Nexus One Review

I was lucky enough to receive one of the first waves of Nexus One’s (N1) from Google’s direct online shop. Before I go on, the shopping experience was a little too slick IMHO. I signed in with my Gmail account, clicked buy, clicked confirm and it was shi…

I was lucky enough to receive one of the first waves of Nexus One’s (N1) from Google’s direct online shop. Before I go on, the shopping experience was a little too slick IMHO. I signed in with my Gmail account, clicked buy, clicked confirm and it was shipping, if you’ve used Google Checkout before they will likely have your card details and address. You do have 15 mins to cancel the order though. When you see Google’s ever growing list of properties getting together you can see why they are so immensely disruptive.

So the Nexus One, possibly erroneously construed as the “Google Phone”, when in reality Google have already sold two Android dev phones. The N1 is more like the first of many in a Google Phone shop, which if you ask me is pretty much like Phones 4 U. A way of purchasing a sim-free or network contracted phone from a broker.

I was a little hesitant about this phone, it was invariably going to be compared to the iPhone due to the way it was positioned, the capabilities, the Android market and the form factor (albeit slimmer). So with that on with the review…

Nexus One

Hardware

It has the usual “superphone” (more on that another time) credentials; a large capacitive touchscreen (albeit a much improved OLED), sensors galore, but the most standout feature is probably the 1GHz Snapdragon CPU. It’s a huge risk to put such a beast in a small device with current battery technology. This thing has the potential to drink a lithium ion like a student with a beer bong. The Acer A1 (which I had very briefly) suffers from this, it just cannot tame the CPU to satisfy the tiny battery. It’s not just the CPU burning through electrons, Android itself is architected to be a multi-tasking, never-quit-an-app OS. But I’m pleased to say N1 deals with this well without resorting to task-killer apps. The battery is large enough (but if a 2000mAh came out of course I’d get it), and it managed memory hyper effectively through Android 2.1 and a couple of power management chips on the motherboard.

It’s fair to continue to make comparisons to the iPhone 3GS, there are a few things the iPhone wins out on, which considering it’s an older device is still encouraging, but on the whole the N1 is equally polished, with a super hard yet soft to the touch Teflon coating, it’s what the iPhone might look like if aesthetics weren’t so highly weighted in the design (that’s not a dig, it’s a design philosphy that makes Apple products so desirable). Every lesson and trick learned from building and using the iPhone has been considered by HTC.

The N1 comes with 512Mb of RAM (yep!), but only 4Gb of space on the SD card in order to reduce the purchase cost. The point it it’s a removable micro-SD card, these things already cost peanuts, come in up to 32Gb (for the iPhone comparison), and will continue to fall in price as the sizes go up this year.

The camera is a good 5MP shooter, with intelligent focus, LED flash, and a good lense. I think the one to look out for in this department will be the Sony Ericsson X10, which has all their camera know-how surrounding an 8MP ready to blitz the competition. Without going onto talking about Android itself just yet, suffice to say your immediate sharing options are impressive.

There are plenty of little touches which make it pleasant to use. The myriad sensors; proximity to dim the screen and prevent accidental touches, compass to support immersive augmented reality, trackball which if you ask me provides that essential accuracy required for some tasks which touch-screens can really let you down on, and doubles up as a tri-color indicator for notifications. The combination of these sensors and powerful CPU really starts to make sense when you try applications like Google Goggles. This is a visual search app, you point the camera, shoot, it scans the image for text and details, and will recognise and bring up results for books, barcodes, media, paintings, scan business cards and plenty more. The thing is, it’s so fast, the scan takes several seconds on the Acer, on the N1 it does it in one swipe, and on the N1 it also adjusts the flash brighter and dimmer until it gets a good image.

I had heard of it’s secondary mic, used for noise cancellation, but I didn’t expect to have someone remark on the quality of the call the first time I made one, comparable to a good quality land-line.

Software

Perhaps a killer feature of Android is Google’s role on the net. If you are a Google user, you will get a shockingly good setup experience. I entered my email address and password, it downloaded my calendars, gmail, contacts (with photos and maps) and that was it, setup was 1 click. Even more scary, it also populated my Gallery with live images from my Picasa account, which I use as a backup for Flickr, but I may switch over now.

