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Being a tech-savvy customer, I was quite psyched about Google's release of Nexus One smartphone device. Not waiting for too long, I had to see for myself what other Android developers are chatting about. This blog is an attempt to give a decent overview of the device from it's usability perspective.


At the time of purchase, it is possible to engrave the phone with 2 lines of text. I find it quite a cool way to personalize your device. It also comes with a black neoprene pocket that fits the phone nicely. Pocket has an Android logo on it, which makes it a bit more fun.

Now for a more detailed overview of the device itself.

Home screen
  • supports live wallpapers. My favorite is the spinning galaxy :). Background motion makes a big difference when it comes to aesthetics. Makes device feel more lively.
  • supports 5 home screens. Given growing amount of apps, this comes in very handy, since 1 screen can only fit a 3x4.
  • app selector has a pretty cool Star Wars theme roller effect.
  • has search box built right into it, with voice capabilities.
  • top header is a pull down, which is a very effective use of space. It displays all updates along with common usability icons. Very nice :)
  • can add a shortcut, widget, folder or wallpaper, which basically provides for mini-desktop functionality.

Multi-tasking
  • Yes! Holding a home button will popup a list of currently running applications. This comes super handy when browsing Internet, reading news, emails, and listening to music, etc.. since it keeps all state, such as scrolling, selections, etc..
  • 'Back' button acts as a universal history tracker. Say, for example, you are reading email and click on a link, which open a browser. You can press 'Back' to return to your email :)
  • I could not find an easy way to view task manager, but found a neat free app to do the job nicely. It is called 'Advanced Task Manager', which provides for most task manager capabilities.

Multi-touch
  • Not sure how it will play out legally, but multi-touch is definitely what a mobile device should have.
  • Pinch to zoom works nicely as well as tapping.
  • Scroll gestures, swipe to unlock and all very intuitive.

Flash
  • From what I've heard, supports Flash, though I am yet to experiment with this feature.

Sync
  • Now this is simply awesome. All you need is a Gmail account. All sync happens automatically over the 'air'. No need to 'connect' the phone to your computer.
  • All software updates are notified & downloaded over the air.
  • Change contacts in your Gmail account and they are automatically synced with your phone.
  • Basically a hassle free sync environment. Very nice!

Hardware
  • Display 800x480px, vivid colors, touchscreen.
  • Overall sleek design. Nicely fits in a hand.
  • Sports a 5MP camera and a video camera capability, which comes in super handy. Camera has 2X digital zoom and LED Flash. To switch between camera and video is a simple toggle.
  • It is fast, sporting a 1GHz Qualcomm processor.
  • Has GPS, accelerometer, digital compass, bluetooth, Wi-Fi.
  • 512 MB RAM, 4GB SD Card which so far is enough for my needs.
  • Desktop dock comes separately for $45. Is nice to have, since it charges your phone, activates a clock screensaver, and keeps the phone handy while at work.
  • Comes with nice black microphone-enabled headphones with a little Android logo on right ear :)

USB
  • Comes with USB cable
  • When connected, prompts to 'mount' SD card
  • Once mounted, acts like an external hard drive
  • Allows user to manage folders, files, etc..
  • Simple to sync music MP3s, pictures, or any other docs or files.

App Market
  • Already has enough apps to get a good start.
  • Groups apps by categories, paid, free, just-in.
  • Provides star rating, rating count, user comments, number of downloads - all are useful for making an educated decision whether to download a particular app or not.
  • Allows users to mark apps as 'inappropriate'.
  • Download/install is very simple, update notifications are automatic.
  • All networking is over the air.
  • Unlike some of its rivals, has an uncensored feel to it :)

Google Voice
  • Capable to connect a Google Voice account
  • Get an email for every voice mail
  • Provides an option to make phone calls over Google Voice

MP3 Store
  • Connects to Amazon MP3 store
  • Easily transfer purchased music from your phone
  • Commonly used MP3 format

Built-in Apps
  • Music, Clock, Calendar, Calculator, Gallery
  • YouTube, Maps, Browser, News, Camera
  • Market, Email, Phone, Messaging, Contacts

