Nexus One: The Best Android Phone Yet

124 Comments

Let’s face it, when it comes to the Nexus One, aka the Google (s goog) Phone, there’s really only one thing you want to know: Is it better than the iPhone (s appl)? The answer, unfortunately, is not all that simple. But after using the device for nearly 10 days, I am convinced that this new phone is the best Android device made to date.

Rather than doing a typical review of its features -– frankly all that stuff has been blogged to death — I wanted to share with you what it’s like to live with this device, day in and day out. In other words, to tell you whether or not the Nexus One is worth the hype.

The only way to do that was to make it my primary mobile device. So I put away my BlackBerry (s rimm), banished my SIM-less iPhone, and switched my personal mobile number to T-Mobile USA, the preferred carrier for the Nexus One. (AT&T’s (s t) 2G network will support the device, but not on its 3G network.) With that, I was ready. My impressions are broken down into two categories: Appearance & Features and Usability & Extensibility.

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Appearance & Features: This phone is fast, thin and has a gorgeous high-quality WVGA screen. It’s made by HTC and runs Android 2.1, the latest version of the OS. The 1-GHz Qualcomm (s qcom) Snapdragon processor makes it as fast as the Droid, and it has a 5-megapixel camera (both still and video). It has the ability to add up to 8 GB of storage via a Micro SD card, which makes it a great device for taking photographs, shooting quick videos and listening to music.

From a purely design standpoint, the Nexus One is within striking distance of its primary rival, the iPhone. Just as Infiniti and Lexus are almost as good as Mercedes, based on sheer looks, the Nexus One is a lot closer to the iPhone than all other Android phones. While it isn’t as iconic as the Apple device, it is a well-designed, feature-rich product that stands apart in a sea of Android handsets.

Usability & Extensibility: Looks, they say, aren’t everything. And they’re right. If anyone has ambitions to beat the iPhone, then they need to bring their A-game, emphasizing ease-of-use and seamlessness when it comes to the user experience and from a software standpoint, simplicity. Here the Google Phone misses the mark.

First, let’s focus on the things the Nexus One gets right: Connectivity is easy to achieve, including for both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections. The Wi-Fi finder in particular is pretty simple — much as it is on previous generations of Android phones. The first time you access the phone, it asks if you have a Google account. If you do, just enter the information and it painlessly syncs everything — calendar, contacts, Gmail and GTalk. If you have a Google Voice account, the device gives you an option to call out using your Google Voice number. Other Google apps — such as Google Maps — are perfectly integrated with the OS.

This integration made my life easier as our entire company’s operations are based on Google apps. The browser, too, is rock-solid.

But that’s where the seamlessness ends. Android, including the new 2.1 version, isn’t as smooth as the iPhone. One needs to make more of an effort on the Google Phone to get things done. I guess you can blame that on the lack of multitouch features. Now don’t get me wrong — Android 2.1 running on Nexus One is pretty darn good. Just not as good as an iPhone.

It feels somehow disjointed  — much like all the other Android phones. When you install non-Google applications, they don’t quite have the tight integration of Google-based apps. Of course, that’s the downside of an open platform, one not entirely controlled by a single entity. Google might have to make this issue a top priority in the coming months, something I discussed with Google’s head honcho of mobile, Andy Rubin.

I think of extensibility in terms of applications. Platforms are successful if, and only if, people build on them. Such building is one of the reasons that the iPhone has been so successful. The kludgy Android Market and its wares are Google’s Achilles’ heel, in my opinion. The company needs to fix that. I downloaded some of my favorite apps, such as FourSquare and Seesmic, for the Google phone, but not anywhere close to the number of useful apps that I run on my iPhone/iPod touch. Unless Google spends a whole lot of money and effort improving its app store, it will continue to lag its main rival.

What really doesn’t work for me: I’ve had a tough time mastering the phone part of the device. It’s just not as smooth an experience as it should be.

Moreover, the touch-based typing on Nexus One has been hard to master. I keep sending half-finished text messages. My emails are full of mistakes and I can feel my ineptness at typing on the Nexus One every single minute. And I don’t mind touchscreens. I have, on occasion, typed out entire posts on the iPhone using the WordPress app. Nexus One made me yearn for my BlackBerry Bold 9700. (Indeed, I’m back to the Bold as of this morning.)

