The Nexus One's primary feature selling point is its voice command features. In addition to dialing, you can perform a variety of functions, such as updating your Facebook page, composing a text message, and searching the Android Market using only your voice. We jumped in right away and were astounded how well it worked even in a crowded room. Indeed the only mistake it made was it spelled "be" with just the letter b when we said "I will be late." The feature is speaker-independent so no voice acclimation testing is required. Just keep in mind that the process is not entirely hands-free. You'll still have to press the microphone icon on the display to activate the feature and occasionally press other icons to move between text fields.
The 5-megapixel camera is a few leaps ahead of most Android phones. Beyond the choice of four resolutions, it also offers the aforementioned flash, white balance and color effect controls, autofocus, infinity focus, a 2x digital zoom, and three quality settings. We like the enhanced camera interface that came with Android 1.6, especially the quick switch to the camcorder. You can record up to 30 minutes of video in a 720x480-pixel resolution (20 frames per second), but clips for multimedia messages are capped at 30 seconds. You can also select a quality setting, a color effect, and white balance.
Photo quality is satisfying. Colors looked natural and there was little image noise. The flash is relatively bright, though it doesn't appear to be of much help in completely dark places. Check out our Nexus One camera slideshow for a full assessment of the image quality. Video quality is about average. When you're finished shooting, just forward the photos to friends using the usual methods. Alternatively, you can use one-click upload to Picasa and YouTube. You also can geotag your shots for your reference. On the downside, the troubling Android shutter lag remains. When shooting, you still have to keep your phone steady for up to 4 seconds to avoid a blurry photo.
The Gallery application offers a few improvements. When you first open the gallery, photo groups will be arranged in stacks with the name of the group underneath. Tapping each stack will display the photos in a grid format for easy scanning, or you can swipe through each shot individually in a slideshow. And thanks to the 3D graphics, the photos will appear to rotate as you tip the phone.
We had hoped Google would give us a better media player on the Nexus One, but that's not the case. There's nothing bad about the Android player; it's just not that exciting. You get album art, repeat and shuffle modes, and the option to make playlists. You can add music via a USB cable, a memory card, or from the Amazon MP3 Store. Access to a quality video store and an FM radio are still on our wish list, though.
Other features include a calculator, a full duplex speakerphone, a compass, a text-to-speech feature, A2DP stereo Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, text and multimedia messaging, and the full slate of Google applications like YouTube, Picasa, Google Voice, Google Talk, and Google Goggles. The latter features suggests Web pages after you take a photo with the camera. It worked to varying degrees of success. Google Maps offers the standard features, plus a night mode and search suggestion. Please see the Performance section for more on the Nexus One's Bluetooth feature and Web browser.
Thanks to Android 2.1, the Nexus One also has the Car Home application, which offers local search and real-time, turn-by-turn directions with voice. Unfortunately, we don't get native tethering for the moment. It's unclear whether the holdup is Google, T-Mobile, or HTC.
We tested the Nexus One in Las Vegas and in San Francisco with T-Mobile service. As a quad-band world phone (GSM 850/900/1800/1900), you'll be able to use the Nexus One with any GSM carrier, but its 3G bands (2100/AWS/900) are compatible only with T-Mobile's network in the United States. AT&T customers will be able to use the Nexus One, but their data speeds will top out at EDGE.
Call quality was quite good on the whole. Conversations were clear, the volume was loud, and we heard little static or interference. Indeed, the noise cancellation feature seemed to work as we could hear clearly when we were in a crowded room. We even could get service at the Las Vegas Convention Center during the 2010 International CES. With thousands of cell phone-happy people in one place, CES can be a notorious dead zone.
On their end, callers said we sounded good. They could tell we were using a cell phone, but they reported no problems with the volume level or clarity. The phone dialer interface is easy to use, and we like the one-touch access to your contacts and recent calls lists. Also, when you're on a call, you can switch to Bluetooth or the speakerphone with one touch.
Speakerphone calls were satisfactory as well. The sound was tinny and a tad distorted at the higher volumes, but it gets pretty loud. We had no difficulty carrying on conversations in most environments. Friends reported similar conditions on their end, though a few mentioned more background noise. We tested the Nexus One with the Sound ID 200 Bluetooth headset. Bluetooth calls were admirable, though it's worth noting that like the Droid you cannot initiate voice dialing without touching the phone.
The full HTML Web browser lacks Flash Lite, but we welcomed the addition of multitouch with the February, 2010 software update. Now you can zoom in by double-tapping your finger and by using the pinch and zoom method available on the iPhone and the HTC Droid Eris. Both methods worked quite well with smooth motion and no lag. In the meantime, though, the browser offers other Android features like bookmarks, multiple windows, and the capability to cut and paste. Using T-Mobile's 3G network, the signal was mostly reliable and Web pages loaded relatively quickly. For example, graphics-heavy sites like wow.com and airliners.net loaded in about 30 seconds on 3G (compared with a minute and a half on EDGE). We've read, however, that many Nexus One users have reported that their phones frequently drop down from 3G to EDGE and others have no 3G connection at all.
The GPS application performs better than on other Android phones, but it still missed us by a block or two. It's not a deal-breaker, unless you're trying to direct someone to you. In those cases, make sure you're giving accurate directions. Music quality is decent over the external speaker, but a headset will offer the best experience. Streaming video over the YouTube app is mostly satisfying, but it will depend on your 3G connection.
The Nexus One's greatest triumph is its 1Ghz Snapdragon processor. It made a huge difference that was noticeable as soon as we dove into the phone. Applications loaded instantly and there was no lag when switching between features. We tried to time the average loading time for opening memory-heavy intensive applications, but it was so fast we had trouble recording it on a stopwatch. Believe us when we say it's fast. We also didn't encounter the lag we often get when swiping between home screens on the Moto Cliq. It's not an understatement to say that the Nexus One is the fastest Android phone we've seen.
Rated battery life for the Nexus One is as follows: 10 hours of 2G talk time or 7 hours of 3G talk time; 12 days of 2G standby time or 10.4 days of 3G standby time; 5 hours of Internet use on 3G or 6.5 hours on Wi-Fi; 7 hours of video playback and 20 hours of audio playback. So far, we've been pleased with the Nexus One's performance. In our tests we encountered 5 hours and 10 minutes of 3G talk time, 9 hours and 14 minutes of 2G talk time, and 19 hours and 20 minutes of audio playback. For video playback, we got an average of 4.5 hours. According to FCC radiation tests, the Nexus One has a digital SAR of 0.867 watt per kilogram.