Wednesday, 14 July 2010

#ABReviews - The Google Nexus One - UPDATED!

Two weeks ago I had an unwelcome phone call at 8.57am while trying to boot the 8yr old out of the door to school. The result of this was a BlackBerry 8900 lobbed somewhat carelessly at the worktop. Only it missed the worktop and at some velocity met the stone kitchen floor.

I've dropped my phone in the past, mostly while pissed and from some considerable height so I was surprised to find a blank white screen with a jagged line of leaking LCD crystals staring back at me. After I'd said 'Fuck' quite loudly in earshot of the 8 year old, I picked it up.

Now, me and 'The AngryBerry' have some history. In the time before I had children, I would change my phone more often than I changed my underwear. I got rid of my iPhone 3G due to it's inability to send email from any pop account that wasn't @mac.com and it's 5 minute battery life. I replaced it at the time with a 2 year deal on a BlackBerry 8900.

Thanks to my previous disposable income suddenly disappearing on nappies and baby-paraphernalia with the birth of my daughter, when the AngryBerry took it's tumble I was 18 months into that contract and VERY ready for a change. Orange wanted £70 for a new handset as I had foolishly declined to pay £12 a month for the last 18 for their insurance *snigger* - That's a consumer tip right there. The 'man-sums' suggested that I would be barely worse off starting a new contract, with a new phone. And boy was I ready for it.

I've had them all over the years, Nokia's, Samsungs, Sony Ericssons, Palms, iPhone 2 and 3G and other Blackberrys so consider myself reasonably qualified to review phones. However, I am no T3, Engadget or Stuff magazine who really know their techno-onions. So some of this review may be utter bollocks.

Pre-worktop incident and knowing I was due for an upgrade at the start of November the hunt for a new phone had already begun.

As an internet celebrity *cough* I rely heavily on Email and Twitter and am very rarely less than 30cm from my phone. It needs a battery that will last a full working day, which to me is a charger-less hammering between 7am to 7pm, think continual Email, Tweeting and IM. Up until I destroyed my BlackBerry 8900 it had performed these tasks commendably, let down only by it's utterly dreadful internet browser.

The iPhone 4 was the natural choice. So much so that I had battled the queues on launch day to go poke one and stare in awe at it's retina displayed glass clad beauty. When I left the Apple Store on Regent St that day, nothing but a white 32GB iPhone 4 would do. As the white one hadn't started shipping, I'd sit it out and wait.

And then the bad press started. And didn't stop.

This meant the choices for a replacement were fairly limited. Under consideration were:

- iPhone 4

The iPhone4 was very disappointingly a non-starter due to the widely reported signal issue, and my past experience with poor email integration and the dire battery life. Believe me that waving it goodbye was a real wrench as I'd had my heart set on one since those pictures hit Gizmodo.

- Palm Pre Pro

I struck off the Palm Pre early on due to it's horrid bubble-wrap keyboard and the fact that people would probably point and laugh in the street when I took it out of my pocket.

- BlackBerry Bold 9700

Having had a BlackBerry 8900 for 18 months and it never letting me down, I was heading towards a new Bold. Albeit the flashy white version. I don't really have anything negative to say about Blackberrys other than I just wanted something different that could do what it did, with a better browser. It was still very much in the running. The safe choice.

So that left the HTC Desire and Google Nexus One. And Android - an unknown quantity.

While essentially the same phone, personal preference of the design of the Nexus One over the button arrangement on the HTC Desire led me to seek out a deal on Twitter from @VodafoneUKDeals for the Nexus One.

I'm now a week in with the Nexus One (N1). And this is my review.

It comes in a box. With things that you need to make it work. The handiest of which is a neoprene case with an Android embossed on it. On the downside, it is a bit thin and provides minimal protection, I imagine, from stone kitchen floors. But it'll do to keep the screen scuff free until a proper case arrives from eBay, like mine did after 3 days. £2.69 for a gel case and proper screen protector from a UK seller. Bargain.

In the hand, for those of you who have iPhones, it is an eerily similar experience. A big bright 'some-inches' AMOLED screen, minimal clutter and a trackball. Which is pointless but it does glow when you get a message. On the top you have your on/off and mute button and on the left hand side volume up and down. The N1 has a soft touch coating round the back so it doesn't feel like it's going to slip out of your hand like the old iPhone 2G.

Turn it on and you're greeted by Android 2.1 (A moot point while Vodafone sort themselves out and send the 2.2 Froyo update)

Steve Jobs will probably shit out an iPad if he reads this but essentially Android is scarily similar to the iPhone UI. Prod stuff, things happen. Swipe stuff and things happen, mostly very smoothly. Pinch a webpage, and it zooms in and out, perhaps not as smoothly as an iPhone might do it, but not so you'd notice and kill yourself out of shame.

