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Hands on with the Nexus One

The Google Nexus One features Android 2

The Nexus One is Google’s first own brand Android device. It also serves as a showcase of what can be done by tightly integrating Google services with the hardware, giving us a glimpse of what the Android platform might be capable of in the future.

Just over a week ago I swapped my iPhone for a Nexus One, full of expectation that a real contender to the iPhone was finally available, and somewhat confident that Google wouldn’t market an own branded smartphone prematurely. But that is exactly what I think it did.

It’s not that the Nexus One is a bad device, far from it. But to use a phrase that keeps cropping up time and time again, it’s just that the iPhone is so much more polished. And speaking as an application developer, it’s not so much the features available on the iPhone; it’s more about how it does things. A few days without Visual Voicemail and multi-touch gestures, and I feel like I’ve regressed a few years in terms of device capabilities.

That said, I’m still raving about the Android/Nexus One/Google’s mobile strategy to anyone who wants to hear. Google has invested time and energy designing a phone that integrates seamlessly with its existing services which ultimately creates a strong user experience.

Developers are the driving force behind these services – something that has really become apparent in the wake of the iPhone’s success. And whilst many have found Apple’s development environment easy to use, it is of course limited to Mac only. Google’s Eclipse/Java approach on the other hand allows one and all to develop and launch an application. In short, the overall application publishing experience for a Google developer is relatively painless. The same is not to be said for developing on the iPhone platform.

The Nexus One will be the first of many ‘Google phones’

Time after time a seemingly chaotic open space gives way to a better ecosystem than a closed shop. Android represents the ability for developers to innovate and drive the platform forwards, whereas the iPhone wants you to do it Apple’s way.

Apple made this mistake before, when pitting the Mac against the PC, before watching the hordes flock to the rival platform. This wasn’t because Microsoft had built a better product but because Windows was an open and innovative environment that encouraged developers worldwide to ‘have a go’.

This same unrestricted environment will eventually result in more Android apps hitting users’ phones. Now if Google can control the amount of bugs on the platform in a nonintrusive manner, then the user will benefit from apps written by developers from all walks of life and not just from the Apple school of thought.

What’s missing from the Nexus One?

Multi Touch

If the iPhone has a trump card, it’s surely multi touch. Despite the fact Android can support the feature, the Nexus One comes crippled (patent restrictions in the US perhaps?). As any parent who has let their child play with the iPhone will testify, Apple’s implementation of multi touch is perhaps the most intuitive form of interaction ever seen.

Visual Voicemail

Visual Voicemail is a fine example of Apple’s fantastic approach to rethinking an existing solution. It’s a hard concept to explain – messages appear in a list so you can listen to them in any order – but anyone who has experienced visual voicemail knows how much it has revolutionised the approach to voicemail. Pressing 1 for the next message or 3 to delete now seems archaic.

Persistent app bar

Whilst I prefer the Nexus One’s home screen shortcuts and widgets, I miss being able to instantly access my phone, email, messages and web from every menu screen. Calling someone may only be a couple of swipes away on the Nexus One, but it’s pretty frustrating.

App Store

The App Store is where I fell in love with the iPhone. The sheer volume of quality, useful and entertaining apps is astounding and a testament to the iPhone in itself.  Of course the Nexus One has the Android Market app store, but as Android comes in several form factors about half of what I’ve downloaded to the Nexus One to date hasn’t been usable.

Polish

This is probably the most important thing the Nexus One lacks. To put it simply, the iPhone just feels right at every step.  The scrollable tables ‘bounce’ at the top so you know you’re at the top of a list; every item has a visual feedback on click so you know the device is doing what you wanted to do; the finger swipe gestures work in a smooth and consistent fashion to name but a few.

What’s innovative about the Nexus One?

Widgets

Whilst I’ve always found weather displays pretty pointless (just look out of the window), the news widget on the Nexus One is a welcome addition, as is the Google Search bar. It’s a small detail, but one that makes the Nexus One feel more ‘integrated’. I’m look forward to seeing what widgets become available as Android goes further.