What Surprised Me: There are two things about the Nexus One that took me by surprise. First, it has only three points of distraction — one less than the iPhone: the on-off switch, the volume slider and the rollerball. Second, the device has remarkable battery life. It lasts almost a full day even with brightness at the maximum level, Wi-Fi and 3G turned on, and high talk time — roughly 1.5 hours.

Bottom Line: If there was no such thing as an iPhone, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the Nexus One is the best touchscreen smartphone available. It certainly is the best Android device on the market, hands down. But compared to the iPhone, it’s not as smooth or effortless to use. Perhaps in time it will be.

And at $530 a pop, the Nexus One is expensive. Plus, it’s married to a frail 3G network. T-Mobile USA has been rolling out its high-speed network across the country, but in San Francisco, the performance was lukewarm at best. If you can overlook these problems, and if you don’t like the iPhone, then this is the smartphone for you. I’m giving it a solid 7.5 out of 10.

124 Comments

Sean

Nothing about this phone is better than the Droid, except for Android 2.1, which will be coming to the Droid soon anyways. I’ll take Verizon’s network and a hardware keyboard any day of the friggin’ week over this thing.

The only reason people are hyped up about this thing is because it’s “from” Google. It’s just silly fanboy nonsense. If this exact same phone was just released under HTC branding on T-Mobile, everyone would be like “Yeah it’s a great phone, but it’s no revolution”.

I’m not saying it’s a bad phone. Besides the Droid, it’s definitely the best Android phone. But the Droid trumps it in many ways so there’s no reason to get excited by the Nexus.

Matt

Hi Om thanks for the writeup. A few points.

  • The point about the phone being expensive at $530 is true, but not really fair. All unsubsidized phones are ridiculously expensive.

  • Google has the resources to really develop and tune the Android experience. So I expect the things that aren’t smooth to become smooth over time. That’s a relatively easy one, b/c it’s all just software and upgrades will come incrementally and are largely independent of the particular hardware implementation – in this case the Nexus One.

  • I’m sure many people will buy Nexus Ones right now, but that will be due to people’s excitement associated with the big launch, the fact that there’s been so much hoopla around this device over the last several months, and maybe because they are true iPhone users but hate ATT, so they want the next best thing. But the true test for people sticking to the platform – and the longer term success of Android – will be the availability of apps. The number of Android apps will certainly shoot from 16k to 50k to 100k over time, but until then, people will just have to live with less choice. Sure, the number of iPhone apps will go to 200k or beyond in this same period, but I think quantity over 50k probably just doesn’t matter (to the masses) and most of the stuff is junk anyway. So I don’t view Android as having to “catch up” to iPhone in terms of the qty of apps – it’s just irrelevant due to the 50k thing I mentioned above.

On a different topic, I bet that Apple coming to Verizon (if and when it happens) would generate more buzz than even this launch.

Manish Verma

I am puzzled when you say, “If there was no such thing as an iPhone, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the Nexus One is the best touchscreen smartphone available.” Samsung Omnia HD has capacitive touchscreen like iPhone, has larger high quality display, has 8 mega pixel camera besides the other usual things that one expects from a smartphone.

Kiran

Samsung Omnia HD : 360 x 640 pixels resolution!

Wait, it even got Symbian OS, end of story!

Tino

It will take a lot to fully compete with apple when it comes to efficiency. Since apple designs and builds phones, computer, I-Pods, and so on, they are able to create a seamless experience for any user. What you can do on your computer will sync to your phone and then to your I-tunes and the list goes on. I believe in order to fully beat the I-Phone it will take a company to create the same type of experience. I’m not saying they need to create everything, but that company needs to make sure it all works together as one.

gbp

Good post, but please don’t compare it to iPhone (which is what every journalist writes on internets).
The whole notion of iPhone being the best in every category (feature) is creating biased reviews , so , don’t get in that trap.
Talk about expandability of the storage(SD slot), talk about that trackball which you can use for one touch navigation ?
Clearly Nexus One is superior to iPhone in many features / specs.

Its thinner.
Its got trackball.
Expandable slot.
Unlocked Sim.
Better Navigation system.
and
Fastest processor.

