By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
A week ago, Google announced that it was offering an unlocked version of its Nexus One Smartphone for AT&T and Rogers. We got our hands on one of the first units to hit Canadian borders and put it through its paces.
Designed by HTC under Google’s strict supervision, the Nexus One represents the cutting edge of hardware and software for the Android OS. It also ushers in a new distribution model for smartphone where Google sells unlocked phones directly form their website and supports the OS independently from the carriers.
For Canadians, the Nexus One costs US $556.16 plus Canadian $77.00 for import fees. The unit arrives two to three days via DHL.
Turns out the Rogers compatible Nexus One will work perfectly with Bell and Telus provided you enter those carrier’s APN (Access Point Name) information. We popped in out Telus SIM and we’re up and running within seconds as Google ships the Nexus One’s battery partially charged.
The Nexus One’s 3.7 AMOLED screen is outstanding. It is so bright and saturated that even at the lowest brightness settings it is extremely readable and reasonably bright. Black is really black, not dark grey but some of the colours may seem a bit too saturated (reds tend to approach dark pink), this is probably because the screen technology is so new.
The Nexus One is thinner and lighter than the iPhone 3GS; its body is made from a mix of aluminum and rubberized plastic. It feels soft and velvety and while we’re happy it isn’t another one of those glossy black smartphones we’ve seen so much of, we get the feeling that the N1 isn’t as tough as the iPhone 3GS. This device is all screen and should this thin and light device slip though your fingers and hit the floor, that screen’s going to get wrecked. Screen seems pretty resistant to smudges and fingerprints and the tactile vibration also helps your accuracy when typing or moving information around.
The Nexus One, much like the Palm Pre, is shaped and feels like a polished stone. It is one of the nicest smartphones to hold in one’s hand, a true tactile treat. No sharp edges, no unnecessary protrusions (save for the backlit LED trackball, the volume rocker and the 5Megapixel camera). It isn’t as slick and austere as the iPhone 3GS, but it is close.
The software keyboard is large and manageable. It may not be as intuitive as the iPhone’s but it looks like it can add commonly used words to its dictionary. Those who aren’t keen on typing on glass can use Google’s Voice Search as well as Voice Input feature which if used properly can actually be faster than tippy-typing away.
Android OS 2.1 is the latest, greatest Android OS and it is optimized to run on the Nexus One’s speedy 1GHz Snapdragon processor. Scrolling and screen refreshes when tilting and changing orientation is very fast as it the loading of applications. Using the default Google Search bar on the Nexus One yields results in around 3 seconds on WiFI and around 5 using Telus 3G.
The speed of the Nexus One is best tested when you fire up an app like Google Maps or Google Earth which are data and graphics intensive apps that are very similar to their desktop counterparts. Google Earth uses the GPS, Wi-Fi and 3G radios plus the compass and accelerometers and the N1 crunched it without any discernible lag.
Same with video which the Nexus One can manage at 720p HD, which is impressive. Video playback on this device is stunning and audio is quite passable.
Call quality is excellent and clear thanks to dual microphones that manage to isolate external noise while enhancing the voice aspect. This also helps with all the Google voice applications.
Coming from an iPhone, you do miss the large variety of apps from the iTunes App Store, the ability to buy music and video as well as the thousands of cases, accessories and solutions that are iPhone specific. Google seems to have big plans for the Nexus One and by releasing it in various unlocked formats, it will eventually find its target users.
While there are a growing number of Android Apps there aren’t enough right now to challenge the iPhone, especially in the games department where the iPhone has gained a substantial lead.
Battery life is surprisingly good and better than the Motorola Milestone. On a full charge, we were able to get through two days of use with a lot of web surfing, Twitter, Facebook and email use. We had the AMOLED screen turned all the way down and was still bright and clear.
The 5 Megapixel camera is one of the better ones we’ve tried. It can handle stills and video plus has settings for white balance, flash mode, colour effect and focus mode. It takes decent photos users can use the Gallery application to post images to online photos services or share via MMS or email.
The Android ecosystem seems more flexible, less locked down than Apple’s developer system which can be good or bad. Good is that developers may have a better chance of getting their apps released which may offer users a wider selection. The bad can be that like most open source communities, there is might be a lack of uniformity and quality control.
The Google Nexus One is a fantastic smartphone, it is more like a handheld computer and really the best example of what a Google phone could be, provided you don’t want a slide-out keyboard, the Motorola Milestone is still the best phone for that.
With its off-the-wall specs and opulent screen plus its refined handling of the Android OS, the Google Nexus One is powerful, versatile and innovative player in the smartphone market.
iPhone is still king and that’s because it has been widely adopted and has the vast amount of iTunes content to keep it relevant. But in terms of industrial design, quality of materials, battery life and “cloud integration” the Nexus One is very competitive. We’ve used it as our main smartphone for four days and while we wish it had HTC’s Sense UI as an option, we’ve been extremely impressed.
Rating 4.5 out of 5