The front of the N9 does have some functional elements. The earpiece and the proximity sensor (in the upper right part of the front panel) and the video-call camera unusually placed in the lower right corner.
The camera positioning is confusing at first – our year-long habits made us grab the phone upside-down on a few occasions. However, whether it's in the upper left corner or the lower right corner doesn’t matter - the old "don't look at the camera" movie rule applies to video calling too.
There's a charging/notification LED (white color) in the lower left corner of the phone.
We move on to the Nokia N9 right side to find the only two hardware buttons - both of which are redundant. You get a flat volume rocker that's not the easiest thing to use and a Power/Lock key just underneath it.
You could easily use the N9 without either - a double tap wakes the screen just as the Power/Lock key does and the volume control system in MeeGo is very clever, making the volume rocker a convenience rather than a necessity.
The left 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 speaker.
The loudspeaker won't get muffled when you place the N9 down on a table but the grill quickly gathers dust.
The top of the Nokia N9 is where yet more delightfully clever design comes in. The 3.5mm audio jack is easily recognizable and doesn’t need introduction.
It's the microUSB port and the microSIM compartment that are the clever bit. Both are covered by plastic doors. The microUSB port cover has a small nub that swings the door open when you press it down.
After that, you can use your nail on the small notch to slide the microSIM card compartment to the left slightly (or you can just push it down and slide left). The microSIM card tray pops out and you can pull it out.
We said "microSIM" a few times but it bears repeating - it's a new, relatively rare standard that the Nokia N9 shares with the Apple iPhone 4 and 4S. It does allow engineers to save some internal volume but it's a hassle for the user. You'll either have to ask your carrier to swap your old SIM card or cut it down to size yourself.
We complete our tour at the back of the Nokia N9, which has its edges tapered very similarly to the front. It fits the shape of the hand perfectly.
Here we find the clever 8 megapixel camera lens, which is placed on a metal plate that's almost a badge of honor with it's "Carl Zeiss Tessar" label. The camera sensor is an unusual design with 8.7MP in total, but it can shoot 8MP 4:3 photos or 7.1MP 16:9 ones. Usually, you lose more than 0.9MP when switching to widescreen mode on other phones so it’s a nice upgrade.
The Carl Zeiss lens has an f/2.2 aperture, which according to Nokia lets in 75% more light. This should really boost low-light performance and reduce noise overall too - we'll find out if it makes a difference in the software section of this review.
We almost forgot - the dual-LED flash is above the camera and it promises to be 20% brighter than previous LED units by the Finns despite being smaller. It also glows red when you're recording video.
Well, that's it for the hardware but the Nokia N9 isn't done impressing us - the MeeGo software has plenty of tricks up its sleeve too.