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Summary:

From fast on/off capabilities to awesome multitasking, Kevin found plenty to like about Google’s Nexus One phone. However, he also notes that it has poor radio reception, accidentally turns on too easily, and more.

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I’m still getting acquainted with the unsubsidized Google Nexus One I bought last week, but I’ve spent enough time with it to share my likes and dislikes. Since there’s only a 14-day return period and plenty of return fees — especially if you went the subsidized path — I figure some prospective purchasers might benefit from these thoughts. In no particular order, here’s what I’m really enjoying about this phone, and what I’m disappointed in. Bear in mind that not everything in my list is specific to the Nexus One and I expect other current Android handsets to gain some of these features through software upgrades in the future. But these features are a part of the current Nexus One experience, so I’m including them in my list.

1. The device starts up fairly quickly. In about 33 seconds or so from a cold start, you’re up and running. The near-two minute boot time of my Pre has turned me off.

2. The same holds true for turning off the device. It completely powers down — not into sleep mode, but actually off — in under six seconds.

3. I like how the phone doesn’t have to be on for charging. My iPhone 3GS and Palm Pre are “on” when charging. That annoys me at night as the phones — mainly the Pre — are glowing while I’m trying to sleep. Or they might ring or pop up a notification during the night. A silly little thing, yes, but I still like how it’s handled on the Nexus One. There is a very small LED indicator to tell you the device is charging or fully charged.

4. Blinking notifications are great. With my iPhone, I was constantly waking it and unlocking it to see if I had any emails. No need for that now. I just glance at the scroll ball to see if it’s blinking. I have it set up for various notifications — email, direct messages and replies on Twitter, etc….

5. Although it’s taking me time to get used to, multitasking is awesome. I’m pre-conditioned by 2.5 years of iPhone use to hit the Home button before moving to another program, but I’m slowly learning to hold the button and choose an already running app. Oddly, I used to flick cards to close apps on the Pre all the time for the very same reason. Anyway, when I remember that previously used apps are still running, I can move around quite quickly.

6. Gmail is heavenly, especially with multiple accounts. (Seriously — have you ever described an email client as heavenly? It has to be that good for me to call something as mundane as email “heavenly!”) For a Gmail user, there’s little doubt in my mind that Android should be near the top when choosing a mobile platform. The native client is far more robust and easier to use than on any other device I’ve touched in the past few years. And Android 2.1 adds support for multiple Gmail accounts within the one mail application. I have both my personal and my work mail going side-by-side in the one app. It’s not a unified Inbox, mind you, but it’s a quick menu tap to switch accounts. Plus there’s starring, labels, a button for Older mail and so much more. New email also arrives on my phone faster than on the web too  Sorry to gush over this one, but again: if you use and like Gmail on the web, odds are pretty good that you’ll like it on this device. Ditto for the Google Calendar app.

7. Voice to text might not be as heavenly as the Gmail experience, but it’s pretty darn close. The feature is usable with nearly every text field on the device. I can speak emails or text messages — even tweets — and the phone will process the speech into text. And it’s pretty darn accurate too. Even in very noisy environments, I’ve had fantastic results thanks to the secondary microphone used to cancel out background noise.

8. I love the level of integration Google adds with some third party apps. For example, when you take a picture, you can share it via Picasa, Gmail, text message, Facebook or over Bluetooth. But you can also Tweet the picture right from the camera app. And the phone is smart enough to realize which Twitter app you have installed. When I first got the device, I installed TwiDroid and it magically appeared in my sharing list for pics. I thought that was pretty cool, but I later removed TwiDroid to install Seesmic. Lo and behold, Seesmic now appears automatically in my sharing options. That’s intelligent — not rocket science — but intelligent.

9. Speaking of image sharing reminds me of the camera. The 720 x 480 videos aren’t bad at all, nor are the still images from the 5 megapixel camera sensor. I didn’t think I’d use the digital zoom because they’re typically not all that great, but I’ve gained usable results in the rare instances I’ve used it. The camera is quite good, the interface is intuitive and the new Gallery app is well polished.

10. The overall speed of the device is very snappy. After hearing more about the Qualcomm Snapdragon platform at CES, I expect you’ll see many devices using it, just as the Nexus One does. And you’ll be happy with the performance when compared to the ARM processors of yesteryear. Everything on this handset seems to fly, although it starts to bog down a little when bunches of apps are running. One of the first things I did was to install a task killer, which I use a few times throughout the day. I haven’t used a faster feeling phone. The HTC HD2 uses this same CPU, so I can see why folks are buzzing about how well Windows Mobile runs on it. My expectations of Snapdragon are the reason I haven’t moved to an Android device in the past few months, and those expectations have been met  — and in some cases, exceeded — by the Nexus One.

