Assessing a mobile phone without a lengthy hands-on appraisal is a pretty tall order. The world cottoned on pretty swiftly to the tactile delight of the original iPhone and its descendants, and now that the smartphone OS wars has settled into an us-and-them groove of Android versus iOS, it's safe to say that most people have an inkling of what to expect from their phone even before they've opened the box.
So mobile manufacturers need gimmicks and innovations to keep consumers keen and encourage them to switch from one eco-system to another. The latest flagship phones from two key smartphone contenders offer different approaches. Nokia has had a troubled year and the imminent collaboration with Microsoft marks a new chapter in the company's long history. But before it brings out a Windows 7 phone it's offering a last-chance at an alternative.
The new N9 runs MeeGo, a Linux-based OS that promises to do everything its rivals can and more, with collaboration from Intel to ensure hardware and software are perfectly matched. The polycarbonate-bodied phone is certainly slick enough, featuring Nokia's trademark high quality hardware design (their camera quality is usually second to none.) Dolby surround sound, 8 megapixel camera, a 3.9 inch screen and inbuilt in-car navigation functions all add up to a competitive package.
However, speed, slickness and functionality won't necessarily overcome the massive headstart both iOS and Android have in the market, with hundreds of thousands of Apps and swelling user bases (Google are currently claiming over half a million new Android devices are being activated every single day). Nokia are bigging up the N9's ease of use - no buttons, just a single swipe to go to the home page - and MeeGo is also open source - arguably even more so than Android. That should help grass roots support spring up around the world even though the Microsoft hook-up isn't great news for future updates and evolutions. For tinkerers who want to think different, it could be a smart choice.
HTC continues its relentless deluge of new product with the EVO 3D, formerly a US-only product that is now making its way to Europe. Although the 3D is equipped with a 3D capable (i.e. twin lens) camera, the 4.3 inch screen uses clever dual-layer trickery to mimic a 3D-style effect without the need for additional glasses (thankfully). Will this prove more than a gimmick? Possibly not, but the good news is that the EVO 3D has plenty of power and memory to offer a seamless Android 2.3 experience even if you don't go all out on the bells and whistles. With the iPhone 5 just round the corner, plus a new version of Android imminent, the only sure prediction is for ongoing rapid change.