I would say its even between iPhone and Nexus One.
I hope you don’t go back to the BB.

akshunj

I find the iPhone comparisons to be tedius. People use phones in different ways. I personally stream music in my car, use navigation, and constantly look at live widgets for stock tickers and weather. I also type long emails and edit documents, so I need a physical keyboard. Thus, no matter how awesome the iPhone is, it simply is not the right phone for me. I got the Droid a month ago, and it’s perfect for my needs. In a review, an independent evaluation of phone features, with some statements about how the reviewer uses the phone would be much more informative. I’m rather smartphone agnostic, but it sounds like the commenters here are Apple fans who simply want their product to dominate the market. Weird. I drive an Infinity, but if I were reviewing it, I wouldn’t mention Mercedes in every other sentence. Different performance doesn’t necessarily imply worse. It all has to do with the features I value.

Reverse the review above with the Nexus as the phone to beat. I could use every one of the iPhone’s “shortcomings”: AT&T’s limited network, no multitasking, no removeable battery, no predictive text, sanitized/pre-approved app store, no live widgets, no custom home-screen, no expandable storage, and so on. But clearly a LEGION of people live with these “shortcomings” every day. Are they all morons? Or could it be that they simply place no value on those items. Thus, a discussion of features, how effective they are, and relevancy to certain tasks is better than, “It ain’t no iPhone.”

Koko

I think you summed up nicely what is wrong with this review (besides the comment that OM had “a tough time mastering the phone part” of the Nexus; I don’t see how that is possible).

NQ Logic

Google is moving down in the stack to challenge B2C opponents with an open architecture and new sets of standards. In creating a post-revenue business model, Google can only manage success if consumers accept a co-branding and outsourced manufactured device … NQ Logic recommends reading about the rest of the new Google’s mobile strategy at http://www.nqlogic.com

Slipdisc

“While it isn’t as iconic as the Apple device”
Well how on earth could it be? It was only released to the public a few hours ago. Hardly enough time to proclaim icon status.

mmcdan

I’ll preface by saying that I look at Android from a developer’s perspective, having done programming on the platform for a while.

For Android-based phones to be “successful” in the sense that Apple is successful(with its own micro-economy) three conditions need to be met: Widespread Consumer Adoption, Accessible Idea-To-Market Pathway for developers, and a Marketplace where consumers and developers can react to each other.

Widespread Adoption will be met by continuing the stream of high-quality offerings such as the Droid and Nexus One.
The Accessible Pathway criterion has been met in that any kid with a computer can download the SDK and come up with market-ready products.

The main problem Google faces is with the core features of its Market.
1)Consumers from many countries who bought phones cannot even buy apps from the Market, leading to piracy.
2)Developers don’t have access to the new SDK before it is released, so the only way to see if an app works on the new device is by counting the influx of 1-star comments.
3)Consumers cannot easily search for apps they want because “junk” developers flood the Market with icon-links
4)Developers using Dev Phones can’t legally purchase and download apps to the phone, meaning a developer needs two phones if they want both a)develop apps and b)use other apps.

The worst problem of all is that Google refuses to reassure developers about any of this. Place a technical question in the Android Developer group about programming and a Google Employee is likely to respond in a day or so. Place a question in the Market group, such as why someone using a Motorola Milestone in the UK can’t purchase my app, and no response is to be had for weeks, if ever.

I constantly ask myself, “After 6 months of market research, technical development, and testing on the Android Platform, do I feel confident that my hard work will result in some reasonable stream of revenue?”

Before Google gets it’s “3 billion-downloads-and-counting” title, Google has to change our answer to the question.

This post on the official market group by another user sums the major concerns up:

http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Android+Market/thread?tid=58dd6429a9ca0920&hl=en

Michael McDaniels

I’ll preface by saying that I look at Android from a developers perspective, having done programming on the platform for a while.

For Android-based phones to be “successful” in the sense that Apple is successful(with its own micro-economy) three conditions need to be met: Widespread Consumer Adoption, Accessible Idea-To-Market Pathway for developers, and a Marketplace where consumers and developers can react to each other.

