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Smartphone comparison: Nokia N9 vs. Apple iPhone 4S

Which is the better phone: Nokia's N9 or Apple's iPhone 4S?

Nokia has launched its N9 smartphone in Australia, the first and likely the last Nokia phone to run the MeeGo operating system. Although the Nokia N9 is slick and easy to use, the timing of its launch sets it up to compete directly with the Apple iPhone 4S.

Apple iPhone 4S review
Nokia N9 review

The Nokia N9 and the Apple iPhone 4S smartphones are similarly priced and are available through all three Australian carriers, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. So, how do they compare?

Apple iPhone 4S vs. Nokia N9: Specifications

Feature Apple iPhone 4S Nokia N9 Verdict
Operating system Apple iOS 5 MeeGo (Harmattan) Apple iPhone 4S
Display size 3.5in 3.9in Nokia N9
Display technology Capacitive LED-backlit IPS Capacitive AMOLED Draw
Display resolution 640x960 480x854 Apple iPhone 4S
Pixel density 330 ppi 251 ppi Apple iPhone 4S
Multitouch Yes Yes Draw
Front camera VGA VGA Draw
Rear camera 8 megapixels w/single-LED flash 8 megapixels w/dual-LED flash Draw
Camera features Autofocus, touch focus, geotagging, face detection, video stabilisation Autofocus, touch focus, geotagging, face detection, Carl Zeiss optics Draw
Video recording 1080p HD @ 30fps 720p HD @ 30fps Apple iPhone 4S
FM radio No No Draw
GPS Yes Yes (with free turn-by-turn navigation) Nokia N9
Internal memory 16GB, 32GB or 64GB 16GB or 64 GB Draw
Expandable memory None None Draw
Dimensions 115.2 x 58.6 x 9.3 mm 116.5 x 61.2 x 12.1 mm Apple iPhone 4S
Weight 140g 135g Nokia N9
Application Store Apple App Store Nokia Store Apple iPhone 4S
Processor Apple A5 dual-core (800MHz) ARM Cortex A8 single-core (1GHz) Apple iPhone 4S
RAM 512MB 1GB Nokia N9
Australian 3G networks HSDPA 850/900/2100 HSDPA 850/900/2100 Draw
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n 802.11a/b/g/n Draw
Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP 2.1 with A2DP Draw
NFC (Near Field Communication) No Yes Nokia N9
HDMI-out No (Yes with Apple Digital AV adapter) No Apple iPhone 4S
Quoted battery life Up to 8 hrs Up to 7 hrs Apple iPhone 4S
Battery capacity 1420 mAh 1450 mAh Nokia N9
Adobe Flash support No No Draw
Australian carriers Telstra, Optus, Vodafone Telstra, Optus, Vodafone Draw

Nokia N9 vs. Apple iPhone 4S: Design

The N9 is the best looking and slickest smartphone Nokia has released in a number of years. It's a candybar handset constructed from solid polymer, the same material often found in ice hockey helmets. The company says the phone's polycarbonate casing is coloured all the way through in the manufacturing process, so scratches, dents or marks from everyday use will not show up.

The N9 has no keypad or home button on the front so it’s the first full-touch smartphone Nokia has ever released. The only physical controls are on the right side in the form of volume buttons and a lock key. The N9's design is attractive, comfortable to hold and different.

The Apple iPhone 4S on the other hand retains an identical design to the iPhone 4. It's constructed largely from aluminium and glass, is just 9.3mm thick and has an industrial look and feel with distinctive, sharp edges. The iPhone 4S also retains the iPhone 4's glass back that does look slick but attracts plenty of fingerprints. The iPhone 4S can be a little uncomfortable to hold without a case, but there is no doubting its build quality and premium feel.

Next page: Display, software, camera and more

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Nokia N9 vs. Apple iPhone 4S: Display

The Nokia N9 has a 3.9in, super AMOLED, edge-to-edge display, larger than the iPhone 4S' 3.5 in screen. The display uses gorilla glass in an attempt to prevent scratches and cracks and the glass is curved outwards in order to achieve a more natural swiping motion. This curve makes content on the N9 appear as if it's floating underneath the screen. Viewing angles are excellent and the display is very bright, though it has a yellow tinge when compared directly to the iPhone 4S on full brightness and lacks an automatic brightness setting.

The iPhone 4S has the same display as the iPhone 4. The 3.5in sized screen uses IPS technology and its 640x960 pixel resolution it has been described as a "retina" display, due to the human eye being unable to distinguish individual pixels. The iPhone 4S's screen has a pixel density of 330ppi — higher than the Nokia N9. Text is crisp and clear and images are sharp, though we would have liked to see Apple introduce a slightly larger screen.

Nokia N9 vs. iPhone 4S: Software

The N9 is the first and last Nokia smartphone to run the MeeGo operating system. This is a real shame as the user experience is simple and elegant. The idea around navigating the N9 is that whenever you are in an application you simply swipe from the edge of the screen (either side) to go back to the home screens. The N9 interface is based around three "home views" — an applications screen that lists all your apps, a notifications screen for calls, messages, calendar events and social networking feeds and a currently open applications screen.