Voice Search and Input is utterly brilliant and provides moments of hilarity as it gets simple words very very wrong. But really it's a gimmick, and you'll end up using the keyboard. So let's talk about that.

The bad:

Ok. The Android keyboard is not as good as the iPhone's. There, I said it. And there is no getting away from it. It is neither as accurate nor is the 'predictive' autocomplete anywhere near as good as I remember my iPhone 3G being. Having had a super accurate BlackBerry qwerty keyboard for 18 mths I am struggling to make the transition to a soft-keyboard, but I am getting there and improving with it daily. From some Googling I understand you can install the HTC Desire's keyboard which improves things - this is on my to-do list. And that's the beauty of Android, you can bugger about with it. The same will never be true for Apple.

UPDATE 15/7: Since posting this last night a twitterer pointed me in the direction of 'SwiftKey' a free app from the Android Market. It's a new keyboard that is both more accurate, and unnervingly predictive. It's looking very much like my keyboard gripe is over.

Another sucky feature is the lack of a BlackBerry style dial by name shortcut. Ie, Type A-N-G-R-Y on the keyboard and it brings up ANGRY's number. Instead, you have a very awkward scrolling system, which is not as slick as the iPhone's 'poke the nearest letter' to bring up that contact quickly. You do however have easy access to a favorites list and a call log for fast calling. Thats a minor gripe, but it would be brilliant if the dial by name feature makes it to Android in a future release.

UPDATE 15/7: That same twitterer pointed me in the direction of another free app called 'DialerOne' also available in the Android Market. It replaces the standard Android phone pad and gives 'dial-by-name' functionality and works brilliantly. So that's that dealt with too.

The last gripe, again which could be easily fixed in a later release, is having to scroll to the bottom of an email to find the 'Reply' button. Especially when if it's a long email string. There is no overlaid 'Reply' button - a big oversight if you ask me.

But, that dear readers is about as bad as it gets. In all other respects the N1 pisses on the iPhone and BlackBerry from a very great height indeed.

The good:

Email - Get yourself a Gmail account, ask it to collect all your email from other accounts and it'll push them out to your N1 BlackBerry style. You can reply from the account email is received into using Google's own servers, and I have found that this has resolved countless issues with my POP mail provider. It is a truly epic email program and I wish I'd found it years ago.

Twitter - I had a brief fling with Twidroid, which is excellent if you like Tweeting through a letterbox while 80% of the screen is taken up with the keyboard and other junk. Following a recommendation from another twitterer I've settled with Seesmic, and so far so good. It's accurate, connects flawlessly and notifies me when I have new mentions and direct messages. Twitter. Done.

IM - I'm using eBuddy which connects to multiple IM agents like Yahoo, MSN and AIM and works a treat. The end.

Battery Life - Email, Twitter and IM running all day with Wifi and GPS off will see the N1 run from 7am to 10pm easily. With WiFi on it's nearer 8pm. Big deal. See Apple, it can be done.

Other stuff

Music - Drag and drop non-Drm protected iTunes music onto the N1 and it plays them beautifully with nice detail through a pair of Sennheiser CX300's. It's never going to be an iPod Touch. It just isn't but it plays music through a perfectly useable interface which I'm sure will get better as time goes on. You get album art, skip, shuffle and play buttons. And that's about it.

Camera - At 5mp it produces decent pics and is much faster than the steaming turd on the iPhone 3G. It also allows easy sharing to FaceBook, Twitter, Email and so on.

Widgets - My favourite new feature. Widgets for things like Weather, News, Twitter and Calender are updated in real time on the home screen. Utterly brilliant. And you may have read about the 'Live' wallpapers. They are pointless, trust me.

Android Market - The Apps Store it isn't, but there's plenty of rubbish in there to keep you amused. And mostly for free.

UPDATE 15/7: And some of it is very useful and has resolved some niggles I had. Brilliant.

Navigation - Tied in with Google Maps is marvelous. Bin the TomTom. This is the future. And it's free.

Syncing - I use a Mac, and have my iCal Calender and Address Book sync'd via my Google account. Changes appear within minutes. Kudos to Google, but If you don't want to give them your personal info MarkSpace make an Android plugin for Macs which, if their BlackBerry one is anything to go by, will work a treat for about £15.

And there you have it, the Google Nexus One. I love it, even with the niggles. The 2.2 update will add other very cool functionality like hot spot tethering and a boost in speed so the sooner Vodafone release that, the better. Vodafone, are you listening?

If you absolutely must have an iPhone then go get one, and good luck to you. Just make sure you hold it right handed.

If you're undecided and don't want to follow the herd take a good hard look at the N1. You just might like it.

Highly Recommended

#ABReviews

Thanks to @nikwells and @chaosgerbil for the Android Market tips!

1 comment:

detritus said...

Good one mate .Android deff seems the way forward.Hate the closed shop mentality of Apple