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The Necromingicon
The Book of the Howlings of Ming, Seeker After Arcane and Esoteric Truths
N9 reflections 
19th-Feb-2012 04:32 pm
7110
Thoughts on the Nokia N9, having had it for a couple of months now.


There's no regrets,
No tears goodbye,
I don't want you back,
We'd only cry again,
Say goodbye again


I jumped ship to the Android-based HTC Desire Z because I wanted a slider QWERTY device and Nokia had relegated and redesignated the original slider N9 to the developer-only N950. Having had a chance to play with both the now keyboard-less N9 and Windows-based Lumia 800, I'd concluded both had very impressive user interfaces but the N9 was now an evolutionary dead-end and the Lumia range still felt too much like mid-range devices (16GB non-expandable storage?! Wot?!).

So, I was determined to stay well clear of the N9, only aeshna_uk was looking into an upgrade for her E5 while we were in KL and that was one of the markets where Nokia had actually deigned to launch the N9. While trying to explain the pros and cons as objectively as possible, yep, damn it, I ended up talking myself into getting one too, despite my firmest intentions (an MBA classmate once said "Never go back to old girlfriends" - he was talking about a job offer from an ex-employer but nonetheless appropriate here...)!

So, thoughts after a couple of months of use:

Good points
  • Buttonless Swipe user interface is amazlingly intuitive
  • After all my battery life issues with the Desire Z - resorting to a spare battery and a cradle that can charge phone and spare battery simultaneously just about gets me through the day - it's a relief having a device that gets through a full day. Period.
  • The polycarbonate unibody design is very comfortable
  • The onscreen virtual keyboard has proven surprisingly good, certainly much more accurate than the Desire Z's. Good enough in fact to convince me a hardware QWERTY is no longer a Must Have but it is still highly desirable - still not better than a hardware QWERTY.
  • Unlike Android, MS Exchange syncs tasks out of the box without need for a 3rd party app. Still can't sync notes though (see later).

Bad points
  • Most critically - anemic range of available apps. Certainly not the huge range of highly specialised apps available on Android e.g. Tweetdeck or anything else that serves as common client to both Facebook and Twitter, Shelves, Wi-Fi Analyser, Paypal, AmEx, eBay, Sky+ etc and there won't be. Meego is a dead-end platform. For a while, Myriad's Alien Dalvik and Openmobile's ACL held out the promise of running Android apps on the N9 but both are insisting on sticking to an OEM business model which just ain't going to happen. The news of ports of Ice Cream Sandwich to the N9 are interesting but, if I wanted an Android device, it'd be a lot easier to just get one designed for Android!
  • Surprisingly, Nokia Maps/Drive on the N9 lags behind the Symbian version and Sygic Navigator on Android in functionality. Key omissions: estimated remaining journey time/arrival time, lane change indication, speed limit warnings etc. Interestingly, it seems to be a recurring thing every time I change devices - when I first got the N97, Ovi Maps (as it was then) lagged Tomtom Navigator on the PocketPC and when I first got the Desire Z, both Google Maps and Sygic Navigator lagged Nokia Maps too. Discussion in forums suggests that many of these omissions are being sorted but in the meantime, yet again, I still lug around the previous device for GPS purposes!
  • While the N9's virtual keyboard surprisingly good, the Desire Z's keyboard is still better. Actually, the N97's keyboard is better than either, mainly because it puts the screen at a more comfortable viewing angle!


Common peeves
  • It irritates me that my old PocketPC was perfectly capable of syncing notes along with everything else with Outlook (didn't have a hosted Exchange server back then) but MS's current Exchange sync profile doesn't and, from a query, even Windows Mobile Phone devices can't do this! This has required some tweakery to achieve (on the Desire Z, an app that translate notes to calendar events for syncing then back again or, on the N9, just using a third party note app creating and syncing notes outside Exchange/Outlook completely to both PCs and Android devices.


So, overall, where does this leave me? I like the N9 a lot. It's great to use but the lack of apps is frustrating. It does also leave my next upgrade (due for one in September) even more uncertain.
  • There's not going to be another Meego handset (although the imminent PR1.2 and 1.3 updates should add a lot of functionality)
  • I still have too many philosophical differences of opinion with the Cult of Jobs to get an iPhone
  • There's no obvious candidate slider Android devices in the pipeline at the moment. Most appealing device is the HTC One X but it's got no hardware QWERTY and I hate to think what battery life on a quad core phone will be like given the Desire Z's appalling performance to date. Also, rumour has it that mass storage is 32GB, non-expandable. I find it hard to countenance downgrading mass storage two "upgrades" in a row...
  • Similarly no obvious signs of a slider Lumia device: the only WP slider I've seen is the now rather elderly HTC HD7 Pro. The Lumias also seem to be stuck (3 units in) on 16GB storage.


Ideal device? Probably something along the lines of the following:
  • Slider QWERTY form factor similar to the N950 or E7 (if Nokia can ship a Lumia in the N9's chassis, they should be able to do the same for the N950!)
  • 64GB mass store. At that level, I stop caring about whether there's a memory card slot or not.
  • Removable battery if battery life is inadequate for a full day's use. The N9 doesn't have a removable battery but I don't care because it won't run out of puff during the day.
  • Actually feeling fairly neutral about Android 4/ICS vs Windows Mobile. Former has the edge in apps range, latter has very neat UI and a decent range of apps.


This must be the first time ever when the upgrade path wasn't clear. Even when Nokia pulled the original N9, the Desire Z was the obvious next choice. Oh well, just have to wait and see I guess 7 months is a long time in mobile phones! ;-)

There's no regrets,
No tears goodbye

Comments 
20th-Feb-2012 05:02 pm (UTC)
I find myself nodding in agreement with a lot you say. My last phone was a Motorola Milestone (Euro version of the Droid) which I chose specifically because it had a keyboard. Unfortunately it was only a barely usable keyboard, and in effect, weaned me off using a physical keyboard. Bought a Samsung Galaxy S II as a replacement, and love it. I'd still like something with a decent physical keyboard though. The Samsung came with 32GB of memory, to which I added a fast 32GB microSD, and knowing you have ample storage on it makes a heck of a difference. I throw videos, podcasts, and newly ripped albums on to it, and don't even worry about it.
I see the new Motorola Droid 4 is supposed to have a very good keyboard, but it's unlikely to be sold in the European market. When it comes to virtual keyboards, much though I like Swype for general use, I find for entering large amounts of text, or if I need to navigate around the text, i.e. when editing, then using Hacker's Keyboard in landscape is faster and more accurate. Fortunately switching between input modes is a lot easier than it used to be with older versions of Android.
1st-Mar-2012 12:26 pm (UTC)
Despite swearing many years ago I would never ever go near a Motorola ever again, I find myself thinking the Motorola Jet's looking rather tasty - Android 4, Tegra 3 quad core with a QWERTY keyboard!
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