For an old guy like me, switching to a new mobile OS is not an easy task. You need to get used to new things, learn the right tweaks and find the best apps that will upgrade and polish your smartphone. In the last 2 years I switched from Windows Mobile to iPhone, all the way to BlackBerry and back to the iPhone. Now I found myself trying to get used to a Nexus One; Google's first phone running Google's first operating system. Exciting!
Before I start this review, I will say this: my previous encounters with the Android ended very badly with Android fans all over me, and I believe this review will not be different…
Before we get into the juicy part, let's summarize the good things, and there are many of them in the Nexus One:
1. Performance is so good it makes you forget you are using a smartphone. There is almost no lag time when opening applications and most of the features are working very fast.
2. Google apps integration is smooth, for people who use a lot of the Google tools it's a perfect fit. The Nexus also has a nice list of mobile apps such as Maps with navigation, Voice to Text, Google’s Listen, Shopper, Goggles and SkyMap. Great stuff.
3. The Android openness is so refreshing, especially when coming from the restricted iPhone and limited BlackBerry. Without really looking, I managed to find apps to download free music, free movies, youtube videos, porn (seriously, it's all over the market…), cracked apps – everything which is forbidden and dirty. Not sure I would give it to my kid, but still…
4. Nice Camera – a bit slow to take the pictures but a very decent one.
5. Elegant multi-tasking – probably the second best to the BlackBerry – mostly because you do not have a simple way to close an app from within the app itself.
6. Over the air updates - Do I need to explain?
7. Emerging community – it's enough to wander around the blogsphere to see that there are just so many great sites and resources for Android. The platform is very strong, and the popularity is increasing every day, which makes it fun, and definitely a big promise for more improvements and innovations (see next bullet as a good example)
8. Google's Gestures Search – I just love this app. It's one of the greatest ones, I just wish they had something like that for the iPhone.
9. Android's home screen: I'm not a huge fan of widgets, but if you use them wisely, you can end up with a great combination of pages holding both shortcuts and useful informational widgets, images, toggle buttons, something you cannot easily do with the iPhone or the BlackBerry.
Will all of those great things convince me to dump my iPhone and switch to the Nexus One?
Will the openness and robustness of the infrastructure pull me back from the darkness of Apple into the light of the WinMo successor?
I'm afraid the answer is a definite no.
Using the Nexus One for a few weeks convinced me that my future (at least for now) is with the iPhone. The main reasons were actually mostly related to the hardware but also to the OS.
When I saw the Nexus One for the first time I thought that this is probably the best looking device I've yet to see. Unfortunately there are many things in the design I just can't understand:
Opening the phone for a start, why can't I turn on the device without going all the way north with my finger to find the power button? Even the iPhone that has only 2 buttons allows that! It's annoying and requires changing the grasp just to open the phone. I know there is a tweak that turns the trackball into a power button, but I have no intention to wipe out my device for that ROM.
The hardware buttons below the screen are just a bad implementation to a good idea: they are completely out of focus. To use them you need to learn that the active area is actually above the center of the button, which seems like a bug that HTC should have fixed before releasing the product. Seriously annoying.
The volume buttons do not give a good sense of touch, which makes it hard to know if you clicked on the up or down buttons.
The Battery time is probably the worst one I've ever seen. The Battery actually dries out in less than a day, and the charging time is so long, longer than I'm used to with my other phones. It makes me think I have a problem with my phone.
The screen is impressive on one hand, but when taking the phone outside I can barely use it. Since it is actually designed to work better outside than a regular screen, I asked one of my friends to compare the Nexus to the iPhone with me, to see that I'm not crazy. We both agreed that the iPhone is much easier to use outside in a sunny day.
I found the automatic brightness to be somewhat annoying (changing too often, how about some stable light for a pair of tired eyes?) so I had to turn it off and keep a fixed brightness – something which probably consumes my battery even faster than planned.
As you can see, the above list have nothing to do with Google or the Android - it's all about the phone's hardware and my opinion is that HTC really did a bad job with it.
Yes, that's right. The company that develops hundred devices per year, keeps messing them up. First they invented that impossible D-Pad surface in their diamond/Pro devices everyone had to tweak in order to make it usable, then they invented this useless zoom bar in their second Diamond/Pro release, now they are trying to break a record with those impossible hardware buttons that work only when they feel like…). You would expect that after so many years, HTC will finally make a device without one of those flaws, wouldn't you?
In fact, if I could replace the Nexus One with a Motorola Droid (without even checking it), I would immediately do so just for the sake of making a point.
Repeating reception issues – I know that Google's patch should have fixed them, but at my gym (where I mostly play with mobile devices while others exercise), the Touch Pro 2, BlackBerry Bold and iPhone are all working nicely while the Nexus insists on having no reception at all. Bummer.
Applications: I've noticed there are many interesting tools and productivity apps for Android. They are all nice, but I've yet to find an app that will amaze me. An app that will make me say: "how the h..<beep>..ll did they do that?!"
It's true that the iPhone also has a lot of crappy apps, but many of them are simply much better looking and seem to be fancier and more professional. The Android apps I've tried so far remind me of the Windows Mobile freewares I used to download years ago – they are good, but miss the "wow" effect that the iPhone apps have.
Android OS: Android is great, but it's not yet amazing. It's strong, robust, but not yet polished.
Some of the finger gestures don't feel as smooth as the iPhone (almost every iPhone owner I talked with said the same thing), the home menu is disorganized (but that can be solved using folders), the keyboard is very good but not yet as perfect (to me) as the iPhone keyboard – probably a matter of getting used to it.
And there are still too many bugs.
Say what you will, bottom line is that I had to restart the Nexus in 3-4 weeks more than I had to restart my iPhone in 2 years. And my iPhone is totally tweaked too. I found bugs when using multi-touch, answering calls, using the lock screen, and more.
Reviewing phones is a subjective thing. You cannot argue with great specs, but you can argue about how well a smartphone fits your needs and desires.
The Android is a very good operating system that will continue to improve without a doubt. The Nexus One is a decent phone but has some issues I cannot live with. Despite of the many positive things I found – I'm still mostly disappointed by the phone. By checking the sales rate, I'm probably not the only one…
For the time being, I'm still looking for the smartphone that will convince me to retire my iPhone. I don't mind saying it is most likely to run the Android OS, but I'm certain it is not going to be the Nexus One.
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