Google Nexus One £420
26th Jan 2010 | 11:45
Another HTC Android phone, but this one's direct from the search giant
Google Nexus One: Overview
Google has created hype around its own phone to rival Apple with its iPhone - and it has better specs on nearly every feature with the Nexus One. But is it enough to sway public opinion?
In an attempt to show itself as a mobile manufacturer in its own right, Google has released the Nexus One, a handset built by HTC but branded solely as a Google phone.
Despite some well-publicised problems with customer support and keypad malfunctions - neither of which became an issue during our testing process - the Nexus One is actually a stellar smartphone, easily the match of its peers.
Everyone likes to talk about the next 'iPhone killer' - in reality, Android OS phones are content with second place, beating competitors like Nokia, Palm, Windows Mobile and RIM's BlackBerry OS.
With Android, the hardware is also advancing, especially in terms of the touchscreen and the camera. For those wondering if they should just jump on the iPhone bandwagon, there are still a few annoying qualities about the Nexus One. It will not kill the iPhone, and here's why:
For starters, the Nexus One lacks some wizardry. For example, there's a split second pause when you turn the device to the side for landscape orientation, and you might even find yourself turning the phone a couple of times to get the accelerometer to kick in.
The keypad - while fully functional when we tested it for several days - is a bit imprecise on occasion. In fact, the Nexus One acts like some of the poorer touchscreens on offer at times, where the display is mostly responsive under the finger but lags occasionally.
There are also a few minor gripes that add up to a less-than-amazing experience. One is that the phone can get a bit greasy after extended use and even slip through your fingers. You'll smudge up the screen quickly.
Google also needs to think seriously about some of the power saving decisions on the Nexus One. Of course, you can configure when the screen blanks and when the phone goes into a sleep state, but the default options are impractical: to resume the phone, you have to press the power switch.
For those who are used to just touching the screen to resume, or pressing any other button, you might get frustrated quickly. Forcing you to use the power button is a design decision - it means you won't inadvertently make a phone call with the phone in your pocket. It's still a pain, however.
And then there is just the overall experience of using the Nexus One. In many ways, the Nexus One is a geek phone - there are a plethora of menu options for built-in apps and an exhaustive list of options under settings.
There are so many techie details to explore that new users might get confused by simple operations, such as how to archive an email. (You have to 'long press' and select Archive.)
Bottom line: even if Apple has no need to worry, the Nexus One is still the best Android phone available today.
Sure, it's easy to argue that the Motorola Milestone is more rugged and comes with a full QWERTY keypad, and that the Hero uses a specialised interface that you can use to suit your preferences. Still, as a basic summary, the Nexus One is thin, fast, has a great camera, and worked well as a primary business and consumer phone.
Google Nexus One: Design
The Nexus One (at 130g) weighs a full 39g less than the Motorola Milestone, but matches the screen size exactly at 3.7-inches - but that's probably mostly dropped by losing the keyboard.
Like the iPhone, the buttons on the outside of the device are sparse. There are two volume control buttons, a power button and a scrollwheel. There are no buttons on the right side of the phone or underneath. Topside, there is a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.
The scrollwheel is functional enough, although you might find yourself using the touchscreen more often. You can push the scrollwheel to select options on screen. We prefer the slightly more rugged scrollwheel on older BlackBerry devices - many of them have a texture that makes the wheel easier to use.
On the back of the Nexus One, where you'll see the rather large Google logo, there's a 5MP camera and a flash. This minimalist design gives the Nexus One a fresh, slim, and appealing look and feel.
The phone feels just about right in the hand, and no wonder: it is remarkably close in size to the Apple iPhone 3GS. As we mentioned, the Nexus One is perhaps a bit too thin and slippery for prolonged use.
On the surface of the phone, there are four buttons - and they are not only lit so you can see them in low light but use haptic feedback to register each press (they provide a slight buzz).
There's a back button, menu, home and search. For the most part, these touch sensitive zones are easy to find and use, but if you press near the bottom of the button, your press will not register.
Over time, you learn to hit the top of the button to make sure you don't have to press a few times to get it to work right. The haptics are helpful at times, if somewhat annoying on repeated use.
The Nexus One is not cheap. In the US the phone costs $529 without a contract or $179 with T-Mobile service, and it will be coming to Vodafone in the UK in the next few weeks, likely with a price tag around £350 - £400, but only via Google's dedicated phone portal.
One of the greatest strengths of this phone is the Qualcomm QSD 8250 1GHz processor, which runs lightning fast for games, apps, media and just about any task.
There are times when the phone hangs or pauses, but that is somewhat expected with the new Android OS. Another perk: the wallpapers are animated - we especially liked the one with the intersecting Tron lines.
In the box
The Nexus One ships in a white box with a curiously familiar 'jewellery box' compartmental design, cocking more than a snook to another big-hitting phone on the market.
