What’s wrong with the Nexus One?

I picked up a Nexus One to have an Android device for testing our mobile products, and decided to try it out as my primary device for a few days. I’m not unfamiliar with the Android OS; my wife has been using a Droid Eris for the last few months and I’ve had a plenty of opportunity to work with it. The Eris runs Android 1.5, a very outdated version of the OS, and doesn’t have a lot of processing power. Using it has been interesting, but I wanted an Android 2.1 device for testing.

One aspect of the Eris that has bothered me from the beginning is the sensitivity of the touch digitizer. To be blunt: it’s pretty awful. Calibration is not great and it requires what I believe is far too much physical force to complete a touch action. As a result, the Eris’ on screen keyboard is pretty bad, too.

I was hoping, based on reviews, that the Nexus One would be nearly as good as the iPhone. I was wrong. The N1 suffers from a very bad digitizer and very poorly designed keyboard software. As you can see in this test video, the N1’s digitizer is considerably less precise than the iPhone. In daily use, that translates to frustration when trying to click on icons, type, or use the four silkscreened buttons at the bottom of the screen.

The keyboard, however, is what nearly drove me to hurl the phone across the room. It doesn’t work. The space bar is far too small, even in landscape mode, and the software lacks the ability to predict the next keystroke and transparently increase the touch zone for the next predicted key, something the iPhone excels at.

Perhaps my fingers are just a bit too plump for the N1. I routinely found that hitting the space bar resulted in either nothing (didn’t register the touch), or one of the alternate modes (numeric and voice input) would be activated.

Things improved somewhat when I flipped the phone into landscape mode – until I tried to enter a URL into the browser. In landscape mode the text entry field for the URL would activate but my typing had no effect. No characters appeared on the screen at all. Several reboots failed to solve the problem.

Several Android apologists users suggested that I switch to voice control. Have you ever tried to speak a URL? It’s not pretty – or fast. Voice-to-SMS and voice-to-Twitter are ok, but beyond that, there be dragons.

I really wanted to like the Nexus One. The phone is very fast and the screen is gorgeous; going from it back to the iPhone made the iPhone’s screen look very blurry. The OS itself is nice but I was surprised to find so many holes in the design – areas in which the design wasn’t complete or well-thought out, such as the need to tap the applications icon to open the apps screen, rather than swipe up. The notifications screen is, perhaps, the best feature of the OS and Apple can certainly learn from it.

Oh, and the Google Maps for Mobile app blows the iPhone Maps app out of the water. No question. If only the damned keyboard would work.

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One thought on “What’s wrong with the Nexus One?

  1. I think I said this before, but I feel like if I’d never used an iPhone, the Nexus One would be pretty awesome. I didn’t get a thorough testing of it (couldn’t access the wireless network I was near over the weekend) but I was also mainly hamstrung by the awkward typing. Even after using it for a while, it took me a good 5-7 minutes to type a two-paragraph e-mail—way too long, in my opinion. (Tangent: Touch-screen keyboards should be standardized with regard to character/punctuation placement, the way QWERTY standardized where the letters go. The way the comma and period flank the N1’s spacebar make for too many mis-clicks and beg for the phone to be thrown.)

    Pros: Screen is super crisp; it was nerd nirvana having a phone with a Google logo on it.

    Cons: I can’t see the screen in the sunlight; there aren’t enough apps; keyboard is frustrating; there’s a delay in the UI a little too often.

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