The Google Nexus One: an initial report (updated)

More

I've used this thing for about ten days now.* Like the (many) other people whom Google let see the phones in advance, I was sworn to secrecy until the formal launch yesterday. I'll leave for another time some of the "meta" issues about what it means that Google is getting into the hardware business, or that mobile-phone customers will at last have a choice about buying a phone, separate from the choice about which carrier to sign up with,

NexusOne.png

or the full implications of the Google Voice service, which seems quite significant but which I'm just starting to use. There's a good set of overview links from the Atlantic Wire here and the Atlantic Business Channel here and here, with extra from the WSJ here and the NYT here. The main Google site about the phone is here

Instead, here are a few user reactions. In one way -- really, one and a half -- I am ideally positioned to react favorably to the phone. The main way is that I'm already a T-Mobile customer. (Great coverage and data service if you spend a lot of time outside the U.S.  In America, T-Mobile coverage seems only so-so.) While the Nexus One isn't tied to any carrier, the initial price is much cheaper for T-Mobile customers. All I did was pull the SIM card out of the back of my T-Mobile Blackberry Curve, on which I've sent and received email all around the world, and snap it into the Nexus One. (Query: why isn't this just called the Google Phone?)

The half-factor in my favor is that I've never used the Apple iPhone, so I found some of the Nexus visual features more gee-whiz than iPhone veterans might. The half-factor working the other way involves the reason I haven't used an iPhone: for me the BlackBerry's keypad is easier to punch out messages on, compared with the iPhone's on-screen touchpad. The Nexus also has an on-screen touchpad, which is the main thing about the phone I don't like.

Apart from that, here are the mainly positive initial impressions:

 - The thing is very handsome, to look at and to hold. The screen is much more attractive, high-rez, and deeply colored than the (real-size) image above conveys. As some other reviewers have mentioned, the animated screen-savers are surprisingly interesting to see.

-  It is very well integrated with Gmail -- go figure! -- and makes cruising through those messages much faster than it is on a Blackberry.

- It seems fast, compared with my BlackBerry (which is, of course, working off the same carrier) -- able to load applications and switch from one to another with a kind of peppiness. As a tech-specs matter I understand that its processor is faster than the iPhone's, but I can't speak about the difference first-hand. I also understand that it's "multi-threaded" in a way computers are and most mobile devices aren't, so it can run processes in the background and let you have a couple of things going on at once. This does seem true compared with my BlackBerry.

- It also is well integrated with Google Maps -- go figure! -- and must have a GPS receiver, since the on-screen real-time map was showing my precise location while driving down streets on places outside the US, where I've been recently. My BlackBerry's on-screen map only gives approximations, based on cell-tower location.

- Its "voice search" feature has the potential to make me a believer in something about which I've always been extremely skeptical. Among the many kinds of technology I wish existed, but don't, is a reliable voice-into-text system. That way, I could make recordings during an interview, and have them instantly converted into transcripts. Hah! But one of the apps on this little phone allows you to speak a search engine query, rather than type it in -- and so far I have been more surprised by its successes than its failures. Examples from this evening: I heard a radio report about Democrats deciding not to run for reelection, including in Colorado. I picked up the phone and said to it, "colorado governor ritter" -- and within seconds the first hit was for the Wikipedia entry on Governor Bill Ritter, and the second hit was for his official colorado.gov.governor site. I then said "denver mayor hickenlooper," in normal tones, and had similar success in finding out about Mayor John Hickenlooper. Later my wife and I were seeing a DVD of the (sleeper, and very good) movie Sunshine Cleaning, with Amy Adams and Emily Blunt. I was wondering, what was that last odd sleeper movie in which we saw Emily Blunt? I picked up the phone, said "movies with emily blunt," and got the IMDB listing of her films. (Answer: The Great Buck Howard.) I'm not recommending this as a way to behave in company, but technically it's impressive.

- The camera is very good.

- There are lots of apps already available, many free, including one about which I've already bored my wife to tears, so I won't mention it here. But I'll mention it next time. (Hint: Google Sky Map.) Another: a feature that scans any SKU-style bar code you point it toward, and quickly does a search for that product, its specs, and the range of prices. And a wonderful English-Chinese translation utility. (Where was this when I needed it?) And...

What's not to like? Minor inconvenience: the BlackBerry feeds several of my email accounts into one big inbox sluice, so I can see them all at once. The Google Phone won't do that on its own without some tinkering. Also: you can zoom to change the text size of web pages but not email messages, which sometimes is an issue. Battery life is OK, not remarkable. Then again, the only device that is remarkable for its Methuselah-like battery endurance is the Kindle. Larger inconvenience: I really don't like typing on this on-screen touchpad. And, the phone is expensive unless you go with T-Mobile.

More later.  For now, interesting.

* Update: Because some people have asked, let me spell out how I got the phone. For weeks Google has been distributing the phones among its own staff and to people in the general tech world, subject to embargo on public comments until the formal product announcement on Jan 5.  A friend in the company gave me one -- free. When I decided (a) that I would write about the phone and (b) that I liked it enough actually to use it, I bought it from the company, at list price. This is my general policy on software and tech gadgets. If people send me demo copies of devices or programs, I'll use them -- it wouldn't be practical to pay full price for everything someone wants me to try. But if I end up using the program or device in real life, I make a point of paying for it. And I try, when writing about tech items, to make clear whether I've bought something or am just trying out a demo. I say all this in a "for the record" spirit.

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What's the Number One Thing We Could Do to Improve City Life?

A group of journalists, professors, and non-profit leaders predict the future of livable, walkable cities


Elsewhere on the web

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In