Review: Google Nexus One

 
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Published: July 20, 2010 11:00 PM
By Florence Legrand
Note: an update Android 2.2 (Froyo) is now available for current Nexus One owners.  Amongst other features, that will add full support for Flash 10.1 and should improve speeds and battery life.  Unfortunately, we don't still have the Nexus One this review is based on so we can't test it with the new software, but we'll be able to soon we hope!

When it was unveiled last December, the Nexus One provoked a lot of speculation.  Google was going to sell its own smartphone (albeit made by HTC)—and go it was going alone, without any support from mobile networks.

The Nexus One then became the first Android handset to run version 2.1 of the OS, codenamed Eclair, and had a solid hardware configuration with a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor running at 1 GHz and 512 MB of memory.  Since then, the competition, especially HTC, has caught up, without consigning the Nexus One to history.   The Google Phone still has plenty of tricks up its sleeve ...


 
If you've ever seen a HTC Desire, then you'll immediately spot the family resemblance between the two handsets made by Taiwanese manufacturer HTC.  The Nexus One has the same shape as the Desire and the same minimalist design.  It's a mixture of dark and light grey plastic (that you'll either love or hate), with a rubbery surface that ensures a good grip: the handset doesn't slip easily.  Another benefit is that the case doesn't get covered with greasy fingerprints.



There are two specific features on the Nexus One that aren't found on the Desire.  The first is the trackball which we didn't end up using that much because the touchscreen is so accurate, but which does flash when you get a new message.  The second is a row of touch-sensitive buttons (back, menu, home and search) in place of the Desire's physical buttons.  In general, we aren't always fond of touch-based controls like these, which either refuse to react first time round or else are so sensitive that they're activated even if you brush over them lightly.  And on the Nexus One, it's the former problem we ran into, and we were soon frustrated by having to tap twice to do anything.  There's nothing else to it: we prefer real, solid buttons.

The handset is impeccably finished and feels very solid, just like all of HTC's phones.

The Nexus One, the iPhone 4 and the HTC Legend

After waiting through a rather long 55 second power-up, you get a first glance at the capacitative multitouch 3.7'' 800 x 460 pixel AMOLED touchscreen.  It looks gorgeous, even if it's now a little bit behind the screens found on the Samsung Galaxy S (which has the same resolution) or the iPhone 4 (960 x 640 pixels on 3.5'').  When we looked closely, this screen, which was excellent six months ago, shows a little less detail and also proved to be a little less sensitive than current models.  But it's still a treat to use and reproduces colours accurately, including a very deep black.


You still have a very easy direct access to settings for connectivity and screen brightness.  Note that the battery icon sometimes behaves erratically, dropping off from 100% to 50% in a moment.

Not as fun as Sense


Google's user interface is pretty rough and ready, and this is a long way from the Sense UI offered by HTC on its own Android-based handsets, which, as well as being easier on the eye, is also easier to use.  Samsung also decided to add a more user-friendly layer to Google on its recent Galaxy S.
 





Syncing your contacts between your phonebook, Gmail and Facebook

Even though other smartphones have this feature, we particularly enjoyed being able so synchronise our Facebook friends with contacts stored in our phone and e-mail accounts.  It's a very simple operation, but it means you can quickly get hold of everybody's photo and e-mail address.  In the same vein, when you open up a contact pane, you can either call, send an e-mail or SMS, or read your friend's latest status update.  Given how popular social networks are, it's a great addition.




The dynamic homescreen is a big hit, but we prefer to turn it off to save a little bit of battery life.

Eclair sells like hot cakes

With hardware like this, we're within our rights to expect impressive performance, and that's exactly what we found.  The handset is very fast, even if the interface does lag occasionally, without becoming irritating.  On the other hand, the Nexus One doesn't seem to lose any of its vim when running several apps in the background.  We still suggest you do your best to improve the slightly shaky battery life by killing any apps you're not actually using.  For that, you can download the Task Killer app from Android Market, though it's astonishing that this isn't a standard feature of the OS.


The virtual keyboard is easy to use, without too many typos.  It's missing auto correction though

Photo and v

Browsing the web on such a large screen with such a high resolution is a real treat.  The display is accurate, and pages load quickly.  To give you something to compare it to, the iPhone 4 is even faster.  But the Nexus One does support Flash, or at least Flash Lite, with full support coming in Froyo.




Handling web pages

We were often frustrated by the photos taken by the Nexus One's camera, which don't reproduce colours accurately at all.  When light levels fall, detail levels fall off.  The HTC Desire, very similar to the Nexus One, does better, and the Apple iPhone 4 is even better.
 
 
Compare the Google Nexus One to other digital cameras and camera phones in our Product Face-Off

Video capture isn't great either: the Nexus One records 720p video at 20 frames per second, and the results are neither particularly fluid nor do they have great sound.  Amongst the recent high-end smartphones we've tested, the iPhone 4 also films in 720p, but at 30 fps.

Audio quality is about average for a handset in tis segment, with no particular concerns.  Although the Desire includes an FM tuner, it's not on offer here.

Finally, to look at battery life, you should know that during our pretty intensive tests (not many voice calls, but lots of texts, data, Internet, e-mail and video), both with and without WiFi, the Nexus One could hardly last a single day.  Remember to close the apps that you're not using!
4/5 Google Nexus One DigitalVersus 2010-07-21 00:00:00

Pros

  • Small but with a big screen / excellent finish
  • Fast overall / stable OS
  • Great web experience
  • Google apps integration / powerful multitasking
  • Android Market / Google Navigation

Cons

  • Disappointing photos / videos are jerky
  • Interface is less attractive and less intutive than HTC's Sense UI
  • Battery must be removed to swap SD cards
  • Poor battery life
  • App to close background tasks a separate download

Conclusion

Should you get a HTC Desire or a Google (HTC) Nexus One? Apart from a few rare exceptions, the two handsets are pretty similar and end up performing equally well. We still prefer HTC's own phone though, which has a more attractive user interface and a more convincing camera. Then again, the Nexus One is the first to get the latest version of Android ...

OUR SCORE 4/5
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