The debut of Google’s Nexus One “superphone” generated a lot of pre-launch hype with many heralding it as an “iPhone killer” before even seeing it. Fast forward to today. The phone is out and the reviews are in.
If you’re looking for a consensus you will be sorely disappointed. There is both plenty to love (Snapdragon 1GHz processor) and grouse about (where is the multitouch?) with the Nexus One.
(Read PC World’s complete review: Google Nexus One )
Here’s a rundown of what reviewers are saying about the Nexus One.
The Aesthetic Appeal
Across the board, reviewers are impressed by the Nexus One’s sleek design. The screen 480 by 800 pixel 3.7-inch touch screen is gorgeous. PC World said in its own review of the phone, “The Nexus One’s 3.7-inch AMOLED display has drawn a lot of attention, and for good reason: The display is superb. Indeed, photos and videos of the phone don’t do it justice. You need to view the display in person…”
Engadget is similarly impressed: “The Nexus One is nothing if not handsome. From its ultra-thin body to sleek, curved edges, the phone is absolutely lustworthy.” TechCrunch‘s Michael Arrington loved it so much he claimed it was better, in many ways, than the iPhone. He wrote that the Nexus One is the most “elegant smartphone on the market today, solidly beating the iPhone in most ways.”
Afraid of the Light?
The biggest problem with the Nexus One’s otherwise gorgeous screen? Trying to work the thing in daylight. “Oh, and using this thing in daylight? Forget about it. Like most screens of this type, the Nexus One is a nightmare to see with any kind of bright light around, and snapping photos with it on a sunny day was like taking shots with your eyes closed,” Engadget wrote. TechCrunch found it very manageable: “The screen will self adjust brightness and Google is smart about turning down the processor when it’s not being used.”
It’s evident that aesthetic appeal is huge when it comes to smartphones. Consumers aren’t content with powerful machines that look like castoff garbage; we want a device that glimmers and wows; an accessory like any other that makes our friends jealous. In this regard, the Nexus One performed well.
Underneath the Hood
The Android OS has dazzled many when it comes to speed and performance, and with Android 2.1 lurking underneath the hood of the Nexus One, all reviewers gushed about its capabilities. The Nexus One sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 1GHz processor that’ll blow your hair back. It definitely sets it apart from the Android pack, and in Ars Technica’s review, they conducted numerous speed tests against other phones, and in everything but Web page loading, the Nexus One crushed its competition.
The New York Times was impressed by its “instant, smooth response when you’re opening programs and scrolling.” If nothing else, the Nexus One bests all other Android handsets. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “The latency I had seen in earlier Android phones is gone, due to a slicker version of the operating system and faster chips.”
Cameras are tricky on smartphones. Most of the time they’re lackluster and spotty (ahem iPhone ahem), but the Nexus One comes out of the gate with a beloved 5 megapixel snapper with flash. “The 5-megapixel camera gives you four resolutions plus a flash, autofocus, infinity focus, a 2X digital zoom, white-balance and color-effect controls, and three quality settings. You can record video clips at lengths of up to 30 minutes at a resolution of 720 by 480 pixels (20 frames per second),” PC World wrote, but “clips for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds.”
Ars liked it, and added a caveat. “The built-in LED flash works adequately as a supplemental lighting for objects only a few feet away, but I would not trust it any further than that.”
Big yuck here. Our reviewer “desperately [wished] for a hardware keyboard.” And forget about multitouch: “The native Android soft keyboard is in desperate need of a redesign. And throwing in multitouch–to enhance the navigation and typing experience–wouldn’t hurt.” Gizmodo’s mostly negative review of the Nexus One also groaned about multitouch’s absence.
