Google Nexus One Smartphone Review

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I took delivery of a shiny, new Nexus One a few weeks ago. Unlike Randall, who started blogging exuberantly about his iPhone the moment he got it, decided to live with the phone for a little while before writing a review.

Why I chose the Nexus One

My last few phones have been two- or three generations out of date. I have been using a Blackberry Pearl for the last two years, for example. It just kept getting slower as the limited software I had for it kept pace with newer phones, leaving my hardware in the dust. I wanted to move from the trailing edge to the cutting edge.

The iPhone was never really an option for me. It is a great device, but I do not like Apple’s draconian, closed-source business model. I am a Linux guy at heart, and I am embedded in Google’s platform, so Android made more sense. That meant the Motorola Droid, if I wanted the cutting edge, until the Nexus One arrived.

I also liked the Nokia N900 a lot, but Maemo, its operating system, is very new and has fairly limited community support. And the Palm Pre. I have always had a soft spot for Palm, and the Pre’s WebOS is a sweet platform.

But when the Nexus One came out, it seemed to satisfy all my priorities. With Google finally getting behind a phone, I could count on the Nexus One getting plenty of attention, long-term support and updates. Plus, it was built with cutting-edge technology, including a faster processor than the iPhone and Pre. Price helped, too. The Nexus One on T-Mobile is significantly cheaper than the iPhone on AT&T or the Palm Pre Plus or Motorola Droid on Verizon.

So, faster, newer, Google-friendly phone with the prospect of healthy support from Google, all at a lower price? Sold.

Purchasing the Nexus One

The only way to buy the Nexus One is at google.com/phone. It costs $529 unlocked, or $179 with a two-year contract on T-Mobile. Overnight delivery via FedEx is included. I ordered mine Saturday afternoon, and it was processed and shipped Monday night, then delivered on Tuesday morning.

Hardware

The Nexus One is a solid, attractive device. In the looks department, it is probably Miss Congeniality when measured against the iPhone and Pre, but it still looks darn good.

The case is mostly metal and glass, so it feels substantial in the hand, but actually a bit smaller than an iPhone. Build quality, from what I can see, is excellent. HTC’s torture testing is surely the reason. The screen is large, bright, and responsive. The operating system feels fast, but not necessarily faster than a 3G S or Droid, despite the faster processor.

The camera, at 5 megapixels, is more powerful than my point-and-shoot. At the same time, I am not sure the Nexus One can really take advantage of all that detail. The tiny camera lens seems to be the bottleneck. Pictures are a little oversaturated and grainy, and the white-balance is off, despite the big hardware. I dropped the megapixels to 3, which helped, but the camera needs some tweaking.

The call quality and sound are great, including the speaker phone. I had read that some people were having trouble with speaker volume, but I have found it perfectly adequate for my needs, which do not include using my phone as a boombox.Which brings up a good point: if you want to use the Nexus One as a music player, you will want to replace the 4GB microSD card it comes with. You can expand the storage to 32GB, which then makes the Nexus One a decent music player, though not on par with the iPhone.

The only glitch I have encountered seems to involve the proximity sensor, which turns the screen off when you are talking on the phone, and the notifications panel. The touchscreen locks up about every third or fourth phone call, making it impossible to use the dialpad or hang up the call. I am not sure whether this is a hardware problem with my phone, or a software problem that will be fixed soon. Google updated the software on February 4th, so hopefully that will fix the issue. (Update: So far, this seems to be the case.)

Software

Android is a very good operating system, and the Nexus One comes with the latest version, which has some nice tweaks. For example, you can add a convenient “power” widget to your desktop, so you can easily turn the various radios (3G, wi-fi, GPS) on and off, and control screen brightness. The photo gallery app is updated, and you can add some fancy “live” wallpapers, which are very pretty, but useless eye candy.

Android is built to integrate with Google, so I was pleased, but not surprised, to see how easy it was to integrate with Google Voice. I added my Google Apps account, so I had access to all my contacts, and then set the phone to always use Google Voice for outgoing calls and text messages. Done. Now, I use Google Voice with every call, transparently, and my friends, family, and clients, are naturally making the switch. My cell phone number remains the same, of course, so they can still reach me that way, if they like.

Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Contacts are all outstanding. Checking e-mail on an iPhone is a chore compared to checking it on the Nexus One. Which makes sense. Google built the software to work with its services. You have full access to the features of your mail, calendar, and contacts, and the Nexus One will integrate your Facebook and other social networking contacts, as well, to make your phonebook even more useful.

I was particularly excited to try Google Maps’ new GPS navigation features, which is free, and works great, as advertised. I do not own a regular GPS device, but I see no reason to buy one, now. I just need to figure out a way to mount my Nexus One on the dash. (There are rumors that Google plans to release a dash mount in the near future, so I may not have to wait long.)