Android is through and through a web OS. You really get a feeling for interconnectivity between apps and services on Android. Not only does it allow developers to write any app they desire with no approval required, you can write background services, fullscreen apps, widgets or live wallpapers. The OS itself it built on top of a system of notifications and intents that allow these things to communicate and interact in a secure manner. So when you open a photo you get sharing options for all the apps that registered as such, Picasa, Flickr, Email, SMS, from built-in to 3rd party and back again.

For the developers reading this, you can write in Java (optionally using XML layouts), Webkit (HTML/JS/CSS) or native C using the ADT plugin for Eclipse and supplied emulator. However the way it has been built allows you to leverage all the layers below, so you can write an app in JavaScript using Webkit, and embed a Java or native C class exposed as a javascript function, for real number crunching power.

The OS itself is responsive and polished, but it doesn’t do anything to sacrifice what is so important in devices you rely on when you need something done fast, devices such as phones and cars. When designing a touch-screen devices it’s easy to lose speed and efficiency amongst gloss and animation, that’s why the N1 has a Car Home app that provides instant voice enabled access to navigation, search and calling (I’ve heard this app can be launched whenever you put it in a car docking cradle). On top of that every text input is voice enabled, you can speak your search input or SMS messages. This can be a complete joke on some devices, but Google does this on a server, a server that has been learning from millions of Google Voice transcripts the last couple of years, this makes it very accurate indeed.

App-Store vs. Android Market

I can’t believe those professional journalists saying that there’s no competition because the App-Store has ~120k apps, and Android Market only has ~20k… Surely that’s a given because of how long these devices have been out, the Android Market targets a much much wider range of devices from several manufacturers from phones to tablets and TVs, and dare I say a great deal more potential customers than the App-Store. It’s just a matter of months.

The purchase experience is definitely better than the App-Store in 2.1. The Market app (screenshot) itself is much like the App-Store app, full-screen image previews, top free/paid, and purchase is a single click with instant download and install. Apple have the edge on how it looks, but with Market you can purchase a paid app and refund it within 24 hours, this gets around approval/testing because if it doesn’t work on a brand new handset yet you can just refund it, it also means you don’t always need a trial version (however that can be a good marketing technique).

You can of course also purchase direct from developers because you do not have to use Google’s own Market, or you can use some 3rd party markets that have sprung up, in particular for adult content.

So that’s it, a pretty positive review so far. I’ll update if anything changes. HTC are one to watch in 2010 that’s a given. Something that I’ve taken away from this is that we are finally getting to where us mobile-fanatics have been wanting to get to for some time. That was the promise that your mobile would be your primary device, not your laptop or desktop. IMHO, laptops and desktops will be the exclusive domain of software developers.

1 thought on “Nexus One Review”

  1. 23 comments restored after server database corruption:

    James said on : 10/01/10 @ 15:34

    Fantastic little review Richard, thanks. I’m a 3GS owner but the geek in me is very tempted to get one of these ordered. Always liked the idea of android; with the N1 feels like it’s starting to come into its own.

    Few questions if poss – can you confirm whether or not there’s multitouch on the google apps on the imported phone? Guessing not..in which case do you think it’ll be enabled on a SIM free N1 bought in a a few months time for the ‘proper’ uk google.com/phone store? Of course, sure the community will get it working on all rooted US N1’s before long..

    And finally, did you pay VAT and import duty taxes? There’s lots of reports of DHL not taking any money upon delivery..in which case, how are those taxes paid?

    Richard Leggett® said on : 10/01/10 @ 16:07

    Hi James,

    Thanks! I can confirm as expected this is the U.S. model/firmware, so the built in Google maps/browser do not have multitouch enabled (Apple patents?), but I think the general consensus is that it will be enabled in an OTA or downloadable update outside of the U.S., however I don’t know anything for sure regarding that, just what I’ve heard. Either way the hardware, the 2.X SDK and third party apps all support multi-touch no problem.

    Links:

    http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/07/surprise-surprise-htcs-euro-spec-nexus-one-does-multitouch/

    http://developer.android.com/reference/android/view/MotionEvent.html

    Added to that I’ve heard there is already a multi-touch enabled ROM floating round if all else fails.

    VAT was added but I don’t remember there being an import duty unless it was rolled into shipping (USD 29.65).