Widespread Adoption will be met by continuing the stream of high-quality offerings such as the Droid and Nexus One.
The Accessible Pathway criterion has been met in that any kid with a computer can download the SDK and come up with market-ready products.

The main problem Google faces is with the core features of its Market.
1)Consumers from many countries who bought phones cannot even buy apps from the Market, leading to piracy.
2)Developers don’t have access to the new SDK before it is released, so the only way to see if an app works on the new device is by counting the influx of 1-star comments.
3)Consumers cannot easily search for apps they want because “junk” developers flood the Market with icon-links
4)Developers using Dev Phones can’t legally purchase and download apps to the phone, meaning a developer needs two phones if they want both a)develop apps and b)use other apps.

The worst problem of all is that Google refuses to reassure developers about any of this. Place a technical question in the Android Developer group about programming and a Google Employee is likely to respond in a day or so. Place a question in the Market group, such as why someone using a Motorola Milestone in the UK can’t purchase my app, and no response is to be had for weeks, if ever.

I constantly ask myself, “After 6 months of market research, technical development, and testing on the Android Platform, do I feel confident that my hard work will result in some reasonable stream of revenue?”

Before Google gets it’s “3 billion-downloads-and-counting” title, Google has to change our answer to the question.

This post on the official market group by another user sums the major concerns up:
http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Android+Market/thread?tid=58dd6429a9ca0920&hl=en

Kiran

Hey Om!

I am betting you didn’t have that Voice entry in any text field option enabled when you made this review. I am working on a similar review on HTC Hero (Telus, for AT&T’s 3G bands) and I have similar experiences. iPhone stands out no matter what but I like the complex Android stuff than simple iPhone stuff! GPS Nav add on is a killer and the only worst part being the 850MHz 3G band that was left out :(

Kiran

Nikhlesh

I am normally a big fan of Google products, However I am disappointed with Nexus One.
If an innovative company like Google is making its first move into Mobile Phones (& a move that has been rumoured right from the day iPhone was born), I would have expected much more. None of the features of this phone are what you would’nt see in other phones. It just fails to generate the “Wow” emotion. I think Google just gave up to the pressure of expectations of launching a device. From the review I agree it is the 2nd best phone available now, but Google should have gone for the best.

iPhone revolutionised touch screens, app stores amongst many other things; this phone does nothing.

who?

You can’t type on the thing but it’s the best Android device to date? Weird.

Om Malik

That is a problem I have been having and others don’t have that specific problem. it is mostly because of my previous usage of iPhone and Blackberry

Patrick M.

What is your current phone now Om? I was really hoping this google event would bring something big, better, “badder” then the iPhone. I have a Blackberry, iPhone, HTC Hero, and just recently previous Pre owner. After using them all in-depth, I still find myself going back to the Blackberry. The interface isn’t that great but the keyboard and ease of use is one of the oly of its type out there. If Google was smart, they would of released something like this as their first phone…

Anonymous

You should read David Pogue’s review in New York Times. Contrary to Om, he finds it easier to type on the android phones because of its word predictor rather than on iphone.

ideatagger

Okay, I’m officially over my initial disappointment. Having had time to digest all the info that has come out of the Nexus One launch, I think it is a pretty awesome phone.

Like I stated previously I have a HTC Hero right now, and I’m very happy with it. It sounds as if the Nexus One blows it out of the water so it will be more than good enough for me. It also appears to be on par and even beat the iPhone in several respects. Okay so it doesn’t have multi-touch but I don’t have that now and I don’t miss it (I think double-tapping to zoom is more natural anyway).

So welcome Nexus One. I for one will be very happy to call you my Numero UNO.

Piyush

Anyone find it unbelievable that Apple would have only ONE model of phone to offer? Cell phones are VERY different from laptops/PCs — just different casings, different configurations won’t do, phones are much much more about fashion, it’s THE toy you carry around everywhere unlike a desktop/laptop. You need multiple phone models to cater to the various tastes out there. I hope Apple realizes that and comes out with more models at various price points .. soon!

Darwin

Apple have three different models at three different price points. There is not the slightest indication they need more.

