Nexus One Review: Fast, Loaded with Features But Enterprise Ready?
Nexus One Review Summary
Pros: The Nexus One is impressive, with a zippy processor, cinematic display, intuitive UI and navigation, scores high on voice quality and data delivery and has lasting battery life.
Cons: Not yet ready as a prime-time player for mobile computing in the enterprise (no Outlook Calendar sync), stores apps on internal memory and has a mediocre media player.
You have to hand it to Google. In just a bit more than two years, the Internet giant's Android platform has taken the smartphone world by storm.
For instance, Google-run mobile devices dominated last month's CTIA Wireless show in Las Vegas, as every time you turned around another carrier or manufacturer seemed to announce plans to either support Android or build a new phone (or even tablet) based on the mobile operating system. Until recently, HTC dominated the Android smartphone market. Although HTC still has the most Google-based handsets on the market, with the advent of the wildly successful Android Droid for Verizon Wireless and the Blackflip for AT&T, among other mobile devices, Motorola's quickly become a significant competitor to the Taiwanese smartphone maker.
And then you've got Google itself, with its first self-branded smartphone, the Nexus One, a challenge to Apple's iPhone but also to its own partners, for instance, Motorola and Samsung, as well. Like so many other so-called gPhones, HTC built the Android-run Nexus One.
The Nexus One is available unlocked (without a contract) for T-Mobile and AT&T's carrier networks as well as locked (with a two-year subscriber agreement) from a single operator, T-Mobile. The unlocked edition, at $529, is considerably more expensive than the locked version, which goes for only $179 with a two-year contract. A CDMA version of the Nexus One is also on tap for Sprint and a Verizon model is due out soon.
So far, the Nexus One hasn't done nearly as well as the Droid. Verizon's shipped 250,000 of Motorola's Android phone in the first week alone, for example. Meanwhile, as of mid-March, Google and T-Mobile's sold only about 135,000 Nexus One units.
What's the deal? You'd think a company with the name recognition of Google would have done much better.
Part of the problem is with the way Google's marketed and serviced the Nexus One. Normally, a smartphone's offered directly by the carrier that supports it, and, sometimes, the manufacturer that builds the mobile device, a la Apple's deal with AT&T. Not so with the Nexus One, which until now (as of writing) has only been available through Google's Web site. Worse, when Google launched the phone, you could only receive customer support via e-mail. Due to complaints and initial steep termination fees, Google's since added a phone support line and cut early termination costs for Nexus One users.
Nexus One Impresses, But Not Ready for Enterprise Mobile Computing
Therefore, yes, acquisition, customer service and support has to significantly improve before the Nexus One can be taken seriously as a viable enterprise device. Nonetheless, as a piece of hardware, the Nexus One impresses, as does the implementation of the latest update to Google's Android platform. Still, the smartphone is not quite ready to take the business market head on.
The Nexus One is a sleek-looking and handsome tablet-shaped smartphone that, at 4.7 x 2.35 x 0.45 inches, is rather compact and thin. It is a comfortable fit in both the hand and pocket. At 4.6 ounces (with battery), the device is rather light as well. It comes in a single two-toned gray scheme, with a lighter gray on the front and a darker gray on the back.
You enter text through the Android platform's standard and adequate virtual keyboard with word recognition (see picture below). There's no hardware keyboard, unlike the Droid, so, like the iPhone, the Nexus One is not ideal for those who prefer some physical feedback when typing up emails, notes, etc. The Nexus One's haptic (vibration) feedback simply won't cut it for those jonesing for a hard keyboard.
For us, after some time working with the soft-typer, we found ourselves tapping out words fairly quickly. We give a slight edge to the iPhone's virtual keyboard, though. There's good news for those who would prefer a different keyboard, however: alternatives, including one that's supposed to be pretty similar to the iPhone's, are available for download through the Android Market.
For navigation, the Nexus One sports a BlackBerry Pearl-like trackball, that conveniently lights up when a message arrives, below its impressive 3.7-inch, capacitive AMOLED touchscreen. Actually, speaking of the display, the first thing that stands out about mobile device, once you turn it on, is the brightness and color-richness of the high-resolution 800 x 480-pixel screen, which also supports 16.7 million colors. The display certainly gives the iPhone and Palm Pre a run for their money, and is, in our estimation, among the best we've ever seen.
