Editorial: The Nokia N9, 1 month later
Using the Nokia N9 has been a very strange experience for me.
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.
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.