As listeners to TDL Mobile will be aware, I recently purchased an HTC / Google Nexus One. I’ve been eyeing up an Android based smartphone for some time, although as an iPhone user since it was released here in late 2007, it would have a lot to live up to. I’ll be clear. I love my iPhone. Out of all the devices I own or have ever owned, it is probably the one I could least live without. Always my family come out on top of any list I write covering “things most important to me”, closely followed by friends; and I have to say the iPhone would probably make number 3 on this list (catch me on a certain day and it may have even grabbed number 2). So that gives you some idea as to the regard in which I hold the iPhone. And there are a number of reasons for this. Put simply, these are reliability, usability and functionality. I truly have never had a device that is as rock solid, allows me to do so much whilst on the move and is so intuitive to use. So polished. And I also very much agree with the point Jose Ortiz has made on the TDL Mobile podcast in the past: Without the iPhone I doubt if we would have the range and quality of smart phones we see today. Apple simply knocked it out of the park first go, but now others including Google (with help from HTC and the like), Palm and even Microsoft are catching up.
As a lover of tech – especially mobile tech – and inspired by my colleagues on TDL mobile over the past few months – I have felt for a while that a change is due. Time to test how close the competitors are and to see if anything can come close to meeting my needs both at work and in play.
To me, reliability is key. I need to be able to turn to it and have it do what I need time and time again. In the past, my experience with PDA’s and smartphones (particularly Windows based ones) has been pretty poor in this regard. Constantly in need of a reboot, I always felt I was trading reliability for functionality. But the iPhone changed that giving me both in one device. But it is clear that the iPhone is no longer the only game in town in this regard. Android, WebOS and even Windows Mobile to some extent all have something worth looking at. As impressed as I was with the Palm offerings, I didn’t feel the functionality was quite there due to the apps limitations (although I’m still really keen to try out the WebOS) and I’ve never been concerned by a hardware keypad. Equally, as impressed with the HD2 hardware (especially hearing Jon, Jose and DatabaseJase’s reports), my requirements led me firmly to the door of Android.
But the decision making process doesn’t end there! Do I go for something with HTC sense, that adds a really nice user interface layer, or do I go for something with stock android that will likely get updates to the Android OS much faster than would be the case for something that has been skin’d? Being a heavy Google user at home and at work, and after listening to the TDLMobile round table and speaking with Jose (who has experience of both and is a big fan of the Sense UI), I decided to go for the Nexus One. Great hardware, super fast performance and the best integration with Google services of any mobile device, I decided to forgo the Sense UI benefits and the lure of the Desire and Legend. Plus, the Nexus One launch date on Vodafone keeps slipping where as the Desire and Legend have landed, so I get a few important weeks more of the rarity factor.
I live and work in the UK, so the next decision was where to buy. A number of online stores make it easy to buy and had stock. Expansys and Play were the best known to me, but the price was high – £599. I knew Google shipped directly from the US to the UK and so looked up the cost there. At the current rates I was looking at £384 + £63 VAT. Potentially another £23 import duty, so worst case £469 and more likely under £450. This made it worthwhile in my opinion, so I purchased via Google checkout on Friday afternoon. By Wednesday morning I had the device, so for a couple of days waiting I saved £150. Worth doing in my opinion. And the experience was really straightforward. Google shipped with the usual bits, including a UK charger which made life easy.
So out of the box, I’m happy with the looks. It does have to be said that it does look like a Geeks phone. I love it but my wife wasn’t such a big fan and would stick with her iPhone every time. But for me the screen is so much sharper. The active wallpapers are a fun addition and the flexibility of being able to add apps, widgets and shortcuts to contacts onto the desktop is really refreshing. The ability to simply drag and drop media onto the device rather than having to sync with a single PC whilst not quite a game changer, did make things easier and meant I could access more up to date content far more easily by adding it whilst at work. Same goes for podcasts, but times 10. I’ve started to use Doggcatcher, which sync’s over the air meaning I always have the latest podcasts delivered straight to my device. Most of the apps I used on the iPhone have equivalents in the android market. BetterFlickr for Flickr access; Act 1 Video gives me full screen video playback and resume functionality and the ability to play back a number of formats; PktAuction for eBay, Twidroid and Seesmic for Twitter; Beebplayer for iPlayer; Wikidroid, remote record, iRadio, LiveSoccer all started to complete the picture.
