Nexus One: The Best Android Phone Yet

Let’s face it, when it comes to the Nexus One, aka the Google Phone, there’s really only one thing you want to know: Is it better than the iPhone? 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, 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 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.

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 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.

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