Thursday, January 7, 2010

HTC Nexus One by Google

HTC Nexus One by Google
Product summary

The good: The Nexus One has a gorgeous display, a lightning fast processor, and a loaded feature set. The enhanced voice capabilities worked flawlessly, and the phone delivers solid performance.

The bad: Like other Android phones, the Nexus One forces you to store apps on the internal memory. The media player remains boring and it's missing some wanted features like multi-touch support, dual-mode capability for GSM and CDMA networks, and tethering.

The bottom line: It doesn't have all the features we'd like, but the Nexus One greatly enhances the Google Android family with a fast processor, good call quality and enhanced voice control features. What's more, we love that all versions of the phone will be unlocked.

Call us geeks, but we can't hear the word "Nexus" without thinking of the utopian dimension in Star Trek where all wishes were fulfilled. And in the run-up to the announcement of its Nexus One phone, Google seemed to be going for the same idea. Indeed, when the phone was finally unveiled on January 5, a Google executive billed it as not only a "superphone" that exemplifies what Google Android can do, but also as "the meeting place of Web and phone."

Lofty promises to be sure, but as is usually true in the tech world, things aren't always what they seem. Don't let the dull candy bar design fool you: the Nexus One brings welcome new offerings to the Android table. The Snapdragon processor is undeniably zippy, the AMOLED display is gorgeous, and we welcome both the enhanced voice dialing capabilities and the noise cancellation feature. What's more, the Android 2.1 interface enhancements show that Android continues to improve as it evolves. It's not the greatest Android phone around--that's a difficult call to make in such a diverse and crowded field--but it adds to an already rich family.

Of course, the Nexus One wasn't without its problems: the music player continues to underwhelm, app storage remains limited to the internal memory, we didn't get tethering or multitouch, and we would have appreciated dual-mode (GSM/CDMA) support. But even with those gripes, the Nexus One delivers a satisfying user experience. The operating system already can go to head-to-head with the iPhone, and the Nexus One only gives Android more ammunition.

Perhaps its greatest benefit is that the Nexus One is sold exclusively by Google in two versions. That means you can skip the carrier store and get free overnight shipping. Believe us when we say it's fairly remarkable that Google is changing the typical control-freak ways of the U.S. carriers. But even better, both versions of the phone--$529 without service and $179 with a two-year T-Mobile contract--will be unlocked. And for you CDMA fans, Verizon Wireless is set to get its own version of the phone in early 2010.

While slim and attractive, the Nexus One's candy bar, touch-screen-only design won't stand out from the Android crowd. With its trackball and prominent display, it looks a bit like both the HTC Hero and the HTC Droid Eris. At 4.56 inches by 2.36 inches by 0.47 inch, it's about the same size as the Droid Eris, the Hero, and the iPhone, but it weighs just 4.58 ounces. The two-toned gray color scheme is standard smartphone, but the handset has a comfortable feel in the hand.

Not surprisingly, the Nexus One's star attraction is its 3.7-inch AMOLED display. Bursting with 16.7 million colors and an 800x480 pixel resolution, the display really is a wonder. Everything from standard text to busy photos and graphics jumped right off the display in full glory. The Android 2.1 OS adds to the fun with 3D graphics (more on that later) and live wallpaper, which are animated backgrounds that react to your touch and your music. They're a nifty and attractive touch, but we realize they may be a bit much for some people and we're not sure if they affect battery life. Standard wallpaper is available if you're not game.

Like the Motorola Cliq, there are five home screens for full personalization. You can add and delete shortcut icons and folders at will, and you can use the dedicated Google Search box. You'll see a customizable weather/news box that's similar to that on the Cliq, though here it's more extensive and its design is refined. The display also offers an accelerometer, an ambient light sensor, and a proximity sensor.

