Google’s new ‘superphone’, the Nexus One, has been the topic of many conversations since its release a day before CES began in January. Released subsidised in the US, and also available unlocked to the UK, Singapore and Hong Kong from Google directly or you can get it on contract with Vodafone UK, it comes packed with a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 512MB RAM and a 5MP camera (more on that later on).
Shipping and Initial Setup
The cost of the phone from Google is $529, although you’ll also have to consider international shipping costs of $29.65. DHL’s tracking service was great to have when biting my nails to see where my phone was, although it took an extra day to arrive after landing in the UK due to a shipping mix up – it was destined for Gatwick instead of Manchester, but I was just grateful that my Nexus One didn’t end up in Uganda…
As I was buying the phone without a contract, I deliberated on which network to opt for to use with the N1. I eventually decided to go for a SIM-only deal with 3 Mobile, offering unlimited texts, 300 minutes and unlimited data for £15 a month. There’s a Fair Usage Policy of 1GB data a month, but judging off my current usage, it should (just) be enough.
Because I’m using a 3 Mobile SIM card, the first thing I had to do was manually set up the APN settings for my network. This was a straight forward process, with the Access Point Names located in Settings > Wireless & Networks > Mobile Networks. With everything good to go, I wasted no time in getting everything set up the way I like it, and it’s been a wonderfully straight forward process so far.
The first thing you’ll notice when you first see the Nexus One is how sleek and lightweight the device is, even when compared to devices such as the iPhone 3GS. It feels sturdy in your hand, and is pleasant to hold and navigate. I was slightly cautious of this, because I’d never seen a Nexus One in person before purchasing, but it doesn’t disappoint aesthetically.
Despite this, I was, and still am, curious as to why Google saw a need for the inclusion of a trackball below the screen. I use the touch screen to navigate every aspect of the OS and never touch the trackball, although other people I’ve spoken to seem to appreciate its inclusion for those who may be new to the smartphone scene and still appreciate a physical navigation tool other than the touch screen.
The screen itself is one of the best I’ve seen on a mobile phone, with a 3.7” AMOLED display with a high resolution of 480×800 which puts the iPhone display to shame when compared side by side… It’s extremely sharp and the brightness reaches very impressive levels. Despite this, I struggled to see the phone clearly outdoors if I wasn’t at a high brightness level, so this should be taken in to account if you spend a lot of your time outdoors.
Directly below the screen are 4 illuminated softkeys: Back, Menu, Home and Search. These come in use a lot more than I thought they would on a mainly touchscreen based device, with all applications utilising the Menu function rather than an on screen menu. This is apparent across the board with Android phones, with devices such as Motorola’s Milestone (or Droid) sporting the same four button layout. It’s definitely a good thing to see standardisation across the board, which will hopefully be adopted in the future and make it easier for users to switch from one Android device to another.
Also packed in to the curved body of the Nexus One is a 4GB microSD as standard, which can be expanded to up to 32GB, 802.11n Wi-Fi and that 5MP camera I mentioned earlier. Although it protrudes slightly from the back of the device, the Nexus One maintains its flush appearance, with the LED flash sitting next to the camera. You’ll find a 2x digital zoom and geo-tagging with the help of the phone’s GPS receiver. The quality of photos taken on the Nexus One is certainly helped by the 5MP sensor, and sees a nice increase in quality when compared to other popular smartphones. Although some pictures may not be perfect, and taking a picture in daylight is difficult with the AMOLED display, it’s certainly noteworthy when looking at smartphone cameras.
There’s no doubt that HTC and Google have produced what is undoubtedly the best looking, and most powerful, Android device on the market today with the Nexus One. It has looks that rival that of the iPhone and a 1GHz chip to match. Although it has a few downfalls here and there, they are definitely overshadowed by the intricate design process that have resulted in a great looking device.
So what’s driving this great hardware? The Nexus One runs Android 2.1, which makes quite a few changes, giving you great performance and a sleeker GUI that’s easier to use and comes packed with attractive additions compared to previous versions of Android.
Navigation of the home screen has been improved greatly, with Google taking a lesson from HTC’s brilliant looking Sense UI and giving the user 5 home screens which can each house different widgets and application launchers. Notifications are accessed via the menu bar which drops down to reveal ongoing notifications, such as new email or messages.
The revamped home screen also includes some other tweaks: if you hold down the home screen dots at either side of the screen, you’re given an overview of everything running on each of your five home screens without having to scroll to one and see what it contains. Selecting the grid icon in the middle of the home screen presents you with a 3D scrolling application view.
These additions show how much progress Google have made in the short time since the initial release of Android, and shows off what the 1GHz chip inside the Nexus One is capable of. There are no performance issues, even when heavily multitasking, and I’ve noticed no lag when switching between applications and flicking through the home screens packed with widgets and shortcuts.
A major change has been applied to the Android’s Gallery application with the introduction of the Nexus One, with a vastly superior aesthetic quality compared to the somber look of the Gallery app found on previous Android versions. When you open the gallery, your photos appear in a stack like view, stacked on top of one another where you can take a look at different groups of your photos, expand a group or view them in a slideshow.
A feature I myself was rather excited to try out was the new voice-to-text feature you’ll find in Android 2.1. Not only does it allow you to use voice-to-text in specific text boxes, but everywhere you can enter text, you can dictate to the phone via an extra key added to the keyboard. Now don’t get me wrong, speaking your Zath Facebook updates has a rather geeky appeal, but it’s not a feature I find myself using regularly. Despite this, it’s certainly a nice touch and it’s surprisingly accurate when there’s little background noise to distract from what you’re saying.
Arguably the most influential buying decision for most when the Nexus One hits the UK is the native inclusion of multi-touch in both the browser and maps. Like the Milestone, this was rumoured to be included anyway in the European version of the phone, but to know it’s a feature you’ll definitely have is a decision changer. I for one am far more comfortable using pinch to zoom in the browser and maps over a double tap to zoom and pan after using the iPod Touch and iPhone for a considerable length of time.
We’ve been over the hardware and software of the Nexus One, and in my opinion it’s the best Android device available on the market. When the specs for the phone were first leaked in December and rumours spread about a Google Nexus One mobile phone, I wondered how such a device would utilise a 1GHz processor and 512MB RAM; after all, it is still a smartphone. After using the device for a few days now, the 1GHz chip in the Nexus One accompanied by a great OS that takes advantage of all the power available to it makes for the best smartphone experience I’ve encountered.
Coming from the iPhone OS, I’ve appreciated the level of customisation one can apply to Android. Where the iPhone OS is very restricted when it comes to customisation (unless you jailbreak your device), using Android is almost like an open door allowing you to do what you want and mould it in to the best device for you. There’s also a certain satisfaction in using my GameBoy and NES emulators, or remotely controlling P2P on my computer, and knowing that it would never hit the iPhone’s app store…
If you’re in the market for a new Android device now, you should look no further than the Google Nexus One as it’s without a doubt the best choice on the market. If you can wait a few months, you may be tempted to hold out for the HTC Desire, which is identical to the Nexus One specs wise, but comes with an optical sensor in place of the Nexus’ trackball.
What do you think? Is the Nexus One indeed an iPhone killer, or another over hyped smartphone in a saturated market? Let us know your thoughts on the “Google Phone” in the comments section below.