The iPhone 4S runs Apple's latest iOS 5 operating system. It offers the same familiar swipeable home screen enhanced by folders, and the consistent Apple UI look and feel extending across all of the standard applications. If you have never used an iPhone before, you can expect a device that is easy to pick up and use, a well-populated App Store, and excellent multimedia capabilities. The latest iOS 5 version of Apple's platform also introduces iCloud, a cloud storage solution that automatically stores your content and makes it available on multiple devices including a Mac or PC. All iPhone users get 5GB of cloud storage for free but can upgrade to larger capacities for an extra cost: 10GB for $21 per year, 20GB for $42 per year or 50GB for $105 per year.

Nokia N9 vs iPhone 4S: Camera

The Nokia N9 has an 8-megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens. It can't match the quality of the unrivalled Nokia N8 but it performs reasonably well for a camera phone. Images are sharp but do suffer from excess image noise and the dual-LED flash tends to over saturate images. The camera also doubles as a 720p HD video recorder and will record at 30 frames per second.

The iPhone 4S also has 8-megapixel camera. It now includes a backlight illuminated CMOS sensor that claims better performance in low light situations. The 4S camera can record 1080p video and has a new image signal processor for image stabilisation and face recognition. Apple says the iPhone 4S takes 1.1 seconds to be ready for a photo and then just half a second between successive photos.

Nokia N9 vs. iPhone 4S: Internals

The Nokia N9 is powered by a single-core, 1GHz Cortex A8 processor and 1GB of RAM. Though performance is largely slick and fast, there are times when we wish the N9 had a faster, dual-core processor. Apps sometimes take a few seconds to open and more taxing tasks like playing back video files does result in a little slowdown. The Nokia N9 is available in 16GB and 32GB models.

The iPhone 4S is powered by a 1GHz Apple A5 dual core processor, but only has 512MB of RAM. It also has a dual-core graphics processor to speed up gaming. According to Apple, the dual core CPU combined with the dual-core GPU makes graphics performance up to seven times faster than the iPhone 4. Although the improvements in speed are definitely noticeable in day-to-day use, the jump is not huge if you're coming from an iPhone 4. Apps do open slightly faster: the camera app in particular takes full advantage of the upgraded internals. It opens almost instantly, there is minimal shutter lag and time between photos is less than half a second. A real positive is the addition of a 64GB model iPhone 4S, along with the standard 16GB and 32GB models.

Nokia N9 vs. iPhone 4S: Third-party apps

The Nokia N9 comes pre-loaded with dedicated Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Nokia Maps applications. There's also a special NFC-enabled demo of Angry Birds and three other pre-loaded games: Galaxy on Fire 2, Real Golf 2011 and Need for Speed Shift. Aside from these apps though, there's not much else to choose from. There's apps for the N9 available in the Nokia Store (formerly the Ovi Store), but selection is thin (around 500) compared to the well-populated iOS alternative. As a comparison, there are over 500,000 apps available for the iPhone 4S in the Apple App Store.

Nokia N9 vs. iPhone 4S: Other features

The Nokia N9 supports a wide range of video and music files and best of all, it doesn't require software like iTunes to get music and video files onto it. You can simply plug the N9 into a Mac or PC via a USB port and drag and drop files onto the device, or you can install the simple and effective Nokia Link application that enables you synchronise music, photos and videos from a Windows or Mac computer to the N9 and vice-versa.

The Apple iPhone 4S requires iTunes software to synchronise video and music files. It doesn't come with a HDMI-out port, but an optional Apple Digital AV Adapter ($45) can mirror whatever is on your iPhone 4S screen to a high definition TV. The Nokia N9 can't be connected to a television via HDMI.

The Nokia N9 comes pre-loaded with the Nokia Maps application that offers free lifetime navigation and you can download maps for 90 countries. Once a map is downloaded, this means the Maps application will not use your phone's data connection. This is a real advantage over apps like Google Maps on the iPhone 4S that use mobile data, and third-party turn-by-turn GPS applications that often cost well over $50.

The iPhone 4S comes with an exclusive software feature called Siri voice control. It's a voice assistant that lets you talk to perform tasks, such as asking for the weather forecast, making a calendar appointment, setting your alarm and creating a reminder. It’s a Beta release, but Siri works with Australian English in addition to US and UK English languages.

Another point worth noting is the fact that the iPhone 4S is a world phone, meaning it will work across both 3G and CDMA networks. There are no longer any CDMA networks in Australia, but for those who frequently travel to the US, the iPhone 4S' status as a "world phone" will definitely come in handy. The Nokia N9 is a quad-band HSDPA phone, so it will work across all Australian 3G networks including Telstra's 850MHz Next G network, and the 900 and 2100MHz networks used by Optus and Vodafone in Australia.

What do you think about the Nokia N9 and the Apple iPhone 4S? Tell us in the comments below!