Nokia packs a surprise with its all-screen smartphone

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NOKIA FINALLY unveiled its flagship smartphone, and it is not what we have anticipated.

In a surprising move, Nokia president and CEO Stephen Elop presented the N9, a breakthrough device that runs not on Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 operating system but on MeeGo, an already ditched, open-source OS that the Finnish giant co-developed with Intel last year.

“The N9 was part of Nokia’s drive to introduce an exciting experience around the user interface, the industrial design and the developer platform,” said Elop during last week’s Nokia Connection 2011 event held in Singapore.

The N9 appears to be a one-of-a-kind device, something of a collector’s item. It wasn’t what most people expected, especially when Elop earlier this year announced Nokia’s long-term relationship with Microsoft, making the Windows Phone 7 operating system the foundation for Nokia mobile phones.

Classifying the N9 a “learning project,” Elop presented an exciting device built from a single piece of polycarbonate and features scratch-resistant curved glass with a 3.9-inch AMOLED screen, as well as an “all-screen” design. This feature “reinvented” the home key as it could now be activated with a simple gesture: A swipe from the edge of the screen.

“With the N9, we wanted to design a better way to use a phone. To do this, we innovated in the design of the hardware and software together,” explained Marko Ahtisaari, head of Nokia’s design department.

The details that make the N9 unique—from the industrial design, the all-screen user experience, and the expressive Qt framework for developers—will evolve in future Nokia products, Ahtisaari said.

The N9’s polycarbonate body—which comes in black, cyan and magenta—is supposed to offer superior antenna performance, which translates to better reception, better voice quality, and fewer dropped calls.

In a dig at Apple’s iPhone 4, Ahtisaari explained that the N9’s polycarbonate body would give the phone “extremely good antenna performance, so, unlike some competitor products, you do not need to hold it in special way to have reliable phone calls.”

The N9’s class leading features include a low-light optimized wide-angle lens mated to an 8-megapixel Carl Zeiss autofocus sensor and HD-quality video capture (users could watch videos in true 16:9 widescreen format).

The smartphone also features turn-by-turn drive and walk navigation with voice guidance in Maps. With a new dedicated Drive app, even drivers using the N9 could start navigating to a destination right away.

Another interesting attraction of the N9 is its Near Field Communication feature, a wireless technology that allows one to easily share images and videos between devices by touching them together. The NFC may also be paired with other Bluetooth accessories (as long as they are NFC-enabled) like the new Nokia Play 360° wireless music speaker. Tapping the speaker with the N9 already activates the link and allows you to enjoy great surround sound experience.

According to Elop, the N9 will be available later this year, with the local price to be announced just before the device hits the shelves.

Nokia has not yet, however, demonstrated any of the long-awaited Windows Phone devices that Elop promised early this year.

“I have increased confidence that we will launch our first device based on the Windows platform later this year and we will ship our product in volume in 2012,” he promised.

Instead, the company released affordable models namely, the C2-02, C2-03 and C2-06 that run on Symbian Series 40.

These new devices come with dual and single-SIM options. They also have touchscreen and keypad variants. They are the first Nokia handsets to feature mapping with Symbian Series 40, which Nokia hopes will appeal to customers in the developing world.

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