What's hot: Attractive, fast, large AMOLED display, latest Android OS straight from the source.
What's not: Pricey unless you can score one with a contract on T-Mobile.
Dec. 2010 Update: Check out Google's latest Android phone, the Nexus S by Samsung.
Feb. 2010 Update: Google surprised us with an update that adds multi-touch support in the built in apps such as the web browser, maps and gallery! The Verizon version of this phone was cancelled since the HTC Droid Incredible has similar specs.
Reviewed January 9, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
When Google formally announced their first Google-branded phone, the Nexus One, a day before the CES trade show in Las Vegas, they managed to distract technology buffs from the US' largest trade show. Google making and selling their own phone? What's up with that? Unlocked phones with no subsidy haven't sold like hotcakes here in the US where we want it cheap and forego features and freedom to get it cheap. But the Nexus One looked like one heck of a high end Android smartphone with a design that could make the ugly duckling G1 hide in the closet. Finally, an Android phone that still looks good when placed next to an iPhone. In fact, it's marginally thinner and lighter than the iPhone 3GS while finding room for a user replaceable battery.
As it turns out, the Nexus One is what Google calls a "super-phone", and they wanted to show the world what Android could do with really high end specs and a design to match. The hardware is made by HTC, who made the G1, which was the first Android phone. They also make the lovely HTC Hero, the Droid Eris, the lower end MyTouch 3G (aka HTC Magic) and plenty of high end Windows Mobile phones. While HTC's value added has been their Sense UI enhancements for recent Android models, this phone is stock 100% pure Android (Google's completely in charge of the software on this phone, after all). The Nexus One runs Android OS 2.1, and it's the first phone on the market to sport that new OS. It's incrementally better than 2.0 and 2.01 on the Motorola Droid (previously the phone with the latest, greatest OS).
What's really interesting is the hardware, which makes the otherwise mighty Moto Droid look like a mid-tier Android phone. It has a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, 512 megs of RAM, 512 megs of flash storage and an AMOLED display. That CPU is currently the fastest on the market, and it makes appearances only in HTC's HD2 Windows Mobile Pro phone and in the LG eXPO. Android is a more lightweight OS than Windows Mobile, so this thing really flies. No waiting, no delays and no trouble playing fairly high resolution video. Sweet. 512 megs of RAM is unusually high and beats the HD2's 488 megs. No problem running concurrent applications, there's plenty of memory for that.
The Nexus One has a 5 megapixel autofocus camera, a GPS that works with Google Maps, an SDHC microSD card (a 4 gig card is included), WiFi and Bluetooth with A2DP stereo. Even more juicy is the 3.7" capacitive AMOLED display running at the now standard high end smartphone resolution of 480 x 800 pixels. The display and OS support multi-touch but Google hasn't enabled it in their built-in apps for the US version (the Euro version does have multi-touch). Third party applications can and do support multi-touch: we tested the Dolphin web browser which supports pinch zoom and Simply Draw which supports drawing with two fingers (both are free and are available for download on the Android Market).
How You Buy it, How You get Support
The original Nexus One is an unlocked GSM phone with quad band EDGE and 3G HSDPA/HSPA 7.2Mbps on the 900/1700/2100MHz bands. It will work with any GSM carrier, but there are no AT&T 3G bands, so that means EDGE only on AT&T. Update: Google has released an AT&T/Rogers-compatible version of the Nexus One with their 3G HSDPA bands (850/1900MHz). Google sells this phone directly via their website and there will be a version for Verizon this spring and there's a Euro/Asian model that's currently being sold in the UK and some Asian countries (sales will eventually expand to more European countries). Other than language differences and convenient localizations, we don't see a reason why the currently available Nexus One wouldn't work in all European countries.
Google handles selling you the phone, using Google checkout (surprise). HTC handles device support and your carrier (T-Mobile in the case of US customers) handles network and connectivity issues. While phone carriers and manufacturers are well set up to handle support for phones marketed for a particular carrier, this one is a bit more complex. We'll have to see how well the three companies handle it. In the first week, things have been a little rocky according to forums on the Net, but we expect support routing should improve. The phone has a 1 year warranty and Google gives a 14 day trial period. Google applies a restocking fee only if you had it engraved, and if your state requires a longer return period you get longer.
You can buy the phone for full retail ($529) or you can get it with a T-Mobile contract for $179. If you're not out of contract on T-Mobile, there are higher subsidized prices depending on how long you have left on your contract. In Europe, the subsidy is with Vodafone.
The N1 is a well made, solid phone that's neither overly large (it's about the same size as the HTC Hero) nor too heavy at 4.5 ounces. It feels solid and has a pleasing weight in the hand, and the curves make it feel great. It is quite thin and rounded, so we found it easier to drop than some other phones. The bezel is metal as is the back strip where you can order custom engraving.
