Editorials, Featured, MeeGo, Nokia

Editorial: The Nokia N9, 1 month later

Using the Nokia N9 has been a very strange experience for me.

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I’ve become somewhat resigned to the fact that I won’t be able to use the N9 as my main smartphone over the long term. I’ve taken my SIM card out of it on multiple occasions over the past month and gone back to using an Android device for various reasons, such as the Whatsapp client needing a fix and the relatively poor battery life that I’m sure I could remedy by picking up a Nokia DC-16 external battery for it. The school term has begun for me and it can be highly inconvenient to have to find opportunities to give the N9 a charge in the middle of the day. Besides, the N9’s hardware is getting dated; by 2013 standards, the internals are downright ancient.

[quote_left]The N9 is analogous to an Italian supercar[/quote_left]At the same time, I’ve never wanted to make a device meet my needs so badly before. As I’m typing this, my SIM is still in the N9; something keeps drawing me back to it. Jolla Mobile stated a while back that they aim to become the Ferrari of the smartphone world, and I cannot help but draw an analogy between the N9 and an Italian supercar. The N9 is the sort of phone that’s unique, exclusive and entices you to use it as it sits on your desk; it isn’t the most practical or reliable device to have on hand and it is perfectly capable of going wonky when you least expect it, but it feels like a dream when it does work.

[quote_center]The N9 would be a complete failure if it ran any other OS with all the flaws it has[/quote_center]

I’m quite sure that I’d pronounce the N9 a complete failure if it was running any other OS with the same flaws as MeeGo Harmattan does. I’m perfectly accepting of the fact that MeeGo Harmattan is far from perfect, because I bought the N9 with the understanding that I wouldn’t find it to be capable of being my only smartphone. In many ways, my expectations were low enough that the N9 has in fact surpassed what I thought it would do for me.


Make no mistake about it – the N9 has a slow and pokey web browser, a really bad autocorrect and word completion engine (so bad that I’ve switched it off), a camera that doesn’t do too well in low light and a small app selection. It can freeze up for no apparent reason, the browser can take the entire phone down, apps can take a while to launch if they aren’t running in the background already, the battery runs down surprisingly quickly and CalDAV keeps putting up error messages. Using the N9 is definitely not a painless experience, nor will it perform well in the hands of someone particularly impatient.

[quote_right]I want so badly for it to work for me [/quote_right]Yet, I still want to use it despite everything. I don’t mind the fact that I have to reboot it every few days, or every week to keep it running smoothly. I don’t mind not having Google Maps so much anymore; I managed to find a web service that calculates public transport routes in Singapore and I pinned it to the app grid. I don’t miss Instagram most of the time; nor do I miss having a Google+ app (my interactions with that social network typically take place on the desktop anyway). I’ve been able to get by using the mobile sites for IMDB, Evernote, Tumblr and YouTube.


What I really miss, though, is a Google Play Music app. These days, I only sync a little subset of my music collection to my devices since I have the option of streaming the music I listen to less often over the Internet. Google Play Music has a mobile site but that doesn’t work in the N9’s browser even after switching out its user agent to one from iOS 6. I also wish I could tether my N9 to my HP TouchPad running Android; Android still does not support ad-hoc WiFi hotspots and the TouchPad is unable to see the hotspot that my N9 creates as a result.

[quote_left]I haven’t found a virtual keyboard that I like more[/quote_left]There are things that the N9 just won’t do, and there are things it does relatively poorly, but on the flip side there are things that work really well. I still love typing on the virtual keyboard; it feels so good that everything else is a step back. The messaging experience is brilliant because SMS, Google Talk and Facebook Chat are brought together in a single app. Email isn’t bad at all, and is definitely competent with what you get in iOS; threaded messaging is supported, there’s a unified inbox and push email works flawlessly. Nokia Maps is very usable and there’s Drive and City Lens available too.


[quote_right]Surprise, there are 3rd-party apps for the N9[/quote_right]I love using Wazapp because it’s the most beautiful Whatsapp client I’ve come across on any platform. For podcasts, I’ve found gPodder to be a fantastic podcatcher because it syncs with an online service so you can subscribe to podcasts via a website and then add them very easily on your device. 4squick is my preferred Foursquare client by a large margin purely based on its speed; Tweetian is my favourite Twitter app at this point in time, and I’ve found the built-in Facebook client to be good enough.

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Flickr uploading is built-in on MeeGo Harmattan, and I also use FlickrUp for browsing. I manage my expenses with Toshl, and access Pocket with the new Pockeego app. gNewsReader, NewsG and MeeDocs take care of Google Reader, Google News and Google Drive respectively; Dropian and FilesPlus are my preferred apps for Dropbox and Dropbox folder syncing and CutePress works well as a WordPress client. I’ve had other apps installed at various points in time but I’ve pretty much settled on this selection.

