Google Nexus One Is a Fine Smartphone Hurt by Iffy Voice Input

Review: Google's Android 2.1-based Nexus One smartphone offers lots of eye candy and fine features. However, the promising voice-to-text input feature keeps the mobile device from getting a great grade. Calls are fine, as are text and voice mail features, but the phone's vacillation between T-Mobile's EDGE and 3G networks was annoying. Once the service problems and experimental software snafus such as with networked voice recognition are worked out, the Nexus One line could be excellent.

I've been using the HTC-built Nexus One smartphone for two days and concluded that this is easily the best Android device on the market.

I did not attend the Jan. 5 Nexus One launch event at Google's headquarters, but Google was kind enough to send me a loaner device.

This device was serviced by T-Mobile and carried a 4GB SD memory card. Readers can see my unboxing and set-up pictures here.

Let's start with how it felt in the hand. It was perfect. The Nexus One is thin, only 11.5 millimeters, and shorter than most writing implements.

It makes the Droid seem clunky by comparison, which makes sense when you consider that the Droid weighs 6 ounces to the Nexus One's leaner 4.6.

However, I liked the way the Droid looked in my hand, even if it was a bit square and dark. The back and some of the front of the Teflon-coated Nexus One is a drab gray, except for the screen, which is gorgeous.

The Nexus One's screen size is the same as that of the Droid-3.7 inches diagonally-but the widescreen WVGA AMOLED (800 by 480 pixels) display is crisp and bright. Not since I hooked up my Toshiba LCD with high-definition video for Christmas have I seen such a beautiful screen. Not only that, but the Live Wallpapers made the device seem alive, with vibrant colors and scenes pulsing.

Calls and text messages made from the Nexus One were fine, with active noise cancellation to chisel out background noise being a major strength. I can commiserate with the hundreds of complainants who noted that the service flipped back and forth from 3G to the EDGE (Enhanced Data for Global Evolution) network. One thing you need in any phone is consistency in wireless coverage. It's not to be found here, so let me focus on what I liked about the device and applications when it worked.

The processing speed from the 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor was impressive-it's definitely a notch faster than the Droid and the iPhone 3GS. Coupled with the great new Android 2.1 operating system, the processor quickly answered search queries, whether for pizza, local bike shops, bakeries or movie times. Battery life was excellent; fully charged, the device lasted about 9 hours, with regular use of calling and other applications.

Google applications such as Gmail and Google Voice worked well on this device. The facility of the latter is a big deal given Google's grand plans for Google Voice.

The 5-megapixel camera is complete with auto-focus and flash, and video features on the phone are similar to those on the Droid and other Android devices, but there was none of the stickiness that plagued picture-taking on the Droid when it suffered an auto-focus bug.

There are five screens, two of which were devoid of apps or widgets. This allowed me to easily long-press, or put my finger on an icon and hold down, apps such as Facebook and drag them to the empty screen for great customization.

To switch between screens, users either swipe across from one screen to the next, similar to navigation on the HTC Droid Eris, or touch the dots on the lower left and right of the home screen.

My loaner device came with a great weather and news widget on one of these screens. This was very useful once I consented to give the phone my location during the Google Account sign-up process. Giving Google your location information is key to enabling many of the great Google apps, including Google Latitude, Near Me Now and, of course, the Google Maps Navigation turn-by-turn GPS feature of Google Maps.