Google Nexus One review: Firstborn

GSMArena team, 26 February 2010.
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Great retail package

You may’ve seen the Nexus One Desktop Dock. Guess what, it’s not in the box. But pretty much everything else is. Along with the handset itself, you get a USB charger, standard microUSB cable and a quick start guide.

There is also a one-piece headset with music controls. The more demanding among you will probably get a replacement. Fortunately, the supplied headset isn't your only option since the Nexus One is kind enough to offer a 3.5mm audio jack.

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The Nexus One unboxed

Digging deeper you'll also find a 4GB microSD card and a stylish carrying pouch.

Google Nexus One 360-degree spin

Friendly size is a key asset of every touch phone, especially with screens getting bigger by the month. The Nexus One boasts a 3.7” display but into our pocketability requirements. At 119 x 59.8 x 11.5 mm, the Nexus One is quite a pocket-friendly gadget. The Google phone weighs 130 g and its curved edges make it look smaller than it actually is.

Design and construction

The Nexus One is made by HTC and it feels like Google didn’t have the face to ask them to really try and make it different. Or was it that HTC pinched the Google design and used it on a couple of their own phones. Whatever, the Nexus One is a solid, poised and good-looking gadget. We’re not sure though the uncanny resemblance to HTC Touch2 works in its favor.

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Google Nexus One

Another inevitable lookalike is the HTC Desire. But there’s nothing out of the ordinary here: the Desire is HTC’s very own version of the Google phone with Sense UI and an optical trackpad instead of a trackball. The Desire has a subtle hint of a chin and hardware buttons, while the Nexus One goes for capacitive controls.

As most touchscreen devices, Nexus One hasn’t too much freedom to experiment with design but we’re happy Google chose to bet on quality materials and strong build. The slim and elegant body doesn’t take away from the solid gadgety look of the Google Phone, and the subdued color scheme is more than welcome.

The key design element of the Nexus One is the metallic front frame that extends asymmetrically around back. It’s got a soft brushed finish (could be teflon coated). The rear surface is rubbery and very pleasant to touch. It is slow to take fingerprints but when it does eventually get smudgy, the prints are very hard to clean.

The screen seems to have no oleophobic layer (like the iPhone 3GS) and gets all smudgy in no time. Our main concern though is the really high level of reflection, which makes it nearly impossible to use outdoors in the bright sun.

Anyway, indoors it’s a brilliant performer, quite what you’d expect in an AMOLED screen. AMOLEDs don’t use as strong backlighting as TFT displays, which makes them power-efficient, plus image quality is superior. The Nexus One can’t really match Samsung’s Super AMOLED-packing Wave but is still a great performer indoors. It is the highly reflective surface and weaker backlighting that make it a bad choice for outdoor use.

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The Nexus One boasts an AMOLED display, poor sunlight visibility is one thing to watch out for

As to screen sensitivity, the Nexus One reacts to the gentlest taps thanks to the capacitive technology. The 3.7” AMOLED unit boasts deep, vibrant colors and excellent contrast.

The typical Android controls (back, contextual menu, Home and search) are right below the display. They’re touch-sensitive virtual buttons so it all happens on the touchscreen with the Nexus One – if you don’t count the trackball.

What might be a bit of an issue is the keys are capacitive, so they’re not usable with gloves. The four keys seemed to occasionally play up – it may be a unit-specific issue but response wasn’t the best. Some of the taps just weren’t recognized.

The trackball is underneath, and outside the touchscreen. It’s the only hardware control on the Nexus One. It’s not essential really – the touchscreen is more than enough to get you around the interface. We like trackballs though – the precise response and the nice tickle on the tip of your thumb.

The trackball can come in useful if you need to jump links on a webpage that’s zoomed out to the max. The other obvious application that puts it to use is the camera. The Nexus One hasn’t got a dedicated shutter key and users get to choose between two options: a virtual on-screen shutter and the trackball. If you go for the trackball, you’ll need to press to lock focus and release to capture.

Above the display you will only find the earpiece and two hidden sensors (proximity and ambient light).

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Trackball and capacitive controls • earpiece at the top

The left side of the Google Nexus One features a long and thin volume rocker. There’s nothing on the right.

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The volume rocker is on the left • the featureless right-hand side

At the top we find the uncovered 3.5mm audio jack and the Lock/Power key combo.

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3.5 mm audio jack and the Power/Lock knob

As usual, at the bottom of the phone, you will see the mouthpiece. The standard microUSB port accommodates both the charger and the data cable. Some pins are there too, to connect with the optional desktop dock.

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The bottom looks interesting

The Google Nexus One rear only hosts the 5 megapixel camera lens and the small loudspeaker grill. There is a small LED flash in-between to boost the camera’s low-light performance but you shouldn’t be expecting miracles.

The camera lens, LED flash and loudspeaker grill

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The Nexus One back panel

Having released the battery cover, you’ll find the microSD card slot and the 1400 mAh battery. The Nexus One is quoted at 10 hours of talk time or 290 hours in stand-by mode in 2G mode (that’s scaled down to 7 hours of calls and 250 hours of stand-by in a 3G network).

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The battery has a surprisingly large capacity for such a thin phone

The thing to note is the microSD card slot is right next to the battery so hot-swapping is out of the question.

All right then, the first thing to say about the Google Nexus One is the build quality is excellent. The combination of slim and heavy makes for a great hand feel. The first time we handled it, the phone did feel somewhat head-heavy but this is nothing to question usability. The non-hot-swappable memory card and erratic response from the capacitive controls are the only major things that you may want to consider. The AMOLED screen is amazing indoors but sunlight legibility is poor.

We do like the solid gadgety feel of the Nexus One. Plain, no-nonsense design for a powerful tool is perhaps a conscious decision.

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The Google Nexus One is well built and great to hold

OK, this has been the HTC chapter of our review. The Google side of the story follows. Starting on the next page, we’re on Android 2.1 territory. Hit the jump to the user interface and applications.

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