Review: The Nexus One, does it compare to today’s top phones?

It is 2010 folks and the new phones are already coming out in droves. We have heard an official announcement that the HD 2 is coming to T-Mobile, the new Palm Pre/Pixi Plus hit Verizon at the end of this month, and the current star of the show, the ‘Nexus One’ from Google. On January 5th, just days before 2010’s CES, Google held a press event promoting their new baby. The Nexus One. There was so much hype generated prior to launch caused by Google’s decision to hand out the Nexus One to their employees. We saw tweets saying things like ‘iPhone on steroids’ and ‘Android beautified’. Do these statements hold true? Does the Nexus One live up to the hype? Let’s take a look.


Hardware:

Let’s start with the Nexus One hardware. The phone is manufactured by HTC and comes with a beautiful 3.7″ AMOLED screen weighing in at a nice 800×480 pixel resolution. The phone comes with a multicolored LED trackball placed on the front of the device, 4 capacitive navigation buttons underneath the screen, a volume rocker on the left side, a power/lock switch on the top left of the device, an LED flash on the rear along side a slightly raised 5MP auto focus camera with 2x digital zoom, a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, a microphone at the bottom, a microphone hole on the rear for noise cancellation and a micro USB port located directly on the bottom of the phone next to 3 gold pins. The gold pins are most likely for a car or home docking system similar to the Droid’s car dock. Internally the phone comes with a 1Ghz Snapdragon processor, 512 MB of RAM, 512 MB of ROM, and 802.11b/g/n. It comes with a SIM slot that works with both T-Mobile and AT&T networks but only works with T-Mobiles unique 1400mhz 3G band. There is a Micro SD slot, the Nexus One comes with a 4GB Micro SD card that is expandable up to 32GB. The phone also comes with a 1400Mah battery that is removable and replaceable by sliding the battery door up. This is definitely the highest spec’d Android phone and very few phones outside of Android really compete. The HD2 is it’s closest competition when it comes to specs, but even the HD2 has less RAM.

The body of the device is an impressive feat. HTC managed to pack all that power inside a nice tight little package. The phone measures 119mm tall, 59.8mm wide, and 11.5 mm deep/thick. That is in comparison .8mm thinner than the iPhone 3GS. The Nexus One weighs 130 grams (5 grams less than the iPhone3GS) and 100 grams without the battery. The phone really feels good in hand. Very light and has a great shape. The phone is mostly a hard plastic and the battery cover and bottom of the phone feel rubberized for an improved grip and quality feeling. It reminds me very much of the build on the first generation iPhone. Battery life seems pretty good. The battery life is about equal to the iPhone and a little better than the Droid. I can comfortably get a day of battery life with average use. Call quality with T-Mobile is good. Equivalent to the Motorola Droid. I have not noticed any significant difference with its noise cancellation microphone on the rear of the device. The speakerphone/music quality is good. When I compared devices external speaker directly, it seemed the Nexus One’s speaker was a little louder than the iPhone and Palm Pre, but not as loud as the Motorola Droid. Listening to music without headphones is good enough in some what quiet areas, but like with any mobile device, headphones are really the best way to go.

Keyboard/Navigation

The biggest difference between the Nexus One and the Motorola Droid is the addition of an LED trackball for navigation and the subtraction of a physical keyboard. The trackball is slightly larger than that of the G1 but smaller than the one on the MyTouch 3G. Is the trackball necessary? Not really. It is nice to have to help you navigate through text if you misspelled something. In fact, I prefer the trackball on the Nexus One over the 5 way directional pad on the Droid’s slide out keyboard. I also really like the big bright LED notification that comes with the trackball. It is nice and bright so you don’t miss it. The trackball is multicolored, but I have not seen it show any color other than the blue-ish white you see out of the box. You also have the same 4 capacitive buttons on the Nexus One that you see on the bottom of the Motorola Droid. They are in the exact same order too, which is good because it means they are keeping a theme. The capacitive buttons on the Nexus One are smaller than the ones on the Droid. They are also much harder to hit. The response when touching the buttons on the Nexus One only seem to happen if you tap a little bit above the button (on the top half of each button) otherwise you get no response. This can be frustrating when typing on the portrait virtual keyboard because the buttons almost seem like they bleed on to the screen which causes me to sometimes tap the ‘back’ or ‘home’ buttons while typing. Once you get used to where the buttons are you will find yourself not hitting the wrong buttons by accident. The Nexus One does not have a physical keyboard. One of the main reasons why it is so thin of course. I found while using the Droid for the last two months that I really didn’t use the physical keyboard as much as I thought I would because most of my time was spent in portrait mode. It was a lot easier to just tap in a text field and begin typing on the portrait virtual keyboard. So for me going from the Droid to Nexus One wasn’t a huge jump. If you like the Droid’s keyboard and you use it often, then you are probably going to want to stick with your Droid. If you like the virtual keyboard, then I think you will really enjoy what the Nexus One has to offer. The keyboard works just as well as the Droid but the wider display makes it a lot easier to tap the buttons you want to tap. The landscape virtual keyboard is actually easier for me on the Droid because of the shape of the phone itself. It was pretty hard for me to hold the Nexus One in landscape and type without feeling like the phone might slip out. The Nexus One is very thin and has a smoother surface. Both landscape and portrait virtual keyboards are fantastic on the Nexus One. Second only to the iPhone’s keyboard (though I believe this could change if Google decides to implement full multi-touch on the keyboard in Android 2.x).

