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Nexus One Hands On Review

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By now you’re probably inundated by news of the Nexus One, an HTC built phone that many dubbed the Google Phone. The Mountain View company stayed true to their word and while they did not manufacture the phone, it is clear they had a heavy hand in its design. The phone is the only one current running the latest and greatest (2.1) Android build and boasts an impressive hardware suite: 1Ghz Snapdragon processor, 11.5mm thick, 5MP camera with LED flash, 3.7-inch WVGA AMOLED display, 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth, 512MB RAM, 512MB ROM, 4GB microSD in-box expandable to 32GB.

Many people were looking at this phone as being a game changer, an iPhone destroyer, even after they looked at the specs and saw the leaked videos and images. In the past 10 or so years there have only been two really important phones – the Motorola RAZR and the iPhone became king (2007). I feel like Google never set out to destroy the iPhone overnight. After all, in order to do so, a phone would have to be as revolutionary as the iPhone was three years ago. Clearly this is not the case. With the Nexus One, Google is trying to disrupt the market by giving users more options.

Note: My review will be of the phone as a standalone unit. For clarification, my last phone was an iPhone 3G and I don’t have experience with the Droid. I may make some comparisons but, for example, when I say the phone has good call quality, I am not saying the iPhone does not.

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Hardware

The phone is both thinner and lighter than the iPhone but not by any meaningful amount. The corners are curved and smooth, unlike the sharp corners of the Droid and the back has a type of smooth plastic that is matte instead of shiny and slick like the iPhone. It is slightly grippy and resists fingerprints quite well. The front has four “buttons” which are actually just touch sensitive areas of the display linked to back, menu, home, and search. Each of these buttons also have alternative commands if you press-hold them. There’s also a trackball/button on the center bottom. There is absolutely no application or part of the OS that requires the use of the trackball though it is fully supported. One really good use of the trackball is to place the cursor on a specific location in the middle of a long string (think URL with an argument), something I found impossible to do with the iPhone’s press-hold zoom cursor. Also, the trackball glows in slow, spaced-out intervals as a visual notification. The bottom has 3 contacts (for docks and possibly future accessories) and a micro USB for mounting the device as a data drive. Remember, the point of Android is to avoid desktop sync tools. Everything is done over the cloud. The only reason you’d connect up to a computer is to transfer files. I am glad they are using a micro USB rather than a proprietary connector. The phone feels good in the hand and comfortable against your face when talking.

The 5MP camera has both autofocus and an LED flash. I have never been impressed by a cell phone’s picture quality and this is no different. It’s an OK camera and the flash often blows out the center with a gradual reduction in brightness as you move away from the center of the frame. This is not unlike other cameras with flash but still an annoyance. I found the picture quality to be good but not great. I still carry a real digital camera if I want to get good shots.

The noise cancellation is particularly helpful but it’s really a subjective measurement. I found my call quality to be better than the iPhone but maybe my phone calls have recently been in different environments. I have tested it in some noisy situations and it fared well but I didn’t have an iPhone with me to do an A/B test.

Battery life for me started out pretty bad. I was getting about 12 hours of usage before it got dangerously low. However, by disabling live wallpapers and perhaps as a result of a few weeks of charge cycles, I am getting about 15 hours now before the battery reaches 20%.

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Software

Where the Nexus One really shines is the operating system and user experience. It has complete integration with the Google cloud, and in fact can support multiple Google accounts, giving you the ability to sync your contacts, mail, and calendar or some combination of the three. It also integrates with Facebook and Google Voice. What I really like is the single point of contact feature. On the iPhone if I wanted to send someone a Facebook message, there’s an app for that. Then if I wanted to look up their address, I’d have to find them in contacts. With the Nexus One, John Doe has a single contact and from it I can call him (via phone or GV), text (again, phone or GV), launch his Faceobok profile, navigate to his address, etc. If you don’t have photos for your contacts, it’ll automatically grab it from their Facebook profile and if your friends entered, for example, a work address in Facebook that they never gave you, it’ll show up too.

I spoke about the Google Voice integration but it bears repeating. You can setup your phone to make all outgoing calls using Voice or if you wanted it could use it only on international calls or prompt you each time. GV gives you free text messaging, voicemail transcription and archiving and the application works beautifully. Unfortunately, at this time, there is no push for GV so there may be up to a 5 minute delay for SMS though there’s an easy workaround for that – simply have GV email you.

