Update: Hands-on video plus a live demonstration of the N9's ability to pair Bluetooth devices over NFC (very impressive!) can now be found after the break.
Nokia N9 detailed hands-on
Nokia N9 first hands-on
The N9 UI, as you'll have learned from the product announcement, is Nokia's Harmattan skin atop MeeGo 1.2, which is built around three core home views. The central one is your app organizer / launcher, to one side of which you have a notifications and activities section -- which will be populated by phone calls, calendar alerts, and social network updates -- and to the other you get a live app switcher. That trio is navigable in a carousel fashion, meaning that you can keep cycling through all three by flicking your finger in one direction. Double-tapping the screen wakes the phone up and then you can unlock it with a swipe in any direction. Similar swipes, starting from one edge of the screen and going to the other, allow you to exit apps into the home screen. What we can say about all these aspects of the interface is that they're done exceedingly well and make the somewhat aged OMAP3630 processor look terrific. Fluid animations are evident throughout, navigation is natural, and this marks a major advance over anything else Nokia has given us on the software front in terms of touch-based UI.
Physically, the N9 feels about as good as a device built out of plastic can do. Nokia's devoutly calling it polycarbonate in order to highlight that this isn't just any old plastic, it's a high-grade variety that inspires confidence in its durability while also having the sharp looks to keep aesthetes happy as well. The whole phone is essentially built into the external shell, which does mean the battery isn't user-replaceable and there's no microSD expandability, but at least you can hot-swap the MicroSIM (yes, Micro) card without needing to reboot the handset.
The Clear Black AMOLED display is truly a sight to behold, with stunning viewing angles, a curved Gorilla Glass front, and some pretty excellent (for AMOLED) performance out in the sunlight. We compared it side by side with a Super LCD-equipped Incredible S and the N9 more than held its own. The screen is easily one of this new phone's great strengths, though we'd argue the intuitive UI, responsiveness, and eye-catching industrial design are pretty high up on that list too. All in all, we're highly impressed by what Nokia has put together here, though the N9 does prompt us to ask why the company has opted against making MeeGo its long-term smartphone OS of choice. What we've seen today is a damn fine smartphone with some very neat ideas, one which certainly merits the title of being Nokia's flagship. Or it will do, when it launches later in the year.