When MeeGo, born from a partnership between Intel and Maemo, was first introduced to the world in 2009, it was to be adopted by Nokia's high-end N-series devices. Hopes were running high for an OS to provide an alternative for a market dominated by Apple's iOS and Google's Android over the past few years.
Alas, that was not to be. With Nokia taking a sudden shift in direction and turning to Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 as its OS of choice for its smartphone portfolio, MeeGo, and by association, the N9, was effectively cast aside. Nonetheless, the Finnish company managed to deliver upon its promise of at least one MeeGo device in 2011, with the Nokia N9 launched in selected countries such as Singapore.
There is so much to be said about the first and only MeeGo device from Nokia, so we’ll start right off with its design. First impressions do count, and once we unboxed the N9, we were taken aback at the level of sophistication associated with its unibody design. The noticeably rounded side profile is a nice fit within our hands. This makes it that much easier to handle the edge-to-edge 3.9-inch AMOLED display. Though the N9 weighs in at a reasonable 135g, the overall feel leans towards a densely packed device, giving it a solid build quality.
However, first impressions can be deceiving. With its non-glossy plastic materials, we weren’t expecting fingerprint smudges across its chassis. We were proven wrong, and you would do well to avoid oil smudges on the N9. The top profile is occupied by a hinged plastic cover protecting its microUSB port, and a micro SIM card holder beside it. We have doubts on the durability of the hinged plastic cover, which came off when we applied excessive pressure to unlock it. Removing the micro SIM card holder requires the hinged cover to be unlocked before you can slide and unlock the holder from a spring mechanism. And that proved to be a problem when we were unplugging our microUSB cable from the N9. During the process of unplugging the USB cable, our fingers would slip and slide the micro SIM card holder, thus releasing and cutting off the cellular connection.
Hardware buttons are minimal, with only the volume and power button located side-by-side on the right profile. Shortcut keys, such as home and back, that are usually seen on other smartphones, are visibly absent on the N9. This is easily explained when we take a closer look at MeeGo and its swipe concept to navigate within the user interface.
At first glance, MeeGo’s simple and no-frills user interface won us over. While most other UIs go for more advanced widgets and multiple home pages, MeeGo takes on a more subdued approach with just three home screens. Similar to HTC’s Sense 3.0 user interface, you can swipe continuously across all three pages. Considering how there are only three pages to go through, we have to say it is so much easier to land on the right page.
The Applications page is self-explanatory, with a listing of your apps loaded within the page. A lot of thought has been put into the design of the icons, including the spacing, typography and even its colors. However, one of the most basic functionality of the menu is absent from MeeGo – alphabetical or category sorting. To be fair, this is not an issue unique to MeeGo – think how Apple’s iOS handles its app listing. You are able to rearrange your most frequently used apps to the top through manual arrangement. But once your apps inventory grows, it’ll get harder to allocate prime space for it. Iconic apps such as Facebook and Twitter are easy to spot at a glance, but the same can’t be said for those that we aren’t familiar with.
Switching home pages requires a swipe from the edge of the display, bringing you to either the Open Applications or Events page. Incidentally, this is also how you can get out of an app, given that there’s no physical home button to bring you back to the Applications menu. A downward swipe from the top edge of the screen will close the app, but first, you’ll have toggle it on within the settings. The Open Applications page acts like a multi-tasker, giving you a detailed overview of apps that are currently in operation. More importantly, you can truly close and kill apps by holding onto a thumbnail and clicking on the X button on the top right corner. Or, just simply click Close All to clear the apps cluttering up the N9.
Nokia's wide range of services are also made available on the N9, one of which is Nokia Maps. Amongst its services, the mapping feature counts as one of its strongest feature in its suite. Depending on where the N9 is purchased, maps that are specific to the region will be preloaded onto the N9. Maps were quick to load on the N9, and its navigation services were a boon to our weekend travel to areas that we are unfamiliar with.
But that's about as far as its strength goes for the MeeGo OS. When we took a quick look at the Nokia Store and noticed its limited apps ecosystem, the MeeGo OS shows its biggest weakness. Even with preloaded games such as Galaxy on Fire 2, Need for Speed Shift, Real Golf 2011 and good old Angry Birds, there’s not much to go around within the Nokia Store. Fortunately, basic communication apps such as Facebook and Twitter are available, but you’ll have to stick to traditional text message services instead of instant messaging apps such as Whatsapp.