[quote_center]The Nokia N9: Flawed and Fantastic[/quote_center]

Despite the flaws and issues, I really like my N9. Heck, I think I’m in love with it – imperfections and quirks be damned. When it comes to smartphones, we often aim for the latest and greatest; we expect big-name apps flooding the app store, we want everything to just work, and there’s a lot of skepticism about whether new platforms and small start-ups even have the slightest shot of success in the highly competitive mobile space. I think the N9 has showed me that it’s possible for a device that’s flawed and lacking in a number of ways to still show the way forward and push the boundaries in other ways and work really well for certain people. I like my N9 a lot more than I thought I would, and I’ve found it to be a lot more useful than I first expected. If anything, it stands out in a sea of iPhones and Android devices by being different and better. If Nokia had given MeeGo Harmattan the support it deserves, it’s not hard to imagine the platform being in a much better place than it is in today.

  • Daniel Rocha

    I thought I would read your article and use it as a way to let go the device. But towards the end of it you remind me why I simply loved it. The way you interact with it, the dedicated apps and community and especially the uniqueness of the device made it so special that, even though I really love my HOX, I really would love to have it back.

    I’m still looking for an inexpensive, used device to simply have it as part of history, and remember how we should really interact with an OS.

    Please, just don’t do the same with the PureView 808. My wallet can’t handle buying it, though it’s another device I’d love to keep just for its uniqueness and history.

    • Alvin Wong

      It’s really interesting for me because I have Android devices that, objectively speaking, are far more capable and more reliable than the N9 and allows me to access all the apps I could possibly want. But I still have my SIM card inside the N9 because I want to use it.

      Speaking of the 808 PureView, I think I’ll have to pick one up somehow this year ;) It will represent the pinnacle of mobile imaging for a long time to come.

      • http://twitter.com/derch1981 Derek Swalheim

        I relate to this a lot, i have a one X, and 808 and my sim is in my n9. There is no reason for that except my unexplainable love for the n9

  • http://blog.segfault.co.in Rahul

    I share the same feelings, I am in love with my N9. For youtube, I prefer cuteTube though. Might want to give it a try, not to mention MusiKloud which is another excellent app if you use Soundcloud.

    Oh, and thanks for mentioning Pockeego. I really needed this application.

    • http://twitter.com/Tams80 Tams80

      Definitely use cuteTube.

  • spacyzuma

    For more than 8 months, I hunted for the N9. I finally got one after a friend bought it, decided she didn’t like it a week later, and sold it to me at a giveaway price. Since June 2012, I’ve loved it so much.
    Sadly, I already knew I was buying it for keepers, not for regular usage. I already knew all about its poor ecosystem an other flaws. My 15-month old N8 was still 5 times more functional than the N9. Yet when I had to give up one of them, I gave up the N8. The N9 is just too lovable to give up.

    Right now, I regularly use my blackberry, android phone and android tablet. The N9 stays locked in my drawer for days at a time. But each time I bring it out, I spend no less than 10 minutes admiring it with its lovely, standout Harmattan UI.
    I hope I never get rid of my darling N9. I hope when an N9 port of Jolla’s Sailfish OS will be released or leaked. I love MeeGo, and I want to see Jolla carry on its legacy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stormz Shaun Nolan

    Hey Alvin, Shaun from EverythingN9 here. I’ve also struggled with the combination of HP Touchpad with the N9. I have had some success with bluetooth tethering using BlueVPN on the touchpad. You will have to manually specify the access point though.

    I also concur with the battery issue of the N9. My number one concern about it. I’m assuming you’ve disabled smartsearch? Browser wise try Firefox (nightly) or Opera, handles web pages much better than the stock browser. Snowshoe may be worth having al ook into too.

  • Pingback: UnleashThePhone's Nokia N9 review after one month - Everything N9()

  • http://twitter.com/N9Andy Andy H

    Hey Alvin, nicely done, sir! I agree with you on your negatives and positives, and the latter definitely outweigh the former. Can I suggest you using either Profilematic or Situations apps, or 2G/3G app, and stay on 2G when you’re not really using data that much. Since I did that a few months ago, my year-old N9’s battery has almost doubled its daily grind! I love my N9,and for me, mine WILL be my main device in 2013, warts n all! Cheers mate, Andy :)

    • Alvin Wong

      Cheers Andy, I am indeed actively switching between 2G and 3G, helps mitigate the battery issue somewhat. Think I’ll save up some dollars and pick up a DC-16 though!

  • C. Devesh Prabhu

    Can i have that phone as a gift…

    • Alvin Wong

      I’m certainly open to exchanging it for an N950 ;)

  • Shma666

    I don’t know what expectancies you might have on your battery issue. With fairly heavy use mine lasts at minimum one day. That includes the time my son play with it. In my opinion there are two main bugs. Nokia letting it die, andthey let my carrier brandit to crap.
    First disable auto search. Then instal fastern9, install Opera browser then the other google things you wanted.
    I Can’t change to 2g on my phone but found it not complicated top extend battery far. I Can out last most phones with a Touchscreen.
    And start using Swype keyboard :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/adnankamal9 Adnan Kamal

    Hi Alvin, very well said, but yes, again I am thinking what type of battery service you are looking at … I use my phone very heavily, with games always running if i m not playing then they are in th background, and my phone is full day connected to Wi-fi and added to it I take a lot of photos (of myself !!! ) but again my phone lasts almost for a complete day. But a very good review and I am pretty much sure, whoever has used N9 has fallen in love with it…

  • http://twitter.com/derch1981 Derek Swalheim

    for streaming music, we do have 3 spotify apps to choose from, and a nice lastfm radio app. Qneptunia might be a better twitter experience as well, at least for me it is.