11. Google Maps is stellar. The app is actually really good on other Android devices as well, and the navigation isn’t unique to the Nexus One. But when paired with this fast running hardware, the performance of Maps makes it feel like the entire globe is within the device, not on a server somewhere. There’s very little lag when panning, zooming or rending. In some cases, there is no lag. The GPS location fix is almost instantaneous as well. All of that combines for a great Maps experience.

12. Google Voice integration isn’t specific to the Nexus One at all, but it’s well done and completely integrated to the contacts and phone apps. It’s working so well that I’m going to look into canceling the unlimited text messaging portion of my monthly plan. From what I’ve heard, that can be done to save $10 a month. There’s simply no need for such a plan or function if you’ve embraced Google Voice.

13. Speaking of contacts, I like the integration with Facebook, which is similar to Synergy on the Palm Pre. And at any point, I simply tap and hold on a contact to get a touch menu of how I want to interact with that person: phone, text message, mail, Facebook or Google Talk, for example. And the phone is smart enough to only show me the available options. If I don’t have someone’s IM handle, it won’t show me Google Talk as an option.

14. Although voice-to-text related, I love how I can tap and hold the search touch button at any time to search by voice. It doesn’t matter what app I’m in — the function is always there.

15. The overall feel of the device has one of those “just right” attributes. It’s thin but easy to hold. It’s not slippery. And it feels well built. It’s hard to describe but if you’re worried about a shoddy, plasticky device, you needn’t worry about it with the Nexus One.

16. The onscreen keyboard is better than I expected once I made a minor adjustment — see item #3 in the “not so hot” list below. I’ve tried the options to add noise for key clicks and also for haptic feedback, but once I got used to the keyboard, I turned both off. What really makes input great is the predictive text functionality. Within two to three keypresses, I can often find the word I want to type in the predictive text area. And in many cases, the proper word is already highlighted in red, so I simply tap the space bar to choose it and I’m on my way to the next word. I find this better and faster than the iPhone, mainly because I have to type more letters on the iPhone in most cases.

What’s not so hot:

1. It’s far too easy to turn the phone on accidentally. I noticed this when leaving Las Vegas on my plane from CES. I had just turned on the Airplane Mode and then shut the phone down. I placed it in my pocket and a few seconds later, I felt the vibration made when the phone begins to power up. HTC and Google should adjust the power-on function so that you have to hold the button for a good second or two. As it is now, a brief, inadvertent tap will fire up the device.

2. Radio reception isn’t what I had hoped. I realize that there may be a widespread issue as Nexus One owners are reporting a signal bouncing from EDGE to 3G and back. I saw that behavior while at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. I expect that issue to be fixed through a software update, but that’s not the problem. I’m not getting any 3G signal at my home. I checked the coverage maps and I should be getting one, although I am about a half-mile inside the cut-off, per the map. Here’s the thing though: with the same SIM card and exact same location, the Nokia N900 I’m evaluating pulls in 3G loud and clear. A speed test on that device netted me a 2.1 Mbps download. The Nexus One right after that? Not even 200 Kbps, thanks to the lowly EDGE signal. I’m not sure if the Nokia radio is that much better or the Nexus One is simply not as good, but at the end of the day, I really don’t care what the reason is. The result is more important and I’m not thrilled with it. I really don’t need 3G coverage in my house since I gravitate towards a faster Wi-Fi signal anyway, but this radio sensitivity — or lack thereof — has to be pointed out.

3. The touch experience in general is great, but less so with the four touch buttons at the bottom of the display. I’ve found that the touch sensors only respond when touching the top half of these buttons. It’s as if the sensors aren’t quite big enough. At first, this was a major hassle. Once I figured out what was going on, I adjusted accordingly and I’m fine now. But for the first two days, I really struggled. In fact, I’ve noticed that I do better with the touch keyboard by tapping the top half of those keys as well. Maybe it’s just me, but when I shift my touch input up about 1/8″ on either the keyboard or the four touch buttons, I can fly.

4. The screen is easily filled with smudges. There’s no oleophobic coating like Apple’s iPhone 3GS on this device. Seriously, you’ll be cleaning the screen every hour or two if you use this heavily. On the plus side, I have a perfect replica cheek-print on my device if anyone from the CSI set wants one. Maybe my print can make a cameo appearance in an upcoming episode?

5. Related to the screen smudge is challenge of using the usually beautiful OLED display in full sunlight. Even with the brightness up all the way, it’s difficult. AMOLED is great indoors and easier on battery life, but if you’re outside a bunch, I’d suggest caution.

6. I’m going to need a second battery. That’s becoming a common theme on many handsets as we start to use them more heavily as pocketable computers instead of occasional smartphone use. I’m also a believer in having two batteries for all of my devices, so going in to this purchase I figured to double down on power. But folks should realize that using this device often during the day will run the battery down in eight hours or less.