Useful 3rd party Apps
  • Pandora - listen to stream of music
  • Google Sky - a nicely named view of night sky
  • Compass - very cool looking digital compass
  • Movies - movies theaters, showtimes, trailers, etc..
  • AndFTP - simple FTP client
  • ASTRO - robust file manager utility
  • Dolphin Browser - an alternative browser app (simply cool to know that it is possible to have an alternative browser :)
  • gStrings - useful for tuning a guitar or other music instrument.
  • MyTracks - records tracks using GPS capability. Very useful for exploring uninhabited areas ;)
  • Quote Pro - a descent stock quote app, with Yahoo Charts and News.
  • Places Directory - a useful list of local city amenities/attractions, with built-in Maps and Dial capabilities.
  • Advanced Task Manager - manage running apps, services, uninstalls, etc..
  • Google Earth - needs no introductions
  • Amazon - shop Amazon.com
  • Photoshop - Adobe Photoshop port for Android.

Photo Gallery
  • I was amazed by the integration of local photos with those uploaded to Picasa. On startup, Gallery displays all photos. Those in the cloud are distinguished by a small Picasa logo. You can browse through your Picasa photos just like local ones. Very nice!
  • Uploading to Picasa is also nicely integrated right into the Gallery. No more need to sort through piles of accumulated photos on your PC. Simply manage them directly from your mobile device.

Suggestions for improvement
  • Screen difficult to see in bright day-light. This goes for reading emails, news, taking pictures, etc.. Somehow these apps have dark background which makes it an effort, plus screen glare adds to the picture.
  • Sometimes bottom buttons do not react well when pressed. An improvement for these would be nice.
  • Could come with a pair of protective screen covers to save the trouble.
  • Could be made of sturdier material. After all, it gets tossed around quite a bit (needs to with-stand wear & tear well)
  • Locally it is on T-mobile/Edge network. Speed wise not that bad. Sometimes has connection lapses where I am. Works very well (and fast) over Wi-Fi.
  • Scrolling is not bad, but could be smoother. Currently there is a slight jerk on initial motion, which makes it a bit difficult to keep focused on the paragraph.

Overall, leaving legal battles aside, I'd say this is a fun attempt at 'Web meets Phone' version 1.0. Surely there is room for improvement, which is no problem, since it is pretty exciting to be witnessing progress of mobile web integration first hand. Seamless over-the-air sync and updates are awesome. Mobile cloud integration is still in it's infancy, but is already showing signs of potential. It has a pleasant appearance, nice choice of live wallpapers, colors. App Market already has a good amount of free and usable apps to have decent functionality at your fingertips. There is room for improvement, but overall Nexus One makes for fun & open mobile platform. If you are a curious techie, I'd highly recommend it :)

Thank you for reading.

Konstantin

Ikayzo - Design • Build • Localize | Web • Desktop • Mobile

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Comment by Dan Starr on March 20, 2010 at 1:25pm
Some other innovative apps:

Goggles : object identification / OCR. I've found this to be a good way to look up wine bottle labels and get ratings as well as store for later reference. This stores a cache of searched images locally on your phone. It works well with book covers, CD covers, barcodes, supermarket products, etc... As the app says, it's not so good for pets, cars, random food, etc. Shopsavvy is much less advanced app which has been around for a while, and requires a barcode to make product searches.

Layar: Fun semi-augmented reality app, which can overlay twitter, foursquare, yelp, Buzz, flickr, wikipedia (think something like Google Earth layers, although this company is unrelated to Google). A work in process since it's highly dependent upon your phone's GPS, compass, and tiltometer accuracy.

Buzz widget: This just came out, and allows you to post Google Buzz at your current location with one click. Also lets you look around at local Buzz. This would be much cooler if it incorporated all location aware services like twitter, foursquare, gowalla.
Comment by Russell Castagnaro on March 19, 2010 at 3:07pm
Anyone with a mac care to pipe in about the Nexus One? I can't really sync with gmail for contact stuff so I'm wondering about native sync to addressbook and calendar app.
Comment by Dan Starr on March 19, 2010 at 12:00pm
An AT&T 3G compatible Nexus One was released a couple days ago. I'm contemplating getting one and sliding in my existing SIM. Deciding factor will be whether the next Android OS upgrade will support older phones running v1.6.
Comment by Mika Leuck on March 19, 2010 at 8:35am
Great writeup Kostya! It makes me want a NexusOne :-)

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