    • MarTSelectSoul

      Is the last.fm api working for the N9 again?

  • http://twitter.com/derch1981 Derek Swalheim

    A big discussion on a lot of tech sites (verge/engadget/etc..) is about WP8 failing because not only its missing apps, but that apps are thrid party and not good enough. I’m curious what you thought of the quality of the apps that are also on android/ios. Things like gpodder, Gnewsreader, dropian, tweetian, etc… Or just an overall view of the quality of the apps that are available for the n9

    On a different note, did you try qneptunia, to me its by far a better twitter app

    • Alvin Wong

      I have been quite satisfied with the quality of the major third-party apps on MeeGo Harmattan. I’d say that certain apps look and work much better than others, but there’s a great deal of UI consistency on the platform as opposed to something like Android, and developers building apps on the platform are typically very passionate and dedicated.

    • http://twitter.com/Tams80 Tams80

      I can only speak fro gPodder, but it is fantastic! It’s very functional and blends with the native UI very well. The only mobile OSes with the official client supports are Maemo 4, 5 and 6 (Meego Harmattan).

  • John (google search me) Norris

    Alvin, I could google search your name and know that you used an N9 12 months ago, so why are you writing half hearted articles about the device now, in January 2013, titled …..”one month later”????

    • Alvin Wong

      I did not actually own an N9 back then. When I reviewed it, I was speaking from the perspective of someone who reviews phones (to help people make buying decisions). Today, I actually own the dang thing and I’m speaking about the N9 from the perspective of someone who bought it, which means that my discussion of the N9 is centered more on what I think of it, in Jan 2013, and how I’ve gotten to grips with it as my daily driver.

      Why am I writing half hearted articles about the device now? Because I like to. Don’t like reading my half hearted articles? Read something else.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jayanand-Supali/559479401 Jayanand Supali

    I always knew i was gonna Jump on to a sinking ship when i decided to go for a N9. But every fiber in me wanted to have it no matter what. I knew i would have to give up Gmaps, T9 4×3 keyboard for text inputs, whatsapp and a few more things. But i did and after 9 months down the line i can happily report back that its been worth while. Found out that Nokia Drive is much better then GMaps. Wazapp turned out to be 10 times better then the original whatsapp client. I just miss the T9 4×3 keyboard.

    Though this OS has flaws it works very smooth and now that am used to its Swipe gesture, using any other touch input device is nothing but pain. Its the most Simplest and the Best Multitasking phone i have had. Android’s Gingerbread back then was very unrefined. I agree with Author that the Auto-correct engine is pretty sad and the Cam really under performs in low light but then i have seen worst results of iPhone 4S in low light.

    If this OS had been give half the speed of development at which Android gets updated i can assure that MeeGo would be much much better OS now then where it stands at.

    This is my primary phone and will be for a long time till i see some OS as good as this or the Phone Dies on me (which till date no Nokia Phone has done to me)
    This is My Lamborghini with many flaws and it will hold its special place.

  • Kenny

    Hi Alvin, you can use Google maps on the N9. Try CloudGPS from Ovi store. As for browsers have you installed Opera Mobile with text reflow and Firefox with Flashplayer?

  • Simon

    Hi, thanks for the review but I find it strange that you have had so much problems with N9. I have had my N9 almost a year and it has been unbelievably reliable. No hiccups or bugs and actually I think i haven’t had to reboot it once (not counting few times when it went out of battery). Battery life has been excellent aswell. With low usage battery has lasted 3-5 days and even with heavy usage I get easily 1-2 days out of it.

    Just sharing my experiences with the magnificent N9 :)

  • Diana

    Love your article!

    I want to try some of the apps you mention. Sadly, the first I tried to download, 4squick, seems to be unavailable in Nokia Store… at least, in Argentina.

    But, yes, N9 generates passions. I cant change it!

  • http://twitter.com/thedead1440 thedead1440

    Use GApp and you can choose to access Google Transit from within it. SGTransit gives you SBS buses schedules.

  • Javier Lozano

    The N9 is amazing, simply because it has these flaws and an amazing dev group still working on it.

    With just a few hacks and tweaks it provides a much better user experience than any android I have used and lightyears ahead of iOS and WP8.

    Im not really big into social media, but my main apps are Emumaster, Nokia Music, AlmostTI, OBDAutoDoctor, MobiFinance and Firefox.

    Since I have upgraded to PR1.3 and added some tweaks I have not had my N9 freeze once.

    I dont know why you are giving the battery a bad reputation, mine lasts with heavy usage 1-1.5 days, and with normal usage 3 days

  • martin bishop

    Great Review, well written and emotive too. I got my N9 and love it. ‘Flawed and Fantastic’-too true.