Part of the advantage of a modern smartphone is the ability to customize it with apps. The Android Market may not be quite as large as the App Store, but you will find most of what you need. All the Google Apps are available, of course, and all the social networks (Facebook has an official Android app, and Seesmic has a very good Twitter app). I got Evernote, as well, so I am nearly set up. The only things missing are Freshbooks and Dropbox, both of which have yet to release an Android app, although I am confident they will do so in the near future.

The Android Market has ways to go in the gaming department, but I was satisfied with Robo Defense, which is plenty of entertainment for me while I am sitting in a waiting room.

Verdict

Get one. This is a sweet phone. Do not shy away from the high price of an unlocked Nexus One. You will pay less for the Nexus One over a two-year unlocked contract with T-Mobile than you would pay for an iPhone on AT&T, Droid on Verizon, or Pre on Sprint or Verizon, over a similar contract.

One caveat: this is a Google-centric phone. It will work just fine with MSN/Hotmail, Yahoo! or other accounts, but it really shines when you use Google’s services. Kind of like the iPhone is at its best with Apple’s MobileMe services.

I will be writing more about the Nexus One, because I am keeping it. I love this phone.

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  • Randall Ryder

    Part of the reason I immediately posted my exuberance about the iPhone is that it has seamlessly integrated with our law practice. The Nexus One does not do the same thing.

    One, my iPhone does not lock up when I try to hang up or use the touchscreen during a call. That would suck. The biggest problem with my iPhone is that it does not always use the “push” feature on my personal email account. But I can usually live without getting immediate updates about what my friends did over the weekend.

    Two, Google everything works just fine on the iPhone. I use Google mail and Google calendar through Safari with no problem. Google Voice can run through Safari as well and nearly completely mimics the app itself.

    Three, Sam skims over the lack of Dropbox and Freshbooks. That is a major downside. By far, the most useful app on my iPhone is Dropbox. Sam drags a laptop to court, I bring my phone. I also use Dropbox during client meetings occasionally when discussing strategy. There is no way to pull up client files on a Nexus One.

    Four, the lack of apps for the Nexus One. The Apple Store has approximately 8 million apps available. Companies are designing apps specifically for the iPhone. I do not think they are doing that for the Nexus One.

    If you hate Apple and want a smartphone that does not bring as much to the table as an iPhone, buy a Nexus One. Otherwise, drink the KoolAid, and buy the device that can do the most for your law practice.

  • Randall Ryder

    I have also heard the Nexus One’s battery life leaves something to be desired.

  • Joel Anderson

    I’m not cool enough to have a smartphone, but I do have a couple thoughts:

    1) Android Market has over 20,000 apps. How many apps do you need?

    2) Can’t you use the dropbox web interface to download documents onto the N1? If its a viewing problem, I believe google docs works with OO.org documents as well as PDFs. I’m not sure if there is a document editing solution for OO.org documents on the phone itself.

    3) Locking up when I try to hang up might be a deal-breaker, though. That sounds like it could be incredibly irritating if you make a lot of calls.

  • The lack of an official Freshbooks app does not mean I cannot use Freshbooks from my phone. The web interface works just fine, and there are third-party apps available.

    The same goes for Dropbox. In both cases, I am sure the official apps are on the way.

    Battery life is not great, but it is comparable to—if not slightly better than—the iPhone’s.

    As for the locking up, it has not happened since the firmware update last week, so I am not overly concerned.

    The choice between a Nexus One and an iPhone should come down to whether you prefer Apple or Google cloud apps, AT&T or T-Mobile (or, soon, Verizon), or games to business. I don’t mean to say that the N1 is better than the iPhone, but I do mean to say that the iPhone is no better than the N1.

  • Randall Ryder

    @ Joel – the number of apps is not important to me, but the fact that companies specifically design apps for the iPhone makes it more appealing to me. You can access Dropbox via the web, but it is much easier to use the app.

    @ Sam – no way the battery life matches up, at least not for the devices that you and I own. I disagree that the decision should come down to which cloud server you prefer. I use both clouds on my iPhone (probably Google more than Apple) and they both work great. The iPhone does both, the N1 apparently does one. There is no doubt in my mind the iPhone is better suited for the practice of law then the N1.

  • I haven’t tried hooking my phone up to MobileMe, because I don’t want to pay for it, but I’ll bet it hooks up just fine.

  • Joel Anderson

    Looks like the android dropbox app is definitely in the works. Though the article also mentions new features coming soon to the iphone version, so perhaps that gap will not close just yet.

  • That Randall guy you have working for you is a very smart and tech minded person. I agree with his take on the iPhone v. NexusOne.

  • Randall Ryder

    MobileMe is worth paying for in case you lose your phone and need to find it, or remotely erase it.

  • I think it is fair to say that the iPhone has more gushing fanboys (and girls) than the N1, at least.

  • Sam/Randall:

    Can both of you please discuss your phone of choice’s ability to work with Skype.

  • Skype works fine on both, although I prefer to route calls through Google Voice, instead. Here are all the mobile options: http://www.skype.com/mobile/

  • Randall Ryder

    Skype only works on the iPhone if you have a Wi-Fi connection, which is annoying.

