Review of the Google Nexus One


The Google Nexus One is the sister phone of the HTC Desire (and both are in fact built by HTC), and so I was happy that I was given a chance to review both of these phones at around the same time.

Last Updated: 30-Sep-2010

Before reading this review, please read Some Thoughts on Phone Reviewing.

Iíd like to remind reads that the purpose of my tests is purely directed toward the suitability of the device as a PHONE first and foremost. While I do throw in a few comments about non-phone features (such as the camera), I am not concerned with how good (or bad) an Android device the Nexus One is compared to other Android models on the market. Because of this, youíll find the review rather negative, because as a phone the Nexus One is a very poor choice.

Also note that over-the-road performance is no longer a category in my tests. This category was created to test a GSM phoneís handoff performance. With the advent of 3G there has been very little to distinguish one phone from another when it comes to performance on the move.

I tested the Nexus One shortly after testing the HTC Desire, which is essentially the sister phone. I therefore expected much to be the same, and so I have cut-and-paste much of what I said about the Desire into this review. However, there were aspects of the phone that differed markedly from the Desire, so this is not a complete repost of the same review.

RF Performance

Click on this link for a full description of RF Performance, and how to interpret it.

RF Sensitivity: For the purposes of testing RF performance I put the Nexus One up against my 2-year-old Nokia N95, just as I had with the Desire. The N95, like most Nokia models, has excellent RF sensitivity and only a very tiny number of phones have ever bested it. The Nexus One doesnít do better than the N95, but it does match it, which gives the Nexus One excellent RF sensitivity too. So far so good.

Audio Performance

Click on this link for a full description of Audio Performance, and how to interpret it.

If incoming audio on the Nexus One has one clearly definitive problem itís that it isnít loud enough, though it seemed to be a bit louder than the Desire. I found the quiet nature of the phone to be one of the biggest annoyances during the tests, especially in noisy environments such as outdoors on the street, or had busy food courts.

Tonal Balance: This was one area where the Nexus One differed markedly from the HTC Desire. Instead of having a muddy and indistinct tone, the Nexus One was tinny and shallow. I assumed this was just the fault of a low-quality earpiece, but I was rather surprised to discover the problem goes much further than that. When I plugged the Nexus One into my car stereo (using the 3.5 mm headset jack) I found the compared to the N95 it was tinny and shallow. Using the N95 on the car stereo for incoming calls can often by like having the person in the car with you. However, talking with someone on the car stereo using the Nexus One was like having a speakerphone in the car with you.

Sound Reproduction: The accuracy of the reproduced audio was quite good, despite the aforementioned tinniness. I didnít notice as much of the strange background hiss/noise that Iíd heard on the Desire, so in this respect the Nexus One does better than its sibling.

Earpiece Volume: As I alluded to in the opening paragraph for this section of the review, the maximum volume of the earpiece was disappointingly low. To be fair, it was a bit louder than the Desire or the iPhone 4, but that isnít saying much. When compared to my N95 (which offers Nokiaís volume-boost feature) the Nexus One seems horribly quiet. It was difficult to hear when in the presence of loud background noises (like a crowded food court, or out on the street).

Outgoing Audio: Outgoing audio was surprisingly good, so long as there was no background noise. The problem with the outgoing audio got progressively worse as the background noise increased. I blame this on the noise-cancellation technology used in this phone. Itís similar in its ability to blank out noise to the iPhone 4, but like that phone it suppresses noise at the expense of audio quality. Why phone manufacturers think that people what suppressed background noise AT ANY COST is a real mystery to me. And it isnít like they canít get this right, because Iíve tried phones that can suppress background noise like you wouldnít believe without distorting the audio at all.

Speakerphone: Sadly the Nexus One is exactly like the Desire and possesses the worst excuse for a speakerphone that Iíve encountered in ages. The tiny little speaker can barely produce enough volume to be comfortably audible in a quiet room and the sound quality is shallow and tinny. Iíve heard cheap childrenís toys with better piezo speakers in them than this phone. Unfortunately the poor quality of the speakers doesnít just affect calls, it affects the all multimedia functions, such as the playback of videos. It sounds tinny and crackly, forcing you to listen to videos with headphones or earbuds on.

Support Features

Ringer Volume: Like virtually all modern phones, the ringer is simply the playback of audio clips through the built-in speakers. Thatís fine when the phone has excellent speakers, but since the Nexus One suffers greatly in that department, the ringer suffers too. The maximum volume and overall quality of ringers is mediocre at best. I couldnít find a single native ringtone on the Nexus One that I could hear at full volume over the din of the people at the Square One food court. You might be able to improve things by putting on your own extra-loud ringtones, but I doubt you could improve things much. This is one of the worst ringers Iíve heard in ages.

Keypad Design: The Nexus One has no physical keyboard, and so it relies solely upon a virtual keypad (just like the iPhone 4). However, the accuracy of the keypad is much lower than the one on the iPhone. I frequently had to back up and repeat characters. I ended up having to carefully watch what I typed as I entered passwords. My guess is that you would become accustomed to it over time, but compared to the iPhone it looks like it has a steeper learning curve.

Display: Unlike the Desire I tested, the Nexus One did indeed have an AMOLED display. Indoors it was bright and colorful and mostly a joy to use. However, outdoors in direct sunlight was another matter completely. Like virtually AMOLED displays it was just up to the task of beating the sun at its own game. The display was difficult to see and I have to shade it from the bright light just to see it properly.

Conclusions

As a phone I found the Nexus One very disappointing. Its low earpiece volume, tinny tonal quality, and useless speakerphone put it near the bottom of any list of phones Iíd buy personally. In addition, the poor speakers mean that as a multimedia device the Nexus One is also rather limited compared to other Android models on the market. Unless you plan to do all your multimedia usage using earbuds or headphones, the Nexus One may not suit your needs either.

So how does the Nexus One compare to the Desire? While there are differences in the two, they both suffer from similar problems when it comes to day to day phone use. Iíd personally pick neither of them. A much better Android choice might be the HTC Legend, which had markedly louder and better-sounding audio based on limited tests I performed on my nieceís phone. I wonder why a company like HTC can get the audio so right on some phones and so wrong on others?

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