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Nexus One review

Damien McFerran


We review the most eagerly-awaited Android handset yet and Google’s great white hope – the Nexus One

Rating:

Verdict: Android finally comes of age with one of the most impressive phones we’ve ever had the pleasure of cradling in our hands. A lush combination of killer hardware and cutting-edge software, this phone is a worthy rival to the popular iPhone

Price: Approx £400 (SIM free from Google)

Pros: Powerful CPU, gorgeous design, generous range of apps available and the full backing of Google’s suite of online services

Cons: Camera is a bit of a letdown, on-screen keyboard could be improved, battery life is poor

Design: Like a sleek supermodel with a drop-dead body, the Nexus One is a proper looker. And then there’s that screen…

Operating System: Android (version 2.1)

More Info: Google website

Google’s Android operating system has been with us for a couple of years now and although we’ve seen some fantastic handsets – the HTC Hero and Motorola Droid/Milestone being two very notable examples – many would argue that the platform hasn’t yet reached its full potential.

Part of this is down to the unfortunate disconnect between hardware and software, which is unsurprising when you consider that many third-party Android handsets have been produced without Google’s assistance. The HTC-manufactured Nexus One is different; Google has played a significant role in its development and is even distributing the phone through its own site.

Has this increased involvement led to a killer device capable of knocking Apple’s iPhone off its lofty perch or is the Nexus One yet another example of Android promising more than it is able to deliver?

Handset

With the exception of the aforementioned Hero and Droid, we’ve seen some really ugly Android phones over the past few months. Too often a confusing collection of ideas which fail to gel effectively, most so-called “Google phones” have lacked the direct and uncluttered design ethos which has made the iPhone such a smash hit with mobile consumers.

Just one glance at the Nexus One makes it clear that isn’t the case here. The phone is slim and lightweight, with its rounded edges ensuring that it sits comfortably in the palm. The slightly rubberised back prevents it from slipping out of your grip and the casing is reassuringly creak-free. It certainly feels a cut above previous Android phones and in many ways it’s a more attractive proposition than the iPhone. For once, Android has a phone which looks as good as it functions.

Screen

As pleasing as the aesthetics of the Nexus One unquestionably are, it’s the 3.7 inch AMOLED display which really steals the show. To put it bluntly it’s absolutely breathtaking; the razor-sharp 480 x 800 pixel resolution makes everything look fantastic and the colour depth and overall brightness is staggering.The only fly in the ointment is that like all screens which showcase the new AMOLED technology it’s incredibly hard to use in direct sunlight.

Naturally the Nexus One uses a touch-screen – aside from the volume rocker and the power button, there are no other physical controls on the device whatsoever (even the four icons at the bottom of the screen are touch-sensitive) – and like all leading devices of this type, it’s the capacitive variety.

You might have already heard about the Nexus One lacking the all-important multi-touch ability when it was released in the US early this year, but thankfully that has been put to bed now – all Nexus One handsets have been updated so that they are now capable of “pinch to zoom” commands, assuming the apps in question support them.

Interface and operating system

Because the Nexus One is a first-party Google handset it features the stock version of the Android operating system. It’s also the first phone to rock the 2.1 iteration of the OS, which brings with it such enhancements as live wallpapers, an improved media gallery and new 3D-effect menu systems.

While it lacks the slick features present in HTC’s propriety Sense interface, the bog-standard edition of Android is slowly catching up and now features connectivity with Facebook and other social networking portals.

All in all it’s easily the best version of Android we’ve yet seen and is incredibly versatile and powerful; supported by the Nexus One’s 1 GHz Snapdragon processor the phone is able to run several applications simultaneously and puts the “one app at a time” functionality of the iPhone well and truly in the shade.

Software

One area where Apple definitely has the advantage over Android is applications. With over 100,000 different programs now available for download on the iPhone (compared with around 30,000 on Android) it’s obvious which format is better supported by developers - but that is slowly starting to change.