    That said, it works great when you have a Wi-Fi signal.

  • Just an update for Skype fans: Skype is working on a new iPhone app that will allow for calling over 3G. It should be out sometime soon. I know I’m looking forward to it.

    Here’s some more information for those who are curious: http://bit.ly/9jutjo

  • Larry Rose

    All of the comments seem to be centered around the choice between Google Apps and Apple Apps. What about all of us Microsoft dinosaurs? My firm has 13 years of legacy data stored on a Microsoft Small Business Server. All of our contacts, calendaring and e-mails are hosted on our own Exchange Server. We use Blackberries. How easy is the transition to an iPhone or an N-1 under those circumstances? And is one easier/better than the other?

    Or is the recommended choice to abandon Microsoft altogether and switch to Apple or Google?

    We are at a cross-roads where our server has to be replaced now anyway. Maybe now’s the time to switch?

    Thanks.

  • Both phones offer some Exchange support. Since I do not use Exchange, I cannot comment on how well it works. If you want a seamless experience, I am sure you would be better off with a Windows phone or a Blackberry.

    If you are about to upgrade your equipment, anyway, definitely consider the alternatives. If your Exchange server costs more than $50/year/user in hardware, software, and support (which is almost certainly does), you might be better off with Google Apps. Moving your data is a cinch with the Outlook Sync tool, and Google replicates Exchange’s functionality and then some, with a couple of caveats.

    Apple’s MobileMe really is not intended as a business tool, although I am sure some manage to use it that way.

  • Randall Ryder

    @ Larry – I would move to Google Apps. I am a big fan of Apple, but I would not use Apple Apps for a law practice.

    If the members of your firm use their Blackberries mostly for emailing while out of the office, I would stick with Blackberries. I use my iPhone to email, but I also like that I can access Dropbox, and tons of the other apps while on the go.

    I think Blackberries are better for email, but I also think you can do more (easily) with either an iPhone or a N1.

  • Larry Rose

    Thanks, Sam and Randall,

    Sam, I read your Google Apps caveats. They seem pretty serious. When you switched to Premium, did that address all but contact sharing? Did it take care of e-mail delegation? Or did you use the 3rd party app for that?

    Does Google have sales or tech support people to help with the transition to Premium?

    And finally, do you have a notification feature that lets one know that someone has added a comment or replied to one of yours on this blog? Or do I just have to return to the post to check?

    Thanks,

    Larry

  • E-mail delegation in Google Apps Premium is actually very well done. The lack of contact sharing is frustrating, but not a dealbreaker, and I am fairly confident it will be added eventually. Still no global search, although Outlook Sync is a kind of workaround.

    Customer service is Google’s Achilles heel. It is not much of an issue for Google Apps because they are so easy to use (seriously, migrating from Exchange to Google Apps takes about two clicks and some wait time), but the customer services reps are pretty responsive (via e-mail) when you need them. There is also a phone line for crises.

    For tracking comments, you can see the recent comments in the blog footer, or else subscribe to the comments RSS feed.

  • Larry Rose

    Ah. Recent Comments. Good point.

    Thanks.

  • Larry Rose

    Sam,

    Now that you’ve had your Nexus One for a while, can you update your impressions? Are you still a fan? I am thinking of bringing one to Europe next week, where I’ll be working for around 10 days. I was actually thinking of getting the unlocked version, so I can use a local Sim card when I’m there. Just wondering if you are still happy with the phone.

    Thanks,

    Larry

  • I still love my N1. My only complaint is the lack of a real Dropbox app. For everything else, I am thrilled with my choice.

  • Larry Rose

    Thanks, Sam. Has Dropbox indicated that it’w working on an app for Android?

  • I believe so, yes. You can use the mobile Dropbox site just fine, but it would be nice to get an actual app at some point.

    FWIW, Sugar Sync already has an Android app. I would switch, but both my firm and Lawyerist are already bound to Dropbox.

  • Gyi Tsakalakis

    I’m a “verizon can’t wait any longer for Nexus One” consumer. So, I’m getting a droid. Here’s a recent post I came across on Droid vs. Iphone: http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/droid_v._iphone/

    I’m looking for a good “Nexus One vs. Droid” comparison.

  • You don’t have to wait much longer. The rumor is that the Verizon N1 will be out next month. Engadget did some comparison of the N1 and Droid in its review, but now that the Droid is running the same software, it is a bit out-of-date.

    http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/04/nexus-one-review/

    The long wait for the Droid to get the latest version of Android is the main reason I would wait for the N1. I think Google will probably support the “Google Phone” better and longer than Verizon or Motorola will support the Droid.

  • logan

    this phone has been the best unlocked phone i’ve bought so far. facebook is fun for when i’m bored but at the same time it’s great for my facebook addiction and my wife can check her email every 10 seconds for her job. stocks are easy to check and the camera and video recorder is so great, very convenient and easy. apps are fun, keeps me busy. way better than my old unlocked blackberry. got my last 3 phones at gsmallover.com and they were great. 2 thumbs up