Nexus One Review: The Hardware Isn’t The Problem, Android Is

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It’s never an easy task to review a device that you’ve had for less than two or three or even four weeks. The rush of trying to be beat other outlets constantly hangs over your shoulder. Do you rush to get a review out and subject yourself to the criticism that comes with having left off the most critical or asinine factoid possible? In this day and age, yes. Have I done that with this review? Perhaps, but this is all part of the job, I suppose.

I recently sat down with a friend and had a candid discussion about the review process for mobile devices. It’s too short. Most phone manufacturers and carriers give journalists and bloggers alike about a week to review something. That’s simply not enough time, IMHO. Said friend has been in this industry far longer than I have, so it wasn’t Joe Blow off the street yammering on like an ass. This is a real problem, folks, and you’re the one that gets the short end of the stick. I pump out my review after a week but continue to live with the device for another few weeks while you go off and buy product x. I’m not saying my review is BS but I’d feel better about it if I was given more time. But this isn’t the first time I’ve had my hands on the Nexus One. Now that the device is out, I can say that I handled one prior to the press conference last week in Mountain View, CA.

(More on Techland: Liveblog: Google’s Android Press Event)

I first reviewed the T-Mobile G1 in October of 2008 and suggested folks to pass on the device and the OS. I’ve since changed my mind about the OS and suggest it whole-heartedly. However, the one disclaimer always circles back to the hardware: it’s only ever good enough. Every Android device has had a ‘skinny’ screen making it difficult to type on the virtual keyboard in portrait mode. Or so I thought was the only problem.

The HTC built Nexus One is the best touch-screen only Android device. Motorola’s Droid is still the best Android device with a physical QWERTY keyboard to date. Please stop asking me which one you should get. The software will soon be the same and it simply boils down to hardware preference.

(More on Techland: Motorola DROID Review)

What HTC has done on the hardware side is quite remarkable. The Nexus One’s hardware blows every other device that’s currently available on the market out of the water. You not only have a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, but you have a gorgeous 3.7-inch AMOLED capacitive touch-screen (800×480) along with all the amenities you would expect – Wi-Fi, 3G, GPS, Bluetooth, 512MB of RAM and a 5-megapixel camera with LED flash. And for those needing some physical attributes, the Nexus One comes with a trackball that comes in handy when editing or navigating through text. Overall, the Nexus One is slim and trim and feels damn good in the hand.

The one hardware issue with all Android devices before the Nexus One has been screen size. They’ve simply been too narrow to type comfortably on the virtual keyboard in portrait mode. HTC alleviates this with the Nexus One. It’s roughly 1mm thinner than the iPhone giving users a smidge of breathing room, but Google went with their stock Android keyboard, which stinks. Had HTC been able to implement its Sense, we might all be better off. Otherwise, the screen is exquisite. Colors are vibrant and pop right off the screen when screen brightness is maxed out. Unfortunately, the screen gets completely washed out under direct sunlight.

I don’t typically make a lot of phone calls. I don’t actually like the sound of the human voice, but in this case, I made an exception and made a few phone calls. Call quality on both ends is crisp and clear thanks to the dual noise canceling mics. The speaker is located on the rear next to the camera making it difficult to hear in noisy areas but it’s loud enough otherwise.

(More on Techland: The Nexus One Cheat Sheet)

Speaking of cameras, the 5-megapixel camera on the Nexus One is pretty spectacular. There’s no physical button like on the Droid, so you’re relegated to tapping on the camera icon to fire it up, but it starts up quickly – much faster than the iPhone 3GS. But the iPhone 3GS seems to take pictures a tad faster. Here’s a picture sample, video sample (the weird glare is coating on the window that’s visible to the naked eye) and short video of boot up time.

Like the Droid there are four touch-sensitive buttons placed along the bottom of the device. Others have noted that they’re not quite responsive enough for their liking, but I have no qualms with them.

Battery life is on par with other devices with similar features. Your mileage will vary depending on usage (GPS, Web browsing, screen brightness, e-mail, etc.), but don’t stray too far from a power outlet in the afternoon.

(More on Techland: Hands-on With The Nexus One)

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