symbian applications. As market trends have show, support for Symbian development is on the decline with almost all new applications that are making a name for themselves being released on iOS or Android first.

Last and certainly not the least, almost everyone has heard of the Nokia-Microsoft partnership and we will be seeing Nokia Smartphones based on Windows Phone very shortly. I honestly think that will be a platform that will lift Nokia. As good of a device as the N9 is, and it is good, it’s DOA.

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Abbas Jaffar Ali is the founder of and a blogger, geek and self-declared tech pundit who can't stop talking about technology. Find him on twitter as @ajaffarali

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