Neonode N2 review: Simply cool

Filip Kůžel, 15 October 2007.

A monolith from the planet Neonode

Needless to go to lengths describing the Neonode N2 design, with all the pictures and video included in this review. 3D view is also available on the manufacturer website. Neither images, nor videos however, will ever get near to simulating the first hand experience with this device. Neonode N2 is a compact and exceptionally solid device, without a single movable part. It is made of matt plastics ruling out the dreaded fingerprints and scratches.

The device is so firm and solid that I almost managed to damage it trying to open it without having read the manual. It turned out all I had to do was undo the lock on the top, which I first considered a button.

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Topside: Substandard universal port and the lock that holds both parts of the casing together

The phone features a single universal port for charging, data transfers and connecting the headset. Obviously the devil lies in the details, when it comes to creating a no-nonsense all-round device. It is the connector that spoils the overall impression with the Neonode N2: it wobbles no matter which accessory (headphones, data cable or charger) is plugged in. Besides, the connector is unnecessarily large. Another downside is compatibility, as it is impossible to replace a damaged cable because of the non-standard port.

Let's now have a look inside the case we just tried to open. The battery is affixed to the rear cover; it won't touch its contacts unless the cover is firmly closed. Trying to avoid imperfections in the body line, designers have preferred to place the memory card slot under the battery. A not so handy solution, though the enabled MassStorage mode partially makes up for that.

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The battery is firmly attached to the cover. There is no way to listen to music without a memory card

The number of keys on Neonode is minimalist too. You will find a volume-rocker placed on the side and, beneath it, the power button featuring a tiny sticking out knob for touch-orientation. This switch-off button is quite rigid and thus difficult to press. Other than turning the device on and off, it also unlocks the touchscreen.

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The only control is a four-way key beneath the display. It is not a classic joystick, as it slides, not tilts, in the four directions. It isn't that much for navigation either, but more for scrolling.

Guess how calls are made with Neonode? You dial a number and put the rear side of the device to your ear, as that's where the earpiece has been moved. Passers-by will be quite astonished for sure.

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The nest of the camera lens is one of the few elements that spoil the perfect lines of the device

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The Neonode package is also unusual: it looks like a folding picture-book, in which individual pieces are packed so tightly that, once taken out of the box, it is virtually impossible to put all of them back.

Many users, including myself, think Neonode has MP3 player looks. No wonder, as it is extremely small of size and features no keypad. Talking about music, let's not forget that a good player should be matched by a befitting headset. The earphones in Neonode N2's retail package have a standard 3.5mm jack. The wired remote with a microphone serves as an adapter. The microphone module of the Neonode N2 handsfree is quite unusually shaped, in line with the one-and-only feel of the device. The headphones take after the headsets Sony Ericsson gives its high-end Walkman phones. Like the Walkman bunch, Neonode has headphones with ear buds, which seal out ambient noise and fit comfortably in your ear.

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Quality headset with the indispensable Neonode logo

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CDs are 12 cm in diameter. Imagine how small Neoneode is with its only 77 mm height.

Windows, with a twist

Let's now move on with a closer look at Neonode N2's user interface. The manufacturer calls it Neno and it's like no other. That goes to say that we never got to know Neonode N1, said to be identical to the N2 in terms of user interface. It was not until I started looking for my contacts and trying to save them into the phone, that I realized I was having the honor of dealing with a mutation of Windows CE 5.0. Eventually, I had to connect the phone to a computer and order synchronization via ActiveSync, which I had previously installed for my last rendezvous with a communicator running on Windows Mobile. And it worked great!

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Neno is not a typical Windows-based gadget

If you're observing somebody using their Neonode, I bet you would have problems understanding their intentions. The phone is controlled through a combination of moves and touches. Sweeping movements up and down, and across the screen, let you navigate, scroll, access applications, make and end calls, etc. The optical touchscreen reacts to taps and several types of sweeps. We highly recommend everyone eager to purchase Neonode N2 to first study the following video, as it is essential to understanding the phone's navigation system. Just consider my experience: when I first activated Neonode N2 I typed my PIN code and stopped puzzled, without a minimum idea how to continue. The right step came by chance, while real understanding of navigation processes was only possible through detailed reading of the user's manual.

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Screenshot: navigation and application sweeps

A short tutorial of the Neonode user interface

Once you get to know Neno, you'll see it's not complicated at all. Sweeps are assisted by arrows indicating the potential moves that can be made. The main menu follows suit: the icon of each application or function gets enlarged to be finger-controllable; icons are displayed in four different views. Tabs or scrollable lists appear in the deeper menu levels.

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Main menu with tabs, sub-menus with icons

Browsing the phonebook is another function of intriguing design, worth a compliment. It is completely smooth: items are scrolled by finger and when the contents reach the edge of the window, the list readily moves forward on its own. Finding a name in a long list of contacts is not a problem at all. Selecting a particular item is easy too: just scroll until found, select it and tap on the display. You don't have to tap on the very line, in which the item appears. Once it's been selected, a tap anywhere on the display will launch it, which is very convenient.

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A highlighted item is activated with a tap anywhere on the display

The response of the virtual keypad is another pleasing detail, which, I must confess, scared me a bit at first. Feedback for keypresses on a touchscreen is crucial. With the Neonode, each tap on a key is immediately followed by a confirming vibration (haptics). Its intensity is user-defined, and vibration can even be deactivated, if necessary.