Nokia N9 Hands On: A Testament to Nokia’s Sisu

September 11, 2011 / Media Events, Technology / 17 Comments

I talked about sisu a while ago. It’s a Finnish brand of perseverance — the quiet determination that allowed them to withstand the brutality of cold and invasion for centuries.

Despite Nokia’s decline in recent years, I’ve secretly been rooting for it, especially when I read Stephen Elop’s burning platform memo. I really wanted to see it pull through it all and regain market share. Stories about winning against all odds are always entertaining and inspiring, after all.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to check out the upcoming Nokia N9.

Nokia N9
The Nokia N9 comes in 3 colors: Black, Cyan and Magenta

Does it make me wanna throw away my Nexus S? Almost.

But I have a feeling the goal of this phone isn’t only about raking in the sales. It represents much more — it’s a strong testament that Nokia is able to turnaround and innovate in less than a year. It is a signal to its believers, employees, customers, investors that Nokia still has what it takes — the cojones, no, the sisu — to regain its place as a dominant player.

What I Liked

I absolutely love this phone. It only took me half an hour to figure out where most things are. The Swipe interface is surprisingly intuitive and the phone is very fast! It’s evident that a lot of attention has been paid to user interaction and experience. As a design snob, I especially love the new Nokia Pure font.

Nokia Pure
Ovi Mail showing off the new Nokia Pure font

Simple User Experience

There are only 3 homescreens: Applications, Opened Applications and Events. That’s really all a user needs, and they are all accessible a swipe away.


(left to right) Standby screen, Applications screen, Events screen. Open Applications screen not pictured above

Seamlessly Designed Hardware

The whole phone is made of a piece of polycarbonate. It’s light yet it looks durable. The screen is made of gorilla glass, so it should be scratch resistant too. And check out the picture below. I’m so amazed at how much effort they spent on the little details. The N9 even has a little clasp that covers the not-so-sexy-looking micro-USB port.

Nokia N9 Micro USB Port
The cute little clasp hiding the Micro USB port

Gorgeous Screen

The screen is so clear that it feels that you’re touching the icons directly. It’s really quite amazing. It’s definitely a cut above the super AMOLED screens I’ve seen so far.

Nokia N9 Floating Screen
The amazing “floating screen”

Friendly Keyboard

The keyboard is definitely better than Android’s default keyboard. I was chatting with a friend via Skype for 15 mins. I didn’t have to struggle through it like I would with my Nexus S (without Swype). And I had no persistent autocorrect to contend with (à la iPhone). I actually really enjoyed my chat and I could keep up with my friend who was using a PC.

Nokia N9 Skype Chat and Keyboard
Start of my Skype chat on the N9

Beautiful Maps

As usual, Ovi Maps never fails to wow. It’s the pride and joy of the Ovi suite of apps.

Nokia Ovi Maps on the N9
Ovi Map on the Nokia N9

What I Didn’t Like

Not Future-Proof

This is the first and last Meego-powered phone. I’m not sure how long Nokia plans to support the phone. There will not likely be many future major updates to look forward to, and I doubt there’ll be many apps too, since developers wouldn’t waste their time on a soon-to-be retired platform. This, to me, is the N9’s biggest downfall and really, the only thing that prevents me from rushing to Nokia’s store for an N9. Phones are all about the ecosystem today.

Heating Issues

I’m not sure if it’s because what I played with was a prototype, but it does get quite hot in the top left hand corner of the phone after some use.

Closed NFC Ecosystem

The N9 is NFC-enabled, so you can broadcast your playlist with a tap on the Nokia Play 360° speakers, share files and unlock Angry Bird stages with a tap to other Nokia NFC-enabled phones. All this doesn’t work with other NFC-enabled devices like my Nexus S. I’d really like to see NFC take off as an industry standard. I think it’ll help us all save time and simplify technology, so this kind of closed ecosystem mentality gets minus points from me.

With that said, I still think this is a fantastic phone. The N9 has done a phenomenal job convincing me that Nokia is walking in the right direction in terms of product design and user experience. I hope these ideas will translate in their Windows-powered devices in the future. I’m so excited to see where Nokia’s revived sisu will take them!