The Camera:

The camera is similar to the Motorola Droid’s camera in the fact that it is 5MP. For some reason the Nexus One consistently takes better photos than the Droid in all kinds of lighting conditions even though both phones offer up a 5MP camera. This could  be a software related issue I am not sure. Outdoors, the pictures come out with rich colors that aren’t washed out.

Day Light outdoor

Day Light outdoor

In door pictures in well lit conditions and low lit with the aid of the LED flash also look good.  Not as good as out door photos in direct sunlight of course but they are reasonobly good photos.

Day Light indoor no flash

Day Light indoor close up

Low Light indoor with Flash

Low Light indoors without Flash

This isn’t going to replace your dedicated flip or DSLR camera but it is decent enough for social networking photos. The camera takes better pictures than the iPhone 3GS, Palm Pre, and Droid, but not quite as good as the 8MP cameras you’ll find on high end Nokia or Samsung devices. The camera also records video. The Nexus One can record 720×480 video at 20 frames per second or more depending on the lighting conditions. Videos looked a little better than the Droid as well.

There is no built in video editing software like you’ll find on the iPhone 3GS or soon on the Palm Pre, so you will have to get your shot in 1 take.

Software:

Aside from the fantastic hardware, which we know basically dominates the market right now, how about the software? Everyone reading this site knows what Android is and just about everyone here has seen Android 2.0 after the launch of the Motorola Droid. Well the Nexus One comes with an updated version of Android that is 2.1. Still considered by Google as Android Eclair. Android 2.1 really is not a whole lot different than 2.0 but it does bring some welcome changes.

The first and most noticeable thing is its new ‘Live Wallpapers’ feature. When you change your wallpaper you are given and additional option called ‘Live Wallpapers’ that allows you to add an animated wallpaper that can sometimes interact with touch or media from your device. These wallpapers really are just for looks, but they do make the device look super fancy. It is just one of those things where you show someone the 3D water wallpaper and they touch it, see ripples, then just say, “Wow that is so cool!” Performance is a question when dealing with these 3D wallpapers. Well as far as I can tell there seems to be no performance degradation when using a Live Wallpaper and when not. Seems that the processing power from the wallpapers use is only used when looking at the home screens and if you are doing so, then you aren’t really doing anything else that is processor intensive. So overall the live wallpapers are a huge plus and give Android a little bit bigger lead over the iPhone or Palm Pre in customization. Palm Pre you can only change the wallpaper to a standard wallpaper and on the iPhone you don’t even get to pick a wallpaper. The live wallpapers are not completely without their issues. I received and error every time i tried to set certain Polar clock colors as my animated wall paper. It would give me some Android error and caused a force close. Out of the box that is a pretty awful experience. I have heard from others that they are getting the problem with other wallpapers. Hopefully these are issues that can be resolved soon. These live wallpapers aren’t limited to what comes on the device. There are already other cool live wallpapers in the Android market like the ‘Starfield’ and ‘3D Cube’. Those two are free so get to downloading!