Voice Recognition

The cloud-based voice recognition on the Nexus One is a fantastic addition to the device. I’m normally very hesitant when someone mentions voice recognition, but Google has pulled it off. Every text field across the whole of the Nexus One can be used by voice instead of text with surprising accuracy. But the total lack of functionality for this feature when not connected can be painful and I imagine it would negate the whole benefit if I didn’t live in a fairly well connected environment.

Notifications

The Nexus One’s handy notification bar at the top of the screen tells you when you have outstanding emails, calls, voice mails etc. One of my constant gripes about the iPhone was dismissing a popup notification temporarily and then forgetting about it completely, which the Nexus One goes some way towards fixing.

GMail

It took years for me to be persuaded to ditch Outlook for GMail. Now that I have I find it almost impossible to live without threaded conversations, multiple labels per mail etc. Whilst the iPhone can connect to GMail it doesn’t port across the feature set, effectively reducing your GMail experience down to normal email. In contrast the Nexus One does a good job of simulating the desktop GMail experience and further strengthens the case for Google Apps as a business application suite.

Shortcuts

The final Nexus One nice to have is the ability to put shortcuts directly onto the home screen for specific contacts, apps, functions or direct dials. At the moment I’m using it as nothing more than a ‘super favourites’ area on the home screen, but even that makes it worthwhile.

Overall, there is no doubt that the iPhone has an edge over the Nexus One. Not in every way, but certainly in ways that count. Users of Google Voice or Google Apps may be willing to sacrifice the polish of the iPhone for a more Google centric experience, but by and large the iPhone is the better mobile device.

Sean Guy is an app developer for the iPhone Developers

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6 comments

  1. Jon O 18/01/2010 @ 5:25 pm

    I’ve had visual voicemail since android 1.0. Do a search for “visual” in the market and the first 4 results are free visual vm apps. Plus the nexus one comes preinstalled with Google voice which provides visual vm and transcribed text vm with my GV number and carrier number. It blows apple vm away.

  2. Bo 18/01/2010 @ 6:01 pm

    Another, far superior option to mere visual voice mail is to use Google Voice (which is standard on the Nexus One.) Using Google Voice, you can replace your mobile provider’s voice mail box with GV’s, and then not only do you get “visual voice mail” capability, but you also get your messages trans-scribed into text, so you read your caller’s messages. The setup is completely painless, and all that’s needed is a Google Voice account.

  3. John 18/01/2010 @ 7:11 pm

    It took me a little time to forget all the bad habits I had got accustomed to on the iPhone and start enjoying the Android.

    I’ll give the iPhone the polish, the games and the media. If these three things are important, then the iPhone is a better device. On everything else – and I include apps here, Android now blows away the iPhone.

    As others have pointed out, Google Voice gives you “visual voice” capability with transcription and so much more.

    No more syncing with the desktop. Mail, contacts, notes, calendar automatically synced to the cloud. And the apps are so refreshing. They lack the spit and finish, but are so much more innovative. Augmented Reality apps like Wikitude came on the Android 6 months before the iPhone.

    And as an example of why I now find it frustrating to go back to an iPhone, check out a free app called “Bar Control” which will fix your problem of having a persistent app bar. You have access to *any* app/intent that you want on every view in any app. You are not locked down to the ones Apple decided for you on the menu screens.

    BTW, I don’t have a Nexus One yet, but to get to the phone app on the G1, I just have to press the green phone button. Does that not work on the Nexus One?

  4. Gadgets Review 28/01/2010 @ 8:37 am

    According to the new IDC report Nexus One will overtakes iPhone by 2013. I am surprise to see people really engaged with the Google new product Nexus One and the cold war between iPhone and Android is gonna starting. I hope the best will win. :)

  5. Yuri 28/01/2010 @ 1:48 pm

    Nexus One isn’t as cool as iPhone. I bought a Nexus One last month, but I already miss my old iPhone.

    • Tech Reviews 28/01/2010 @ 1:53 pm

      Many people have miss conception regarding Google Nexus One. I must say that you just have to check it your self. One month is not enough. Many developers said that Nexus One is fast enough than iPhone. As we know Nexus One is Google first mobile ever. So may be there is some drawback also. But Nexus One is quite elegant.

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