iPhone 4 vs Nexus One Showdown

If you’re reading this then you’ve no doubt already read our iPhone 4 vs Nokia 1200 showdown and can’t decide between the two. It’s a tough call and it’s about to get a whole lot tougher. Roll on the Google Nexus One.  Being an office full of Mac fan boys we’ve enlisted the help of Googler @crafty to bring you an unbiased overview of these two mobile behemoths. Rather than a lengthy blow by blow, we’ve decided to focus on a few key areas that allow the two devices to stand apart.  

Hardware

The iPhone is serious eye candy. There’s no better way to put it. Sitting next to it, the Nexus One looks functional.  Holding these phones in your hands, the iPhone feels the more solid of the two, but it’s also slightly less practical. The rubber case of the Nexus One makes it easier to hold securely - by contrast it sometimes feels as though the iPhone is ready to leap out of your hand and run away to freedom.  The Nexus also features a plastic track ball which, whilst feeling cheap, does the job (the optical trackballs used in other android devices are vastly superior).

iPhone4

Nexus One

It’s the screens of these two devices that really put them in different hardware leagues. Released to great fanfare, the AMOLED screen of the Nexus One is pretty respectable on paper, but to hold them close up the iPhone’s superior pixel depth and vivacity is obvious. With the iPhone 4, it looks as though there is nothing separating your fingers from the pixels making for a more pleasurable interaction, especially when typing.  Although both screens offer capacitive touch technology, the iPhone feels more responsive to taps, swipes and pinches.

The screenshots below show the same page on from the BBC site.  Note that on first loading, without any zooming, the story is already readable on the iPhone, although this is partly due to the resizing being performed by the Safari browser.

iPhone
iPhone4 - BBC front page

Nexus One
Nexus One - bbc article

Google Integration

As a heavy google apps user, this was one of the key areas for me when attempting to compare these devices. I use gmail for my personal email, several google apps accounts for work and about 7 calendars. Pre iOS 4, Apple’s support for google services was distinctly luke warm. However, iOS4 adds support for multiple inboxes and threaded messages in the Mail app, which is a major improvement. Despite being a heavy labs gmail user in the browser, I’ve come to like the iPhones Mail App for its simplicity on the move, and the latest iOS release brings all the mobile functionality I really need.

The android gmail application offers an offline clone of the excellent google mail mobile web app, complete with coloured labels, stars and collapsible threaded messages. On top of this already excellent interface it looks up email senders in the phonebook and provides hooks to social networking links (twitter etc) for the user.

I know I said this review would feature those areas where the devices stand apart but in this area, despite both being very different implementations, both are excellent and it’s a matter of personal preference.

Nexus One
Nexus One - gmail

Navigation

Disallowed from releasing their own google maps software, Apple users have been left with the same basic but solid maps client more or less since the launch of the first handset (originally developed in a collaboration between Apple and Google). This lacks much of the really great google maps functionality; user defined layers are absent and the search is basic - showing only a fixed number of results in your vicinty.  By contrast, the android implementation integrates with your google account to bring you starred locations and layers, as well as search that scrolls as you do (as with the maps.google.com implementation).

There has been some very interesting speculation that Apple are working on their own mapping infrastructure, but they’ve got their work cut out to replicate the current android mapping software, even without the recent launch of the turn by turn GPS navigation with integrated street view for android.   It seems Google may be using the navigation software as a way to differentiate the two mobile platforms, and have reportedly stated that it won’t be released for iPhone.  This round definitely goes to the Nexus One.

Nexus One
Nexus One - maps Nexus One - map layers

iPhone
iPhone4 - atm search

Imaging

Improvements to the camera/flash/video capabilities on the iPhone have brought it lumbering up somewhere near the other smart-phones in the market.  Both the iPhone and the Nexus One offer 5mp cameras with selective autofocus and a flash. Additionally, the iPhone supports recording video in the basic HD flavour (720p).  Much more highly specced devices exist on the market though, such as the Nokia N8 sporting 12MP sensor with a Carl Zeiss lens. The absence of a flash until now has been a major disadvantage, meaning that the iPhone couldn’t effectively serve as a substitute for a point and shoot camera.  

When we compared images from these devices onscreen, our first impressions were that the iPhone pictures were of a better quality, but subsequent analysis on a monitor showed that it was the other way around. It turns out that the crisper retina display on the iPhone was tricking us into thinking the iPhone photos captured finer detail, however the zoomed close ups below shows the reverse to be true. The iPhone images are clearly over-saturated too, which looks great on the small screen but actually distorts the image a little. Capabilities were reversed, however, under low light conditions. The android was less able to find and focus on a near low light subject and the flash over exposed the image. iPhone low light shots were of a respectable quality. Since a good proportion of point and shoot images are taken in low light conditions requiring a flash, I’d say it’s a close call choosing between these devices on the basis of imaging alone.

iPhone4
iPhone4 - bus card closeup

Nexus One
Nexus One - bus card closeup_

iPhone4
iPhone4 - bball closeup

Nexus One
Nexus One - bball closeup

iPhone4
iPhone4 - low light

Nexus One
Nexus One - low light

Take a look at the following comparison videos - be sure to switch the iPhone video into HD mode.  The iphone offers crisper motion shots.

Nexus One

iPhone

Applications & Extensibility

One of the underlying themes of comparing these devices was extensibility of the android platform versus uniformity of the iOS platform.  For example, the basic MP3 player that ships with the Nexus One gets the job done with no frills, but there are plenty of alternatives available on the marketplace.  It used to be the case that alternatives to iTunes were impossible due to strict App Store rules preventing duplication of core concerns. However, since the release of Spotify App on iOS it feels as though this restriction is being eroded.

The iOS platform’s desktop/laptop sister, OS X is a hugely capable OS with plenty of great apps to choose from.  Lots of the more popular applications provide iPhone variants with sync capability.  By contrast, Android is not backed up by a fully fledged OS yet, and as such the integration model favours cloud rather than desktop/laptop apps.  It’ll be interesting to see whether Apple are successful in making the inevitable shift toward cloud-based services in the future. 

In Conclusion

There are lots of different considerations to make when buying a high end smartphone - these devices now perform so many functions that it’s difficult to think of them as phones. I probably spend less than 10% of my iPhone usage time actually making calls. I don’t think there’s any one single area that would cause a buyer to pick of these devices over the other - it will depend on which features are more important to you.  

One possible rule of thumb would be the type of user that you are.  If you prefer things to ‘just work’ you can’t really do much better than iPhone; the OS is super intuitive and the App store is tended more carefully than the grounds of Buckingham Palace.  Additionally, if you own a mac and make use of the numerous productivity apps, then the ability to sync with these might be an important consideration.

By contrast, if you are happy having a play with your handset - wading through a more varied set of apps in the market place and digging out plugins from the internet (such as the incredible chrome to phone) - then the Nexus One offers some truly amazing functionality.

These and other photos/screenshots are available on Flickr.

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