When Google first released the Nexus One, its screen did not support multitouch input, the ability to use more than one finger to, for example, pinch a Web page larger and smaller. That was a big disappointment Google thankfully rectified with a software update in February. Overall, the display (from top to bottom and side to side) had no problem quickly and accurately responding to our fingers whenever we used the touch interface.
Photos and videos, which you take with the Nexus One's feature-rich 5-megapixel camera with built-in LED flash (located on the back of the unit), autofocus, and 2x digital zoom look fantastic on the screen. This is especially true when 3D kicks in and it appears as though the pictures you took rotate with the turning of the phone. For the most part, the Nexus One performs very well as a multimedia device, although its music player could be a bit better.
And, unlike the iPhone with iTunes or the Palm Pre with its Amazon.com app, you must purchase and download music onto the Nexus One from the desktop through the bundled USB cable, which, along with the included AC adapter, can also charge the mobile device. Both the cable and adapter plug into the Nexus One's microUSB slot, unobtrusively located on the bottom of the smartphone.
It would be great, if -- as the iPhone does -- you could fully synchronize all of your desktop's PIM information via the cable as well. But, as of this writing, you can't.
Part of this has to do with Google's emphasis on making the Nexus One a device that mainly focuses on efficiently syncing to the Internet services Google offers. So, it comes as no surprise that the Nexus One does so with Google Calendar, Contacts and Gmail (as well as POP3 and IMAP4 email accounts). In fact, one of the first things you do when activating the Nexus One is tie it into your Google online account or, if you don't have one, create one on the smartphone.
But minimal desktop and corporate data support leaves the Nexus One way behind the iPhone in terms of business use. This is especially true given the recent introduction of iPhone OS 4 with its extensive mobile device management and security enhancements. In terms of being an adequate corporate communicator, it also lags way behind market-leader RIM with its BlackBerry platform. Supposedly, the next edition of the Nexus One will be more enterprise friendly with full support for Microsoft's ActiveSync technology (to bring Calendar synching) for Exchange and, it seems, a hardware-based keyboard.
Like other high-end smartphones, including the iPhone, there's an accelerometer to allow users to interface with the Nexus One by moving the device itself, an ambient light sensor to automatically optimize brightness of the display, and a proximity sensor, so you don't accidentally launch an app or hit any buttons when brining the device to your face. All those features worked as advertised. And yet, even though the device automatically adjusted the brightness of the display based on lighting conditions, sometimes it was difficult to see the screen in daylight.
Fairly standard with Android phones, the Nexus One being no exception, are four soft buttons (back, home, search, notifications) just below the display but above the trackball (see picture below). These buttons, which serve as shortcuts, help make getting around the device's user interface a breeze. Sometimes single button devices can be troublesome, as it can take users more time to switch from feature to feature.
Zippy Mobile Device with Lots of Power
A powerful 1GHz Qualcom Snapdragon processor powers the Nexus One, making it, perhaps, the fastest Android phone on the market. So pretty much everything you do on it, from opening applications to streaming video, is snappy.
It runs Android OS 2.1, the latest version of Google's smartphone platform. The power of Nexus One became fully apparent by how smoothly it handles 3D graphics and the way the cool and modern-looking (and even sometimes mesmerizing) animated wallpapers zoom around the screen. Pretty much any transition we threw at the Nexus One, from switching apps to loading Web pages, occurred quickly.
You charge the Nexus One's removable 1400mAh battery through a standard microUSB connector located on the very bottom of the unit (see picture below). Google rates the battery for 290 hours standby and 10 hours of talk time. During testing, we found no reason to argue against those claims. In fact, unlike with the iPhone, the Nexus One can easily handle a full day of usage. And, as opposed to Apple's smartphone, you can always purchase a spare battery to power the device even longer if necessary.
While the power button and (thankfully) standard 3.5mm jack for the bundled stereo headset rest at the top of the Nexus One, its microSD -- as with the SIM card -- slide in just underneath the battery. So, in order to change expansion cards, you need to pop the cover off, which isn't very convenient. Google ships the Nexus One with a 4GB microSD, which come in sizes up to 32GB. That means the Nexus One, like all smartphones with expansion slots, allows for basically an unlimited storage capacity. This is not the case for the iPhone.