More and more big-name apps are crossing over to the Android Market and as more high-profile devices hit the shops that is only going to continue. As it stands, the Nexus One is pretty well covered when it comes to the truly essential downloads; Facebook and Twitter clients are abundant and even Photoshop Mobile, Opera Mobile and Qik video sharing are now available for Google’s platform.

Games remain something of an issue because so few Android handsets are able to support multi-touch controls, something which is almost a requirement in many iPhone titles.

However, if you don’t intend to do much gaming on your phone then you’re likely to find that the Android Market is just as well stocked as the App Store for key programs, and thanks to the Nexus One’s increased grunt you’ll be able to run them in tandem – something that is sure to make your iPhone-loving pals green with envy.

Messaging

Because the Nexus One is packing Android it adopts your typical “threaded” messaging system, similar to that seen on the iPhone. There are neat little embellishments present – such as the ability to tap a contact’s icon during a text message exchange and see all available contact options – but for the most part it’s pretty straightforward.

Elsewhere, there’s the official Facebook app pre-installed which allows you to keep in touch with your friends. It’s even possible to sync your Nexus One with your Facebook account and thereby gain access to their contact details direct from your phone. Other messaging options are available but these naturally require a download from the Android Market.

When it comes to email the Nexus One benefits from incredibly tight integration with Google Mail; it should come as no surprise to learn that this is the best device for Gmail users on the move.

Browser

Thanks to the Nexus One’s powerful CPU loading up web pages is lightening fast and when placed side-by-side with an iPhone the disparity is remarkable. Naturally this pace is reliant on having a half-decent connection – 3G or Wi-Fi ideally – but it’s clear that the additional processing power makes a massive difference in the overall browsing experience.

The pre-installed Android browser is able to render sites effectively but it’s lacking in other areas, so you may want to upgrade to either Dolphin Browser or Opera Mobile, the latter of which has recently been released on the Android Market in beta format.

Camera

Like so many aspects of the Android package the camera has slowly been increasing in quality. The one found on the first Android phone – the HTC Dream/G1 – was laughable, but thankfully the Nexus One features a thoroughly decent snapper which does everything you could possibly want without really distinguishing itself.

It’s a 5 megapixel variant which ensures shots of a high resolution and the colour balance of each photo is above-average. Naturally, low-light shots can cause headaches and the LED flash ranges from ineffectual to completely overbearing, often washing photos out in a white glare.
The camera is also capable of shooting film which again is of an acceptable standard. Samsung and LG’s phone are arguably better equipped in this area but the Nexus One is unlikely to leave you feeling disappointed when it comes to capturing small clips.

Media

As mentioned previously the Nexus One showcases Android’s new and improved gallery viewer. Flicking through your photos is a real pleasure thanks to the attractive interface and neat little touches – such as new photos flying in from the sides of the screen as they’re loaded.

Video playback is equally pleasing, although we did notice that the Nexus One sometimes struggles with high-quality footage. It’s not uncommon to experience both visual and audio skipping, which is slightly disappointing. Thankfully the pre-installed YouTube application is near-faultless so you can always fall back on that solution for your live-action entertainment fix.

Battery

Let’s be honest now – the days of being able to charge your mobile up and expecting it to last for the best part of a week are long gone now. The advent of power-hungry 3G connectivity – plus the introduction of “always on” data transfer – means that your average smartphone is going to suck its battery dry within 24 hours.

The Nexus One is certainly no different, and when you consider that it houses one of the most powerful mobile CPUs currently available – not to mention an operating system which practically makes it a mini-PC - it would be foolish to expect otherwise. Most people will be perfectly fine just putting it on charge at night but if you’re a medium-to-heavy user then expect to have it connected to a wall socket more than once a day.

Summary

After enduring many pretenders to the throne we can honestly say that the Nexus One is the real deal when it comes to Android. Granted, there are a few elements which could be improved – the virtual keyboard isn’t as good as the one on the iPhone and the camera is occasionally disappointing - but on the whole this is a truly cracking piece of technology that shows how versatile and powerful smartphones can be when their manufacturers really put their minds to it.

 

 

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