Neonode N2 Review

1
Introduction and Design
This review has been updated on 9 December 2008

This is an unlocked GSM phone which can
operate in the US on AT&T and T-Mobile.
Introduction:

Remember the Neonode N1? We surely do, as it was one of the most unique phones when it was announced, something like the iPhone in the end of last year. The N1 was a small but powerful multimedia device with touchscreen, strange interface and just a few hardware buttons. Unfortunately it appeared on the market (in small amount) years after that and didn’t have much success. In February 2007, the Swedish manufacturer announced the second generation phone, the Neonode N2 which we are happy to present you here. It builds on the first one using the same OS and comes in even smaller dimensions that allow it to be packed in ultra small transparent package that definitely looks as unique as the phone itself.

In it you will find:

  • Neonode N2
  • 1GB miniSD card
  • Stereo Headphones
  • Adapter for attaching the headphones (Neonode connector to 3.5mm)
  • Charger
  • USB Cable
  • Quick-Start Guide

Printed user manual is missing, probably because it would require too much space and the box would have to be enlarged. Neonode has excellent one available in Adobe PDF format over its site, so if you are interested please use the link on the left.

Design:

Neonode N2 is definitely unique in terms of appearance, because it is the smallest phone, controlled through a full sensor display. Next to the compact HTC Touch Diamond, N2 is like a baby, and compared to the iPhone 3G or HTC Touch HD, it is like David facing Goliath. It rather looks like a tiny music player or some modern gadget. It is so small, that sometimes you might think you’ve lost it. Despite its size, it is made out of rubber-coated plastic nice to the touch, which prevents it from sliding from your hand. There are two holes in its lower part, which contribute for its uniqueness but have no clear purpose. The only thing we know is that in one of them is located the microphone. As a matter of fact, an interesting thought passed through our heads; we wanted to tie a hand strap but there wasn’t one present in the package.


You can compare Neonode N2 with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

In the classic black, N2 is not as attractive as the other three colors offered: Azure, Lime and Rubine. There’s also a pink version but no information on the release date has been confirmed. According to us however, Neonode N2 will always make you stand out in the crowd no matter the color, because during a call, everybody will be staring at you very, very strangely. This will be thanks to the way you have to talk using the device. After initiating a conversation, you’ll have to turn the phone around with its back next to your ear, because that’s where the speaker is located. At first, you may feel confused but you’ll get used to it in time.


The small size of the device creates an illusion that the 2” screen is larger. Unfortunately, it has a resolution which is not up to today’s standards (176x220), which however is usable in direct sunlight. The only thing that will limit its use in such conditions is if you have put a few fingerprints on the screen, causing a stronger reflection. The interesting thing here is the technology employed (zForce), which is based on infrared and cannot be seen in other phones with sensor displays. It reacts to touch with any objects, and you actually don’t have to press the display since it is activated by a very gentle touch. If you’d like to get more information on the various technologies available, please read our article about the touch screen technologies.

Besides the display, you can use the 4-way joystick to navigate through the menus but we do not recommend it. It has a very short drive in all directions and is very hard to press. We can’t imagine a worse joystick. The other two hardware buttons (to power on/off or lock/unlock and volume control) are located on the left side. The first one is very small and hard to use in contrast to the large volume control.

On the back also is situated the 2-megapixel camera, but its lens is very small and almost unnoticeable. Next to it, there’s another opening, which also looks like a camera lens but is actually the speaker. The only connector is located on the top. It is a proprietary for Neonode and to it are connected the charger, the USB cable and the adapter for the headphones. Right next to it we see the slider to lock/unlock the battery lid.





Interface:

The Neonode N2 like its predecessor (N1) is based on Windows CE operating system but in order to differentiate from this OS uses a proprietary interface called "Neno". The software it uses is loaded on the miniSD memory card in the box and without it the phone cannot start. This is a small drawback, because if you want to use a different card, you’ll have to use a computer in order to install the OS on it.