Next up is the launcher and home-screens. The launcher on Android 2.0 and any old build of Android is a sliding tab. Actually pretty ugly in my opinion and the checkered back round behind the icons does not help the cause. Android 2.1 does away with this ugly slider and its ugly checker back round. Now you see a series of squares at the bottom for the launcher button and when you tap it the icons float into view over an all black back round. The icons look as though they are in some sort of wheel that can be rolled up or down when scrolling through it. When moving the icons up and down you actually see them fold up or down at the top and bottom of the screen. It is a nice little addition and makes going through the app drawer a lot more pleasurable. Now Android 2.1 allows you to have 5 home screens, which is more than the 3 on previous stock Android, but less than the 7 you get with HTC Sense on the Droid Eris or Hero. Next to the launcher button there are small white dots that indicate how many screens there are to the right and left of the home screen. You can tap once on these dots to jump to the next home screen on that side or you can tap + hold the dots to bring up sort of card view similar to WebOS that shows each of the 5 home screens. You can tap on one of them and it will jump directly to that screen. After trying to make use of this new feature I have come to realize  it serves basically no purpose. It takes the same amount of time to just swipe through the screens. These are all cool new features that add graphic content to make Android look more appealing, but when it comes down to it the functionality remains about the same.

The gallery is another story. The new gallery not only looks beautiful, (especially on the big AMOLED screen) but is also a lot more useful and intuitive than older versions of Android. When you first launch the gallery app you can see a new 3D view with what looks like printed photos that zoom into view. There are a couple of ways you can interact with the photos. You can now swipe photos from left to right to switch to the next, you can move a tab on the bottom of the screen to scroll through dates in which the photos were taken, and you can view them in categories either by date or folder names. The gallery view of photos is similar to that of the Chrome or Firefox extension ‘Cooliris’ you find on desktop browsers. Infact it is so much so related that Google calls it the ‘Cooliris Gallery’ on their YouTube channel. You can now sign in with your Picasa account and view all of your web albums directly on your phone in the gallery app. No work is necessary. Once you sign in you just see all your Picasa albums located at the end of the list of photo albums with the Picasa logo over them. Overall the gallery app is a big improvement and I really hope Google can implement this same interface to the music app (which is still painfully awful to look at) and other apps throughout Android.

There is a new weather and news widget which is pretty useful and looks nice. It doesn’t look as good as the Sense widgets on HTC devices but it does have some use. It pulls data from the ‘Google News’ feed. You can shuffle through sports, science/tech, top stories, U.S. news, and more. There is also a weather section which allows you to see the current temperature and drag a cursor across the day in view to see what temperature it was earlier or what it will be later. There is a week view that will show you what the weather forecast is for the next 6 days. Google has also updated the clock widget to match the green and black theme they have goin with the YouTube, Weather, and Power control widgets. The new widget and clock widget changes are nice additions and help Android keep to a theme but I don’t believe they will help drive sales.

Google also made some new additions to the ‘clock’ app. Before when using the clock app (which was previously titled Alarm clock) you would just be taken to your alarms where you can edit and manage different alarms you use. With the Nexus One it takes you to a sort of today screen view that is similar to the Droid when docked on the home dock. In this view you can see the time, the weather, jump to your music, photos, alarms, or back to the home screen. You can still see the wallpaper in the background so if you chose a live wallpaper, it is nice to just put on the clock app and look at how pretty the AMOLED screen is.

Speech to Text on the keyboard. Android 2.1 implements a new feature called Speech to Text that is available on the keyboard within any application. You tap in the text field to bring up the keyboard, then tap on the microphone logo to bring up the speech recognition software. Then all you have to do is slowly enunciate what you want to say and with Google’s transcription service, it will translate everything you said to text. It doesn’t do a good job with grammar or emphasis on emotion, but it does a really good job of just copying what you say word for word. I realized that when I speak slow and as clear as I can, it will get the text right every time. Best case is for driving conditions where you might have the phone located in a car dock and can just tap the microphone once and begin talking to send a text or email to someone. The software is not perfect but I don’t know of any other company that does this as well as Google right now. This is a very useful feature and I find myself using it more and more every day.

