Hands-on with two Android phones - Nexus One and Motorola Milestone

, posted: 8-Aug-2010 18:11

The Android market is on fire currently, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt reckons something like 200,000 units are activated each day.

I'm guilty of contributing to that number recently, with two devices. First to arrive was the ex-Google Nexus One, in almost unnoticeable Vodafone NZ drag. I saw the Nexus One in February this year already, but with Google in charge of marketing the phone, it didn't really… happen.

In fact, the Nexus One didn't make any real splash at all, which was surprising given that the NZ$979 handset seems to have everything any smartphone user could desire. Check out the full list of features here on Wikipedia. Multi-touch screen, proximity and ambient light sensors, accelerometer, digital compass, 802.11 a/b/g/n and quadband GSM/triband 3G (Vodafone model tested, so the relevant bands are 900 and 2100MHz) – add to that, A-GPS, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, plus USB and you'll agree that the Nexus One is a very well-connected little device. It'll be interesting to see if the Nexus One sells better now that Google has decided to give it to the carriers to market.
The HTC-made device comes in the improbably named "passion brown" colour and nothing else. It's a stylish looking handset that feels good. Unfortunately, the above picture doesn't do the 254ppi, 24-bit, 100,000:1 contrast ratio 3.7" AMOLED display justice. This is truly a great screen at 480 by 800 pixels resolution and I'd love to see how it compares to the iPhone 4 retina one. For now, I can tell you that the Nexus One screen is very readable in most conditions, although like other, similar displays, it struggles with direct sunlight shining on it.

What's less impressive about the Nexus One screen is the inaccurate digitiser however. Even though you put your finger exactly where it should be on the screen, the phone randomly reads the position wrong and does something unexpected. This made text entry a pain, and ruined much of the appeal of the phone for me.

See those four button symbols at the bottom of the screen? They're actually part of the screen, and really easy to touch as you're doing something else. The result is that you get bumped out of the application you're in to the home or another screen, or activate the menu by accident. I thought it was just me but several friends have tried the Nexus One with the same result.

Another user interface curiosity is the combined trackball and LED indicator at the bottom. I never used it after I learned the touch screen gestures and navigation features, so can't quite see why the "mouseball" is there. Likewise, the buzzing haptic feedback the phone produces is counter-intuitive because it feels as if you've done the wrong thing, as you get a firm buzz when you touch the screen; this is nothing major though, and you get used to the haptic vibrations soon enough.

Having a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon onboard and 512/512MB RAM/FLASH makes th e phone really responsive. The phone definitely has enough grunt to run Adobe Flash, and I tried it, after an easy OTA upgrade to Android 2.2 "Froyo" that's required to run the former. Flash sort of works on the Nexus One, but the screen size and 480 by 800 pixel resolution are limiting of course. Plus, running Flash further reduces an already average battery life that won't give you a full day's usage so forget about using it regularly unless you have the phone plugged into a charger.

I didn't use the 5Mpixel camera much but it rates an "OK" in terms of image quality and definitely outperforms the iPhone 3GS's 3Mpixel unit. What's more, it has a flash of the non-Adobe kind to light up dark situations, and captures 720 by 480 pixel video at 20fps. Here's are some lovely spring onions, as depicted by the Nexus One's camera:
nexus one sample
The Nexus one gets full mark for a fast 3G HSDPA/HSUPA implementation. Vodafone 3G is fast where I am, and the Nexus hit 2.5Mbit/s downloads and 1.5-1.7Mbit/s uploads as measured by the ubiquitous Speedtest. In comparison, the iPhone 3GS pulls just over 2Mbit/s down, but stops at 300 or so kbit/s for uploads. It's easy to use the Nexus one as a router and MiFi device too.

As a mobile, small data device, the Nexus One is pretty good, especially if your head is in the Google cloud – integration with Google Apps is pretty slick. If only the digitiser was more accurate so you didn't end up making constant errors and mistakes…

Voice quality for phone calls is good, but not so great is the tendency for the phone to lose contact with the network. That is, the phone says it's connected on 3G, but you can't make calls or send SMS. Data works however. Vodafone says they've had some "issues" with the Android 2.2 update, and this could be one of them.

