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Google Nexus One Review

Google Nexus One browser
Google first unveiled its Android operating system for smartphones in 2007. But the Google Nexus One, which was launched last month is the first phone with the Google name attached to the hardware. Google sells the phone through its web site and handles tech support for the smartphone, although mobile service is provided by T-Mobile (and soon Verizon) in the US.

The Nexus One has a faster processor than almost any phone on the market, which makes it incredibly responsive. And it runs Android 2.1, the latest version of Google's mobile operating system. Because this is the first true "Google phone," it's also likely that the Nexus One will be first in line for new over-the-air updates to the operating system and Google's mobile applications such as Google Maps and Google Calendar. Earlier this month Google released one of the first updates for the Nexus One, which made the phone one of the first Android-powered devices to support multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom.

I've been a fan of mobile computing ever since I first realized that you could use a handheld device to manage your calendar, read eBooks, and play video games. My first PDA was a short-lived Philips Nino 300 Windows CE device, and between 2000 and 2005, I purchased at least a dozen different PDAs and handheld PCs including the Compaq Aero 1550, and HP Jornada 720, before settling on a Dell Axim X50v running Windows Mobile 2003SE which I've used for the past 5 years.

The Axim is a great little PDA with a 624MHz CPU and a VGA display. But the OS is starting to show its age and can't run many recently launched mobile applications. And the version of Pocket Internet Explorer that came with Windows Mobile 2003SE is all-but-unusable. Overall, I'm starting to get tired of carrying around a 5-year-old device, even if it does many of the things I need a mobile device to do.

So when Google contacted Download Squad and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing one of the newest, most hyped smartphones around, I jumped at the chance. I've tested the phone for the last few weeks, and there are a lot of things to like -- and some room for improvement.


Nexus One and Axim X50v

This isn't going to be a typical smartphone review, because this is the first smartphone I've ever used for an extended period. I've only spent a few minutes of my life with an iPhone, for instance, so don't expect me to spend much time comparing the Android UI to the iPhone OS.

But I did discover some interesting things about my 5-year-old PDA in the process. For instance, I've found new reasons to appreciate its hardware buttons and stylus input. While physical buttons and styli are certainly on their way out as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Palm, and other mobile phone OS makers focus on finger-friendly operating systems and applications, I'm definitely going to miss a few things about the old paradigm.

User Interface
- Home Screen

The Google Nexus One doesn't have any of the fancy add-on software that Samsung, HTC, and other handset makers like to pile on top of their android phones. The Nexus One runs Android 2.1 the way Google designed it. Here's how it looks:
Home Screen
When you turn on the phone, you're greeted with a home screen that's not too different from a PC desktop. You have a handful of shortcuts that you can click to launch applications. You can remove shortcuts by tapping and holding them and then dragging them to the trash bin that pops up at the bottom of the screen. When it's not a trash bin, that little icon turns into a box that you can press to bring up a complete list of available applications. And you can add any of them to your home screen by tapping and holding them and then dropping them where you'd like them to appear.

But it's not just application shortcuts that you'll find on the home screen. You can also add widgets. A few of the default widgets that come with the phone include a Google search box, a weather and news widget, and an analog clock. Some third party applications let you add additional widgets, such as a media playback controller for the Pandora internet radio application.
You can fit about 20 program icons on the home screen, or a smaller number of shortcuts plus a widget or two. But if you run out of space, don't fret. The Nexus One gives you 5 different screens to fill up with shortcuts. Just tap the screen and flick your finger to the left or right to switch screens.

This makes it easy to do arrange all of your games shortcuts in one window, your web and internet shortcuts in another, and your most frequently launched applications in yet another. Or whatever you like.
Add widgets
Overall I find this layout gives me much more room to play with than the Start Menu paradigm used in early versions of Windows Mobile. But it does sometimes mean you'll have to make a lot of clicks to flip between running applications.

Fortunately, Android lets you see the last 6 programs you opened by pressing and holding the Home button. Unfortunately, if you happen to have 7 tasks open (Android does support multitasking, after all), and you want to switch from, say your browser to Google Voice which isn't on the recently opened list, and which doesn't have a shortcut on your home screen, here's what you'll have to do: Hit the Home button once to bring up the home screen, hit the programs icon to bring up the list of programs, and scroll through all of your applications to find the Google Voice or any other app that you want to switch to -- even if it's already running in the background.
Recent apps
Some applications integrate with the status bar at the top of the screen. For instance, if you're using the built in music player or a number of other media playback applications, you should see a little green arrow in the status bar. Tap the bar and pull it down to see a list of notifications, including a link to your media player, which makes it quick and easy to hit the stop button if you need to silence the music in a hurry. But it would be nice if all running applications were available from the status bar or a similar drop-down menu, making it easier to switch between open apps.
The closest thing I've found are some third party task managers which let you see a list of open applications and either kill or switch to those processes. You could always just add one of these to your home screen, so that you should be able to get to any running application with three or four clicks (Home, task manager, application title, open). It's hardly elegant, but it works and usually doesn't require a ton of scrolling.

I'd also like to point out a shortcoming of most touchscreen phones and media players here - the lack of physical buttons. This bugs me most when I'm trying to perform an action like the one I just described - pausing media playback. Old fashioned MP3 players, and my trusty old Dell Axim PDA allow you to pause media playback, skip tracks, and perform other functions without pulling the device out of your pocket. Just reach down, feel for the appropriate button, and hit it. One tap is all it takes.
Music Player
With the Nexus One, I have to take the phone out of my pocket, turn on the display, unlock the device by sliding my finger across the screen, find the music player, and then hit pause. I know there are some headphones that have playback controls integrated into the cable. But I don't want to have to use proprietary headphones when I could use the nice, expensive pair of noise canceling headphones I picked up a few months ago.

I've mentioned the buttons near the bottom of the device including the Home button. These aren't physical buttons, but are actually part of the touchscreen, which means you get no tactile response when you press them. There are four buttons on this particular phone, Home, Back, Search, and Settings.

The back button serves like the back button in a web browser -- but it doesn't just work in the browser. From almost any application, hitting back will take you to a previous menu, or take you to a previously used program or back to the home screen. So, in some situations, it is actually pretty fast to jump from one currently opened program to another. But getting back from program B to program A still takes too many clicks.

The settings button serves different functions in different areas. When you're using an application, tapping this button will bring up any available settings for that program. When you're at the home screen, it brings up the Android Settings dialog, which is lengthy and deserving of its own section.

Tags: android, google android, google nexus one, GoogleAndroid, GoogleNexusOne, hardware, nexus one, NexusOne, review, reviews, smartphone, windows mobile, WindowsMobile