Thee is really nothing different about the various Android phones. They either have lousy physical keyboards or lousy on screen keyboards. They are all slow until this one where Google had to almost double proc speed because Android is such a poorly optimized OS. None of them have multi-touch for one or two euro models that are dog slow with about half the features of iPhone multi-touch. None of them can store more than a few hundred MB worth of apps which is a pretty stunning failure on Googles part. So basically you have a bunch of slow plasticky phones with buttons in different places. So what does all this “diversity” do for Android?

Anonymous

Apple is a device-based solution company. Google is an advertising company. For Apple, the iPhone is all about the device. For Google, Android is all about making sure the iPhone doesn’t dominate the mobile advertising distribution market.

Google will ultimately be happy to have lots of low margin Android competitors, each with limited share, as long as collectively the share is significant, and they have a great distribution channel for their mobile ads.

I can’t help but think that given this scenario, that supplying or buying Android devices is a sucker’s game.

anon

what is so special about at&t 3G network, that this device does not support it?

Alex R

And at $530 a pop, the Nexus One is expensive.

Huh? $530 gets you a fully unlocked, contract-free Nexus One — the higher price due to the lack of carrier subsidy. (An equivalent — apparently gray-market — iPhone will run you $899 or more on buy.com.)

If you’re willing to sign a 2-year contract — as you are required to do if you buy an iPhone through Apple — the Nexus One will run you $179, less than the $199-$299 you’ll pay for an iPhone 3GS and not that much more than the $99 you’ll pay for an iPhone 3G.

Nick

furthermore, if you pay full price, you can get even more plus plan for $60/month (unlimited data and sms, with essentially 0 minute usage due to combination of fab five and google voice). the cheapest iphone plan is $85, for limited minutes and 200 sms. over 2 years the difference comes down to $600. And you need to pay $200 for the iphone too. Is $535 really that expensive now?

ideatagger

This seems like a fair review by OM.

I find the following statement particularly interesting “Just as Infiniti and Lexus are almost as good as Mercedes, based on sheer looks, the Nexus One is a lot closer to the iPhone than all other Android phones.”

I wonder if the issue is that like Mercedes, Apple has managed to put the iPhone on such a pedestal that no matter how good a competitor in the same category is, it just won’t seem good enough to its users. Kudos to Apple for achieving this. The onus then is on Google to launch a different category of phones – a Ferrari to the iPhone’s Mercedes if you will. The trouble is, a Ferrari is super expensive and the market for expensive phones is not one Google wants to play in.

By the way, as an Android early adopter it saddens me somewhat that the Nexus One is not a clear iPhone-beater and I’m a little disappointed in Google for not doing better. I was really hoping for a big surprise announcement today – instead we heard nothing new of great significance beyond what we already knew of the Nexus One. I still want one mind you and hope that the Nexus TWO will finally get people to utter those seemingly impossible words “… is indeed an iPhone killer”.

Sam

But, can you actually make phone calls and hold a conversation using this thing?.

rick

Om,

Thanks, that’s the kind of review I wanted to see – specs aren’t the thing that sells me, how it works is. I’m on T-Mobile already and the 3G is good in Seattle, so this was interesting to me, but I think it’s summed up for me by your line “Indeed, I’m back to the Bold as of this morning.”

it’s good to see Android evolve rapidly, but I think that’s its weakness now – can you imagine if you bought Droid and then this comes along? The next 6-12 months should see a new rev of the iPhone (and that needs to be a bigger jump than the 3G>3Gs was), continued evolution of Android handsets and some price pressure. I’d also expect to see Apple offer the iPhone on Verizon and T-Mobile. And, of course, we might well see a tablet from Apple. Given all of that a phone right now would have to truly blow me away and this doesn’t from everything I’m reading.

Darwin

I find it odd that you continually miss the fact that most Android phones can store no more than 256MB worth of apps and this one 512Mb of apps. This alone is a showstopper compared to the iPhone which can use all of its storage space for apps. BTW Google says you can put up to a 32GB SD card in here not 8 and it will also be carried by Verizon although not at launch.

The trackball makes no sense.

As you noticed the onscreen keyboard is not very good.

