On paper, Google’s new Nexus One is the smartphone to beat. It’s got a gorgeous screen, a svelte formfactor, and the hottest phone operating system on the planet, Android 2.1. Unfortunately, just like the Motorola Droid, the Nexus One has some problems that prevent us from recommending it wholeheartedly.
Let’s start with the awesome. The Nexus One’s screen, a 3.7-inch 800x480 active-matrix OLED display, is undeniably gorgeous, rendering pitch-perfect colors at high resolution in a way that makes the iPhone 3GS screen look simply sad by comparison. The Nexus One runs a Qualcomm QSD 8250 at 1GHz, comes with 512MB of RAM and 512MB of onboard flash, and includes a user-upgradeable 4GB MicroSD card. All this is packed into an HTC-designed body that’s slimmer than an iPhone 3GS and waaaay sexier than the Droid.
The Android OS itself continues to impress. The 2.1 edition spit-shines the improvements to 2.0. We dig the speedier application menu and the dynamic wallpaper, which uses cues from the music you’re listening to or the time of day to render interesting (but ultimately useless) visualizations behind your home screen. There are a few more substantial updates, as well—most notably, every text field in the phone is voice enabled. While this won’t make in-car Twittering any safer (you still need to navigate to the right fields with your fingers), we found the feature occasionally useful, especially in the navigation app. It’s worth mentioning that the voice recognition all happens server-side, so even though it’s pretty accurate, it takes a moment or two to complete.
The Application menu in Android 2.1 received some cosmetic and performance improvements. Icons seem to scroll up and over a 3D cube, rather than up a flat surface.
The best thing about Android continues to be the ability for third-party developers to integrate their apps with the phone’s native apps. The widgets that have been part of Android since version 1.5 even allow you to customize your phone’s home screen, something that’s notably missing from the iPhone.
While the Android Marketplace now has more than 14,000 apps, the viewer software does a poor job of promoting the good apps and burying the bad. We still don’t know how to sort by user rating or popularity, and the editorially driven selections are not compelling. All the applications in the world won’t help your platform if your users can’t find the awesome ones, Google.
Android includes a car-friendly nav menu that puts the apps you frequently use in a car at hand, so it is ever-so-slightly less dangerous when you use the phone while driving.
We also experienced some pretty serious problems with the onscreen keyboard, on three separate occasions, with multiple handsets. It simply stopped registering touches accurately, which made it impossible to type. The problem was sporadic and difficult to reproduce but it was annoying as hell. We haven’t experienced the problem since applying the multitouch update, but it’s a serious enough problem that it warrants mentioning. We also feel that the soft buttons on the screen’s fascia (Back, Menu, Home, and Search) are placed too high. It’s too easy to accidently tap them when you hit the keyboard.
Of course, the worst of it is that this Nexus One is really only usable on T-Mobile’s limited network for now. AT&T users can buy it unlocked but will be limited to EDGE speeds. The good news is that the Nexus One is coming out in Verizon trim this spring, with an AT&T version on tap, too. Having this phone on a more capable network would push the Nexus One up in value. Still, as is, even with its little foibles, the Nexus One is clearly the best Android-phone yet.
Google Nexus One
Great OLED screen; replaceable battery; good call quality; infinitely customizable.