The front buttons are touch sensitive and they require a firmer press than does the display (as they should or you'd be accidentally pressing them with annoying frequency). We always love HTC's trackball and find it useful on the N1 for working our way through text. The trackball pulses slowly in white when you have a missed call, voicemail or reminder. It could pulse a bit more quickly because it's quite possible to glance at the phone and miss the pulse.
Is it a Superphone?
Well, we'd say it is, if you define a super-phone as a really high end smartphone that offers the best currently available in display technology, horsepower, wireless, modern OS and features. The iPhone 3GS, Moto Droid and Nokia N900 are also super-phones by that definition. Is it the best phone on the market? It's certainly one of the best, but we won't call it the very best since no phone can meet everyone's needs. For example, if you're one of those folks who can't live without a hardware QWERTY keyboard, it's not for you. If you want to spend serious time doing 3D gaming, the iPhone is currently the best. If you want a closed ecosystem that enables one simple and consistent UI and ease of use, the iPhone is for you. If you want the best web browser with real Flash support, the Nokia N900 is better (though Flash should be coming to the Nexus One before the spring of 2010). If you want a very attractive, well-made slate smartphone, one that's very fast, has a stunning capacitive display and full support for Google's myriad services including fast OS updates, then the Nexus One is your superphone. Aside from high end gaming, there are plenty of good apps on the Android Market to keep most folks happy and entertained, and 3D gaming should be forthcoming since Android 2.0 and higher has 3D APIs. Phones like the Nexus One and Moto Droid have the horsepower to handle those 3D games. While Android phones like the Nexus One aren't as super-duper easy to use as the iPhone, they're plenty easy to understand and use. But Android's greater openness and customizability are well suited to power users. For example, I want my calendar, weather and twitter feed on my home screen. I don't want to launch apps and do several finger-taps to see the info most important to me, I want them at a glance. Android wins here, as does the Nokia N900 while the iPhone fails.
The Nexus One's clearest competitor is the Moto Droid on Verizon. They have similar resolutions and screen sizes, and run Android 2 (currently the Droid is at 2.01 while the Nexus One is at 2.1). Their functionality and user experience are quite similar; I wouldn't say the Nexus One hoses the Moto Droid by any means. The Nexus One is however faster, and that's impressive since the Droid is very fast and is the second fastest Android phone on the market. Once I used the Droid, I found it hard to go back to the old technology 528MHz MyTouch 3G, a phone that hadn't seemed slow before. While the Moto Droid pauses ever so briefly when doing things here and there, the Nexus One never does. And the Nexus renders web pages faster, thanks to the 1GHz CPU (the Moto has a new technology 600MHz Cortex A8 CPU, like the also-speedy Nokia N900).
The Nexus One wins on the display front thanks to its AMOLED display which is much more colorful and vivid. Yet it's not overdone and warm tones don't bleed as they often do on mid-tier AMOLED phones. It's also a bit more sensitive than the Droid, which we like. The drawback with AMOLED displays is that they aren't as visible outdoors in bright light (there the Droid wins).
The Nexus One wins against the Droid and iPhone for camera quality, though it can't beat the excellent Nokia N900-- Nokia knows how to do a camera right. The Nexus One's photos and video are much better than the Droid's and its photos are much better than the iPhone 3GS'.
The quad band GSM Nexus One is best used with T-Mobile here in the US since it has 3G HSDPA 7.2 Mbps on T-Mobile's bands. It will operate on EDGE only on AT&T. We've been told that it's forward compatible with HSPA+, a 21Mbsp max data standard that T-mobile is currently trialing in Philadelphia and will deploy in more cities this year and next. Though T-Mobile claims to have upgraded their entire network to 7.2Mbps HSPA, here in Dallas in early January 2010, we're still on the 3.6Mbps standard so we couldn't test the faster speed standard (likewise our N900 and MyTouch 3G don't see 7.2Mpbs yet either, though their hardware is capable). Our data speeds averaged 600-1,000kbps, which is on par with our other T-Mobile 3G smartphones. Update: a version of the Nexus One is also available for AT&T's 3G network.
Voice quality is excellent thanks to Audience's new A1026 voice processor that works in conjunction with the Google phone's dual mics. It does an excellent job of reducing background noise while keeping voice clear and full. The Nexus One is at the top of the heap for outgoing voice quality. Incoming voice is clear and natural, with average volume. The mono speakerphone, though large, is unfortunately tinny.
The usual suspects are on board for all things Internet and Google: gmail, Exchange mail, POP3/IMAP mail, a very capable webkit web browser, a YouTube player, Google Maps, Google Voice and Google Talk. There is no T-Mobile @Home UMA calling-- Google seems to have avoided carrier-specific features since this is an unlocked world phone. The web browser supports YouTube via Google's YouTube player that plays mobile YouTube video rather than Flash. According to Adobe, Flash 10.1 will be coming to the Nexus One in a few months.
