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.
Social Apps and Voice Input on the Nexus One
Google Goggles was the first application listed when I went to the Android Market from the home screen. I downloaded it in 15 to 20 seconds, like a good sheep. Probably no surprise there; Google wants more people to use its experimental visual search application, which lets users snap a picture of an object and see search results concerning the object. This worked as well on the Nexus One as it did on the Droid I reviewed in November.
The Nexus One, like the Droid, comes equipped with a Facebook app, which I tested and found equally competent on the Nexus One and on the Droid. To use Twitter, I had to download an app from the Android Market. I chose two: the Seesmic app and Swift App for Twitter. Both loaded in 15 seconds.
Both Seesmic and Swift App worked well, but I’ll bet if you ask most iPhone fans who see it, they’ll still laugh it off as compared with the handful of fine Twitter apps for iPhone. For a comparison of the Nexus One and the iPhone, read MG Siegler’s balanced report on TechCrunch.
One thing I should mention, which I also noticed using the Droid, is that the auto-suggest capabilities on Android devices are excellent. For example, I sent a Twitter message, “Tweeting from the Nexus One!” without having to complete a single word. I would type one to three characters and Google would offer five choices of words I might be looking for. Very efficient.
That brings me to the feature that most excited me about the Nexus One: voice input, which lets users fill text fields for Gmail, Facebook and other apps by speaking into the phone, which also boasts two microphones to enable active noise cancellation.
Voice input is an experimental feature using Google’s networked speech recognition. There were some fits and starts but I was ultimately able to call up e-mail contacts by speaking into the phone and sending short messages.
For example, I spoke my sister’s name, and Google returned her name spelled correctly from a phonetic standpoint, but missing a letter. Google will need to improve this. I tried to sign into my Google account verbally, but it responded with “clintdalton.” No good.
I then tried sending an update to the Facebook app, saying, “Testing voice input on the Nexus One.” Google recognized the words pretty accurately, but inexplicably substituted “card” for the one word “one” at the end of my spoken phrase. I was able to search movie times for a theater near my home, and voice queries for “Sherlock Holmes” paid immediate dividends.
Ultimately, iffy voice recognition, along with the sketchy service from T-Mobile, are the biggest problems I have with this phone. I realize that experimental releases, betas and dogfooding are part of the Google Way, but it’s hard to give the device its full due when Google puts a feature on it that holds so much promise but disappoints so often.
That’s what keeps me from giving the Nexus One a great rating. That and the inconsistent experience of typing on the touch screen (not as intuitive as on the iPhone) and the obnoxious track ball.
But this is a darn good device. Once the service issues and experimental software snafus are worked out-competent networked voice recognition ranks high in degree of difficulty-the Nexus One line could be excellent.
However, while Google executives stressed that a Nexus Two won’t follow the Nexus One in two months the way the Nexus One followed the Droid, I can’t help but get excited about how some of Google’s more iterative apps, such as voice search, input, Google Maps Navigation and Google Goggles, will look and feel on subsequent Nexus devices.
As always in this space, we are looking toward the future.