When it arrived, the highly antici¬pated ‘Google phone’ made by smartphone aficionados HTC was rather an anticlimax. Not quite the superphone we’d been promised, it lacked notable features seen on rival devices. But multitouch was later enabled by public request, and the upgrade to version 2.2 of the Android operating system (‘Froyo’) brought more features, along with even better performance from the speedy Qualcomm Snapdragon 1GHz processor.
These weren’t enough to impress US customers, and the Nexus One has been discontinued there since the summer of 2010. It remains available in the UK and Europe though and, despite Google’s disappointing start in the hardware mar¬ket, there’s plenty to like about this phone.
The Nexus One’s hardware isn’t especially innovative, resembling a stretched-out HTC Hero. Still, the phone is attractive and well made. At 119mm, 60mm wide and 11mm thick, it has a slimmer profile than Motorola’s Milestone, for example, and weighs less, at 130g versus 170g. Not everyone likes the drab two-tone grey colour scheme, but the rounded comers, solid-glass display and rubberised back make it a pleasure to hold.
Four touch-sensitive hardware but¬tons occupy the bottom of the display: Back, Menu, Home, and Search. A track¬ball lies below these. There’s debate about whether a trackball is a useful addition to a touchscreen phone, but we found this one fast and easy to use.
An oblong power button sits atop the Nexus One beside the 3.5mm headphone jack. On the right spine is a volume rocker, and on the bottom the microUSB port. The camera lens and flash are on the back of the unit, while the microSD and SIM card slots hide under the battery.
The Nexus One’s 3.7in AMOLED display has drawn a lot of attention, and for good reason: the display is superb. You need to get a look at it in real life to see how text and photos pop. When you take the phone outdoors, however, you lose much of the display’s visibility. This limitation will especially disappoint casual photographers who’d like to snap away with the 5Mp camera.
This was the first phone to run Android 2.1, and helped to showcase its richer user interface. Perhaps the most buzzed-about addition is voice-to-text: you can speak your Facebook status to your Nexus One, if you dare. In our casual tests, this input method worked fairly well, though we had to speak rather loudly and somewhat slowly, even in quiet environments. The Nexus One struggled to understand when we spoke softly or used colloquial terms – pretty normal for mobile phone users. Still, the feature is fun to play around with.
One feature still missing today is the ability to sync Outlook calendars directly to your Nexus One. So far the only way is by syncing Outlook to a Google Calendar account using Google Calendar Sync.
At launch, the Nexus One’s camera was one of its strongest points. It’s since been overtaken by a few higher-specified rivals, but the camera app feels faster than most phone cameras, suffering less shutter lag. Our outdoor shots looked fantastic, despite the poor screen visibility. A few indoor shots had a slight greenish tint, but details looked sharp, with no unsightly digital noise, at least in reasonable light.
Within its 5Mp resolution, the camera offers four picture sizes and three quality settings plus flash, auto-focus, infinity focus, 2x digital zoom and colour effects. You can take video clips up to 30 minutes long at a resolu-tion of 720×480 pixels (20 frames per second), though clips sent with multi¬media messages (MMS) are capped at the standard 30 seconds.
What makes the Nexus One stand out, however, is what’s under the hood. The powerful 1GHz Qualcomm Snap¬dragon processor makes the Android OS fly. Apps loaded almost instantane¬ously and web pages opened quickly. We especially appreciated the power as we flipped through the photo gallery.
Call quality over 3G was good; voices sounded clear and natural, with ample volume. Callers on the other end were generally pleased with qual-ity as well, though some reported that we sounded a bit distant. Most of our contacts could hear us clearly even when we stood on a busy street corner.
Overall, the Nexus One hasn’t proved quite the game-changer some people hoped, but it does trump most other phones in performance, display qual¬ity, camera capability and speed.
Even at the time of launch, it would have been a stretch to say Google’s Android phone was the best – but it was probably top three. Our first hands-on with its successor, the Nexus S, are more promising yet.
Price (SIM-free) £449 inc VAT
Further information www.google.com/phone/detail/nexus-one