When it came to the word-suggest feature — a life-saver on the iPhone’s occasionally difficult keyboard — the Nexus One did okay. Gizmodo didn’t think so, but offered a helpful alternative. Though the keyboard was an improvement, they’re “still not big fan of typing on Android’s virtual keyboard. Sure, the keys are actually responsive now, thanks to the muscle of the 1GHz Snapdragon processor, but somehow Google’s word prediction still lags behind the iPhone’s, and gives you strange options for when you’re typing really fast on the phone.” Gizmodo does supply a helpful work-around to this problem by downloading the iPhone-style “Better Keyboard” from the Android Marketplace.
The New York Times actually preferred the Nexus One’s suggestions over the iPhone’s. “As you start typing a word (‘unfo’), the Nexus displays an entire row of likely candidates (‘unfortunately,’ ‘unfortunate,’ ‘unfolding’), which you can tap, thus saving yourself more fiddly typing-on-glass.”
What would a Google phone be without Google Voice? One of this phone’s big selling points is this fantastic feature, and reviewers who mentioned it, loved it. TechCrunch especially loved it: “First, Google Voice is deeply integrated with the phone, as it is with all Android phones. That means you can assign your Google Voice number to the phone, and use it to make all outbound calls and text messages. In my opinion this is the single biggest selling point for Android phones, and why I won’t switch away from the platform any time soon.”
Voice-to-Text Input Feature
Speaking of voice, Android OS 2.1’s newest addition, the voice-to-text input feature, worked for some, but not for all. Some writers said 80 percent; some said 90 percent; and others dismissed it on the basis that the feature requires an Internet connection, whereas other phones do not.
The Nexus One may have gotten away with spotty reception, dropped 3G and garbled calls, but the public has loudly spoken, and these problems have been highlighted in many news pieces. Operating on T-Mobile’s network, the Nexus One continuously shifts from 3G to EDGE. Also, we found another upsetting and ironic trend: the failure of Google accounts. “Most disturbingly, my Google account sometimes wouldn’t load. I also endured several failed attempts to upload image files to Picasa, due to a ‘network error.'” How can a Google phone fail to access a Google account?
The Android App Marketplace (20,000+) has nothing on Apple’s (100,000+), and the Nexus One, for some reason, cuts off the amount of apps you can store on your phone to a paltry 190 megabytes of storage for downloaded apps. Though these apps can now be spread across five pages (instead of the Droid’s three pages), it seems ridiculous that, given the public’s love affair with apps, the Nexus One would do such a thing.
Here’s a quick blast of other technical foibles that keep the Nexus One from being, as Google calls it, a “superphone.”
- No Outlook syncing
- Android 2.1 not a huge improvement over previous versions, only prettier
- Gaming is “abysmal” without multitouch
- The unlocked phone is too expensive
- The battery drains quickly, even for “iPhone standards”
After all is said and done, how do these reviewers actually feel about the Nexus One?
We said that when it comes to being the best Android phone on the market, the Motorola Droid “has a slight edge.” We also suggested that “if the network issues with T-Mobile continue to crop up, you may be well advised to resist picking up a Nexus One until the CDMA version comes out this spring.”
Engadget called it “just another Android smartphone.”
Gizmodo said “The Nexus One is an over-hyped Android phone” and suggested buyers “get this thing unlocked and out of contract for $530 — keep whatever cheap T-Mobile plan you currently have — and resell it in a year when the Nexus Two is available,” which is not a great reason to drop dollars on a phone.
TechCrunch gushed “Unlike previous Android phones, and I’ve used most of them, the Nexus One has no obvious flaws or compromises. The phone is the state of the art in mobile, and I will use it happily. Until, as I always say, something better comes along.”
And Ars said, “The Nexus One is the best smartphone on the market at this point for general use.”
So when you boil it down and look at the Nexus One based on reviews, you might become a little hesitant to purchase the device. Though it has its flaws, it also has its high points, and most certainly signals a change in the market for Google. Early adopters often run into the problem of buying a subpar device just because it’s shiny and new; it’s best, perhaps, to watch the Nexus One evolve, become the Nexus Two, and see how Google listens to its customers and improves its product.