Part 1 of our video review series covers unboxing, the phone's physical design and comparisons with the Moto Droid, Nokia N900, MyTouch 3G, HTC HD2 and the iPhone 3GS:
Part 2 digs deep into Android 2.1's new features, the web browser, YouTube playback, Google Maps, MPEG4 video playback from a microSD card and 3D gaming:
Android 2.1 New Features
We've covered Android's new features in our second video review, and these include the extended 5 screen home screen, new Google widgets for weather, news and wireless control and the new program launcher. One thing I'd like to underscore is the new speech-to-text feature. Since Android OS 1.6 Donut we've been able to do a Google search using speech rather than a keyboard. In OS 2.1, you can use speech pervasively: the on-screen keyboard has a mic key and if you tap this you can speak rather than type. This works very well and I found myself typing less and less. Obviously, if you're in a quiet place like a library or a very noisy place like a ball game speech isn't the best input method, but it works well most everywhere else. You can tell Google Maps what you're looking for, you can dictate an email or SMS message and voice dial. It takes about 5 seconds for the speech-to-text engine to turn what you've said into text, and we'd like to see this get faster, but that's our only complaint.
The Nexus One has a 5 megapixel camera with autofocus lens and a single LED flash. Image quality is better than other HTC phones (which might not say much) and is even a bit better than the HTC HD2's 5MP camera. It's still not as good as Nokia's better Nseries smartphones or the N900, but that's a tall order since Nokia makes some of the best cameras on the market.
The N1 lacks a dedicated camera button, so you'll want to put a shortcut to the camera on your home screen. You can take photos by pressing the on-screen shutter button or by pressing the trackball (the trackball method makes for less camera shake). You can't manually select the point of focus by touching the viewfinder, but you can set white balance, color effects, flash mode, resolution, quality and focus mode. The camera supports geotagging. Max video resolution is 720 x 480 at 20fps or higher and there's a lesser resolution for MMS. You can set white balance, color effects and duration.
Image quality is good, with excellent color saturation and balance. There's some visible interpolation (jaggies and overly smooth areas) that put it behind the N900, but it's better than most other smartphone cameras on the US market. Video quality is likewise good with excellent color and good frame rates. This is a camera you'll likely enjoy using.
Google and HTC have a winner with the Nexus One, the "be all that you can" Android smartphone. Google spec-d out a top of the line phone and at the moment, it is the one to beat among Android phones. The Moto Droid comes in a close second with a similar user experience but a weaker though still capable CPU and a lesser camera. Indeed, the Nexus One is a "super phone", but it's not the phone that destroys all others. It's simply got high end everything and the standard Google Android experience. It does run a newer version of the OS, but other Android phones will catch up. That said, Google doesn't have to worry about carrier control with this phone, and so we expect they'll push new OS updates to the Nexus One before other phones. That means by the time other phones catch up with OS 2.1, the Nexus One will probably have something even newer and better. Even if other Android phones come out with similarly compelling hardware, the Nexus One will likely maintain an OS advantage.
The drawbacks? You can't take this phone to your corner T-Mobile store for support. T-Mobile will handle network-related issues but the rest is in HTC and Google's court. Google isn't a company famous for quality human contact, and we'll see if they can handle being a retailer.
Pro: Fast! Very attractive and well made. Simply large and lovely AMOLED capacitive display. Good GPS and Google Maps performance, good camera, has WiFi 802.11b/g (the 802.11n isn't enabled, at least not yet). It's unlocked so you can use it with any GSM carrier, even if you buy it with a contract.
Con:MS Exchange calendar sync over-the-air is currently not working, support isn't as clear cut since this is marketed more like an unlocked phone.
Price: $179 with a new 2 year contract on T-Mobile US, incremental pricing for those not yet out of contract and $529 retail with no contract. Phone is sold unlocked, even if you purchase it with a plan.
Display:AMOLED capacitive touch screen with haptic feedback and proximity sensor. Screen size diagonally: 3.7". Resolution:
480 x 800, supports both portrait and landscape modes via accelerometer.
Ion rechargeable. Battery is user replaceable.
Performance:Qualcomm Snapdragon 1GHz CPU (QSD 8250). 512 megs RAM and 512 megs flash ROM.
x 2.35 x 0.45 inches. Weight: 4.48 ounces.
Phone:Unlocked GSM quad band world phone 850/900/1800/1900MHz with EDGE. 3G HSDPA 7.2 Mbps on the 900/1700/2100MHz bands (3G for T-Mobile US, Europe and Asia). Forward compatible with HSPA+. Verizon version will be CDMA with EV-DO Rev. A. Phone is sold direct by Google and not offered through carriers, though it can be purchased subsidized with a contract on certain carriers. The AT&T/Rogers version has 3G HSDPA on the 850/1900MHz bands rather than the T-Mobile bands.
Camera:5.0 MP with autofocus lens and LED flash. Can capture video at 720 x 480 resolution, 20fps or better. Can geotag photos.
GPS:Has GPS that works with Google Maps (pre-installed) and TeleNav (downloadable). Has digital compass.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. Music and video player (Gallery) included.
WiFi 802.11b/g and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (supports A2DP Bluetooth stereo). The chipset supports WiFi 802.11n but it's not enabled.