Performance and usability. The Nexus One has double the RAM compared to modern smart-phones like the Droid, iPhone 3GS, N900, Palm Pre, and any other Android device on the market. It also has a 1Ghz processor made by Qualcomm dubbed ‘Snapdragon’. So do these hardware spec bumps make a difference? I have to say YES! Without a doubt the phone performs most tasks equal to or faster than its predecessor, the Motorola Droid. Even with a 3D live wallpaper showing me a ripple filled lake and autumn leaves falling in the back round it switches through screens much smoother and without issue. Bringing down the launcher from the top of the screen is smoother and doesn’t get stuck like it does almost every time on the Droid. Jumping in and out of applications is also faster. When browsing with the default browser on the Droid and Nexus One side by side 90% of the time the page finishes first on the Nexus One. There is an application you can download from the Android Market called ‘Beautiful Widgets’. This app will give you a clock/weather widget similar to that of the weather widget you get from HTC’s Sense UI. When you tap on the weather icon on the Droid there is usually a pause, then the sun or moon will pop out but with some stutter, and clouds will float by. Sometimes on the Droid the clouds run smooth but if you have more than 2-3 apps open then the clouds seem to begin to stutter. With the Nexus One even with 10-15 applications open these clouds NEVER stutter or hiccup. They glide across the screen without issue. So either the snapdragon or Android 2.1 is making a noticeable difference. The gallery app on the Motorola Droid loads photos so much slower even with the entire app being in 2D. The 3D gallery on the Nexus One not only loaded the thumbnail preview images faster, but was able to swipe through the gallery photos and render all the photos much faster. This of course could be optimization done during the remake of the gallery app but either way it is faster and looks better on the Nexus One.

My take:

The Nexus One is an amazing device. I am a huge fan of the hardware HTC has put out lately, especially the Nexus One. They were able to put out the best screen in the smart-phone industry, with super thin hardware, and pack in all the necessary tools (Camera, LED Flash, SD card, Snapdragon, Capacitive navigation, LED Trackball, and a removable battery) while keeping the phone from blowing up to a fat size. The phone feels fast, the UI is nice, and the platform is maturing. There are about 20,000 apps in the Android market now. Most of what you need from the iPhone can be found on the Android market except for 3D games. Though Android apps definitely allow a lot more access to system utilities and customization than iPhone apps do so that is something to consider. You also have the added luxury of multitasking with Android. For me the Nexus One is a great phone. It is the best Android device without a keyboard.

The screen is the nicest screen on the market now and the build quality is top-notch.  This all comes at an affordable price too! The Nexus One can be purchased unlocked at Google.com/phone for $530.00. You can use the phone on both AT&T and T-Mobile but with AT&T you won’t get their 3G speeds. You also have the choice of signing a two year contract and get the Nexus One for $179.99. That is cheaper than the iPhone 3GS and the Motorola Droid and comes with much higher quality hardware. So is this the end all be all device? For some it is. It is certainly worthy of the title, however I don’t believe this phone is something you want to cancel your contract on AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint for just yet. Android still needs to make some changes. The music app is a great example. It is so fugly! Also I feel like Android could really use an intuitive way to switch through apps maybe like that of WebOS. You never really know what is open or closed unless you download a third party task/file manager to view them. A universal command that would show all apps running so you can easily switch between them would make Android a much more intuitive experience when navigating in and out of apps. Other than that and perhaps a more robust SDK. This phone is quite the gadget. If your shopping for a first smart-phone, then I think this is the perfect device. If you are graduating from a previous Android device like the G1, MyTouch, or even the HTC Hero, then this is a great device. This may not be a device you want to flock to from the Droid, Pre, or 3GS unless you feel this is the absolute phone of your dreams. In my opinion right now these are the top 4 phones on the market as far as general usability, work flow, and how fun the device actually is to use.

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About Daniel Rodriguez
I am 22 years old, I am a little bit new to writing but I love it and I am addicted to gadgets, whether it be Phones, PC's, OS's. Software. I love it all!

8 Responses to Review: The Nexus One, does it compare to today’s top phones?

  1. Gregory says:

    That was a very well done review. I am really enjoying the feeds of of this site. Keep it up!

  2. Niall says:

    Excellent review which really shows off the features of this phone 🙂

  3. This blog helped me explain this subject to my son. Thanks 🙂

  4. Brad Cullen says:

    I’m getting sick of all the people saying they hate Apple and the iPhone.

  5. Pingback: Public Sector Tenders

  6. Haydee Mahal says:

    very good

  7. Roger says:

    The nexus one does not record in 720p at 20 fps. It doesnt shoot 720p at all until someone hacked it recently. unless you want to void your warranty, your Nexus One only shoots DVD quality 480 video. Very weak move by android, especially since its hardware is capable of 720p

    • You are right, at the time I confused 720×480 with 720p. Thanks for the heads up, I corrected it.

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