Nokia N9 hands-on

Nokia pulled the covers off their N9 handset this morning, stepping into the breach and brushing aside the spectre of Symbian with its new MeeGo operating system. We were on hand to have a play with the handset and although our time was limited, here you'll find our first impressions.

The Nokia N9 owes some of its looks to the N8, but the mantra here has been to go slimmer and more sophisticated. Nokia have designed some great handsets over the years, but the N9 is really something else: it’s stunning. 

The body of the N9 is hewn from a single piece of polycarbonate, so it has the sort of seamless design that other “unibody” models offer. In this case the matte finish on the case means you won’t be forever polishing it, as it shrugs off fingerprints. It has a nice tactile feeling to it too, so we walk away with the impression that it will be fairly secure in your hands.

The Nokia N9 only gives you three buttons and two are volume controls. The final button is the sleep button which shuts off the screen, or wakes it up. There are no touch controls as the entire interface is designed to be controlled with one finger, or via a swipe as Nokia keep telling us.

The screen is sensational. A 3.9-inch AMOLED display, finished with convex surface, curves down at all the edges so it looks really cool and seems to flow right into the casing. Finished in Gorilla Glass, it packs a resolution of 854 x 480 pixels (a pixel density of 251ppi) so it looks crisp and sharp, with the deep blacks making the colours leap from the display. The display reminds us of the Google Nexus S and it looks to be us there with the best. 

The edges of the display get a lot of use, as they are used to navigate the device, swiping in from the very edge to return to the homepage. You get three main views, the apps menu which is conventionally icon-based, a notifications view which pulls everything into the one stream, including your social networks and finally a multitasking view, where you get a thumbnail of each application.

At first glance it is really dynamic and hits the important points, making it easy to navigate and control. We’re not sure how that notification view will take to being fed a busy Twitter feed and we don’t yet know what sort of control you’ll get over it, so there is plenty for us to get our teeth into when the phone launches later in the year. 

As a sealed unit you can’t get to the battery and the only port, hiding under a flap, is Micro-USB. A micro SIM can be accessed by sliding out a tray housing it. There is no option for external memory which will no doubt draw its critics, but with 16 and 64GB options, actual storage shouldn’t be too much of a problem. 

Around the back of the phone you’ll find an 8-megapixel camera boasting Carl Zeiss optics. Nokia has made some strong claims about the camera, but with the likes of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc offering great performance too, we’ll see who emerges as the king of the phone snappers in due course. It offers 720p video capture too. 

Internally you’ll find a 1GHz processor and 1GB RAM, so from a raw specs point of view it will challenge some of the Android big guns, although this is a single core processor. In reality, the raw hardware specs aren’t directly comparable because the experience will be governed by how effectively the OS uses this hardware. You’ll also find NFC lurking under the skin. 

First impressions of the Nokia N9 are better than they were of the Nokia N8. The design and what we’ve seen of the user interface come together with an interesting navigation mechanism, it looks and feels new and innovative, so we’re excited to see what else Nokia has in store for the N9 come launch.

It isn’t expected until Q3 or Q4, so there is some wait for Nokia fans. Be sure to check out all our hands-on photos of the three colour options for the new phone: black, pink and blue.