Our first encounter with Nokia's N9 may have been eleven different kinds of awesome, but we knew it was a mere scratch of the high-grade polycarbonate surface. One of the core pieces of functionality we didn't get the chance to address back then was the camera, and after Nokia decided to toot that horn recently -- saying, among other things, that it's the "fastest image-capturing phone" yet -- we decided we had to go back for a second go-around.
In terms of performance, Nokia's camera application definitely lives up to the company's own hype, with nearly instant captures and an equally brisk return to a state of readiness for more image-taking. When shooting video, we noted that audio recording starts slightly later than the video, leaving the first half second or so without sound. This isn't an uncommon issue (we've seen it on other phones and tablets) and can be seen in our video sample after the break. Now might be a good time to also mention that the N9s we tested with today were all prototype units, so don't prejudge Nokia's final hardware on the basis of what you see here. Unless your premature judgment is positive, we doubt Nokia would mind that.
So anyhow, we took a walk around the company's offices, escorted by a group of unarmed but surely lethal Finnish ninjas, taking shots of the surrounding cityscape as we went. The results show the N9 picking up a ton of detail and controlling noise admirably, while a few impromptu ThinkPad hands-on photos convinced us it can do a pretty stellar job with closeups as well. With a name like N9, however, it was obvious which phone we needed to compare Nokia's lone wolf MeeGo handset to, so out came our trusty N8 with its world-beating 12 megapixel sensor. Alas, in spite of having an F2.2 aperture on the N9, Nokia hasn't managed to replicate the heroics of its earlier device: the N8 shows its advantage in consistently picking out better color balance and in also being sharper throughout the frame. It makes the N9's images appear as if they were shot through a haze, though we hasten to add that this should be considered a strength of the older phone rather than a major failure of the new one. Additionally, the N9 suffers from the typically narrow dynamic range of smartphone camera sensors, which is the cause of the consistently blown-out sky in our gallery images. Still, considering the quick software operation and consistently detailed imagery on offer from the N9, we'd say Nokia is on to a winner here.
P.S. -- Looking for the full-size 8 megapixel stills from the N9? We've zipped them up for you right here.