In the middle of what was an unusually hectic work week, this week, I had a brief interlude of techie-bliss with a fellow computer nerd.
He treated me to a really good lunch and showed me his cool, new Nexus One phone, from the Google company.
I am not in the habit of making any product endorsements, in this space, and I did not have enough time with this cellphone to suss it out very deeply, anyway, but I think it is worth alerting people that this device does in fact work in Whitehorse, and warrants being checked out as a purchase option.
The Nexus One was launched by Google at the beginning of this year, with a lot of hype, and some mixed reviews, as Google’s challenge to Apple’s market-dominating iPhone technology.
If you haven’t heard about this challenge, you are hardly alone.
In fact, there seems to be something very half-hearted about Google’s bid to enter the cellular communications market: no television or magazine ads, no in-store product demonstrations – in fact, no in-store presence at all, since you have to order it on line direct from Google.
Furthermore, Google chose to release the Nexus One in a service arrangement with the minority-market T-Mobile cellular network, thereby limiting its potential customer base.
Small wonder, then, that, with all these things against it – little market promotion, online purchase only, limited network service – Google produced more of a whimper than a bang, in the early going.
By the middle of March, many market analysts were writing off the Nexus One as a flop, since it had sold only 135,000 phones in the same 74-day time period it took Apple to sell 1 million iPhones back in 2007, when the cell market was considerably smaller.
In fact, the new iPhone 3GS sold a million units in just one week after its first release, making Google’s offering look even more marginal.
On the whole, though, Google has been slowly nibbling away at the competition’s market share, and the company certainly has the financial wherewithal to stay the course.
It has begun to compete with iPhone and other cellphone offerings on the bigger cellular networks like AT&T and Bell; and it has produced an “unlocked” version of the Nexus One, which is capable of working on pretty much any network, once you get the right SIM card put in.
It was this “unlocked” version of the Nexus One, in fact, that my friend was demonstrating for me, and what I saw was pretty impressive.
Just slightly longer, thicker and heavier than the iPhone, the Nexus One has the look of a knock-off industrial design, but it is eye-catching enough, and with good feel to the hand.
The most impressive first impression it made on me was on its operating speed.
The quickness with which it fired up its applications, and the speed and clarity with which it refreshed web-page views within its on-board web browser, made my shambling old iPod Touch (admittedly, now getting a few years long in the tooth) look like half-dead dog.
Another particularly cool feature was in the way it allows you to restrict access to your phone.
The conventional way of doing this, of course, is with passwords; but the Android system that runs this phone allows you to do something different, more convenient, and probably more secure, too: It allows you record a finger-sweeping gesture over a set of squares on your login screen, and that gesture becomes your password.
(Android, by the way, is a mobile-device-friendly version of the Linux operating system.)
The overall user experience with the Android screen interface was aesthetically pleasant, and very functional.
A deficiency I stumbled on very quickly was the absence of any Skype app for the phone – a deficiency common to all Android-powered cel phones, not just the Google one.
For me, that is something of a deal-breaker, at the moment, since my Skype networking is currently mission critical to me; to others, though, it may not be such a big deal.
The unlocked version of the phone costs about $550 Canadian, with something like a $20 shipping fee.
My friend says he got his phone within four days of his placing the order.
He took it down to the local Bell dealership, bought a basic no-contract monthly service, and had them slip in their SIM, and the device worked faultlessly, both on the cellular network and on Wi-fi networks.
Because the phone is “open,” the set up of the internet access is not automatic; but the procedure for setting up that access, apparently, is a three-step no-brainer.
So, if you are in the market for an alternative to the Blackberry or the iPhone – both of which have their virtues, but also a goodly number of bad points about them – you might want to take a look at the Google site (google.com/phone) to see what you think.
My own consumer decision at the moment is to hold my fire to see if certain applications (particularly Skype) appear on the menu list of available applications; but on the basis of what I saw (admittedly only very briefly), the Nexus One looks like a perfectly good product, perhaps a little ill-served by its producers.
Rick Steele is a technology
junkie who lives in Whitehorse.