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Archive for January, 2010

Nexus One: A First Smartphone First Impression

Posted in Technology on January 7th, 2010 by darcusb – Comments Off

For the past couple of years, I’ve contemplated buying a smartphone, but managed to avoid it for various reasons. While I appreciate the attention to detail in Apple’s phone platform, for example, there are other aspects of it that are just deal-breakers for me. I’ve long been considering the Android platform, but no phone seemed to offer the right mix of performance, design, and so forth. And I’ve not been thrilled to get tied into long-term contracts, or pay $100/month for a service plan when I don’t use talk much, and don’t do texting at all.

That changed this week, however, when Google announced their Nexus One. I’m not going to offer some in-depth review, which you can find elsewhere, but instead some brief first impressions of a more-or-less first-time smartphone user. So …

My base for comparison for the “smart” component of the smartphone is the iTouch, which I primarily use for accessing my Google based mail, news feeds, and calendars. How does the Nexus One/Android compare?

What I Like, in no particular order:

  1. That I could buy an unlocked phone and worry about the service on my own.
  2. Nice buying experience: after clicking a few buttons, the phone was off and on my doorstep less than 24 hours later. I dropped in my existing SIM card for a really simple, dirt-cheap, service through my employer, and was ready to go (albeit without data access, except through wi-fi; will probably upgrade to one of the new T-Mobile even more plus plans sometime soon).
  3. The hardware is small and sleek and elegant, the screen is gorgeous, and it’s fast.
  4. Nice integration. The multi-tasking of Android appears to allow for a nice notification system. My phone is charging right now, for example, but I can occasionally see the trackball light up, which means something (email, twitter updates, calendar reminder) has come up. If I sign in, I can pull a notification panel down for a quick summary. If I tap something, it brings me to the item(s) in question.
  5. The integration with Google service is, not surprisingly, really good.
  6. The widgets are really nice. For example, the weather one is way beyond what Apple provides: both really useful, and also beautifully-designed.

What I don’t like so much:

  1. It’s not as “unlocked” as it could and should be. While it’s great I can use my existing SIM card from a provider other than T-Mobile, it really sucks that I cannot get 3G data service on any other service. It’s both bad for customers and bad for the buying experience to ultimately have three or four different “Nexus One” products just to cater to the idiosyncrasies of each carrier. Come on Google: you need to do better here. For the Nexus Two, let’s see a phone that can work on ALL the major networks: both GSM and CDMA.
  2. UI Navigation. Let’s compare reading news feeds. On my iTouch, it’s really quick to move among different categories and feed options: I can do so by tapping on items, and by using the on-screen arrow keys that pop-up to move back, up, down, etc. On the N1, those screen-based navigation helps don’t appear; instead, I need to use the awkward “back” hardware key, and jump back-and-forth. Makes me wonder: did the Google people do actual user studies on this sort of intensive navigation? I’m sure such a study would uncover some obvious design flaws.
  3. More on navigation: really don’t like the way the hardware navigation keys work: I have to press harder than I want, and generally don’t see the point of all of them.
  4. Some of the aesthetic-design is an obvious step-behind Apple’s. For example, compare Google’s Gmail app to Apple’s Email one. The fonts (actually, in general) are not that great, and they are not terribly-well visually integrated into the (off-white) background. The bottom-line is despite the awesome screen, the emails are not as readable. Also, see point above about navigation.
  5. On email, why a separate “Gmail” app?
  6. Multi-touch would be nice to have, but not exactly a deal-breaker for me that it doesn’t yet have it.

Overall, however, my complaints are mostly minor issues that can be improved (and hopefully someone at Google comes across this at some point), and am generally happy with the phone.

Update: there’s an obvious problem with first impressions, of course, which is that they’re sometimes based on incomplete information. In the case of the news reader navigation issue I note above, I realized that the app (NewsRob) actually does allow for hovering navigation; it’s just hidden by default. This largely solves the problem.