Nokia's N9 and the shape of smartphones to come

Nokia's N9 and the shape of smartphones to come
Smartphones are getting ever smarter

It's been a while since Nokia unveiled an exciting new smartphone, so we were delighted to see the new Nokia N9.

Nokia's great at making mobile phone hardware, and the N9 is one of its very best designs. The specs aren't bad either: a tough polycarbonate shell, an 8MP camera with Carl Zeiss optics, a 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor with "PowerVR SGX530 graphics to help awesome-ize games and video" and up to 64GB of on-board storage.

Our hands-on Nokia N9 review predicts that the N9 could well become "an underground favourite", while our N9 video preview (see below) shows that it's a nippy device with a really nice interface. It's the first Nokia phone to run the MeeGo operating system, and we think it's really rather good.

Will more MeeGo models follow? Don't hold your breath, says columnist Gary Marshall, noting that the Nokia press release doesn't mention MeeGo at all. "I suspect that the reason Nokia's keeping schtum about MeeGo is because promoting it right now would be like urging you to bet on a horse that's already in the van on its way to the glue factory," he says. "The N9 is Nokia's first MeeGo phone, and I wouldn't want to bet on Nokia making many - or even any - more."

That's because Nokia has jumped platforms: it's going to be running Windows Phone on its high-end smartphones and sticking with Symbian Anna on its other phones. "There simply isn't room for MeeGo any more - not in Nokia, anyway," Marshall says, arguing that Nokia's promise to focus on "exploration of next-generation devices" was "tech-speak for 'you're dumped. I'm seeing Simon now. Let's still be friends'".

iPhone, Android, Windows Phone

While Nokia works with Windows Phone, Apple's fifth iPhone is expected to ship in August or September. Our iPhone 5 rumour roundup provides a handy list of the latest speculation. Things we know for sure include cable-free updates and syncing, close integration with Apple's iCloud and the same processor as the iPad 2.

Android's moving quickly too. With version 3 of Google's operating system making Android tablets more attractive, work is well underway on version 4. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich will work on smartphones and tablets alike, and it's expected to turn up around Thanksgiving in the US. That means Android 4.0 handsets and tablets should be shipping in time for Christmas.

So what can we expect from the latest Android? It'll look a lot like Honeycomb - provided operators and manufacturers don't muck about with it too much - and you'll be able to use USB devices such as games controllers and even medical sensors. Bluetooth device support will follow shortly afterwards.

Android 4.0 will also watch your face, using head-tracking technology to adjust the on-screen images to give the illusion of looking around a solid object.

Google has also demoed videoconferencing that uses the feature to focus the camera on the person you want to look at, which is fine unless you're staring at someone good-looking while talking to somebody who's been hit with the ugly stick.

Microsoft hasn't been quiet either: it's updated its Windows Phone operating system, and our Hands on: Windows Phone Mango review (the latest version of the OS) reveals some impressive improvements.

With the UK first in line for Nokia's forthcoming Windows Phone handsets, the next few months are going to see some seriously impressive smartphones turning up on the shelves of your local phone emporium.


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