G-1 to Nexus One: an informal comparison

It’s been an eventful week here at Eric Conspiracy Secret Labs, what with robot submarines busting out all over and a “Disruptive Innovation Award” from the Tribeca Film Festival (!) landing on my somewhat bemused head (possible topic of a later post). And I’m writing from Penguicon, where in about an hour I’m going to be starring in an event billed as “Jam Session with ESR – Ask Him Anything!” Whoever scheduled this for 9AM on the morning after Saturday night at a convention needs to be found and seriously hurt, but I figure anyone with enough willpower to show up at that unGoddessly hour of the morning deserves the best of me.

Which is all, in this case, a lead-in to observing that I’ve now been using a Google Nexus One under field and travel stress for about a week. The differences from the G-1 I had been carrying are, I think, suggestive about how Android-based smartphones are evolving and their competitive posture against the iPhone, Symbian, and Windows Mobile.

Perhaps the most widely-touted change in Android 2.0 is multitouch gestures; the G-1 didn’t support them, the Nexus One does. I’ve folded these into my routine now. They’re convenient in a minor way for zooming/unzooming web pages and scaling photographs as I’m turning them into contact icons, but I have to say that the hype around this feature now seems quite overblown to me.

Much more impressive in practice is the fact that voice-to-text now works on any text input box, rather than being a browser-only feature. It’s not perfect – you’ll get the occasional funny homonym – but it’s good enough to reduce the amount of typing I have to do really significantly, and the background-noise cancellation works remarkably well. I’ve grown used to having it work even in the hubbub of a crowded convention room.

As one might have expected, the Nexus interface is visually a lot slicker than the G-1′s plain-but-serviceable one. The way app access is now handled is nice – instead of living in a sort of slide-out drawer, they now explode onto the screen when you touch a sort of app constellation icon at the bottom center of the main screen.

But not all the improved visuals are good things; I think, in particular, that the animated wallpapers are a mistake. I don’t want my phone doing things that attract my eyes unless it has a real event notification for me. Fortunately, though the default is animated, still wallpapers remain available.

All the visual stuff is helped out by the fact that the Nexus One display is gorgeous – easily the best I’ve ever seen on any device of even approximately cellphone size, and clearly superior to even the iPhone’s. This is the feature that attracted me to the device when first I got to handle one; I use my phone browser heavily, and I very much wanted the upgrade in pixel count and luminance range. A week later: yes, it does matter in practice.

My wife thinks it’s significant that the Nexis One is thinner and lighter than the G-1. I don’t, really, but then I have larger hands and larger pockets than she does. She’s probably right that this difference will matter more to the average mass-market consumer than it does to me.

The biggest surprise to me about the Nexus One is that I’m missing the physical keyboard on the G-1 far less than I thought I would. I found the soft keyboard on the G-1 annoying and difficult to use, but something about the Nexus One version makes it significantly easier. This could be a consequence of the larger display size, or possibly the touch-recognition software has improved, or perhaps it’s both. The effectiveness of the Nexus One’s voice-to-text feature helps here.

Some things they have sensibly left unchanged even though temptation to visually elaborate them must have been present. The notification bar and associated windowshade widget, in particular, is beautifully functional and works pretty much as it did on the G-1.

So far, the most serious flaw I’ve found in the Nexus One’s hardware is that something about the surface treatment of the display seems to make it significantly more vulnerable to finger smudges than the G-1′s was. Alas, the software stack is a little more glitchy. Either the ability to do image saves from the browser is absent or I can’t figure out how to invoke it. And something seems off about the tuning of the touch interface in some components; notably, the app-list window seems to have trouble picking up the finger-flick to make the viewport spin.

Overall, however, the Nexus is indeed a clear improvement on the G-1. It points the way Android is going pretty unambiguously – towards head-to-head competition with the iPhone, rather than simply vacuuming up the market share of dumb phones and lesser competitors such as Symbian and Windows Mobile.

In at least one respect – the voice-to-text capabilty – Android is already ahead of anything iPhone offers or is ever likely to be able to support. There’s a huge infrastructure of statistical pattern-matching engines in the Google-cloud behind it that Apple won’t be able to replicate easily, if at all.

Watching the next year of ths competition will be interesting.

16 thoughts on “G-1 to Nexus One: an informal comparison

  1. Apple buying Siri makes me suspect they are thinking a lot about voice enabled contextual search at least.

  2. I’m not so sure its going to last a year. Call it a hunch. Apple’s latest sojourn into being Apple has pissed off many people for a plethora of reasons. This time, I think they have annoyed enough people to seriously shrink their customer base.

    And then, well, we have the technical merits offered by competing products, without the jail. Regardless, yes, its going to be an interesting year.

  3. Way off-topic…but check out esr’s mention in today’s New York Times magazine section (On Language column).

  4. a “Disruptive Innovation Award” from the Tribeca Film Festival (!) landing on my somewhat bemused head (possible topic of a later post)

    Okay, so I’m guessing you’re somehow connected with the PS 22 Chorus?

  5. The only area I find myself missing a physical keyboard is when I do something that requires a full horizontal screen to be enjoyable and yet I still need to type something. The main example I can thing of right now is using ssh to remotely connect to irssi. I need to have the virtual keyboard out to type (even if I just use voice-to-text and could just have a microphone there) and that obstructs half the screen in portrait orientation and all of the screen if horizontal. I’ve already hinted at a possible solution, which would be to make voice-to-text possible without having to bring out the full keyboard.

  6. Finger smudge isn’t much of an issue after you put a screen protector on (which you should anyway). I bought a good one and never look back.

  7. WRT screen protectors: I’m a big fan of ghost armor and have it on my phones, cameras, and GPS devices, all of which I carry around in my pocket with my keys without any fear. Has anyone tried this material on multi-touch devices?

  8. Yeah finger smudge really bugs me on these phones.

    I always feel the need to spritz with something and wipe it off every time I use it.

  9. >Okay, so I’m guessing you’re somehow connected with the PS 22 Chorus?

    No. But I was sitting in the front row when PS 22′s choral director got his award.

  10. All the visual stuff is helped out by the fact that the Nexus One display is gorgeous – easily the best I’ve ever seen on any device of even approximately cellphone size, and clearly superior to even the iPhone’s. This is the feature that attracted me to the device when first I got to handle one; I use my phone browser heavily, and I very much wanted the upgrade in pixel count and luminance range. A week later: yes, it does matter in practice.

    Yet you once said:

    In theory the G1 and iPhone have the same resolution, but the cruel truth is that the G1’s display is superior – stronger luminance contrasts, better colors, generally crisper. It’s not a subtle difference, it really jumped out at both of us.

    link

    Selection bias is a kick, ain’t it?

    “many of us were disappointed in the lack of crispness of text.” (http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2010/03/secrets-of-the-nexus-ones-screen-science-color-and-hacks.ars/)

    Yes, the Nexus One has a 800 x 480 pixel screen, and this tramples the current iPhone’s 480 x 320 offering.
    However each pixel in the Nexsus display has only two subpixels (red and green, or blue and green alternately), rather than the three found in most displays. This gives it the same sub-pixel resolution as a 320×800 display. (quoting wikipedia)

  11. No. But I was sitting in the front row when PS 22’s choral director got his award.

    So, I take it you mean it literally fell on your bemused head? Ouch!

  12. I picked up an unlocked HTC Magic recently…including Sense UI…for about 200 less than a Nexus and am very happy with it…sure, I dont get the voice commands, but I dont need those…

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