    If you are a 3GS owner I probably wouldn’t bother changing to this unless it’s Android you are after or you’re a developer, the phone itself isn’t going to offer much of a different experience, except maybe music sync (however iTunes Agent lets you sync your Android phone with iTunes). The built-in Amazon MP3 app is pretty fantastic, it’s cheaper than iTunes and downloads straight to the handset in non-DRM MP3.

    Stefan Richter said on : 10/01/10 @ 19:08

    Nice. I think I’ll hang in there for one of these.
    Is the 10.1 Flash Player for Android still under wraps or do you have/will have a chance to test that soon? Any Flash support right now on there?

    Richard Leggett® said on : 10/01/10 @ 19:32

    I’m afraid it’s still missing but Adobe released that video on launch day so let’s hope it’s not far off 🙂

    Rajat Chugh said on : 10/01/10 @ 20:46

    Hie.. I had seen Google nexus before its launch.
    How come..??
    Google offered this nexus one phone to head off all departments members. ( Advertising , Developer , Managment , Sales , Marketing ) and later he came up with the views off all those people. And Later .. google … you can continue reading about the full story over the following link
    http://breakingnewstime.com/?p=16

    David P. said on : 11/01/10 @ 04:13

    Indeed, a very detailed description of the device. After checking out the handset myself, I couldn’t help but feel as if there was nothing special about this mobile phone. I am not sure if it’s because I was expecting more from the search engine giant or all the hype build up before it was released, but I don’t see this as a game changer. I do see Google stamping their name on a Nexus 2 which hopefully will be a bit more innovative then its predecessor sometime fourth quarter of this year, but only time will tell!

    steve said on : 11/01/10 @ 12:54

    does the phone need to be connected to the web via 3G or wifi for the voice commands to work? if i am offline, can i still use the voice commands to create text messages or whatever else?

    thanks.

    Richard Leggett® said on : 11/01/10 @ 13:02

    It works when you have a network connection (including 2G only), I don’t think there’s anything you could use it for without a connection (sending messages etc), so this seems to work fine.

    steve said on : 11/01/10 @ 13:05

    thanks richard. how does it work on 2G? basically it needs to contact a google server, is that what you are saying?

    i live overseas and there is wifi all over the place here, making data plans unnecessary for me. obviously i don’t get access to the internet on my phone while in the car – so if i understand you i would not be able to use voice to text while in my car – is that correct?

    thx

    Richard Leggett® said on : 11/01/10 @ 13:07

    I think that’s how it works, it’s quite hard to simulate those conditions here, Wifi should be used over network data when the screen is on, however the default behaviour is to use 3G again when the screen is off (unless you set it to never sleep Wifi).

    steve said on : 11/01/10 @ 13:09

    i have a nokia e71 now. with that i have it set to always ask me if it tries to connect, so that i never uses my carrier’s 3G network without asking (no data plan so i would be charged by the minute) and same for wifi so that it does not come on and stay on without my knowing and kill the battery.

    would i be able to do the same on the N1?

    Richard Leggett® said on : 11/01/10 @ 13:11

    Hmm I haven’t seen an option like that, but maybe you’ll find something of use in the manual:

    http://www.google.com/googlephone/nexusone-userguide.pdf

    steve said on : 11/01/10 @ 13:27

    thanks. i checked.

    i can turn wifi on and off so no problem there.

    it seems i can also set the phone to limit data connections to 2G only (page 63). BUT, does that mean the phone will automatically use my 2G network to sync things, or use voice to text, or anything else? can these things happen on 2G (albeit much slower)?

    i don’t want any data going to and fro unless i specifically ask for it.

    thanks.

    Richard Leggett® said on : 11/01/10 @ 13:28

    quite likely, but you can turn off syncing/background data also, install the power widget and these are all a one click action from the home screen.

    steve said on : 11/01/10 @ 13:34

    thanks richard. just say page 111 in the manual to turn off all background syncing. i think this is back on my radar. i was looking at this and nokia E72. differents beasts, i know. i use mostly messaging and texting, need good quality phone, and probably 30 minutes internet surfing/checking emails per day, although some days can be an hour or two. the E71 served me well but i always wanted a bigger screen (even though the E72 screen was not a deal breaker).

    but there seems to be a lot of bugs with E72 so i keep trying to justify the N1.