There's a USB cable, earbuds, charger, a slim manual and the 119-mm tall device. The shape and size is definitely similar to the iPhone, without the thick and rugged feel of the Milestone or the more diminutive feel of the HTC Magic or HTC Tattoo phones.
Google Nexus One: Interface
Android was designed from the beginning to operate well as a touchscreen operating system. Like the HTC Magic and many other Android-powered models, the Nexus One is a powerful touch device.
It's easy to swipe through photos in the Gallery app, long-press on emails and click to start apps. The 800x480 pixels screen is bright and clear at a 100,000:1 contrast ratio and mostly operates quickly - faster than the HTC Magic and Milestone.
The main issue here is that it is not always perfectly consistent. The touchscreen is usually smooth, but there were times when the phone did not register an input or there was a slight pause.
Also, the touchscreen does not respond to gestures - it's not multi-touch (in the US, although we're hoping it might be in the UK), so you can can't zoom in elegantly on the screen (although you can press to zoom in).
NAVIGATION: You can swipe through photos with ease. The interface for photos even moves when you shake and shift the phone around
HOME SCREEN: The main screen for the Nexus One takes full advantage of the expansive, bright and clear 3.7-inch screen
Google Nexus One: Calls
Since there is no call button on the Nexus One, to dial a number you have to start the Phone app and use the keypad, click on a phone number and dial, or open a contact and place a call that way.
We're not big fans of a dedicated call button because phone conversations have become just one of the functions we do on smartphones - in addition to browsing the web, running apps, listening to music and taking photos.
CALLING: Phone dialing on the Nexus One is easy, although selecting the audio source can be a bit confusing at times
This means it's a four-step process to make a phone call on the Nexus One: press the power button, slide to unlock, start the Phone app, and dial the number or select a contact.
This is a bit cumbersome, but advanced users will find a work-around - such as using a BlueAnt Bluetooth adaptor with voice-controlled calling. In tests, the Nexus One worked well with both BlueAnt and Plantronics headsets.
Like every other Android phone, managing calls is extremely easy. There are obvious buttons for putting a call on speakerphone, muting and even adding another caller.
The only minor complaint here is that the iPhone does a better job of making it easy to select the audio source (say, speaker or Bluetooth headset). This is where the geeky nature of Android phones comes into play - you usually find advanced functions in a sub-menu.
Being that this is a Google branded phone, the Nexus One has no restrictions about which apps come pre-installed, so the company had no problems including the Google Voice app, which is still conspicuously missing from the iPhone.
In truth, this app is not exactly indispensable. It shows you which voicemails you have available, and you can use Google Voice to make your phone calls. (This still uses your carrier minutes, it just means that you have access to Google Voice commands and use your Google Voice phone number.)
We'd prefer an app that worked a lot more like Skype and features in-service calling between Google Voice users and at least had a rudimentary calling keypad.
VOICE APP: Google includes the Voice app by default, but it is a bit clunky to use
Google Nexus One: Messaging
Once again, Google has tied the Nexus One into the Gmail service rather efficiently - you are prompted to add your email address right when you turn on the phone (or add a Gmail account).
The Gmail client is very easy to use and refreshes quickly with new messages when they arrive. You can also configure the more generic email app for POP mail messages and benefit from the same ease-of-use features.
Like the Motorola Milestone, you can also add Facebook contacts to the Nexus One, which you will see either en masse in the contacts list or only when they are tied to a Gmail contact (based on a selection you make during the contacts import process).
The Nexus One is not quite as powerful as the Palm webOS range when it comes to messaging contacts, however - the Pixi, for example, supports Yahoo contacts. For text messages, the Nexus One is also powerful enough but does not stray from the basic Android formula.
There is one simple screen that shows text messages, and you can venture into the settings screen to configured advanced functions - such as how many messages are shown. The iPhone uses a more colourful interface for text messaging, however.
One clever way to use messaging: Google has added a microphone in the keypad that you can use to dictate text. It works for searches, web URLs and so on as well, but it is only about as accurate as the Google Voice transcription, which is to say: not that accurate.
MESSAGING: The Nexus One does not add any new twists to messaging, but sticks to the basic Android dogma
Google Nexus One: Internet
It might have something to do with how Google is more familiar with the Nexus One hardware, or just the fact that the phone is stripped of superfluous software (such as the HTC Sense interface), but the browser on this model runs exceptionally fast.
We tested several feature-rich sites, such as Facebook.com and the sites loaded very quickly (as long as Flash was not used, which is not supported on the Nexus One). In a side-by-side comparison between the Motorola Milestone, iPhone 3GS and the Nexus One, the Google.com home page came up just a fraction faster on the Nexus One. Granted, it is a sparse site, but also a good test of figuring out the domain and loading the minimal graphics as fast as possible.
