I am happy to announce that I am a brand new owner of a shining, new Google Nexus One. I will admit that at first there were some pitfalls that had me questioning whether or not I would be keeping the phone. The fait of heart should be warned, the Nexus One is a cutting edge phone with definite setbacks in its design, much like the original iPhone. There are some sacrifices that come with being an early adopter, but thankfully this has been significantly less painful than my transition to Windows XP was in 2001.
For those who may not be in the know, the Nexus One is the latest and most advanced in a line of mobile phones coined Android Phones for the software that they are based on. The Nexus One ships with Android 2.1-update1 (Codename Eclair) which is jam-packed with some excellent interface enhancements over previous version of the Android Operating System. The phone ships with a handful of useful Applications from Google, including (but not limited to) Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Voice, and Google Talk. However, perhaps the most attractive feature that the Nexus One has over the iPhone is the fact that you can truly customize the phone and make it your own. And, if you wish to void the warranty, you can root the phone (equivalent to jailbreaking in iPhone) and install customized versions of Android on there. Android has really poised itself to be an “open platform” in the sense that anyone can contribute and modify it.
There’s a lot of ground to cover in relation to the Nexus One, and I’m going to try to give it the time it deserves to accurately explain what I loved, and what I’ve been disappointed in since I got the phone. My hope is that if you are an average guy that you’ll get an accurate image of what the Nexus One is like for another average guy (not someone paid to review the phone, but someone actually using it on a day-to-day basis), and if you are one of the illustrious Google employees who are responsible for following the new trends on the internet about their products (yes, I know you guys exist) that you will echo the concerns that I present back to the Nexus One team. There is a lot of room for improvement here. More after the jump.
So, in order to do a proper evaluation of the Nexus One I have created a rubric of sorts to evaluate the phone in relation to other phones that I’ve enjoyed in the past, and to get an idea of how it shakes up to those. The areas I will be evaluating are the following: physical design, operating system and interfaces, phone functionality, messaging functionality, internet and email, and finally the applications (both prestocked and available from the marketplace). So, let’s get the ball rolling…
The Physical design of this phone is the first thing that most people will notice. One of Google’s biggest claims about this phone is that it is thinner than a #2 pencil. That’s not far off. The phone is well designed, and dare I say it – sexy. I’ve found that it fits very comfortably in my hand when I’m talking on it and I don’t find myself constantly having to change my grip for fear of dropping it while I’m talking.
One of the biggest thing that most people will notice is the absence of Call and End buttons on the front of the phone. Instead, this functionality has been incorporated onto the touchscreen interface – which I think looks pretty sleek. The call screen has your end button in the bottom center of the screen, and it’s pretty big too. To the left of the end button is your “Add Call” button (to start a confrence call) and your “Dialpad” button to access the keypad on screen (for interacting with different services that require you to key something in).
The Operating System on the Nexus One is one of those things that you know has to be cool from the second you first see the boot up animation.
The Google Nexus One sports the Android 2.1 Operating System (Codename Eclair), which is the latest-and-greatest in the Android family. Mine actually shipped with 2.1-update1, so if you have a Nexus One and haven’t gotten the upgrade, then I recommend doing so. They’ve rolled out some nice features like multi-touch (that actually got them sued by Apple ha!). Android 2.1 sports these awesome things called “Live Wallpapers” that will change based on input from the user, the time of day, or will just move on their own. They are pretty cool. In addition, the “All Applications” screen has a slick 3-D cube effect going on that’s pretty awesome.
One of the biggest reasons to get a smartphone is the ability to see your text messages as threads of conversation as opposed to just individual messages. I’ve met several people who cited this functionality as a major selling point on the iPhone. So, I was pleased to see that this has been implemented in the Android Operating System. The messaging interface is pretty slick, even going so far as to display your contact’s facebook and twitter statuses by their name (if you have applications installed). Additionally, the messaging application has some pretty cool looking emoticons that will be placed in place of “:-)” and other text emoticons.
However, the best feature that’s present in Android 2.1 are the voice features. The on-screen keyboard features a microphone icon that you can click to speak what you wanted to type. The OS takes the audio sample, uploads it to google for transcription, and goes from there. In addition, you can hold down the search softkey on any screen and access the built-in voice commands (something that iPhone users won’t be foreign to). So far, the only one I’ve been able to get work is “Call So-and-so” – but I know there have got to be more coming down the pipe in Android 2.2.
Other than these added features, it’s pretty much a stock version of Android. You get multi-tasking by holding the home button, all of the status notifications appear at the top (which you can pull down by dragging), you have five desktops to play with, and you have most of the standard apps plus some stuff that google throws in there for fun by default (GMail, GCal, etc). Overall, this operating system is a winner.
I feel that the phone quality on the Nexus One is pretty excellent. The phone gets decent reception and the quality that you hear from the other side is superior than some other phones I’ve tried. But it’s not perfect (see below).
The biggest of the bells and whistles that the physical section of the phone sports is the background noise canceling. You see, the Nexus One has two microphones on it, one close to your mouth and one on the opposite side of the phone. Using data from these two directions, the audio processor in the Nexus One can filter out background noise. From what I gather to people who I’ve talked to on my phone, it works pretty well.
So, this is all well and good, but no phone is perfect. In fact the Nexus One is far from it. While it sports a sleek physical design that for the most part is well thought out, the one section that I deduct points from is the volume of the earpeace. It’s almost a joke, really, because while you’re walking down a noisy street the person on the other end can hear only you…. but you can hear only the noise around you. Does anyone else find that ironic? Point is, HTC and Google need to fix this problem, but I don’t think they have any intention to. It has become common knowledge that the Nexus One has this problem which is probably why the sales have been limited.
One of the biggest concerns that I’ve had about the possibility of switching to the Android Operation System was the availability of Applications. Possibly the biggest advantage that the Apple iPhone will have over any smartphone in the market will be the fact that it has been around longer and has had, at least to begin with, a much more public face than Android has. Now, don’t get me wrong, particular phones like the Motorola Droid have had a very public face, but these are not the same thing as the Android Operating System. However, I’m pleased to report that I’ve found the Android Market a plentiful resource for all the applications I’ve needed. The Android Market is responsive, and easy to search through. I enjoy it.
One complaint I do have is the lack of a halfway decent Facebook application. All of the ones for Android either don’t work – or have a substandard feature set – which is unacceptable. I certainly hope to see improvement for this app soon.
For a lack of anything else to say, I will say I am extremely pleased with my purchase, and excited to see what’s coming in the next version of Android, codenamed “Froyo”. I might try to get around to writing a blog post about it to cover what I think of the new features when it comes out. I certainly hope that this has been a helpful summary of what the Nexus One brings to the table, and please feel free to comment with questions or shoot me an email using my contact form.