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…
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 is 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.
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.
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.