Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Nokia N9 - Simply Beautiful

When the N9 was first announced I was blown away by the device, it was stunningly beautiful, powerful, slick and unique but then the bombshell dropped that it wasn’t coming to the UK. For months I’d been lusting after this phone after various teasers hit the internet and when it finally did go on sale I was tempted to import one but couldn’t quite justify the cost to myself (or to my wife). Before and during Nokia World I got to spend quite a bit of time playing with N9’s and instantly I loved the phone, I knew I just had to have one, and very shortly after Nokia World I got one, a black 64gb model.

I’d been taking a break from Nokia devices since March after falling out with my N8 and using a Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc Android phone instead. The Arc was a good phone and did everything I wanted well but there was always something missing that I could never quite work out. The N9 seemed to fill that gap for me and as soon as I set about getting my own up and running I could tell instantly it was the device for me. As usual for a Nokia device it was well packaged and presented that actually made it excited to unbox, I won’t bore you with an unboxing video, plenty of those already on youtube! The inclusion of a high quality skin case in the box is a great idea and hope to see more devices include one, it’s a good example of Nokia’s quality accessories and makes me want to buy more in other colours.

My first impressions of the N9 was how futuristic it felt, swiping around the UI reminded me of the MinorityReport movie, very slick and very easy to learn. Reading messages is as easy as swiping the notification after waking the screen (either with the button on the side or by double tapping the screen) and unlocking the device is just a simple swipe to drag the wallpaper away. Once unlocked you have three screens, one is a feed of events which can be from twitter, Facebook, AP News or any RSS feed of your choice. It’s a good way of getting a quick news fix but if like me you have a busy twitter timeline I suggest you don’t have it showing on the feeds screen, use the twitter app instead. Also on that screen is the date which when pressed opens the calendar and the current weather for a location of your choice that when pressed opens an attractive Accuweather app. The next screen is a list of all your installed apps, you can change the order by holding your finger on an app then dragging it around the screen. The third screen is for multitasking where any apps that are running can be found, touch an app and it opens again. Swiping down on an app will close it, if you’ve enabled that option, swiping left or right within an app returns you to the main screens. I found it all to be very intuitive and refreshing not having to use back or home buttons.

Setting up the device was easy with a good set of options for services such as Google, Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, CalDAV, Mail for Exchange, Nokia Account, Skype, SIP and YouTube, oddly the classic option, SyncML is not available on the N9. Various chat services are available out of the box too like Google Talk, Skype and Facebook Chat, I’ve not had the opportunity to use them much but was happy with the way Skype messaging worked on the N9, very easy and felt no different to sending an SMS. Facebook and Twitter apps are present on the N9, both do a good job of both services, especially since the recent software update. After being used to twitter apps like gravity and twitter for android the N9 client feels a little slow and missing a few features (like push notifications) but it is still very usable. Hopefully it shouldn’t be too long before more alternative twitter apps appear for the N9 or the built in one gets another update.

One of my favourite features is probably one of the most simple and that’s having a clock and notifications showing on the homescreen.  I love being able to pull the phone from my pocket and see at a glance if I have any missed events without touching it. I’d forgotten just how much I’d missed having this feature on a phone until I got the N9! I would love to see a port of Nokia’s sleeping screen app to the N9 one day, really hope that happens. It’s also been great being able to customise the clock screen by using your own logo, as mentioned in my previous article. I’ve also modified my N9 to show the clock in red, instead of white but that involves messing around with it in developer mode which I don’t recommend anyone does unless they know what they are doing.

Since the major update last week (PR1.1) I’ve been very happy with the N9’s performance, it’s been rock solid stable and very good on battery life. I’ve not encountered any major issues and have thoroughly enjoyed using it. There’s been a steady stream of apps recently too and can’t really think of much that’s lacking that’s essential to me, a QR code reader would have come in handy the other day but I’ve yet to find one. Through headphones the audio quality of the N9 is very good to me but I’d never consider myself remotely close to being an audiophile. I use spotify for my music and was surprised to find a choice of two apps for using it, spotify and meespot (both available through the store app). So far I’ve got on better with meespot as it’s been updated a couple of times and is far more stable than the other option. Both apps have a nice interface that to me is more attractive than spotify apps on other platforms. Other apps perform as expected, such as contacts, messages and calendar with the data attractively presented. I’ve been more than happy with the N9’s camera too, great interface and the results for a phone camera are good, not N8 good but still more than good enough for my usage (some samples at the end of the article).

Several people have asked me is the N9 better than this, better than that but all I can say is that it’s different, some will love it’s unique approach whilst others will hate that it can’t do things how they want them to or lacks apps they are used to. If you want a slick, stylish device that’s fun to use then the N9 could be for you, but if you are wanting a massive selection of apps and games you do need to look elsewhere.  I would say that the N9 is a breath of fresh air that has brought me back to using, and enjoying Nokia devices again.  Announcements from Nokia back in February cast doubt on the N9 and it’s operating systems long term future but as a device for now it is very good.  I live in hope that the N9 will one day get a true successor but even if it doesn’t I can still say that it was worth trying and that I love it!

My cat Robbie, asleep as usual.

This is "Big Pig".

A stuffed bird, looking quite angry.

A random bench in Leeds.

Leeds Town Hall.

Poppit & Scruffy, our two fat ladies.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Nokia BH-111 Mini Review

Today I took delivery of a Nokia BH-111 Bluetooth Stereo Headset which I purchased from amazon. It was packaged to Nokia's usual high standards and reasonably priced at £29.99.

It's a very lightweight device which should make it easy to carry around and use on a regular basis. To me the audio quality is good from a device in this price range with the bundled matching coloured earbuds and would recommend it to others. I'm no audiophile but I liked the sound when using them, quite crisp with decent bass.

My only gripe is the cable length, it's a bit short for my liking as I prefer to clip it to my trouser pocket when listening to music, it's a shame that a cable extender wasn't included in the box. Fortunately you can use it with any standard earbuds or headphones that use the standard 3.5mm connector.

For people that want stereo bluetooth audio but have a tight budget this is the perfect device.

Neatly packaged in classic Nokia blue.

The entire contents of the box.

The round part on the top left is the volume control.

Close up of the earbuds.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Customising the Nokia N9's Lock Screen Logo

Recently an app was released that allowed N9 users to add a logo to their N9's lock screens. As a person who loves customisation and phones with sleeping displays this was instantly appealing to me.

The app is called LPMcustomizer by Nick Leppanen Larsson and is available here, along with instructions: http://www.my-meego.com/software/applications.php?fldAuto=406&faq=13

When creating your own logo's you need to choose your colours wisely as only certain colours will work when the screen is in low power sleep mode. Colours that work are black, white, red, green, blue, cyan, yellow and magenta. I've yet to notice a significant drop in battery life when using these logos but if you do you may want to try a simpler designs using less pixels or switch the logo off.

Below are some of my early efforts, anyone is welcome to download and use these. I'm also open to requests if anyone would like a logo modifying or creating for their lock screen.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Best Thank You Note Ever!

I'm a little late in posting this and most of you will have already seen it on Friday but I just had to post it here. Off to get a framed version of the large original made today.