Compared with previous Android phone, the Nexus One brings a few unique touches to the home screen. A square touch control with a grid design replaces the menu tab found on other Android phones. It makes no difference to usability as long as you recognize what it does. You'll also find dots on either side of the touch control that let you skip to an individual home screen or view thumbnails of all home screens in a row. Another change is a shortcut bar that allows you to activate and deactivate the Bluetooth, GPS, syncing, and Wi-Fi features, and control the display brightness. It's all very handy since you don't have to dig through a menu.

The main menu is similar to previous Android phones, but it now takes on a rolling effect at either end where the icons recede into the distance like the title crawl in a Star Wars film. Interior menus, the design of the Android Market, and the display lock and mute icons are comparable to the Motorola Droid. You can adjust the brightness and backlighting time, and limit the display animations. There's no option for calibrating the display, but the touch interface is accurate and responsive to a light touch. Haptics feedback can guide you if you need help.

The four touch controls below the display--a back button, home and search keys, and a control for the notifications menu--are standard Android. A long press to the home screen will bring up your recent features, while a long press to the search control will activate voice search. The touch controls take a firm press, but it's not a big deal. When you're not using the touch screen, the trackball will be your primary interface tool for accessing menus. It's large and responsive, and it lights up when you have a message. The virtual keyboard is also unchanged from other Android phones; you can use it in both landscape and portrait modes.

The power control sits on the top of the phone, next to the 3.5mm headset jack. We're thankful that the jack has a standard size for using your own headphones. The volume rocker on the left spine is thin, but it's easy to find when you're on a call. On the rear side are the camera lens, the flash, and a space you can engrave with a personal message. You'll have to remove the battery to access the microSD and SIM cards. The Micro-USB port sits on the phone's bottom end and accommodates both the charger and a USB cable.

As an Android phone, the Nexus One has everything you'd expect from the OS. The contacts menu is limited by the available memory, but each entry can store multiple fields for phone numbers, street addresses, work information, e-mails, URLs, instant-messaging handles, nicknames, and notes. Contacts are automatically synced from your Gmail account, but you can sync Facebook and Microsoft Exchange contacts. We did both and the exchange took just seconds. As with previous Android phones, you must store applications from the Android Market on the 512MB of internal memory. MicroSD cards (the Nexus one can accommodate cards up to 4GB) are only for other data files.

Besides Gmail, the Nexus One also supports additional POP3 and IMAP4 accounts, though not through a unified in-box. We added an Outlook Web Access (OWA) CNET e-mail, but during our initial test period we were unable to add a Yahoo account. When we tried doing so, we received a message that not all Yahoo accounts are supported. That's the first time we've seen that on an Android phone, and it's troubling. When we typed in our Yahoo account anyway, the Nexus One informed us that our username and password were incorrect (we did it several times to be sure). We'll keep trying, but for now it doesn't look good.

Sadly, calendar syncing looks to be incomplete. Though your Gmail calendar will sync automatically, we were unable to find a way to sync the Outlook calendar and notes. We're confirming if this is the case and will report the results when we find out. Needless to say, no Outlook calendar syncing will limit the Nexus One's appeal as a business device.

The Nexus One's primary feature selling point is its voice command features. In addition to dialing, you can perform a variety of functions, such as updating your Facebook page, composing a text message, and searching the Android Market using only your voice. We jumped in right away and were astounded how well it worked even in a crowded room. Indeed the only mistake it made was it spelled "be" with just the letter b when we said "I will be late." The feature is speaker-independent so no voice acclimation testing is required.

The 5-megapixel camera is a few leaps ahead of most Android phones. Beyond the choice of four resolutions, it also offers the aforementioned flash, white balance and color effect controls, auto focus, infinity focus, a 2x digital zoom, and three quality settings. We like the enhanced camera interface that came with Android 1.6, especially the quick switch to the camcorder. You can record up to 30 minutes of video in a 720x480 resolution (20 frames per second), but clips for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds. You can also select a quality setting, a color effect, and white balance.

