About a week ago, I decided to do a little experiment: to see if I could still use (and enjoy using) a Nokia N9 as my only smartphone for a few days away from home. I charged it up and dived into some settings to make a few updates and changes to various apps such as Tweetian (for Twitter) as my Twitter handle needed to be updated to @AndyHa9on and there were loads of passwords that I had changed, thanks to the Heartbleed scare a little while ago. Also, my email has migrated from Gmail to Outlook, so that needed to be changed too… and that is when I started to regret my decision to use the N9 exclusively.
You see, back in 2011 when the N9 was released, it was, despite what many think, fully supported by Nokia. It had new official and third-party apps arriving on its platform regularly, and with a team still employed in Nokia House to tinker and fiddle with the new OS, it received three official over-the-air updates, the third being in the first half of 2012. And not long after that, things started to appear a little bit broken.
For me a couple of weeks ago, it was the realization that my N9 would not (or rather could not) sync with Microsoft’s Outlook.com email service via Exchange ActiveSync, and so I had to settle for the rather rubbish IMAP option, with the N9 only being able to sync with my email account every 30 minutes at a minimum. And, because the Exchange option was seemingly closed to me, trying to get my Outlook (or even Google) Calendar to sync was a total non-starter. I had to brave the big wide world with no way to access my calendar, other than using the web, which I had not tried to do on this particular device.
Things weren’t really going to plan.
Back in the day, my old Gmail account was in full-swing with my N9; syncing the email and calendar was never an issue, and everything worked brilliantly. It was my main smartphone for all of 2012 and some of 2013, and at the time I couldn’t imagine using any other phone, until the 808 PureView came along, followed by the Lumia 1020 nine months after. Since then my trusty N9 has been enjoying the view of the inside of my sock drawer, with just the occasional vacation out of Sock Central for some tweeting or podcast playing. But, crucially, during the time I have been cheating on it with other devices, the all-important unseen links, APIs and so forth have been either severed or left to wither and die, and now, once regularly-used apps like Tweetian are workable but left to wither without updates (it doesn’t update the Twitter feeds automatically anymore), the Facebook app that came baked in on launch day seems to work when it wants to and only updates parts of your Facebook account in a sort of willy-nilly fashion, and all manner of websites that used to load without issue now won’t even load properly.
So, there I am, in the middle of Pennsylvania, with a little bit of signal on AT&T but only the kind of signal that will allow calls and texts (no 3G or 4G out in the sticks), I was able to call my wife and text to my heart’s content, but getting on the web was almost impossible. The place I was working at, a summer camp, did have spotty WiFi and my N9 could connect to this, but after a few hours it would decide to drop the connection and then not allow an automatic reconnect and I had to manually delete the WiFi name from the list, and then reconnect which meant reentering the WPA2 password every time… it was not a fun experience.
Pluses: the N9 is still an absolutely beautiful device to hold and to use (for those tasks it can still do!) Swiping around the MeeGo interface was always an extremely enjoyable experience for me when my N9 was my main phone, and even now, in its relegated state it is still awesome to use. Swipe left and there are all my open apps and processes. Swipe right and my updates from various plug-ins (Rocket for Twitter still managed to push my Twitter feed updates to the Notifications view, even if it only managed to do this a few times as 2G only allows you to do so much!) The overall look of the OS is still a joy to behold – the software engineering was really top notch in the overall design of the N9, and I am still surprised that this kind of interface never really made it mainstream, despite the tip-of-the-hat to the N9 in the use of ‘Fastlane’ (notifications screen) in some Asha phones, and more recently the Nokia X line.
Of course I could hardly wait to get my sim card back into my Lumia 1020, and immediately everything became much more usable – email, Twitter, Facebook, the Web, even taking photos and editing them on-the-go on the phone, it all felt light-years ahead of the now slower N9, gorgeous as it may be.
I can’t help but feel sad; the Nokia N9 was the first of the Nokia portfolio to sport the new ‘Fabula’ design language that we saw in most of the Lumia device line up until the Lumia 920, but is still reminiscent in the design of the Lumia 2520 tablet too. It was such a great phone back its day, and I felt so proud (and a little smug!) carrying this MeeGo monster around with me, knowing I was part of a niche group of users in a world of iPhones and Galaxies. But in 2014 things have simply moved on. My N9 will always hold a place in my heart, but it won’t regularly hold a place in my hand.