Even though touch-screen phones have existed long before the iPhone's release, it does seem like the Apple handset has caused a much wider acceptance of touch-screen cell phones. Still, there aren't too many touch-screen-only devices on the market, which is why we found the Neonode N2 so intriguing. Like the iPhone, the N2 relies almost entirely on its touch screen for navigation, but the N2 requires a lot more finger strokes--swiping across different parts of the screen will result in different functions, for example. Though the N2 is a compact device with plenty of multimedia features such as a megapixel camera and a music player, we just weren't thrilled with the interface in the end. If you want to see it for yourself, you'll have to purchase it unlocked at a rather steep price of about $860.
The Neonode N2 is unlike any cell phone we've ever seen. It even comes packaged in a small plastic case, making it look more like an MP3 player than a phone. Indeed, its size contributes to the illusion--it measures 2 inches long by 1.8 inch wide by 0.6 inch thick. The entire device is clad in a sturdy outer shell that feels as if it's made of hard rubber. The N2 has curved edges all around, and two capsule-size holes on either side of the navigation joystick. You can't quite see it, but there's a microphone inside the two capsule-size holes, and there's a speaker near the top of the screen. Holding the N2 up to the ear feels a bit awkward, and you'll have to rest your ear near the top edge of the phone, which can be slightly uncomfortable.
The big design feature of the N2 is definitely its 2-inch touch-screen display. It only supports 64,000 colors, so it's not the best-looking screen we've seen, but its "neno" menu interface is mostly black and white anyway. As the N2 has no other controls aside from a single joystick, navigation depends mostly on its touch-screen interface. Here's where the N2 differs from a lot of other touch-screen phones on the market--it uses a touch-screen technology called zForce, which overlays an infrared light grid on the display to track finger movements, so you don't have to press very hard for the phone to react. The aforementioned "neno" user interface is specifically optimized to make full use of this zForce grid.
Navigating through the N2's interface is a bit complicated. It relies heavily on finger swipes on different locations on the screen to get to a specific function. To help you along, the N2 displays multiple arrows on the four corners of the screen to show you in which direction to swipe your finger. For example, swiping your finger up from the bottom left will bring up the menu, swiping the finger up from the middle will bring up the virtual key pad, and swiping up from the bottom right will bring up the tools menu. If you swipe your finger from the bottom left to the bottom right, you'll be making or answering a call, while it ends a call if you swipe it in the opposite direction. As you can see, there's a very steep learning curve when trying to use the NeoNode N2. We needed a good full day to get used to it, and even then we still made mistakes--often we would accidentally select something when we meant to swipe. Also, this is one phone that absolutely requires you to read a manual, which isn't included in the box. Instead, you'll have to head to Neonode.com for the full user's guide.
Considering the N2 has a full touch screen, we wished there was a way to use a full virtual keyboard for texting. Instead, Neonode just uses the virtual dialpad as a way to type out text--meaning you can use the regular English T9 or just peck out the letters one by one. We understand the size of the N2 may be a deterrent to using a full keyboard, but it's just a little frustrating to have to use the touch-screen dial pad for texting. That said, both dialing and texting results in a vibrating or haptic feedback, so you do get tactile confirmation after pressing a key. Despite the cool factor of using finger swipes to navigate the phone, in the end, our experience with the NeoNode N2 was hampered with mishaps due to the steep learning curve.
Underneath the screen is the single square joystick, to be used as a supplement to the N2's touch-screen controls. It feels very stiff and is a bit difficult to move around, so much so that we still preferred to use the touch screen instead. On the left spine are the power button and volume rocker, both of which are a little on the skinny side. The charger slot is on the top, and the camera lens is on the back.
Though the NeoNode N2 is tiny, it still has quite a number of features under its belt. The N2 runs on Windows Mobile CE, but you wouldn't even realize it thanks to its customized user interface. It has a 1,000-contact phone book with room in each entry for nine numbers, three e-mail addresses, home address, birthday, company name and job title, and notes. You can save contacts in different caller groups, pair them with photos for caller ID, or one of four polyphonic MP3 ringtones. You can also set a contact as a favorite, which will result in them showing up in one of six squares in your address book for easy access. Basic features include a vibrate mode, a speaker phone, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calculator, a notepad, and a calendar. There's also a wireless Web browser and stereo Bluetooth. Voice-command support is missed.
The Neonode N2 comes with a music player, and it supports MP3, WMA, and WAV file formats. The music player interface is fairly generic, with the basic play, pause, fast track, and back track player controls. You can add and edit your own playlists, and of course there's repeat and shuffle mode. There's also a built-in video player, which has similar player controls and can play the MPG and WMV video formats. The N2 comes with a miniSD card slot in the back for additional media storage.
The N2 has a decent 2-megapixel camera, which can take photos in five resolutions (1,600x1,200; 768x576; 352x288; 320x240; and 176x144). Camera settings include white balance, brightness, color saturation, and low-light compensation. You can also toggle the click sound and vibrations on and off. Photo quality was all right, but nothing spectacular. Images looked sharp but a bit washed out. There is no built-in camcorder.
There aren't too many personalization options for the Neonode N2, since it needs to be connected to a U.S. carrier to download and purchase more graphics and alerts. However, you can load your own via the N2's own My Documents folder, and add your own custom ringtones if you wish. The only game the N2 comes with is Tetris.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Neonode N2 in San Francisco using T-Mobile's service. Call quality was very good--callers reported that we sounded as if we were calling from a landline. Similarly, we heard our callers loud and clear as well. Speaker phone quality did not fare as well--with muffled sounds and tinny voice quality, we often had to strain to hear our callers and vice versa. We paired the Neonode N2 with the Plantronics Voyager 855 headset without a problem.
Music quality on the N2 was actually fairly decent. Of course, we would recommend using the included earbuds for better sound quality. There was a good amount of melody and bass, and it's good enough for a quick music hit during a train commute or on the treadmill.
The N2 has a rated battery life of 4 hours of talk time and a standby time of 8.25 days. The N2 has a rated battery life of 4 hours of talk time and a standby time of 8.25 days. We were impressed with our tested talk time of 6 hours and 50 minutes.