I bet the new iPhone coming out this summer will allow iPhone to distance itself even further from Android. Android right now is the phone for people who can’t get the iPhone on their network and who don’t want or need to install apps. Watch what happens to Android sales on Verizon if they get the iPhone. Poof

Proto

There is one area the trackball does work well in– text field navigation. If I’m working in a large text field and suddenly need to move back to the middle to change a word, the trackball makes that rather easy. Compared to trying to do the same thing on my iPod Touch, the trackball wins hands-down, even with the better tactile sense of the iPod.

(I use a MyTouch, not a Nexus One, but the effect is the same)

ideatagger

I use a Hero and had a G1 before that. Most of the apps on my phone are less than 5MB in size. A few are closer to 10MB. Even if you had all your apps at 10MB that would still give you capacity for over 50 apps. You may well have up to 50 apps on your iPhone but I doubt very much that you use even a quarter of them.

I am willing to grant however that the storage limitation may limit the ability of developers to build decent games for Android. I am not a games person myself however so this is of little consequence to me. I therefore find the 512MB to be ample.

Darwin

They are small because they have to be. Developers such as Slacker have already said they cannot provide the same features of their apps for iPhone on the Android because of app space limitations. So make silly rationalizations all you want but you already know this is a major issue whether you admit it or not.

Charles

Om,

Great post. I’ve read it twice and 7.5 feels like a generous score unless you’re a non-iPhone user. Would it be safe to say that the 7.5 is the average of what you’d think as an iPhone owner (6-6.5) vs an android or non-iPhone user (7.5 or 8)?

Michael Koby

Man I was really excited for this and now i couldn’t care less. The lack of support for AT&T 3G is just sheer idiocy. I’m sorry but while the folks in San Fran and NY might have issues with AT&T, there are plenty of others that use AT&T and are quite happy with their service (like me) who would love to get an Android device.

So it’s lack of AT&T 3G support makes me just look at this and go “meh!” I would have bought 1 today if it supported AT&T 3G

Raymond Padilla

Considering the Nexus One is a global product that is sold in multiple countries, wasn’t it smarter for Google to include the 3G bands it did? I thought AT&T and Rogers supported the 3G bands that are “unusual”.

TimB

Om, I found the closing paragraph (re: SF 3G coverage) odd – given what a poor experience you’ve had with AT&T 3G there.

Nick

If all you are interested in doing is multitouching, sure.

However, if you would prefer to listen to pandora while browsing, then the answer is clear: you need two iphones.

Also, if you are not interested in crossing any borders, and why would anyone, than Google voice is probably not all that important.

Sanjay Singh

What is really missing in iPhone is multi-tasking and is something that Apple will fix in the next version that comes out. Both Palm-Pre and Android beat iPhone on this aspect. A lot of Apps like InstaMapper does not make sense without multi-tasking.

Peter

Oh no, it does have! But this function is softwarewise locked in the USA, whereas in Europe it is unlocked and functions excellent!

Paul

Om,

Re the text input, you should download the test version of Swype and give it a shot. I’ve had the Droid for a month and just added Swype – it is amazing how much easier it is now. If only the Droid had the battery life of the Nexus One, I’d be all set!

AK

@OM Malik – I guess this phone is also missing an ecosystem “a la” iTunes/AppStore…

Om Malik

Not sure I even understand what you are attempting to say. Can you explain? I think they need to develop a better experience in the Android Store.

Patrick M.

Possibly an easier way to sync and manage apps, music, photos, and other goodies between phone and computer? That’s all that I could come up with from that comment.

branon

How interesting. Actually for me one of the key benefits of moving from an iphone to a G1 was easier use of the “phone”. I really liked the way you could simply setup a quickdial icon on the homescreen for a specific number. Not being able to quickly dial a phone no. was the iphone’s Achilles Heel as far as I was concerned and I liked the fact that the G1 (or any other Android phone) had such a simple resolution.

Om Malik

I guess it is more of an individual thing — not sure how else can I describe it. For others it might work.

phani adivi

am a great fan of apple iphone, and am in no plan to change my plan,,,but,,the one thing that i am missing in iphone is the speed dial,,,

ROb Sewell

I think the iPhone has no intention of being all things to all men – Apple have set up the App store to cater for that. There are several apps that do just what you say, allow one touch dialling in a very smooth way. And there’s always the favourites section of the supplied Phone app.

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