The same goes for the digitiser; it could be a problem with the device I had, so if you're thinking about the Nexus One, try it out carefully first. To me, the inaccurate digitiser is a show-stopper, and I can't imagine anyone paying just under a grand for the Nexus One would be happy with a phone that gets it wrong constantly.

A bit later, Telecom sent out its $999 Motorola Milestone, a.k.a Droid, to me.
The Milestone is quite a different kettle of fish compared to the Nexus One, even though it too is an Android phone. For starters, it comes with a QWERTY sliding keyboard:
Like the Nexus One, the Milestone isn't really that new anymore, having been available in overseas markets since October-November 2009. It sports quite a unique design that made me think of a seventies car more than anything. Not many seventies cars look great, and the Milestone isn't the prettiest phone on the market. Still, it's not uncomfortable to hold and Motorola seems to have quality under control, but I think you'd buy this phone based on what it can do more than its looks.

Compared to the Nexus One, Motorola runs its processor, a TI OMAP 3430 at a mere 550MHz with a DSP to help it trucking along, and 256MB RAM. Despite the slower speed, and half the memory of the Nexus One the Milestone is responsive to use; perhaps thanks to the slower speed, battery life is considerably better than on the Nexus One.

While no fancy AMOLED, the 265ppi 854 by 480 pixel screen on the Motorola is nice and sharp. I found it a bit tricky to get used to a slider keyboard again, but the tiny square keys on the Milestone are OK to type on even with your thumbs. The digitiser for the touch screen is much better than the one in the Nexus One I had, so you can actually use the Milestone without resorting to the keyboard quite efficiently.

Camera-wise, we're talking 5Mpixel, LED flash and OK quality:
motorolamilestone camera sample
Video can be captured at the same 720 by 480 pixels as the Nexus One.

One nuisance with the Milestone is its bootloader that only allowed firmware signed by Motorola. That means no upgrading the device (well, not that easily at least) to newer Android versions. Telecom's Milestone comes with Android 2.1 installed, so it won't run Adobe Flash. No big loss there and either way, 2.2 is apparently coming up soon, OTA.

Telecom's XT 3G network is fast now, and the Milestone pulled 2.5-3Mbit/s downloads and 1.5 to 2Mbit/s uploads. Which really isn't that bad for a little mobile device.
WiFi is 802.11b/g, and there's the usual slew of stuff including Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, A-GPS, a three-axis accelerometer, proximity and ambient light sensors, digital compass and USB. Motorola provides some software with the Milestone, but good grief… do we really need another media browser etc?

Provided the touch-screen inaccuracy with the Nexus One is err, a one-off problem, these two devices could quite happily replace an iPhone 3GS. Some things aren't quite as good, such as the ergonomics, on the Android devices, and others such as the camera and multi-tasking OS are better. While I have yet to see an iPhone 4, reading reviews of it tell me that Apple has again leapfrogged the competition. Maybe the Nexus Two which is apparently in the works will be worth waiting for, and Droid 2 should be out this month too as well.

Given that neither the Nexus One nor the Milestone are particularly new, Vodafone and Telecom should consider discounting them deeply, or providing upgrade incentives to the newer versions. Sorry, I can't help having Tui Moments every now and then. Smile

Update Taylor Wimberly of Android and Me did some digging on the Nexus One touch screen issue. Watch the video, which I think shows the problem of the screen getting confused and sending incorrect data as to where your fingers are positioned. The screen on the Droid features a better sensor/digitiser and therefore doesn't have the problem. Thanks Caldazar for the link.



Update II I should clarify that I really like Android and many of the devices it runs on. Say what you like about it, but it's the only real competition for Apple and the iPhone currently, which is no mean feat. Microsoft, Nokia and Blackberry aren't even playing in the same league. The problem for Google and Android is that Apple had that crucial headstart that allowed it to define an entire market segment, and that it keeps upping the ante with improved designs and further innovation… that's good for customers though, so no complaints there.


Other related posts:
Nokia upgrades: Symbian Belle for the N8 and MeeGo PR1.2 Harmattan for N9
Yes, this iPod still works
Samsung Galaxy Tab so good Apple wants it banned?

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