Nokia N9 hands-on: First look

GSMArena team, 22 June 2011.
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Tags: Nokia, MeeGo, Touch UI

Nokia N9 360-degree spin

Design and construction

The bad news - in terms of build and finish - is that the Nokia N9 body is made of plastic. The great news is that it's a unibody made of premium-quality hard plastic (polycarbonate) so we don't think too many people will mind. In fact, the N9 is one of the hottest looking smartphones we’ve seen this year. A handset to be seen with, no doubt about that.

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The Nokia N9 looks great even in this elite company

It also looks extra sturdy so dropping it wouldn't be as heartbreaking as if another handset is involved. Even more, the Nokia N9 seems to be the first handset with a non-painted body. No such thing as chipping off the paint anymore, the color of the phone is the color of the plastic it's made of. And even if you do manage to scratch it, you won’t see another color underneath.

A magnificent display

Cleverly designed as the body might be, the Nokia N9's main attraction remains the 3.9" curved FWVGA AMOLED. If you have been keeping track, you would know that the previous generation Nokia AMOLEDs have been one of the most impressive displays in the mobile world to date.

Their only shortcoming was that they were only coming in nHD resolution, which is some way behind the market’s best. On the N9 though, it is one of the most impressive displays we have seen. The Samsung Galaxy S II might be offering a few tenths of an inch of extra surface, but this unit is perfectly able to match its image quality and even throw some extra pixels in.

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The N9 screen is bordering on perfection

And indoor image quality is by far not the only impressive part about the Nokia N9 screen. Taking it outside only solidified our belief that this display is among the finest pieces of hardware developed by Nokia.

Not only does the screen remain visible in the sun, but its colors also retain most of their punch. The anti-glare polariser that Nokia has installed on top is certainly working well as the N9 is probably the least-reflective screen we have seen.

And the impressive marks continue into usability. Not only is the Nokia N9 touchscreen large and super sensitive, it is also curved outwards to make swiping gestures all the more natural. Plus, the display underneath is basically glued to the Gorilla Glass on top, which makes it look almost as if the icons are painted on the surface of the handset when you look from an extreme angle.

The rest of it

Having covered the body and the display, there really aren't that many things left to comment on the Nokia N9 hardware. Nokia makes a proud point with the absence of any buttons whatsoever on the front. Let us tell you up front, there aren’t that many on the sides either.

To make the transition to full-touch easier Nokia made the stripe around the display touch-sensitive too and added gesture controls that start there.

The functional elements on the front are the earpiece and the proximity sensor (in the upmost part of the front panel) and the video-call camera unusually placed in the lower right corner. We will have to spend some more time with the N9 to see how if new position works better than the old one, though.

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There are no keys on the front, just the earpiece and the video-call camera

We move on to the Nokia N9 right side and the only two hardware buttons that you are going to find. You get a decently usable volume rocker and a power key. In reality, Nokia N9 could have gone without these two either as they have their on-screen alternatives (yes, even the power/screen unlock button is redundant here).

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The only two hardware keys on the Nokia N9

The opposite side of the Nokia N9 is completely bare, while the bottom features the loudspeaker grill. The microphone pinhole is also supposed to be at the bottom, though we couldn't spot it so it might be under the same grill as the speakerphone.

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The loudspeaker is on the bottom of the handset

The Nokia N9 top features the 3.5mm audio jack, the microUSB standard port and the microSIM slot. This makes the Nokia N9 only the second smartphone to feature a microSIM slot after the iPhone 4. It's certainly not the most convenient solution for a number of reasons, but it will probably be slightly beneficial in the long run. The micro-sized SIM cards will probably one day become a standard and manufacturers will be able to save about 0.1 cm3 of volume for each handset. We are just not quite sure yet if it's worth it.

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The microUSB port, the microSIM card slot and the 3.5mm jack

We complete our tour at the back of the Nokia N9, where we find the 8 megapixel camera lens and the LED flash. We found out that the full resolution of the sensor is actually 8.7 megapixels, but only up to 8MP of those could be used at a time. More on that in the software part of the preview.

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The 8 megapixel camera and its LED companion

So filled with good impressions of the Nokia N9 hardware, we set off exploring the more interesting part, the MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan OS. It's all a small jump away.

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