If there's one thing I've gotten out of my time with the Nexus One, it's an appreciation for mobile app stores. Yes, I know Google didn't invent the concept, and the Android Market has less than a tenth the amount of applications available in the iTunes app store. But as I mentioned, I've never used an iPod touch or iPhone for any real length of time, so the Android Market was the first mobile app store that I spent any real time with. And I'm a bit amazed at how much I love it.
Sure, Windows Mobile devices can run tens of thousands of applications available across the web and at numerous online stores. But you typically have to find these apps on the web, download them to your PC, then install them to your mobile device using Microsoft ActiveSync or Windows Mobile Device Center to connect the device to your PC. Some applications feature CAB installers, that let you download a file directly on your device, open it in a file browser, and tap the file to install it.
But the Market/App Store paradigm makes things so
much easier. Want to find a task manager, eBook reader, or chat client for your Nexus One or other Android phone? Just fire up Android Market and enter a query in the search box.
Bored, and want to just see what apps or games are new? Hit the Apps or Games tab and sort by category, paid, free, or new applications.
Items in the Android Market are rated by users. So it's easy to tell the good apps from the... less good at a glance by the number of stars. You can also read reviews left by other users, and many apps feature screenshots to help you decide whether it's worth downloading and installing the application.
You can also use the Android Market to check for updates for installed applications and you can click the downloads tab to see a list of programs you've already downloaded and installed. You can also uninstall them from this window.
You're not limited to installing apps available in Android Market. But it's by far the easiest way to find and install new applications.
It would be nice if there were better options for sorting results. For instance, you can't sort alphabetically, or by price. So you may have to do a lot of scrolling to find the app that's right for you.
Having spent the last few years using Pocket Internet Explorer and early versions of Opera Mobile on my Windows Mobile 2003SE PDA, I was actually a little shocked when I started using the Android browser. I knew that modern mobile browsers did a pretty good job of rendering full web content and allowing you to navigate by zooming in to read text and zooming out to see the whole page. But I wasn't expecting the Android browser to be so fast
In fact, over a WiFi connection, the Android browser is almost as fast as a desktop browser. That's at least in part due to the snappy 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor powering the Nexus One phone. But the fact that the Android browser uses the same WebKit
rendering engine as Google's desktop Chrome browser
certainly doesn't hurt.
At first glance, the browser is all screen and little of anything else. At the top of the screen is a URL/search bar. But once you've entered a web address or search term, you can scroll down and make that bar disappear altogether. That's important, because you need all the space you can get on a browser designed to show you full web content on a 3.7 inch display.
Many web pages are automatically formatted for small screens, including Google applications such as Google Reader
and Google Docs
. But thanks to the browser's impressive speed and sturdy rendering engine, you can view pretty much any web content that's available in a desktop browser on the Nexus One -- with one major exception: Flash.
Adobe Flash 10.1
is coming to Google Android soon. But it's not here yet, which means that you won't be able to view Flash video or play Flash games on the Nexus One. You can
videos, either using the dedicated YouTube browser or by visiting YouTube.com in the browser and tapping a video to open up the standalone YouTube video player. But don't expect to wile away the hours watching Hulu
or playing Farmville
on this phone... yet.
You can open links in a new window by pressing and holding them to open a dialog box. And you can create new windows by hitting the settings button, and pressing "New window. " You can also close windows or flip between open windows using the Windows button in the settings menu. The system's not quite as simple or elegant as the tabbed browsers you'll find on desktop computers, but it does keep the browser window free from clutter.
Like Google Chrome, the Android browser does a pretty good job of keeping track of your history so that if you start to type a web address that you've visited before, it will offer suggestions. Just tap on the suggested link and you can save yourself the trouble of typing the whole thing over again.
You can also use the bookmarks window to add the current page as a bookmark or visit pages you've previously bookmarked.
Google and T-Mobile recently issued a firmware update for the Nexus One that enables pinch-to-zoom functionality in the browser, which makes it easy to zoom in and out of web pages quickly without pressing the magnifying glass icon in the corner -- which is slow and clunky by comparison. Unfortunately that's still the primary method for zooming in the Android browser on most Google Android handsets.
There are third party web browsers available which offer a handful of different features. For instance, Dolphin
makes it easier to flip between open windows by giving you desktop-style browser tabs. And the upcoming Opera browser
gives you a "speed dial" home screen with quick access to your favorite applications, plus the ability to quickly zoom in and out of web pages with a simple tap -- no multitouch required, as far as I can tell.
The Gallery application that comes with Android is a nifty little photo viewer. One of the things that surprised me most was that it automatically added photos from my Picasa
Web Album galleries.
Since Google owns Picasa, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. But it was still pretty cool to turn on the phone for the first time, login to my Google account and find that not only did I already have all of my contacts and email accounts set up, but I could also look at photos from my photo album without copying them to the phone first.
The music player lets you sort your audio tracks by artist, album, and song titles. You can also create and manage playlists. And one neat feature is that you can tap and hold any artist, album, or song title and click the search button to search the web, YouTube, or Amazon MP3 store for more information or songs. If you have other music applications such as Pandora
internet radio player installed, you can also search them from this menu.
When a song is playing you'll visit a sort of now-playing page, where you can tgggle the repeat and shuffle settings an see album art and other information about the song.
During playback, you'll also see a music icon show up in the status bar at the top of the screen. So if you're surfing the web, reading an eBook, or doing something else while listening to music and want to quickly jump to the music player to pause or skip a track, you can just drag down the notification bar, click the music player notification and open up the music player.
One thing that bugs me about touchscreen music players is the fact that you generally need to look
at the screen in order to pause playback though. I tend to listen to podcasts or music while taking the subway, shopping for groceries, and performing other daily tasks that require stopping and starting the music, or rewinding a bit to hear something I might have missed in a podcast due to loud street noise.
The Nexus One does ship with a set of earbuds with play/pause, skip controls. But if you're using another set of headphones (such as noise canceling headphones), you need to pull the phone out of your pocket, turn on the backlight, unlocked the screen, and tap the controls on the screen to pause, skip, or rewind.
Old fashioned MP3 players, and even my Dell Axim X50v have the edge here, because they have physical buttons. I can reach into my pocket and detect the right button to press to pause, stop, play, or skip content just by feel. I miss that with the Nexus One, which only has a power button and volume dial.
Video playback is a much more complicated story. One of my favorite applications for Windows Mobile is TCPMP
, which supports playback of a wide array of media formats including MPEG1/2/4, WMV, DiVX, Xvid, OGG, Matroska, and Flash video.
There's no TCPMP for Android, and I could only find one media player that can handle DivX and Xvid movies
on the Nexus One -- and it could only handle some
of the files I tried. Most Android phones should support H.264 and MP4 video playback out of the box.
But since most of my video collection is in DivX and Xvid formats, I didn't spend much time watching video on the Nexus One.
The Nexus One doesn't have a standalone video player, but you should be able to watch movies using the Gallery application. There are some third party video players, but I wasn't that impressed with the ones I tried. There's definitely room for improvement in the video playback area.