7. Many sites don’t render correctly in the browser in portrait mode. This is an odd and unexpected problem, but one I noticed right away. When I look at various two-column sites, the text column is squeezed in half. Yet when I rotate the device and move to landscape, the text flows across the column normally and is easy to read. It happens on our own site but many others that I’ve read as well, so I don’t think it’s anything specific to our CSS or anything. I hope this is addressed quickly with a firmware update — assuming it’s an Android issue, of course. Here’s an example:

 

8. The lack of multi-touch in native apps is disappointing, but expected. Since non-U.S. versions of Android devices offer multi-touch — and patent laws are different in those geographical areas — I can only assume that Google is avoiding a legal issue with Apple on this. Regardless of the reason, the end customer suffers. I really miss multi-touch in the browser because the native zooming functions are inferior to multi-touch. I may install the Dolphin browser which offers two-finger functionality.

I could probably go on and on with both lists, but after a week of ownership, I think I’ve hit the main points. Overall, I’m finding much more to like than dislike with the handset. $529 is the most I’ve ever paid for a phone, but I’m not having any second thoughts about the purchase. Aside from being very happy with the unit and having it meet most of my needs quite well, I figure that an unlocked device of this type has good resale value. I don’t anticipate replacing it with another Android unit in the near future, but if I do, I think I’ll recoup much of my investment. And I’ll have done so with what’s arguably the best current Android phone for me.

Related GigaOM Pro Research:

Google’s Mobile Strategy: Understanding the Nexus One

  1. one note about multitasking. If i remember the talks about android from before the G1 launched, what android do is storing where you left of in some app, so that when you return, it may start the app again, rather then have it running (unless you used it recently), but it will still bring you back to where you left it.

    i think it keeps about 5 apps running, where the oldest will be dropped if a 6th is started.

    1. Regardless of how many apps run it is quite easy for apps to hog processor and memory until killed by an add on task manager. Not to mention the effect on battery life.

  2. The Dolphin Browser changes the feel of Android devices greatly. As a DROID user, I found the Dolphin browser much better than the built-in app. The ability to select small buttons, the responsiveness and yes the multitouch capability of the Dolphin browser make the device much better. The other app that made a huge difference was Touchdown, which made the Exchange connection super with its general mailbox for all new exchange mail. No longer would I have to go find new mail in a folder or subfolder.

  3. #7 is not an issue at all. It’s a setting.

    Go into the settings of the browser and uncheck “Auto-fit pages”

    What you’re seeing in the first picture is the browser formatting the text column to fit the exact width of your screen when you touble tap to zoom in to it.

    1. Actually, it’s an issue *and* a setting. ;)

      When I first noticed this issue, I poked around in the settings and saw exactly what you described. I unchecked “Auto-fit pages” and you’re correct that fixed the issue. But it introduced another similar issue. With the setting off, a double tap zoom doesn’t give me the text reflow, which causes a massive amount of scrolling left and right. It’s like the exact opposite problem I was trying to solve, so I’m still calling this an issue for now. I’m sure it’s fixable via software and since the zooming works “correctly” with Auto-fit on, I’m leaving it on. That way I only have to zoom and scroll vertically, not zoom and scroll both vertically and horizontally.

      1. I don’t consider this a bug. Its a feature and I hope google doesn’t “fix” it.

    2. Note that this doesn’t happen on other Android phones, so it’s definitely a Nexus issue.

      1. I have a HTC MyTouch and it has the same problem with certain sites, when the device is in vertical orientation.

    3. Actually, I just went back and looked at my video of the Droid. It also displayed the same column effect, so I’ll bet it’s an issue with Android 2.x. All Android phones with 1.x have worked fine.

      1. Correct, it happens on the droid as well. This is a design element of the android browser in 2.x. The double tap to zoom pulls into a fixed size, unlike on the iphone where it zooms to the width of the html element you tap. So by default it sizes all text to fit the width that will read properly when you zoom in.

        I don’t find it a big deal, you just have to understand why. Also, if you need a particular page to display right temporarily, zoom in with the controls on screen rather than double tap and the browser will reset the width to normal.

      2. In that regard it is a step backward, as it works fine in 1.x. :)

      3. I agree with James. The Opera browser on my HD2 is able to display a webpage properly and then reflow text when you zoom in to ensure that it fits the screen perfectly. It seems to me that this is a better way of dealing with zooming than to “pre-zoom” the text when zoomed out.

        Internet Explorer behaves the way the Android browser behaves and it leadds to a poorer quality browsing experience.

  4. Multi-tasking on any Android phone doesn’t really feel like multi-tasking to me yet. It feels like the equivalent of multi-tasking on a Windows Mobile phone.