There were a few things I needed to set up for UK use, in particular the Access Point Name (APN) settings for 3G access and MMS. A quick Google search (obviously!) came to my aid and in no time I had the details into the phone making 3G (on O2) and MMS possible. There was an issue initially with using MMS and photo’s taken by the onboard camera (the MMS size limit on O2 couldn’t handle the picture) and it looked as if I might need a third party MMS app from the market, but this settled down almost immediately (although I don’t exactly remember how – I think it may have been an update that arrived soon after).
So having loaded up those apps and set things up for UK use, I was set to go and, short of the odd game, not missing the iPhone too much.
So, onto what it does better. I’ve already mentioned a couple of things and flexibility is clearly they key to these – as any owner of an Android based device would know. Further to those are the experience when using Google services. Now I’m a big Google user, we have Apps premium at work and I use gmail, docs, reader and groups on a personal level as well. If you like the functionality gmail offers over standard email (labels, conversation threads, starring, archiving, searching and the like), you’ll LOVE the gmail implementation on the Nexus One. It truly is second to none. I had no issues with email on the iPhone, but this really does offer an improved experience. Big tick for me. Things like Google Goggles work great and, whilst still in the gimmick stage for me, I can see me using effectively as time goes on. Same goes for voice-to-text. I’m starting to get the hang of it and, whilst I look a bit odd saying things out, it sure as hell makes for faster tweets and email than typing does on the keyboard (which is truly terrible – but more of that later). I like the fact it has an app for in car mode, presenting big buttons for contacts, navigation and voice search (although am really keen to try out navigation when we finally get access to it in the UK).
Another area where the Nexus One is more effective is in Google chat. On the iPhone the lack of multitasking made use of IM clients limited in my experience – even with their attempts to push updates. Having multi tasking on the Nexus One gives a much more integrated feel to th
e various apps. People can contact me via chat even if I don’t have the client open. Similarly, when I open a contact I see all the ways I can contact them right there – Facebook, Google Chat, email, phone, SMS and so on. It makes it easy for me to select the most appropriate, rather than shooting for only email or a phone call.
Finally in the positive column is the opportunity to make things information centric rather than app centric. A great example of this comes when you load up slidescreen. Jose posted a great video on this on the TDLMobile blog and Vimeo channel – essentially it replaces your homescreen and allows for a simple view of all your information in one place. This comes as a result of a few things the Nexus One does well (and the iPhone doesn’t) but in particular multi-tasking and flexibility for the user to add and create things in a way that works best for them.
There are some things it doesn’t do so well. You do have to watch the multi tasking and keep a lid on things (Advanced Task Killer helps here). The keyboard is plain terrible and I’ve yet to find one even close to that on the iPhone. The multi touch and general feel of the user interface is not in the same class as Apple. Things are more clunky, nowhere near as polished or as smooth.
So overall I think it’s a great device for me. But at heart I’m happy to get down and dirty with some of this stuff (killing tasks, configuring settings, etc). If I hadn’t seen the iPhone and someone showed me that and the Nexus One today fresh: I’d say the iPhone edges it and I think for most people this will be true. But at the moment the trade off for what I need it for (Google services in particular) and the fact I’m looking for a change mean, for now at least, the Nexus One is my device of choice. And I LOVE IT!
Something I forgot to put in my original post is how well the Google Calendar works on the Nexus One. In line with most things, the calendar is fine on the iPhone and synchronises flawlessly, meaning my calendar is always up to date no matter where I access it. BUT, this is only the case for my calendar. One of the great features we use at our company wit h GCal is having access to co-workers calendars. All presented in different colours when accessing via the web, other peoples calendars simply didn’t appear on the iPhone. Not so on the Nexus One Calendar app. All the calendars appear in the same way they do via a browser, beautifully colour coded. This is another big plus for me. And one I really should’ve mentioned!