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.