The Google Nexus One has received more press than a rabid orang-utan attacking the I'm a Celebrity jungle on live TV, but don't get your hopes up too high. Despite having 'Google' on its name tag, the Nexus One is a pretty normal HTC phone. That's no bad thing, though -- HTC also made the Hero, which was once our favourite Android phone, and the Nexus One is even better. But it's not the Second Coming, it's tricky to get your hands on, and Android is still not perfect.
The Nexus One is only available unlocked and SIM-free from the Google phone Web site for $529 (£320), and you'll be liable for duty and tax from the US to the UK. It will be sold with a Vodafone contract from this spring, but the price hasn't been announced yet.
The Nexus One is the first phone to come with version 2.1 of Google's Android operating system, and the little green robot just keeps getting better and better. Old features like fantastic Gmail and Google Maps integration are as good as ever, while an improved address book makes contacting people in myriad ways, or just looking up their address, a cinch.
New features include a car mode that displays big, finger-friendly icons in landscape format when you're driving, but, sadly, we Brits don't get to play with one of the best toys -- turn-by-turn directions in Google Maps.
We do, however, get a brand spanking new UK version of the Amazon MP3 store, so you can purchase and download DRM-free MP3s right from the phone. It's a simple, stripped-down version of the iTunes store that you get on the iPhone, and, although it has fewer types of media and lacks the seamless integration with iTunes on your desktop, it does give you the option of syncing your songs on multiple computers using your choice of music software.
The latest and greatest version of Android also includes some user-interface tweaks, and useful built-in support for Microsoft Exchange email. But, if you're used to Android, you won't find much to surprise you, although the many small improvements make a good experience even better.
The Nexus One can also translate your speech into text in
many instances where you would use the keyboard, although even Google calls this
feature 'experimental'. It was unreliable in our tests, sometimes surprising us
with a perfect transcription of our ramblings into a text message or email, and
sometimes producing hilarious gibberish. We noted that it doesn't do cursing, so you can't even enjoy swearing at the phone when it doesn't work properly, but it's a fun feature with huge potential. One issue that Google should sort
out quickly is this feature's habit of making grammatical errors -- there's no excuse for common words like 'I' to be
transcribed in lower case.
There's even noise-cancellation technology in the Nexus One, which means that, in a noisy room, you should come through louder and clearer to the person you're calling. In our tests, we did find that voices from the Nexus One were louder, clearer and had less background noise than calls from an iPhone 3GS made in the same environment.
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.
There's no multi-touch capability on the Nexus One, so you can't zoom in with a pinch of the fingers like you can on the Hero or the Motorola Milestone. We missed this intuitive tool, but, unless you've become used to it already, we don't think you'll mind the privation too much. Flash support is another feature that HTC got onto the Hero but that's missing on the Nexus One.
Take a shot
The Nexus One has a 5-megapixel camera with an LED photo light, and shoots video, as well as stills. In our tests, the camera wasn't spectacular, but it did a good job of catching spontaneous snapshots and had a useful handful of settings to play with.
You can pack your photos and music onto the included 4GB microSD card, with the Nexus One supporting up to a 32GB card. It's also easy to share your snaps over email, MMS message, Facebook or Picasa.
Google says that it made the Nexus One to show people what Android could really do, and we think it's succeeded brilliantly. Although it lacks the slick Android additions that HTC grafted onto the Hero, the Nexus One's big screen and powerful processor make it utterly crave-worthy and a challenger for the title of best Android phone yet. It's also a small step ahead of the Motorola Milestone, unless a physical Qwerty keyboard is on your list of must-have features.
to its Android powers, the Nexus One is certainly more flexible and
customisable than the iPhone, with a long list of superior features, such as an
LED light for its camera, and expandable memory. But Android isn't as slick and
user-friendly as Apple's iPhone OS, and the Android Market can't match the App Store's dominance either. If you value expandability and features over elegance and ease of use, the Nexus One may be the handset for you.
Edited by Charles Kloet