    The only phone that comes close to multi-tasking greatness would be the Palm Pre, with it’s clever notifications and card system. This really feels natural to me as a user, and I have found that after using the Pre for some months and going to an Android device that I tend to try and “swipe” applications off the screen. It just seems natural.

    I love my Droid though and love Android as a whole.

    1. I second this. I find the Hero lacking in true multi-tasking. I’m not a fan of Application Killers. I hope google creates its own mulitasker/appkiller, this is androids big weakness at the moment.

    2. Yes, Palm certainly seem to have perfected application switching on a small screen. I’m not sure why competitors aren’t rushing to include similar functionality rather than less useful things like multi-touch.

      1. Probably has something to do with intellectual property. I am sure that the webOS Card system is patented like crazy.

  5. Good write up KC – you always seem to be able to do well with such “reviews” w/o seeming biased to any one platform. IMO, one of the really cool aspects of Android – and this device (well, other than it is NOT an iPhone on ATT for many adoptees) – is the Google apps integration. As you stated, GMail is “heavenly” and GV integration is nice too. For me, I am don’t really have a need for those services (at least not yet), so Android is just another “new” OS. I am really happy with my 3GS and am looking forward to the next version, but I might pick up an Android device when ATT gets’em to play with for a bit or as a second phone.

  6. Probably one of the best and most honest reviews I’ve read of the Nexus One.

    1. You obviously haven’t read many then.

  7. @ Chris Smith: WebOS’s true multitasking is a deal maker for me. Android is a nice OS. It has more apps, supports widgets, and integration with Google services is obviously much better, among other slick functions. I think when it comes down to it though, at least for some, myself included, webOS devices offer the most natural and user friendly UI of any OS.

  8. Another great review Kevin. I would like to recommend you try using Handcent as your SMS client. Check it out on the market and let me know what you think of it. Its the very first thing I install when I reinstall the OS.

  9. Maybe I misunderstood what you meant in #3 about the pre having to be on when charging, but I just got a Pre and when I plug it in at night I just hit the power button, the screen stays off and it still charges. Granted it will light up when there’s a notification, but just turn it upside down and turn down the notifications volume, not a problem at all.

    1. What you’ve described is putting the device in a sleep state, not powered down, which is different. After all, if it was powered down, how would the notification light be able to turn on? ;)

      But it is just a very minor issue, all things considered. I have to remember to turn off the ringer with the Pre and because I use the Touchstone, the screen is actually never off. It shows the time, so that’s what I meant by a glow at night. I’m guessing you don’t use the Touchstone since you said you turn the phone upside down.

      1. I use an App called BuzzOff on my G1 quite a bit. Its a time or location based notification selector. For instances, when i go into a movie theater i set it to turn my phone notifcations off until i leave the theater. As soon as I leave the theater it turns the volume to loud and vibrate on. It does it in a few touches. Often I will turn it back on manually when the movie is over, but its nice for the times i forget.

      2. @GadgetMerc – that is one app/feature I miss from my WM days on the iPhone now. WM will auto-set the phone to vibrate based on meetings on your calendar. Notification options – and a better Inbox view – are all I really miss with the current iPhone.

  10. Nice review, pretty much in agreement! I’d add a few more things though:

    + Plays full 720p (the HD2, iPhone does not)
    + Great build quality (like original iPhone, but anti-slip rather than polished alu)
    + Gorilla glass like the Droid (unlike the iPhone)
    + Battery and storage can be exchanged easily

    – Home screen doesn’t rotate
    – A few apps don’t yet work on it (i.e. Labyrinth)

    Also keep in mind, the N1 will get an additional 150MB RAM available with next kernel and the ability to install apps on microSD. Hopefully Google will flick Apple the finger regarding multi-touch.

    1. Nobody knows when you can install apps on SD and Google isn’t saying. Google is having issues allowing apps to run in a sandbox without setting aside memory for apps only. Yes for a Linux based OS released in 2010 yet Google can’t seem to manage it.

      Once again Apple has nothing to do with Google inability to implement usable multi-touch. Their euro phones have it but it is dog slow and has about half the functionality of the iPhones multi-touch. Which is most likely why it is not implemented yet on Android phones in the U.S.

      1. Sure it has everything to do with it! I am a European, the reason why we have multi-touch on the Milestone is because here we don’t allow software patents. Since you have that in the US, and Google is afraid to take the battle with Apple, you don’t get multi-touch in Google’s apps. It is not dog slow, that’s just a ridiculous thing to say and smells of FUD.

      2. So why does the Pre have multitouch?

      3. HTC has put multitouch on some of its Android phones too. They are the only company so far who has taken it on themselves to use it on Android.

        In an interview yesterday, Motorola CEO said that its Android phones going forward would have multitouch. Note that Motorola’s Android phones have had multitouch outside the US, none in the US. There’s definitely something US-related afoot.

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