Oh and if you’re in Singapore, it’s S$799 for the 16GB variant and S$899 for the 64GB. These are out-of-contract prices. We’ll have to wait until it launches “in a few weeks” to find out what the telco subsidized prices are. It’ll be available at all 3 telcos.

September 20, 2011 Update:
Nokia has kindly issued a clarification on several points in my review. Their comments below:

  • The Nokia N9 and Nokia Play 360° Speakers are built in line with industry standards. The connectivity of these devices with other non-Nokia devices is dependent on the NFC capabilities of the other devices, their compliance to industry standards and other factors unique to other brands.
  • Firmware updates for the Nokia N9 will be released in due course if and when required.


  • Palantir

    Mr. Elop has nothing to do with N9, except that he does not want to give it a decent chance. N9 (and other Harmattan phones) were in the pipeline when Mr. Elop came to Nokia. Elop killed the others, but he had to put one MeeGo/Harmattan phone to the market because that was Nokia’s promise to Intel. Elop’s term in Nokia looks very bad thus far – a couple of huge blunders – but let’s hope he will turn the ship around.

    Otherwise, a great review!

    • http://nanyate.com Ivy

      I don’t know much about how Nokia works, so thanks for sharing! I think Meego is a fantastic OS. As a product, I think it has the potential to outdo Android. However, the phone OS ecosystem is already overcrowded with iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone. And Meego seriously lacks in the developer relations department. And with Symbian relegated, Nokia is probably struggling with its developer relations as well. So I can kinda understand why Elop has decided to sunset off Meego.

      We’ll have to see how much leeway Microsoft will give Nokia in terms of customizing Windows Phone OS. I would definitely like to see some of Meego’s design in the Windows Phone. And as usual, Nokia makes fabulous hardware, so I’m not too worried about that.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • Walisson

      I’ve used MeeGo on my netbook and liked the experience and is a shame that Nokia does not invest in it. Nokia N9 is the most innovative smartphone and I surely want one.

  • http://silvercpu.com/blog Lissy

    as I developer, I kinda wish there was just android and iOS to deal with, lol.

    • http://nanyate.com Ivy

      LOL! That’s what I hear from all you guys! I’m sure you have Blackberry to contend with too. 😀

  • symbian_Avril

    I wish Nokia could combine MeeGo and Symbian and make the best OS ever!

  • Martin

    Your biggest gripe is the lack of apps. Please note that the N9 is not a one-off phone, it’s Qt-based and that makes all the difference! Firstly, the developers love Qt. I hear positive comments about it every day and hardly ever a negative one. Secondly, Qt apps are easily portable between mobile devices. There are lots of Qt apps for Symbian that basically only need to be repackaged for the N9. Thirdly, Nokia has all but announced that the S40 feature phones will deliver Qt “to the next billion”. If that comes true, it will extend the Qt ecosystem significantly. Nokia sells over 300 million (!) S40 phones every year.

    • dpr

      agree.

    • http://nanyate.com Ivy

      Yes, you’re right. My biggest gripe is the lack of good apps. Quantity is one thing, quality is another. I don’t need access to 100,000 crappy apps.

      N9 is a different class of phone from S40. The S40 is targeting the next billion customers from the emerging markets. I have no doubt that Nokia will do that very very well. :)

      To me, N9 is direct competition to high end phones like Galaxy S II or the iPhone. For now, it’s not good enough to compete with them yet because of its relatively weak app ecosystem. (Hardware-wise, I think it’s very on par. As much as I hate to admit this, but it’s probably better than my Nexus S.)

      However, every hot start-up is trying to come up with some cool app for iOS or Android first. I’ve not seen a hot start-up that’s building a cool app for Symbian/Meego before coming up with an iOS or Android version. The timing is important because consumers want to be the first to be on the coolest app.

      So if Nokia really wants to close the gap in the high-end market, it needs to (a) either differentiate itself from iOS/Android somehow and/or (b) grow the high-end app ecosystem ASAP, so that developers are more likely to develop for Nokia first.

      Android has done a good job differentiating itself, by the way. Still not as good as Apple in terms of games and content but it is highly customizable unlike the iPhone. Not happy with the keyboard? Download one. Hate the interface? Download a theme and change it!

