Nokia N9: The Most Amazing Phone You’ll Never Buy

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Daily Crunch: Propulsion

Nokia was nice enough to loan me a Nokia N9, its first and almost certainly last MeeGo-powered smartphone, after I not-so-subtly pointed out that I’d love to give the thing a solid whirl. After having played with it for a day now, I’ll tell you why I think it’s a phenomenal smartphone that rivals the best of ‘em, and why you would probably be better off not buying one anyway.

I’ll start off by explaining that I’m not qualified to be a professional smartphone reviewer, whatsoever. We have our former CrunchGear and MobileCrunch slaves for that type of stuff. That said, I’ve used a bunch of smartphones over the years, of all shapes and sizes, and I know damn well what I want.

If you’re looking for one of those thorough hands-on reviews or a list of specs, please look elsewhere. Okay? Okay.

TL;DR: The Nokia N9’s hardware, operating system and pre-installed applications are almost all exceptionally good, and a tight integration between them makes for a top notch user experience. Unfortunately, the price is far too steep, and there just aren’t enough apps on the marketplace.

Full review:

The Nokia N9 is easily one of the most pleasant, fast and thoughtfully designed phones I’ve ever used. And I’ve used plenty of iPhones and Android phones to date to know what I’m talking about.

There’s a lot of things to like about the N9: the quality and responsiveness of the touch screen, the nifty ‘swiping’ features, the general look and feel of the (unibody) hardware, the navigation and ‘Drive’ applications, the curved glass, the camera quality, the way notifications work, the incoming updates river view, the lack of buttons, built-in NFC capabilities, and so on. A really, really solid job, Nokia.

It has its quirks too, like any device I daresay, and a surprisingly crappy preloaded Webkit browser (no tabs, no favorites, no ‘read it later’, and odd rendering at times). You also can’t personalize the background (save for the lock screen) or add effects to it – something I’ve grown surprisingly fond of with Android phones. iPhone users will miss their folders.

So why would I – and probably you – never buy it? Two main reasons.

First, the phone is too expensive. The N9 costs 480 euros (roughly $650) for the 16 GB version, and 560 euros (~$755) for the 64 GB version, before taxes or subsidies.

I understand the reasoning. It’s a high-end phone, and Nokia wants its price to match the way it feels about the device. And if it weren’t ~2 years late to the market, it’d be an acceptable price, too.

Unfortunately, we now live in a world where you can pick up a decent iPhone or Android handset for roughly the same price or cheaper, so the N9 simply can’t compete on price.

The second reason is less objective and more obvious: the staggering lack of apps in the marketplace (called Nokia Store these days). It’s not disastrous; the phone comes preloaded with apps like Maps, Drive, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Angry Birds (lite), AccuWeather, YouTube etc. and you can easily install apps like Foursquare and some nice games from the store, free of charge.

But that’s pretty much it, and it’s a problem.

I know I can pick up any Android phone or iPhone, install the Yammer app and collaborate with my fellow TechCrunch staffers instantly (okay, when the app does what it’s supposed to, which isn’t always the case). I can install Amazon’s Kindle app and start reading my most recently downloaded ebook on the page I was when I last signed off. I can install the NYT and WSJ apps to keep on top of world news, and download Pulse to read the feeds I’ve subscribed to. I can install Shazam and identify and buy tunes wherever I am. I can download Viber and call and text my friends for free.

On the Nokia N9, none of that is possible. The company representative I talked to yesterday says it will get better, and developers just need to become more aware of cross-platform application framework Qt and how they can port existing apps so they run on MeeGo.

Perhaps, but that will take time, and as I said before, Nokia is already late to this game.

It’s a sad, strange paradox: the phone is so beautiful and works so smoothly that I’m actually having a hard time putting the N9 down, but I can honestly say that I would never recommend anyone to go out and purchase it in a world so chock-full of better choices, especially at that price.