Nexus One takes Android just one step closer to the masses

It's been an interesting week, despite CES 2010 running in Las Vegas, two of the most talked about stories have been Google's news of the Nexus One with final price and availability and the reports of Apple planning an event to make a major product announcement. I'll save the Apple discussion until at least the invitations go out so instead, I'll keep the focus on the Nexus One. I've had a chance to spend some hands on with the device and it's pretty impressive.

The joint effort of HTC and Google, the N1 is a slim device, running a speedy Snapdragon processor with a beautiful AMOLED display. A 4GB micro-SD is standard and it can be upgraded beyond that. The N1 runs the latest version of Android, version 2.1. It's not overly dramatic a change but the new UI enhancements are welcome, making the device feel much more modern than prior efforts. Speech recognition is enabled everywhere so voice Tweets are now a reality.

The N1 is the speediest Android device I've ever used, and it raises the bar over previous devices in a big way. There's little to no lag, thanks to the work that HTC has done here and, at the moment, this is the most impressive Android device we've seen to date. You can order the device from Google for $529 unlocked (and also use it on ATT, although you'll be limited to EDGE speed) or get it from Google with a T-Mobile contract for $179 with a two year contract. In fact, there's no other place to get an N1 except in Google's online store. In short, there's nothing revolutionary about what Google has done here with the N1 in terms of changing the carrier/handset vendor relationship but it is nice for the enthusiast to be able to purchase sans contract. (I don't expect that to be a mainstream model, just ask Nokia how easy it is to sell unlocked handsets at full price.)

More importantly, Google upped the ante for device partners. While all Android devices might be created equal, it appears some like the Nexus One are a little more equal than others. Not everyone's going to get their device into the Google store and that's got to have some licensees upset. At the same time, Google has upped the game for the partner eco-system, raising the bar and telling licensees to jump over it. It's a lesson perhaps Microsoft could learn. The bottom line is despite protestations that the N1 is an HTC phone, the only place you can get it is from Google and it's first phone BRANDED as Google (not comes with Google).

While I like the N1 a lot, I'm a little puzzled at Google's approach to their partners. One has to wonder how Motorola feels now that the DROID has been eclipsed as the Android device of the week, even though Moto was present at the event. Even more of an issue, there remain problems that I still have with Android platform that don't appear to have been dealt with the release of the N1. That's disappointing and until these issues get resolved, it's hard for me to see how Android makes the leap from the enthusiast to the mass market.

  • Applications. Despite the more than 10,000 apps in the Android marketplace there's too much stuff still missing, especially in terms of entertainment. For me, that means a some really good games, a better selection of eBook readers such as a Kindle app, and perhaps a SlingPlayer app. Even worse, Android 2.1 still has a small upper limit for application storage, which is one reason we're not seeing the type of apps that could make Android a first class entertainment device. Even other categories are behind the times. For example I can't find a Twitter client that comes close to what's available for other platforms. Apple's lead in the app marketplace may now be 10x but it's not the numbers, it's the depth, breadth and quality of the apps that make the Apple's store stand out. Right now the best Android apps come from Google, it's time for that to change quickly.
  • Security. Amazingly, there's still no password protection, hardware or SD encryption. There's also no remote management or wipe. That might be okay for consumers but hardly good enough to protect anything important and that's going to be an issue for businesses looking for Android adoption.
  • Exchange. It's nice to see Exchange support native (HTC has offered it for their Android devices for some time) to Android but it's still not a great implementation. Too many issues, especially in terms of calendar management.
  • PC Sync. I know the idea is to move everything to the cloud but the reality is, there's a lot of folks who still want to do local sync to Outlook or iCal and get their contacts and calendars on their devices that way. Worse, there's no media sync. I understand some folks prefer to just drag and drop their stuff on their device but I can't imagine why they'd prefer that. I certainly don't want to try and replicate my playlists in iTunes or Zune one song at a time, digging through directories on my desktop. Even odder, I don't even have full cloud sync. Palm for example knows what apps I've installed on my device as well as other settings and when I sign in to a new webOS device lets me immediately reinstall them automatically. Android should at the minimum do the same thing.
  • Even with these issues, I believe Android is going to be force to reckoned with in the mobile space and the N1, if for no other reason than because it's has the power and weight of Google behind it, is going to be a very popular device. Yet, it still leaves me wanting, the N1 and Android both feel like they're still playing to an enthusiast market and it's time for Android to graduate to the masses. Perhaps the next "Android phone of the week" will take us closer.

    Looking for more on the Google Nexus One?  Check out SlashGear's hands-on first impressions and demo video.