The standby mode is nothing special – a customizable wallpaper and service information which shows the battery and reception status as well as a clock. Opening any menu is done by a scrolling movement over the display. There are eight directions and the common thing is that all require scrolling from the one end of the display to the other. Three of them go from bottom to top, four horizontally and there’s one that goes diagonally. The last scrolling action is executed from the top right to the bottom left corner and it allows you to close any program or menu and return on the home screen.

The main menu consists of four tabs. The first three have 6 icons each in a 2x3 grid and you’ll find only 2 icons in the last one. N2 is supposed to have additional themes but our review unit had only the one, which is visible on the pictures.



Phonebook:


The Contacts are visualized as a vertical list with small name and each field is much smaller than the icons in the main menu and cannot be easily pressed with finger, which is the reason Neonode has done another type of selection. To select one you should scroll through list either by moving your finger on the display (very similar to the iPhone) or by using the uncomfortable joystick. In this type of lists, once you've marked the field (contact in this case) you want, taping anywhere on the screen will confirm the selection. This is pretty convenient once you get used to it, as otherwise it would be nearly impossible to touch only the row you want.


No search field appears when you open the phonebook, but it can be activated from the middle icon in the lower part of the screen. Unfortunately, no matches are visualized upon symbol input and they appear only after a movement confirmation in the direction necessary.

Options for editing, deleting or adding a contact are accessed in the menu that opens from the lower right corner. Here you will be welcomed by the various fields each contact can have, all with colorful icon. Similar to the Windows Mobile phones, there are fields for multiple numbers but their type cannot be changed. Additionally there are fields for emails, address, note and personal Caller ID image and ringtone.



Up to six favorite contacts can be added for faster access to them. Similar to the HTC Touch, they are allightned in a grid and are shown by the caller ID pictures.

In order to dial a number, you have to be on the homescreen and to choose the middle option in the bottom of the screen. First, a numeric keypad appears but you can select different ones by sliding a finger to the left or right in the upper part of the screen. Although the screen buttons look quite small you’ll get used to them after a few tries only.

Organizer:

The Calendar can be previewed for the whole month, week or just for a day. When viewing the grid for the month, in addition to scrolling vertically, you can move your finger also horizontally to choose any date. Adding an appointment requires a few taps and offers fields for Subject, Duration and optional alarm. The entries can also be set as “All day event”. In addition, you’ll be able to add simple notes the calendar for a new doghouse you need to buy for example.




If you need more wake up or reminding alarms N2 will not limit you in their number. On top of that you’ll have an alarm history which could be used as a proof that you overslept despite the 15 alarms that sounded.

There are no similar extras in the calculator and it only has the basic functionality so don’t turn to it for complicated equations.

Messaging:

You won’t be really surprised by the options in the messaging menu and even email client is missing. At least MMS (multimedia messages) are supported. The text is input via the on-screen 3x4 numeric keypad, but T9 predictive text input system should help for improving the speed. There’s no QWERTY, but we don’t see how we’d use it with the small display. Can you imagine trying to type a message using the tiny buttons? Nevertheless, there are keyboards in the various languages, and a few non-standard ones like from a regular phone for example, DTMF and ones with smileys.




Connectivity:

As the Neonode N2 is a quad-band GSM phone, it can work in any GSM network all around the world. It’s sad that the dwarf supports only GPRS (not even EDGE), which is a big disadvantage for today’s standards. Nevertheless, it has not one but two web browsers. There’s Internet Explorer (thanks to Windows CE OS) and WAP, but the slow speed and the low resolution will limit your surfing abilities.

As we suspected, the sites were loading very slowly, and some of them couldn’t even be fully rendered. On top of that, the navigation is not user-friendly at all due to the sluggish 4-way scrolling as opposed to the free mode seen in iPhone’s Safari or Opera Mobile. The lack of zooming options or pan view in combination with the low resolution, contribute for an unpleasant experience. Not only that, but selecting is done via dragging as in the phonebook, and instead of a cursor there is a yellow outline. Therefore, we wouldn’t use N2 for browsing at all.


