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Google Nexus One Cell Phone Review

by The Review CrewMay 30, 2010

Though Google has provided Android to several OEMs over the past few years, they hesitated to enter the phone space themselves – until now. Enter the Nexus One, Google’s revolutionary new device featuring the nation’s first direct-to-consumer ordering option. Though it’s quite popular in other countries, the unsubsidized movement hasn’t quite taken off here. With the different ordering method, the question must be asked: is the device so much better than other Android devices that it’s worth ordering online?

Design & Features

The Nexus One offers a relatively minimalist design, but I find it to be quite functional. The left side of the device contains a volume rocker, while the top of the device houses the power button and 3.5mm headphone jack. The front of the device sports the back, menu, home, and search keys, along with a trackball. The microUSB charging port can be found on the bottom of the device. Overall, the Nexus One’s design is beautiful, with a metal faceplate and a clean appearance. The device looks like it should cost more than $179.

The Nexus One ships in a white box, with no outside markings besides “Nexus One,” “Google,” and the UPC/IMEI barcode. Inside, you’ll find the device, battery, an AC adapter, USB cable, earbuds, a pouch (complete with a little Android bot on the front), a 4GB microSD card (installed in phone), and instruction manuals. Coming in at 4.69 inches long by 2.35 inches wide by 0.45 inch thick, the device weighs 4.59 ounces, making it one of the lighter smartphones on the market. The Nexus One offers an absolutely stunning 3.7-inch AMOLED (active matrix organic light emitting diode) capacitive touchscreen with 65,536 colors and 480 x 800 pixels. Believe me when I say that the AMOLED display is one of the most beautiful displays that I’ve ever seen on a mobile device. It’s really one of those “you have to see it to believe it” things. After using the device for several days, I find other displays such as those found on the iPhone and DROID to be a significant step back. The only downside comes when trying to use the device outside – because of the screen technology, it’s next to impossible.

Usability & Performance

I’ve often argued that the Android OS suffered from a “geeky design” – something that would pose a detriment to consumers until they refined it to a point that made it functional and easy to use. While I would argue that Android 2.0 was the turning point for the platform, Android 2.1 – included on the Nexus One – has taken it to a new level. Gone is the menu “bar,” instead being replaced by a menu grid. Icons scroll up and disappear in what I like to call “Star Wars text” fashion, and circles in the bottom left and right hand sides of the screen let you know what tab you’re in (similar to the iPhone). Also new to Android 2.1 is Google’s News and Weather widget, which provides weather, US news, sports news, and entertainment news. And who can forget the live wallpaper feature? The device ships with several live wallpaper options, including one that detects what time of day it is.

The device sports a 1 GHz Snapdragon CPU, and it makes a noticeable difference. From multitasking to general performance, everything feels snappier. Overall, the device performed spectacularly in regards to speed, but the one recurring issue I had was that the device was often erratic in some tasks. When I would scroll through the menu, the device would often misinterpret a scroll for a touch, and would open a program. Additionally, the scrolling itself was erratic – I found that there were times where one scroll did the trick, and other times where it required two. What’s more, the bottom part of the screen and the touch buttons appear to require a bit more pressure than the rest of the device. Not a deal breaker by any means, but it does get old very quickly.

I found the keyboard on the Nexus One to be a bit of a mixed boat. After using the virtual keyboard found on the iPhone, I’m spoiled. I rate the Nexus One’s keyboard a close second. Most of the time, I had no problem typing on it, but overall, I find it to be slightly less accurate than the iPhone’s on-screen keyboard. There are alternatives that you can pick up on the internet, but I’m referring specifically to the stock option. It can be used in portrait or landscape mode.

I’ve been working with the Nexus One in the Charlotte and San Francisco markets, and call quality has been fantastic. Frankly, I’m blown away by the noise cancellation technology in the device. In my tests, I tried everything from turning up my radio to the point where it was shaking my car to calling in some of the loudest stores I could find. Each and every time, my callers reported minor to no background noise. Needless to say, it’s a great addition for those that walk and talk on a regular basis (such as myself). Additionally, I paired the Plantronics Voyager Pro Bluetooth headset to the device without issue.

The Nexus One offers a 5.0-megapixel camera with autofocus, and in my testing, picture quality was very good. Complete with a flash, the camera performed well in most situations I was able to throw at it. Editing options include white balance, color effects, the ability to store the picture location for geotagging, picture size, picture quality, and focus mode.

Estimated talk time is 7 hours of talk time, and just under 11 days of standby time. I was incredibly surprised with how good the Nexus One’s battery life actually is. Granted, it’s not going to make it through three days of heavy usage, but with moderate to heavy use including calling, text messaging, instant messaging, browsing the internet, and use of Google Maps, I was able to make it 1 1/2 days before the device powered down. I find it to be much better than other flagship devices like the iPhone and DROID, and given the AMOLED display (along with the size of it), it’s quite impressive.

The Nexus One offers 3G HSPA connectivity (on T-Mobile), so browsing speeds were very fast. The full CNN webpage loaded in about 16 seconds, and the PhoneDog homepage loaded in 25 seconds. Other data-intensive tasks such as Google Maps, the Android Market, Google Talk, the Amazon MP3 store, and downloaded apps worked well. Though they were a bit late to the 3G game, T-Mobile has done a good job of blanketing the markets that they cover with a solid and reliable 3G connection.

Conclusion
The good news? Google has adopted the European direct-to-consumer sales model; something that is long overdue in the United States. The bad news? In pioneering any new idea, you’re the first person to start it – meaning that any growth challenges are yours to bear. The fact of the matter is that the direct-to-consumer model (i.e. the fact that it’s not being sold in retail stores) isn’t prevalent in the States just yet, and until it is, you’re far more likely to see the Nexus One in the hands of savvy internet users and phone geeks versus the average smartphone consumer.

I absolutely love the Nexus One, and believe it to be the best Android unit to date. Unfortunately, the lack of availability in retail stores combined with the bad press it has received due to launch and technical support issues make people hesitant to purchase it. For most people, hearing negative things about a device (or in Google’s case, the company’s technical support) combined with the inability to actually see it in person makes for a tough sell. What’s more, the device is being sold in a form fully compatible with T-Mobile only – the nation’s fourth largest wireless carrier with a significantly smaller footprint than the others. My guess is when Google starts selling the Verizon Wireless version in the Spring, sales numbers will increase.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.