Mobile App Storage Somewhat Limited
Unfortunately, the Nexus One only includes 512MB of internal memory (only 190 MBs available for app storage), which can be taken up pretty quickly by third-party programs downloaded through the Android Market. This wouldn't be such a problem if you could store apps on a memory card, which as of Android 2.1 you can't. Let's hope Google changes this with a future version of Android.
The user interface, like with the webOS and iPhone, is intuitive and easy to use. It occupies a middle ground between Apple's tightly controlled and fairly static iPhone OS and Palm's webOS, which is perhaps the most sophisticated smartphone platform today. Unlike the iPhone, which gives you many home pages to distribute download apps, the Nexus One lets you deal out programs over only five pages. That doesn't seem like much, and it isn't, but it is an improvement over the Droid, which (get this) only provides three pages for apps. You can add and delete shortcuts and icons at will, of course.
We were happy to see the Nexus One, as an Android handset, supports integration with the search giant's great Google Voice service. This makes it simple for users to assign the Nexus One their Google Voice number, so they can make and receive calls and SMS messages with the number from their mobile handset.
What is Google Voice exactly? It is a free phone-management system that provides users with a single phone number that they can then channel all their other phone numbers (mobile, landline, work, etc.) through. They can add and remove phone numbers at will, which is very useful for folks like us who go through a lot of mobile handsets. The service also automatically records and transcribes voice messages, can record and transcribe conversations, allows for 2-cent international calls, and enables people to send free text messages.
Speaking of voice, the Nexus One's duplex speakerphone, in our opinion, rivaled RIM's BlackBerry phones for voice quality. The Nexus One's volume control, like the iPhone, is located on left side and is easy to find when needed (see picture below).
While many Nexus One users complained about poor voice and 3G service reception when Google released the handset, we experienced none of those problems with our review unit. We could easily hear what other people said and vice versa, and our wireless data reception over T-Mobile's data network and when connected over Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) proved strong and reliable. Bluetooth for personal area networking (with support for wireless stereo headsets), such as to our car stereo, worked fine as well though we would have liked to have seen support for hands-fee dialing.
UI is Mobile Download Friendly
A nice touch in the Nexus One user interface is the addition of a shortcut bar that makes it easy and convenient to turn on and off wireless and other services, including the aforementioned Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, but also GPS and syncing (if you don't want your phone connecting and updating Web services constantly, which can negatively affect battery life) as well as control display brightness. Hold the home screen button to see features you've used recently. In addition to Gmail contacts, the Nexus One can quickly and automatically synchronize Exchange and Facebook contacts. It can't handle your Outlook calendar, however.
Dots that appear at either side of the bottom of the screen represent each of the five home pages. This helps you to quickly navigate through them. Touch a square grid made up of small squares at the bottom middle of the screen to bring up a nicely laid out and scrollable grid of icons representing all apps and services on the Nexus One.
The trackball also makes it easy to scroll through home pages and select apps. Once you land on the icon of an app you want to select, press the trackball and it launches. The trackball makes one-handed operation of the Nexus One beyond the toucscreen a viable option.
At the top of the home screen is a global search box for the Internet and the Nexus One (see picture below). Hold the picture of a microphone down for a couple of seconds and the Nexus One becomes ready to (we found accurately) take voice commands. In addition to search, you can dial, write messages, and search for apps in the Android market with your voice. We were particularly impressed by the Nexus One's ability to accurately transcribe our spoken words into text. Best of all, because speech recognition is speaker-independent, it required no training on our part.
As with any smartphone, there's far more to the Nexus One than we could possibly cover. Here are some of the many additional apps and services bundled with mobile device: text-to-speech, a compass, News & Weather, Car Home, YouTube, Google Talk, Google Goggles, Picassa, Maps (for turn-by-turn directions and navigation via GPS), and an excellent and speedy Web browser, which, for some reason, did not include support for Flash Lite.
And, although it may seem like a minor detail, we really liked the sleeve Google bundles to hold the Nexus One. It is not much, but it is soft and would provide good protection for the device's display in case of a fall. Separately, Google is now offering desktop and car docks for the Nexus One. When you insert the Nexus One, the former automatically launches the smartphone's Clock app. Both docks charge the Nexus One, of course.
James Alan Miller is a senior contributing editor at EnterpriseMobileToday.com and writes the iPhone Guide Blog.