  • Jaydee

    As a N900/N8 (also have the G Tab) user I am confident that quality apps are coming.. Slowly but surely they will come.. U can’t blame the developers for not coming to Symbian before the N8’s arrival as the hardware on the ‘flagship’ N97 n the like was pathetic to say the least.. Arm11 clocked at 434mhz with no GPU was a sure spell of disaster; what with the 128mb ram.. Code in Symbian C++ or Java… A sure no no..
    Ever since the N8 came to market, quality games start to appear n apps for Symbian begin to get more interesting.. No doubt we have to stand in line being the 3rd or the 4th OS to get updates behind iOS n Android in terms of availability but the important thing is they are coming.Once developers get the hang of Qt n its relative ease to code I’m pretty sure Symbian/Maemo/Meego gonna have apps thrown at them like tomatoes in a Spanish festival.. Not forgetting Qt is still in its infancy right now..
    So yes, the N9 is gonna replace my N900 come end of this month with Singtel n its gonna show some tricks my iPhone toting friends can only dream of.. c”,)

  • Ab

    hey \o … nice website :)
    so r u sure about the pricing of N9 in singapore? Dont you think S$799 is a lot of price to pay for N9 16gb? I’ll be transiting in the singapore airport for few hours somewhere in oct, i think it wont be available in the airport, and I dont have the visa so i cant come out of the airport, and if it is available in the airport i think prices r a bit higher then the usual shops in the city.
    Pretty cool phone nevertheless :)

    • http://nanyate.com Ivy

      Thanks! Yes, I’m sure about the pricing. It came direct from the Nokia spokespeople. Not sure when you’ll be coming to Singapore, but it’s not available in stores yet. They said it’ll be available in a few weeks.

      Yes, you’re right, electronics at Changi airport are generally more expensive than city prices. I wanted to buy a lens for my DSLR and it cost 20% more than it does in the city. It’s really not worth it. (Cosmetics, on the other hand, are a steal!!) Would be best if you could take a quick trip out of the airport and buy it from the stores.

      If you’re not very big on apps, the N9 is really a superb phone! Good choice! :)

  • http://one-parade.com Marjorie

    I don’t know a lot about phones, but that one sure is pretty. It’s nice to see something like this from Nokia. I have to admit that I haven’t seen a Nokia phone around the US in many years… It’s all about the iPhone and HTC phones here. That price point is hefty, but I’m sure that the plans will bring it down to competitor pricing. :)

  • http://blog.oridusartic.com/ Oridusartic

    I would love to have the Nokia N9!The user interface of N9 is really nice and sleek. I love the simplicity of this phone. The fact that it’s using Meego OS is the only thing that makes me hesitate about buying this phone. :S

    Great review, btw. 😀

  • Stefanix

    We can hear “MeeGo is dead” shouting in all the forums. But as long as I (will) use my N9 and there is support from Nokia
    http://conversations.nokia.com/2011/09/27/nokia-n9-apps-and-software-support/
    the N9 and it’s OS will be very much alive!
    All the gadgets we buy today are outdated tomorrow. We have to make the best decision based on what is available today. Detailed technical specs and the OS give an orientation, but what counts is what you actually get as a result into your hands.
    And this result brought to us by the N9 is great! Not endless apps, but to make the things we do a hundred times with our phone every day simple, is what amazes me.
    Then there is the flavor of openness. No limitation of politically wanted media formats and codecs, like on the iOS, but a wide and extensible support of all major formats.
    Battery life and a pretty good camera, which does does not stop at boasting high MP figures, but adds good optics, adds to the list.
    We all don’t know what’s the situation in 1-2 years. For me, the N9 is a perfect choice today. It does not matter if there will be another MeeGo phone after end of life of my phone, or not.

  • http://imprfct.com Desmond

    I think N9 looks extremely amazing, especially the Swipe interface. A pity Nokia isn’t gonna continue to create new products with similar OS. =/

    Btw, I’ve changed my url from orangish.org to imprfct.com. It’s my new website (contains an online store and a blog)! Do update when you can. Thanks!

  • http://www.metaksan.com Metaksan

    Nokia did a good job, at last..
    StilL I am not sure if Iphone 4s or Nokia N9** is better..

    I thinK I still go for 4s…