My email experience on the Nexus One is substantially better than the iPhone. First off, there is no native Gmail push on the iPhone. You can setup a sync scenario using Exchange but the iPhone only supports one Exchange server so those of us with jobs will have to decide between syncing work or play. On the Nexus One, you can have multiple Gmail accounts and Exchange and they are all push. The Gmail application mimics the website quite well, offering all major functionality. One thing I did not like is there is no calendar syncing for Exchange. Hopefully this gets added at a later date.

Applications on the Nexus One are not limited by 1×1 icons and if installed, they are not required to be displayed on one of the home screens. On the iPhone if you have an app, it must take up real estate on a screen. The Nexus One has an applications icon which loads up all your apps and allows you to quickly scroll through them vertically, in a 3D cube like system. Of course, if there’s anything you use frequently, you can place it on one of the five home screens. In addition, there are modules, folders, and shortcuts that can be placed on the screens and they can be any shape. You can have a weather module that is 2 rows by 2 columns or one that shows you Facebook updates that’s 4×2. The shortcuts and folders are really interesting. For example, you can set a navigation shortcut (icon) that automatically routes your current location to your house. Or you can setup a folder that shows your Pandora stations.

Android supports background applications, which when coming from an iPhone, is such a godsend. I don’t think I realized what I was missing or how annoyed I was until I experienced multitasking on the Nexus One. Apps also have access to the notification area on the top which keeps track of events for you. Notifications are not a focus grabbing pop-up and are quite unobtrusive. For example, when I get new mail, there’s a tiny Gmail icon that appears on top. Each application has settings which allow you to tweak or completely disable notifications, if you please.

In addition to Google Voice, both search and text fields support voice as well. You can use speech-to-text in any text field including SMS and email, and you can use voice commands such as “Call Josh.” I’ve had problems with these features, however, since it has to send your data to the Google servers. If you happen to be using a slow data connection or there’s an issue with you route, you’ll get an error. Also, since no training is involved, the results are not always 100% correct, but they have always been pretty spot on. As a phone, the Nexus One works well. In the last few months, I’ve dropped half of my calls on the iPhone. I also was experiencing a phenomenon where the OS would actually crash if I received a call while using an application, thus preventing me from ever answering. I have had no such issues with the Nexus One and in case you are curious, I am using EDGE on AT&T right now.

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Complaints

The Nexus One is a wonderful phone but not without flaws. Some programs force quit (crash) on startup and I have had the phone freeze twice and it was quite frustrating (and scary) to get it to restart. There is never lag from the processor when starting applications but flipping quickly between home screens sometimes showed some hesitation. Some web pages were slow to load (but not anything like what Engadget’s “demo” showed). And before I forget, there is no multitouch. The hardware and software support it but I guess Google doesn’t feel like violating patents. Personally, as a former iPhone user, I found myself missing multitouch for about 3 days then I got over it. It’s really not a big deal. You can still double tap to fit to screen when reading articles and I have not had any issues with the keyboard. In fact, I am typing quite fast now using a beta version of Swype (which further points to the open nature of Android). My last concern is Android has about one-fifth the apps as the iPhone and even when there are two versions for the same application, the iPhone one is usually better. In my Google News feed today, I came across at least three new apps announced that would be exclusive to iPhone. That kind of stings. But so far, I have not found myself really missing any functionality due to a lack of apps. I do wish the Facebook app would improve and Mint would deliver an app soon, though.

Conclusion

What do I think of the Nexus One? I clearly like it and find it to be a better phone than the iPhone (which I sold a few days after receiving the Google phone). However, I don’t think it’s significantly better or the type of game-changer that many critics were unfairly claiming it should be. If you were ready to sign a new contract and were deciding on a phone, it’d be between the iPhone and Nexus One (or Droid). Before this quarter, there was only one choice. In a year’s time the Android OS has come from the abysmal G1 to I consider a worthy adversary to the iPhone and it’s exciting to know it can only get better.

Google Nexus One

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As you read this, Google is holding a press conference at their Mountain View headquarters to announce the Nexus One, a phone that many feel is the first true arrival of what the Android OS was meant to be. The device, built by HTC, features a 3.7-inch AMOLED display, 1 ghz processor, 5 MP camera with LED flash, 512MB RAM, 512MB ROM, 4GB microSD (upgradeable to 32GB), 3G (T-Mobile only, Edge on AT&T), and is slightly thinner and lighter than the iPhone. It is running Android 2.1, a release that is exclusive (for now) to the Nexus One. Many people are approaching this device expecting it to be an iPhone killer. The problem is it does not have to be. It simply needs to disrupt the market and it certainly will. Putting hardware aside for a moment (what’s there to talk about? read the specs), the user experience is what really drives this device. For those looking for your next smart phone, moving away from the iPhone or Blackberry, give the Nexus One a look. It won’t usurp the iPhone’s throne but it certainly will challenge its dominance.