Photo quality is satisfying. Colors looked natural and there was little image noise. The flash is relatively bright, though it doesn't appear to be of much help in completely dark places. Video quality is about average. When you're finished shooting, just forward the photos to friends using the usual methods. Alternatively, you can use one-click upload to Picasa and YouTube. You can geotag your shots for your reference.

The Gallery application offers a few improvements. When you first open the gallery, photo groups will be arranged in stacks with the name of the group underneath. Tapping each stack will display the photos in a grid format for easy scanning, or you can swipe through each shot individually in a slideshow. And thanks to the 3D graphics, the photos will appear to rotate as you tip the phone.

We had hoped Google would give us a better media player on the Nexus One, but that's not the case. There's nothing bad about the Android player; it's just that not exciting. You get album art, repeat and shuffle modes, and the option to make playlists. You can add music via a USB cable, a memory card, or from the Amazon MP3 Store. Access to a quality video store and an FM radio are still on our wishlist.

Other features include a calculator, a full duplex speakerphone, a compass, a text-to-speech feature, A2DP stereo Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, text and multimedia messaging, and the full slate of Google applications like Google Voice, Google Talk, and Google Maps. Thanks to Android 2.1, the Nexus One also has the Car Home application, which offers local search and real-time, turn-by-turn directions with voice.

We tested the Nexus one in Las Vegas with T-Mobile service. As a quad-band world phone (GSM 850/900/1800/1900), you'll be able to use the Nexus One with any GSM carrier, but its 3G bands (2100/AWS/900) are compatible only with T-Mobile's network in the United States. AT&T customers will be able to use the Nexus One, but their data speeds will top out at EDGE.

Call quality was quite good on the whole. Conversations were clear, the volume was loud, and we heard little static or interference. We even could get service at the Las Vegas Convention Center during the 2010 International CES. With thousands of cell phone-happy people in one place, CES can be a notorious dead zone.

On their end, callers said we sounded good. They could tell we were using a cell phone, but they reported no problems with the volume level or clarity. The phone dialer interface is easy to use, and we like the one-touch access to your contacts and recent calls lists. Also, when you're on a call, you can switch to Bluetooth or the speakerphone with one touch.

Speakerphone calls were satisfactory as well. The sound was tinny and a tad distorted at the higher volumes, but it gets pretty loud. We had no difficulty carrying on conversations in most environments. Friends reported similar conditions on their end, though a few mentioned more background noise. We're still testing Bluetooth headset quality and the Nexus One's capability to make Bluetooth hands-free calls.

The 3G speeds resulted in a satisfying browser experience on most fronts. Our only complaint is it lacks the multitouch support of the Droid Eris. To zoom in, you will have to use the magnifying glass icons on the bottom of the display. On the upside, pages loaded quickly, thanks to the strong 3G connection, and the browser offers a full set of features like bookmarks multiple windows, and cut and paste.

The GPS application performs better than on other Android phones, but it still missed us by a block or two. It's not a deal-breaker, unless you're trying to direct someone to you. In those cases, make sure you're giving accurate directions. Music quality is decent over the external speaker, but a headset will offer the best experience.

The Nexus One's greatest triumph is its 1Ghz Snapdragon processor. It made a huge difference that was noticeable as soon as we dove into the phone. Applications loaded in a flash and there was no lag when switching between features. We also didn't encounter the lag we often get when swiping between home screens on the Moto Cliq. It's not an understatement to say that the Nexus One is the fastest Android phone we've seen. We'll have more through testing soon.

Battery life for the Nexus One is as follows: 10 hours of 2G talk time or 7 hours of 4G talk time; 12 days of 2G standby time or 10.4 hours of 3G standby time; 5 hours of Internet use on 3G or 6.5 hours on Wi-Fi; 7 hours of video playback and 20 hours of audio playback. According to FCC radiation tests, the Nexus One has a digital SAR of 0.867 watts per kilogram.

(from: team)