    Richard Leggett® said on : 11/01/10 @ 13:36

    I also had the E71. Typing is not likely to be as fast on one of these, maybe wait till the supposed keyboard model comes out? The E71 was phenomenal but the browser can’t really handle sites properly nowadays and OVI store is really lacking.

    steve said on : 11/01/10 @ 13:42

    thanks richard. i gave my E71 to my wife so waiting not an option. i was pretty quick on the E71 but not lighting quick so i probably wouldn’t notice the difference.

    i’m in asia so it’s time to go. thanks for your guidance.

    Michael Kaufman said on : 11/01/10 @ 20:31

    Hi Rich,
    Thanks for the great review; I respect yours more than just about anyone on the planet, really. I’m curious, how are you developing for the Android stack if you can share? Have you been using Java? Taking advantage of Dalvic’s performance gains over web based apps? The Google Developer videos make it look like web apps are pretty slow comparatively. I’m wondering, as a budding Android developer – which avenue I should take, dalvic, flash, html5/css3 ?? Perhaps you have the 2.1 API(?), but it seems a bit hypocritical that Google is holding onto the 2.1 API for now – maybe this is this so Google’s own apps take hold and get some traction? Things seem so anti-trust topsy-turvy to me right now. We have the iTunes store tracking their site stats with Adobe Omniture – not that Adobe knowing about Apple is a big deal but there is no Google Search tool I know of for apps in general (I mean a dedicated google portal to search Apps for any phone) so Google has tremendous insight into Apple’s iPhone and all app searches – outside of iTunes, obviously. But Google is not evil and I’m sure they are not peeking into app search stats for self-serving purposes 😉 In other words, I see an anti-trust battle of potentially gigantic proportions brewing (no pun intended). The simple fact that Google owns a search engine people will use to find something they now sell competitively seems like a slightly unfair advantage that some lawyer somewhere must be taking note of rubbing his/her hands w/ evil grin and dollar signs in the eyes. Lastly, I’ve always wondered what happened to all the dark fiber Google snagged up in 2006. In the US/Europe we have tens if not hundreds of millions of people paying for broadband at home and an equally large bill for roaming broadband. How far off is software and/or hardware that lets people tap into their home broadband while roaming so we cut our bandwidth bill in half? It would be a crushing blow to telcos if Google decided to jump into the half trillion dollar broadband access or wi-max game, no? Do you know if we’ll be able to tap into the N1’s low level wi-fi APIs? Thanks!

    ps. please don’t look at my site and its ridiculously old code that my email signature points to – yikes I gotta fix that.

    Richard Leggett® said on : 11/01/10 @ 20:47

    Hi Michael, you flatter me, thanks!

    I’m just starting out, but I’m in at the deep end, using Java, specifically with OpenGL ES 1.1 code. These devices are fast but with something like a game you can do with all the speed you can squeeze, I’ll be very interested to run some Flash perf tests when available.

    I haven’t heard about the 2.1SDK being out just yet, but really that’s fine, I’m targeting 1.5, maybe 1.6, there are plenty of devices out there running these, and there’s not much more you can do with the later builds, also the 2.X devices will run apps built for 1.X so it’s a good move for now. I’d like to recommend the Rokon (2D game) engine which handles some device inconsistency for you, such as different screen dimensions. For apps the SDK is pretty easy to use out of the box, certainly easier than getting into iPhone dev (which I have delved into), especially the syntax which is an easy step from AS3.

    As for WiFi APIs, I’m not sure, but it doesn’t seem like much has been locked down so far. Google make such big waves, I was reading the other day they bought a power station, presumably to fuel conspiracy theories with 😉

    Rajat Chugh said on : 11/01/10 @ 23:34

    http://breakingnewstime.com/?p=29

    Now Nexus one reported as a Big Issue there are 3G complaints related problems over Google’s public forum and hundreds of complaints is been registered u can read more about it over the following link…

    Richard Leggett® said on : 11/01/10 @ 23:57

    In response to your comment, 2.1 SDK is released:

    http://phandroid.com/2010/01/11/android-2-1-sdk-released/

    adam said on : 19/01/10 @ 21:47

    i read about some technical issues on nexus one… is it recommended to wait or is it alright to buy one now?

    Richard Leggett® said on : 19/01/10 @ 22:15

    I’ve heard of them, something to do with 3G, but I’ve had 3G reception almost 100% of the time in the UK so I can’t comment on any problems.

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