Locally it connects to other devices through Bluetooth, and wireless headset on that technology can be used with it. Lacking A2DP profile though, it cannot transmit stereo music to compatible devices. The USB cable in the box will be used for synchronization with computer. As it is Windows CE-based phone, like Windows Mobile phone requires ActiveSync (Microsoft Device Center with Vista) applications installed on your computer, which will allow for synchronization of the contacts and the calendar with Outlook. If the phone is turned off, it will be recognized as mass storage device and you’ll be able to only transmit files to and from its memory card.

Camera:

The camera interface is as simple as it could be: it is a big viewfinder on which you must tap to capture the image. In the settings there are a few resolution options as well as settings for the White balance, Brightness and Color Saturations. Considering the usage of the N2’s camera, those settings won’t be used often.


The images quality will not surprise you but will do the job, for a memory-photo. It is OK when compared to other 2-megapixel cameras and the only thing we would want from such camera is more-accurate color representation.


Multimedia:

Do not underestimate the multimedia capabilities of this tiny gadget. The nice headphones and the 3.5 mm jack have not get in to the package by chance. Our review unit had preloaded video and music files as well as the CorePlayer, known for its DivX and Xvid support. Sadly, both players (music and video) are not user friendly. To change the position, track or clip you’ll have to enter in the options menu and execute several commands afterwards. It would’ve been much better if this was simply done with the respective movements or buttons in the bottom of the screen.


Playing the music is done through the loudspeaker on the back (the one used also during a call) and delivers very good sound but with low volume. It’s impossible to listen to it in noisy environment but for personal enjoyment come the stereo headphones. They are made of two pieces – the one attaches to the phone universal jack and ends with 3.5mm stereo jack and volume scroll while the other are the noise-isolating earpieces. Although the sound didn’t sound like Sony Ericsson W980, but close to Nokia’s XpressMusic. If you don’t like the headphones included in the package, you can always use a different set thanks to the 3.5 mm adapter.

We had some problems with the video playback. The preset ones ran well only being slightly choppy at times. We tested H.263 and H.264 files but there was only image with no sound. Luckily, the Xvid and DivX files played without any problems, even at a resolution of 320 x 144 pixels, 512 kbps bitrate and 25 fps. That’s not bad at all for such a small phone if only the display was larger...



Software:

The N2 comes preloaded with two games – Tetris and Sudoku. Based on Windows CE 5 it can be considered as a smartphone, but there aren’t much applications for this system. Still, such can be developed and evidence for this is the CorePlayer preinstalled on our review unit. The manual also points that in the future there may be some applications at the manufacturer’s site, but currently there aren't any.



Performance:

Overall, we are happy with the unique N2 and its Neno interface. At first you might feel that there’s something wrong but in time you’ll get used to it and you’ll see that the work with the phone can be very effective although far from Nokia’s smartphones. Sadly, some programs require more time to load and this could be very annoying.  The other remark we have in this aspect is regarding the speed has to do with the slow file copying from and to the phone via ActiveSync. This could be avoided only if you connect the N2 as Mass Storage, but you’ll have to turn it off in order to do so.

The most important aspect of every phone is the sound quality during a call. We’ve seen many good phones that have disappointed us in this aspect and therefore have gotten lower scores. Neonode N2 does not fall in that group thanks to the good quality despite the sound being too loud.

Conclusion:

We inspected this unique dwarf very carefully and it’s time for our verdict. Its main purpose is to attract attention which it does in a few ways. Besides the fact that it doesn’t look like a phone, you have to turn it around with its back towards your ear in order to speak. In addition, it performance as a multimedia player is not bad.

Since there’s no alternative to N2, it’s hard to recommend other such devices. Still, if you don’t think the phone isn’t for you, you can always turn to LG PRADA or Samsung Giorgio Armani  to get the attention of the crowd.

The review is based on a phone running software with version 2.1.552.5.



Pros

  • Unique
  • Very small
  • Good sound quality during a call and when listening to music with headphones

Cons

  • Display image quality is mediocre
  • Limited functionality
  • Awful joystick
  • There’s a serious lag when starting some programs
  • Not good for web surfing

PhoneArena Rating:

8.0

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