Android is packed with smart-phone powers, and the Nexus One backs it up with a mind-boggling array of hardware features, including a compass, GPS, Wi-Fi and 7.2Mbps HSDPA for speedy downloads over 3G. The operating system supports multi-tasking, so you can run multiple apps at once, and holding down the home key reveals everything that's currently up and running. The downside to all this activity is that Android is still occasionally unstable, and we did manage to crash things now and then.
Paper and paste
Unlike the Hero, the Nexus One doesn't have HTC's Sense user interface, which includes a suite of flashy widgets and social-networking features. But even the bog-standard Android on the Nexus One has some showing off to do, with a choice of ten animated wallpapers that flutter behind the five home screens, which you can fill with shortcuts and widgets that suit you. Our favourite wallpaper shows leaves lazily floating over the surface of a pond, while ripples that you can cause with the touch of a finger distort the reflection of the virtual trees above. That is some trippy wallpaper, dude, but beware -- all that pointless animation will increase the drain on the battery, which lasted about a day for us with typical use.
More widgets, as well as hundreds of phone-enhancing apps and games, are yours for the downloading from the Android Market. The apps don't tend to be as slick as those in the iPhone's App Store, and the selection is smaller, but most are still free, and there are more than enough to keep you entertained for a lifetime, or at least the life of the battery.
The Nexus One isn't a stunningly gorgeous phone, but its grey plastic body, which is slightly narrower and taller than the iPhone's, is gently rounded and comfortable to hold. Along the bottom, the traditional trappings of an Android-powered phone are all there -- four touch-sensitive buttons, and a little trackball that throbs with light when you've got a message waiting.
The four buttons are completely flat, but they let you know when you've touched them with haptic feedback -- the phone vibrates slightly. We tend to complain about the surfeit of buttons on Android phones, and we were looking forward to the Nexus One's sleek buttons, but, after using them, we prefer the physical buttons on the Hero. They were the only part of the Nexus One that wasn't responsive enough -- sometimes they didn't register our presses right away -- and, if they had the positive feedback of real buttons, we think the phone would feel better.
Otherwise, the Nexus One's 1GHz Snapdragon processor made the phone feel fabulously responsive and quick. We tested the Web browser over Wi-Fi, and the Nexus One had no trouble keeping up with the iPhone 3GS. In our tests, the Android Web browser still didn't measure up to the iPhone's for some sites, but it has some great advantages. The Google-powered search recommendations work like a charm, and the browser itself keeps out of the way, so that more of the page is visible on the screen.
And what a screen it is. The Nexus One has a gorgeous, 94mm (3.7-inch) AMOLED whopper that makes surfing the Web and watching videos a thrill. We did find that the automatic brightness control kept things a little dark for our taste, but, at full blast, the screen is blinding, and the 800x480-pixel resolution is stunning.
The touchscreen is also smooth and responsive, as is the ever-important virtual keyboard. It doesn't unseat the Hero's as the best virtual keyboard currently doing the rounds, but, with big keys and an excellent auto-suggest feature that means you'll rarely have to type a whole word, the Nexus One is as good as the iPhone in this area.