Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Google Nexus One smartphone
Is the hype warranted for the hotly anticipated Google smartphone?
- Great design, build quality, excellent display, fast, removable battery, Android 2.1 feels polished, updated home screen
- No advanced audio/multimedia options, touch keys not always responsive, screen hard to see in sunlight
The Nexus One smartphone isn't as revolutionary as Google might have you believe, but it remains an excellent smartphone regardless. The Android platform is only going to get better and the Nexus One's excellent display and sleek hardware are a winning combination.
Built by HTC but sold and branded by Google, the Nexus One is the latest Android smartphone to hit the shelves — and represents a first for Google. Feature-packed and with a sleek design, the Nexus One comes with the latest version of Android and is the most polished smartphone to use the operating system that we've tested.
The Google Nexus One is a smartphone that looks far better in real life than it does in any photograph. Despite having reservations about its design before we managed to get a hold of it, the Nexus One impresses thanks to rounded edges, a pencil-thin frame and solid build quality. The silver and grey plastic casing may look less appealing than the iPhone's chrome edging and glossy black rear, but the Nexus One feels just as good to hold and every bit as sleek as the Apple smartphone.
Unlike the iPhone, the Google Nexus One has a removable battery, accessed by sliding the rear cover upwards. Build quality is excellent despite having moving parts — there are no creaks or rattles and the plastic feels strong and sturdy.
The Google Nexus One doesn't include a physical QWERTY keyboard, but HTC's familiar trackball remains. This also doubles as a pulsing notification light and flashes different colours depending on the type of notification. Above the trackball are four touch-sensitive keys — back, menu, home and search. Aside from volume controls phone's left side and a screen lock button on top of the handset, these are the only physical controls on the Nexus One.
The smartphone is controlled mainly via the 3.7in, capacitive OLED touch screen. The display is one of the best features of the Google Nexus One — it's slightly larger and brighter than the iPhone 3GS's, and possesses better viewing angles. However, it's harder to see in direct sunlight. The Nexus One supports multitouch, so you can pinch to zoom in and out of photos, Web pages, documents and other files like you can on the iPhone.
Combined with the latest version of Google Android (2.1), the Nexus One's touch screen is a joy to use. It's responsive and feels every bit as effective as the iPhone's when navigating. Our only real complaint in terms of navigation centres on the four touch-sensitive controls below the display — often these require two or three presses to activate, so they aren't as responsive as they should be. The Nexus One will be over-the-air upgradeable to the latest 2.2 version of Android (called Froyo) but Vodafone Australia hasn't set a timeframe for its release.
The Google Nexus One's on-screen keyboard is reasonably efficient, but still isn't as effective as the iPhone's — despite the presence of haptic feedback and a good spelling correction feature. Even once you've mastered it, the keyboard often feels inaccurate.
An "experimental" feature exclusive to the Nexus One is text-to-speech, which is an option whenever the keyboard appears. Our experience was mostly positive and we were impressed with the speed of this system; however, unsurprisingly it isn't always accurate. We wouldn't use this on an everyday basis, but to send a quick SMS or e-mail while in the car, for example, we can see the benefits. Amusingly, the feature refuses to translate any swear words, instead using hash symbols as a replacement.
The Android home screen has received some minor but welcome tweaks. There are now a total of five home screens (up from three) that you can customise with shortcuts and widgets, while an iPhone-style dot system lets you know which page you're on at a glance. The applications tab has been replaced by a home icon, and main menu animations have been improved and tweaked, resulting in a little more eye candy.
The Google Nexus One comes with all the regular features and benefits of the Android OS, and the 1GHz Snapdragon processor and the latest version of the platform make it by far the most polished Android smartphone we've reviewed. The same processor used on the lightning fast HTC HD2 smartphone, the Snapdragon kicks the Nexus One along brilliantly — applications open almost instantly, there is no evident lag or slowdown and everything from the screen transitions to the responsiveness when typing feels like it has been improved over previous Android devices.
The Android Market has undergone a slight facelift, making it easier to search for apps as well as see the latest apps that have been released. Android's notifications taskbar makes downloading apps a pleasant experience and, provided you're not with Optus, you'll have access to both free and non-free applications. (At the time of writing, Optus customers can only access free Android apps.) Unfortunately, you still can't choose to save downloaded apps to the microSD card.
Like all Android devices, the Nexus One's integration with Google services is excellent. Android automatically synchronises your Google calendar, mail and contacts over the air. When you add a new contact or calendar event on your PC, it will automatically appear on your phone and vice versa. If you don't have a Google account, you can create one on the Nexus One itself; you can then easily import a contact list from Microsoft Outlook or even Apple's address book.
Unlike the Motorola Milestone, Google doesn't include media synchronisation software in the sales package, but the Nexus One remains a decent multimedia handset thanks to the standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Though not as smooth as the iPhone's iPod integration, browsing media on the Google Nexus One is aided by an intelligent UI. There are no real advanced options beyond playlists, repeat and shuffle modes, however.
The Google Nexus One is a 7.2Mbps HSDPA-capable smartphone but operates on the 900/2100MHz bands, so it won't work on Telstra's 850MHz Next G network. Other features include a 5-megapixel camera with autofocus and flash, a built-in accelerometer, a digital compass and a GPS receiver. The Nexus One also has a microSD card slot for extra storage, though this is annoyingly located behind the rear battery cover.
The Google Nexus One's battery life is about what we expected — it will just last a day with push e-mail, location services and moderate multimedia use. As with the iPhone 3GS, don't expect to get more than a day's use out of the 1400mAH battery.
The Google Nexus One is sold exclusively through Vodafone in Australia. Online mobile phone retailer MobiCity is also selling and imported version of the Nexus One in Australia.
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