The new Nexus One is a sleek, awesome handset, but the most important ingredient in touchscreen smartphones is software. The screen is just a canvas that software paints on, and Android 2.1 is a work of art.
Coming from the chunky G1, the thin and flat Nexus One hearkens back to my iPhone days. (In my pocket it doesn’t make my thigh look fat, and it doesn’t require a holster – it gets lots of vanity points there.) The screen is huge and crisp; the dual noise-cancelling microphone action is sweet; the true headphone jack is much-appreciated, and the glowing trackball is a nice touch.
Still – the best part of the Nexus One is Android 2.1, and if all goes well, many existing Android users will get that update even if they don’t get a new handset. After spending just a few hours with my new phone, here are a few of my favourite Android 2.1 features, in screenshots.
Click to enlarge each image to actual size (including the image of my current home screen, shown here).
The application menu button has been replaced with a button that looks like a grid (see bottom of the first screenshot). When you tap it, your application icons fly into place to take over the desktop in their own grid, and you can scroll them back and forward as if they were on a 3D cube, shown here.
Android 2.1's Live Wallpapers are pulse in different ways when you touch the desktop - again, not strictly useful, but they make the phone feel as if it is alive in your hand and responding to your every action. Two new desktop widgets come in way handy: One offers one-click toggle of your most important settings (GPS, Bluetooth, screen brightness and Wi-Fi on/off), and the other has top news stories for idle browsing when you're on line at the grocery store. I'm not a widget gal - I trashed that big old clock first thing when I set up Android 1.5/6 - but these two, along with the Google search box, are keepers.[imgclear]
[image url="https://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/lifehacker/2010/01/android21-speechtotext01-180x300.png" size="legacy" align="right"] Every single text area in Android 2.1 is speech-to-text enabled, which means you can say your text messages, emails, tweets, notes to self, whatever.
It works like Google's voice-enabled search box does. You tap the microphone button on the keyboard, speak, and then the spinner grinds away at the recording, translating it to text.[imgclear]
[image url="https://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/lifehacker/2010/01/android21-speechtotext02-180x300.png" size="legacy" align="right"] The conversion takes a few seconds, depending on how much you said, and it requires a decent internet connection to complete. In a spotty area I got a few "Connection error" messages when I tried to speak my first tweet from the Nexus One using Seesmic. (That was disappointing.)
The results are hit or miss.[imgclear]
[image url="https://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/lifehacker/2010/01/android21-speechtotext04-180x300.png" size="legacy" align="right"] Sometimes they're pretty decent. Here I said, "Every text area is speech-to-text enabled so you can speak your email, text messages, or tweets." I didn't say the punctuation, and you can see it borked the "is" and missed the "so". Not bad.[imgclear]
[image url="https://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/lifehacker/2010/01/android21-speechtotext03-180x300.png" size="legacy" align="right"] Not all results are that close, though. This is another set of results I got, saying the same exact thing as above.[imgclear]
[image url="https://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/lifehacker/2010/01/android21-gmailundo-180x300.png" size="legacy" align="right"] Android continues to offer the best Gmail mobile client available on any platform. The latest version of Google's Gmail Android app supports "Undo". When you archive, label or delete a Gmail conversation, you get the option to Undo the action. (Great for when you accidentally tap something you didn't mean to.)
The upgraded Gmail app also supports multiple accounts, so you can get mail from your work, personal and moonlighting Gmail accounts in one interface.[imgclear]
[image url="https://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/lifehacker/2010/01/android21-gmailcontactpopup-180x300.png" size="legacy" align="right"] Another "oh, that's cool!" Gmail discovery: If you tap the dot next to a contact's name, you get a popup with one-click access to that person's information with their photo.
Contact photos are a powerful thing on a mobile device, and Android 2.1 ships with the Facebook application, which can sync your contacts' Facebook photos into your contact list. LOVE IT.[imgclear]
[image url="https://cache.gawkerassets.com/assets/images/lifehacker/2010/01/android21-gvoice-180x300.png" size="legacy" align="right"] Setting up this phone in general was dead easy. You simply sign into your Google account on the phone and instantly your contacts, email and calendar are on the phone - no syncing or importing necessary. The only reason why I connected it to my computer was to take screenshots for this post, and later, to move some music onto it.
I'm still very much on the Nexus One/Android 2.1 honeymoon, but I do have two minor gripes. First, you still can't take screenshots on the device itself. WTF. (I had to jump through a bunch of developer hoops just to get screen caps for this post.) And second, I've accidentally tapped the Nexus One's search and home buttons while reaching for the spacebar on the touch keyboard more than twice. The touch keyboard in general is going to take some getting used to.
So, what have I missed or glossed over when it comes to Android 2.1? Tell me what else is worth looking at.
Android 2.1's Best Features in Screenshots [Smarterware]