HTC HD2 Sense

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My friend Eric from HTC popped by my office the other day with a demo unit of the new HD2– I have to say it was pretty impressive. I’m not a huge fan of Windows Mobile but they did a very nice job rebuilding the key components of the OS (with their multi-touch sense project) for this specific device. Where they really shine through as a company though is in the construction of the physical device– it’s so good. If they keep up developing products like this they’ll be on people’s radar in a much bigger way very soon.

Hulger's PAPPA*PHONE

New technology can often be scary. The liberal use of space age polymers and fancy LCD’s can frighten consumers into thinking they may have accidentally slipped into the future with no way back to the world they know and love. One way to remedy that is to camouflage innovation in a classic package. Hulger’s new VoIP PAPPA*PHONE effectively harnesses a new technology, while furnishing it in the eloquent and stylish package of American walnut wood and brass. Each of the phones from Furni, the Montreal based maker, is cut from one piece of wood, while the finer details are laser etched on. This first ever wooden Skype phone is compatible via USB with both Mac and PC incarnations of the Internet phone program, as well as other VoIP programs, allowing you to converse in style no matter what kind of computer you use.

UseeIsee Picture Phone

Remember how we were all supposed to be talking on video phones in the mid-90s? Most wouldn’t call a tiny 3-inch x 3-inch screen that produced a stuttering two-frame-a-minute picture “video.” Then a decade later anyone with a laptop and built-in camera put that argument to bed. But, the X-Cast scientists from UseeIsee believe there’s a market for people who a) don’t have laptop technology, b) do have a high-speed Internet connection and c) want a VoIP service similar to Vonage or you cable company, but with the benefit of sight. We call these people our parents. UseeIsee knows our folks too well, as it mixes equal parts of Catskill humor and pictures of Nana talking to her grandchildren. It’s so plain spoken, it just might work.

Aliph Jawbone 2

Frequent JoshSpear.com readers know that we’re big fans of the Jawbone since way back in ’04. It’s hard to imagine how Aliph could improve on an already solid product, but the Jawbone 2 sports a new design, a footprint about half the size of its predecessor, and improved noise-canceling technology (dubbed “Noise Assassin”) … RED TEAM GO, RED TEAM GO!

Looking back at the first generation product we only had a few criticisms. First, the package was huge for the size of the headset. Hats off to Aliph for trimming down the sexy lucite packaging to something a little more proportional and eco-friendly. Our second gripe was the beautiful but difficult to use ear loop. The second generation Aliph opted for a simpler leather-wrapped design that not only feels good on the ear, but makes putting on the headset a snap. Lastly, was the charger and USB cord. To be honest, the first generation version of these accessories felt like an afterthought. The wall plug was pretty ugly and the USB cord was difficult to detach from the headset. These issues no longer exist with the introduction of a updated charger and much easier magnetic USB cord.

Beyond that, you can really tell that Aliph took some time to analyze the old version and challenge themselves to make the new one even better. Pairing is enabled the first time the headset is powered up. Standby time has increased to a whopping eight days — though talk time has decreased to four hours from six. But, best of all, the sound quality is as crisp and noiseless as we’ve come to expect from Jawbone.

Related Posts: Limited Edition Headsets; Jawbone Films

iPhone Ads

The Apple website was just updated with three new iPhone commercials. The insanely delicious (love the music) ads show off the iPod functionality, Email, iPhoto and most interesting to me, the mapping and web browsing, which just look unreal. I’m still a bit nervous about the keyboard functionality– I can’t imagine it could really beat out my Blackberry as far as typing goes. June 29th is now judgement day. Who’s buying one?

All Free Calls. Seriously.

When Josh passed this little nugget of goodness on to me this morning, I thought it was too good to be true. For the cost of a call to Iowa, you can make phone calls to a bunch of countries around the world using AllFreeCalls.net. The list of available countries is pretty large, and is supposedly set to expand in the near future. According to the folks at TechCrunch, this is how it works: the founder of the service established a phone company in the great (corn laden) state of Iowa, which is apparently the only state in the Union taking advantage of an FCC ‘kickback scheme’ that gives telephone companies a portion of the fees arising out of every single inbound call to an Iowa number. When you dial AllFreeCalls’ number, some of the long distance fees you pay to call Iowa go to the company. The key is that these ‘kickbacks’ are sufficient to, on average, more than cover the international outbound calling fees. Complicated? Yes; but who cares? You can make free calls overseas people!

Via TechCrunch

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