WEB SURFING: Google.com came up faster on this phone than any other model we've tested, including the iPhone 3GS
Google Nexus One: Camera
Google has made some dramatic improvements to the camera features in Android, and the Nexus One takes full advantage of them with its 5MP camera. For starters, shots just looked clean and clear, matching the results of an entry-level digital cam.
The Motorola Milestone, being a heavier and more rugged device, might work better for photography as you can keep the device steady during a photo. The Nexus One is lighter and thinner, so it is a bit harder to get a firm grasp on the phone for a photo. Having said that, pictures were not fuzzy or distorted.
There is a zoom, and the flash can be set for automatic. Oddly, the camera stopped working after using the phone for a few hours. We rebooted the phone and the camera app started working again just fine.
The camera app also lets you select a colour effect (part of the Android 2.0 upgrade), such as solarised or sepia, to add some flare to images, but it is more of a gimmicky feature you might use once or twice. Once you snap photos, you can upload them to services like Facebook or Picasa, or send by email. You can also upload videos to YouTube.
PICTURE OPTIONS: Pictures on the 5-megapixel camera looked sharp and colourful, with plenty of options for white balance and zoom
IN FOCUS: Close up shots on the Google Nexus One show clearly, although some detail is lost
SOLARISE: This option in the camera is a nice touch, although may be a little redundant for day-to-day photography
NICE CONTRAST: The Google Nexus One handles contrast well, picking out the light and detail here against the bleak background
Google Nexus One: Media
One problem the Android OS has is that it's still massively inferior to the iPhone and other devices when it comes to media.
There is no obvious program on the desktop that you can use to manage music and movies and then sync over to the device, nor purchase movies from the phone itself.
You can use the Amazon MP3 service to buy tracks, and the selection is pretty good - far beyond just the hit songs. Once you load media onto the device - by connecting the USB cable and dropping files into folders - the Nexus One handles most of the popular formats including AAC, MP3, WAV, H.264 and MPEG-4.
Like most Android devices, the Nexus One supports YouTube videos and you can shoot your own video clips in 720x480 resolution, at a minimum of 20fps - smooth enough for most personal shooting.
We tested a Google Nexus One with 4GB of storage (or enough for a movie and a large music collection) but you can add a microSD up to 32GB of space, although we'd bet most people would be satisfied with the in-box storage offered by Google and HTC.
GALLERY: Videos are easy to find - here, we shot movies using the camera and they showed up in the Gallery app
Google Nexus One: Battery life and other features
Of course, this depends greatly on how you are using the device; if you have Bluetooth and wireless enabled, and if you have set the brightness at full power, then the battery will obviously get eaten up far more quickly.
For the most part, the Nexus One lasts about the same time as most Android phones, which isn't great as Google still needs to up its game in this department. Of course, the battery is removable so you could carry a spare or two and have the phone last for a few days time - but we doubt many people will ever manage to be THAT organised.
Being an Android phone, there are some great tie-ins to the cloud - for scheduling using Google Calendar (which is configured for you automatically when you enter your Gmail account), and for managing contacts that you import from Facebook or Google.
The Nexus One provides wireless and Bluetooth connection options, and they work the same as other Android handsets without any new features or radical departures. We had no trouble testing several Bluetooth headsets, or connecting to a variety of wireless routers and hotspots.
Google Nexus One: Hands-on gallery
Google Nexus One: Official photography
Google Nexus One: Verdict
The uphill battle for any Android device is not whether it can outclass Windows Mobile, or work more intuitively than a Nokia phone running Symbian, or even compete with the Palm Pre (which has its own set of challenges finding an audience).
And there isn't even a battle for the business market, which is practically owned by BlackBerry devices.
Instead, the comparison always comes back to the Apple iPhone - is the Nexus One the best smartphone on the market, and if it is not, how far back from the number one device does it fall?
Slim, stylish and full-featured, the Nexus One feels almost exactly like an iPhone in your hand. The 5-megapixel camera is a major upgrade from the early days of washed-out photos and choppy videos and elements like the responsive touchscreen and Facebook contact imports are a real boon.
The Nexus One will get slippery after a day of use; it lacks the special coating that makes the iPhone less grime-covered.
There were also a few times we tilted the phone and it failed to go into landscape mode, and we pressed an icon or button and the touchscreen did not register our click.
Some reports - which we did not experience on our review device - suggest problems with the keypad and with getting customer support for the phone, which is inevitable when you have a new carrier model with the Google phone shop.
We think Apple should not be too alarmed. The Nexus One is a great phone, easily one of the best Android models we've used. There are thousands of apps available, the touchscreen is smooth and fluid - but the reality is that the overall experience has a few low points.
There are times when the Nexus One reveals itself as less than perfect, especially when an app that has worked fine (like the one for the camera) suddenly won't start any more.
There were also a few times when the tilt function didn't function correctly, or when a finger press failed to register. These are minor issues, really - but issues the iPhone does not have, and as such it's not going to be the iSlayer that we were almost starting to expect.