That’s what I’ve been carrying around for a month and a bit. It’s awfully good; which doesn’t mean I don’t want more.
[Editorial note: Just because I work for Google doesn’t mean all-Android blogging. It’s just that I have a bunch of material saved up that I didn’t feel I should publish while I couldn’t disclose that I was negotiating, then about to join, the remorseless Android army. Don’t worry; pictures of flowers and overwrought screeds about programming languages will return.]
[More editorial: This was mostly written before I actually showed up at the ’plex and had any inside info. I’ve learned a couple of things since then but I decided to go ahead and publish the unimproved version.]
This review is a bit muddled because I switched both phone and OS at the same time. In some cases I’m not 100% sure whether the things I like or dislike are due to the hardware or software.
Speed and the Browswer · These are the two big things that dominate all my other impressions and deserve to be taken up first.
I don’t know whether it’s 2.1 or the faster CPU in the N1, but speed is a feature and now I have a whole lot more. The canonical example my iPhone-loving friends used to bash me over the head with was the Calendar: How long does it take to bring up today, then to swipe sideways for tomorrow? Used to be there was a noticeable delay on both. Not now; if you’ve just been doing a bunch of map-reading or otherwise torturing the system you may wait as long as a half-second to get “Today” up but mostly it’s just right there; and sliding sideways to tomorrow happens as fast as you can drag your finger. It’s not only the calendar; everything all over the phone is just super-snappy.
The browser improvements are a bigger deal. Yeah, it’s a lot faster, but
it’s also a whole lot smarter. Here’s the deal: You hit some link, and
(assuming you’re not on 2G) pretty soon there’s a miniaturized version of the
whole page filling the screen. You double-tap on the part that you want to
read and then some extremely clever code figures out which
<div> or whatever you meant and arranges for that to fill the
screen, starting at the top. There’s also the pinch/grow thing and that’s
nice too, but I don’t use it much because the double-tap seems to
reliably Do What I Mean.
Other Good Things · Tastes vary: any of these might be a game-changer for someone else:
The screen, just like everyone says, is amazing. The only Web site whose appearance I obsess over is the one you are now reading, and its boring Georgia and Verdana lettering looks much nicer on the N1 than on my MacBook.
There’s this widget you can put on a home screen that has a thing to toggle the brightness between dim, medium, and bright, and you’ll need it for when you go out in the sun.
The row of four buttons across the bottom have been a source of grief for some other reviewers, who have trouble hitting them right and find that they do so accidentally when reaching for the spacebar. Maybe big fat farmer’s fingers like mine are what you need; I have no trouble hitting them and appreciate the little haptic buzz that tells when you haven’t missed. I’m sure that the other people aren’t imagining their problems, but I don’t have ’em.
The Maps navigation, which I’ve already blogged about, is pretty wonderful. (Well, except when it led me down a blind alley not 15 minutes from bloody Google headquarters trying to get me to my hotel. I mean, I could see the hotel from where it took me to, it’s just that there was a large stone wall at the end of a dead-end street between me and there.) Really, mostly it’s excellent.
I haven’t used the voice-command mode that much (failed-B-movie-actress intonation), but it’s been precise and helpful every time I have.
There are a ton of fit-&-finish improvements to the home screens and the pick-an-app screen and the widgets and the shortcuts and the scrolling animations and the whole interaction experience. Subtle but important.
The on-screen keyboard has gotten to be tremendously clever with its guesswork at what you meant to type. Once you get into the rhythm of watching its suggestions as opposed to what keys you’re actually hitting, you can start to go seriously fast. I’m occasionally nonplused when people’s names from my phonebook show up as guesses, but also occasionally delighted.
This has nothing to do with Google or Android or the hardware, but let it be noted that the Twidroid Twitter client has been climbing the quality ladder with a release every couple of weeks during the year or more I’ve been using it, and is becoming really very satisfying.
Gripes · Even though I work here I can still whine about things they did before I arrived.
You know, I think I’d like a keyboard. The Droid’s hasn’t been that well reviewed; I’ve never tried one but I look back fondly on my original G1 phone, whose keyboard was first-rate.
The analogue clock widget is butt-ugly to my eyes. I recognize that tastes vary, but still. If there’s anyone graphically-gifted out there who will produce a really beautiful and functional anaclock widget, I hereby promise to become a partisan for it both inside and outside Google.
The new unlock thingie, drag-the-green-strip-across-the-screen, feels awkward to me. So what I did was turn on the nine-dots security pattern and actually found that easier on my fingers, not to mention safer. Anything that encourages safe behavior is a good thing so maybe this is a plug not a gripe. Hmm.
The phone-answering gesture is identical: Drag the green stripe across the screen. Maybe the joints in my thumb are unusual, but I often have to try a couple of times to pick up a phone call.
Maybe I’m imagining this, or maybe I’ve just been having bad luck with the telephone companies lately, but it seems to me that the N1 isn’t the best-sounding Android ever. The reception and signal strength and reliability are fine, it’s just that I seem to think my loved ones’ voices sounded sweeter in my ears on the previous phone.
Wrap-Up · I’m pretty sure that the Nexus One would make almost anyone, geek or civilian, happy. It’s not the “ultimate phone”, because there are multiple vendors in this space and they’re mostly all really smart, and next year’s hot phone, whatever it is, will be better.
But right now, the N1/Android 2.1 combo is in a really sweet spot.