Google's Nexus One: Questions and answers

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from the Today @ PC World blog at PCWorld.com.

Friends, Romans, Internetmen, the day has arrived. Yes, my fellow Netizens, Google’s Nexus One is finally here.

The phone some swore would practically change life as we know it made its official debut at Google’s California headquarters Tuesday. After all the hype surrounding the Nexus One’s prelaunch buzz, interest in this pocket-sized device is definitely sky-high.

Can anything live up to the rumor-driven frenzy the blogosphere created? Probably not. After all, the Nexus One isn’t a world-altering, “every-other-device-imaginable killer.” It is, however, an impressively powerful new phone that’s sure to expand Android’s growing grip on the smartphone market even further.

Here’s a complete breakdown of what the Nexus One is and isn’t, how it compares to other Android devices, and what its debut means for you.

How fast is Google’s Nexus One?

In a nutshell: pretty darn fast. The Nexus One runs on a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. The Motorola Droid, for comparison, has a 550MHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor; the iPhone 3GS runs on a 600MHz chip. The Nexus One also has twice the RAM of the Droid or the iPhone, with 512MB on-board.

What about the display—how does it compare?

The Nexus One sports a 3.7-inch OLED 480-by-800 display. The Droid’s display is actually slightly larger, at 3.7-inch and 480-by-854 pixels, but it uses TFT-LCD technology rather than OLED.

While the Droid’s screen is generally regarded as superior to the iPhone’s 3.5-inch, 480-by-320 offering, OLED screens are typically brighter and more color-rich than their TFT-LCD counterparts.

This YouTube video shows a nice side-by-side comparison of the two technologies. It’s actually looking at digital camera displays, but it provides a pretty good visualization of how the screen types vary.

Does this thing weigh a ton?

Nope; the Nexus One weighs 130 grams and is 11.5 millimeters thick. That’s slightly lighter and smaller than the Droid, which is 169 grams and 13.7 millimeters. It even beats out the svelte iPhone, which is 12.3 millimeters deep and 135 grams.

What’s new in the software?

The Nexus One comes with Android 2.1, the latest update to the Android 2.0 operating system introduced with the Droid. (The Droid has since been upgraded to Android 2.0.1.) Most of the changes we’ve been hearing about up until now are related to this software upgrade.

Those changes include a new voice-enabled typing system for all text fields; “live” wallpapers that move and respond to your touch; an expanded home screen with five panels instead of three; a new home-panel navigation system that lets you see thumbnails your different panels and click directly to them; additional system widgets; a 3D photo gallery; and a redesigned look to the standard Android “app drawer.”

A new Google Earth Android app was also shown off during the Nexus One demo. Google said it’ll soon be offered within the general Android Market.

So is my Droid obsolete?

Far from it. The main differences between the Droid and the Nexus One are the speed and the screen. The rest of the stuff is generally tied to the Android 2.1 update, and the Droid will be receiving that update, too.

The Nexus One, of course, has a different look and feel to it—it’s a bit more rounded and iPhone-esque, compared to the Droid’s more angled and rugged appearance—but that all comes down to personal preference.

Ultimately, if you’re happy with the speed and the display of your Droid, you’re in fine shape. The software changes will make their way to your phone soon, too.

Will all Android phones get the 2.1 update?

Not necessarily. A Motorola rep confirmed that both the Droid and the Droid Eris will definitely receive the upgrades. As for other Android models, it’s too soon to say for sure.

An HTC rep indicated some HTC models will receive the 2.1 version. Google’s Andy Rubin, however, explained that certain older Android handsets may not be able to support the full experience of the newer Android releases. He likened the scenario to an older PC trying to run a modern Windows release.

What about timing—how long till 2.1 rolls out for everyone else?

No firm dates have been announced so far. Google did confirm that the 2.1 update will be made available to everyone “within a couple of days.” From there, it’s up to each manufacturer as to if and when updates will officially be rolled out to devices.

Is anything else different on the Nexus One outside of the software?

There are a few little bells and whistles added into the hardware, but nothing mind-blowing. The front surface has a trackball that also functions as a multicolor status light. It also has a light sensor that can adjust the display based on the current room brightness, as well as an “active noise cancellation” system that allegedly helps cut down on background noise while you’re on calls.

What about multitouch? Any of that goodness?

Nope—and Google was cryptically quiet about why. The phone, like the Motorola Droid, does support multitouch as far as hardware. But the software doesn’t natively allow for it.

With that said, a handy app called Dolphin Browser brings full multitouch browsing to the Android platform. It may not be integrated across the entire OS, but it does give you good pinch-and-zoom capabilities while surfing the Web (and the program has made leaps and bounds in quality since my initial review in November).

Any official support for tethering?

Not yet, although Google vaguely indicated that’s something it might look at for the phone in the future.

Is the Nexus One really unlocked? Can I use it on any carrier?

It’s complicated. In the U.S., you can currently buy the phone unlocked for $529 or with a T-Mobile contract and plan for $179. As previously suspected, however, the unlocked version will only work on a GSM network—meaning only T-Mobile and AT&T within the U.S. And due to differences in 3G frequencies, you’d only be able to get EDGE-level data speeds while using the phone on AT&T. So, for all practical purposes, the phone really fully functions only on T-Mobile right now.

With that said, Google does plan to offer a separate version of the device this spring that’ll be tied to Verizon (with a contract and plan). So multiple carriers? Yes. Fully unlocked and free reign? Not really.

Can I buy it anywhere other than Google’s Web site?

Not as of now—and that means stores won’t have demo models for you to try out, either, according to Google’s reps.

So did Google lie to us when an exec said the company wasn’t making hardware?

Technically, no—in fact, Google’s Rubin addressed this during the Q&A following Tuesday’s event. “I was very precise,” he stated. “I said Google wouldn’t build hardware.”

Looking back at the oft-quoted story, published at CNET last fall, Rubin is correct. His exact quote:

We’re not making hardware. We’re enabling other people to build hardware.

Contrary to some early speculation, Google has made it abundantly clear now that the Nexus One was designed and built by HTC. “We’re just merchandising it,” one of the Google reps said.

Ready to read more?

Check out “Google’s Nexus One: A First Look” for an image-driven tour of the new Nexus One phone.

And be sure to click over to “Master Google Android: 40 Tips and Tricks” for my in-depth guide to making the most of the Android experience.

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