Google Nexus One retrospective

Call the Nexus One what you want -- failed experiment, iClone, ahead of its time, whatever. We'll call it a solid phone, born from Google's desire to "shake up" the smartphone market, both in terms of available hardware and the way it was sold to consumers. Some of it worked. Some of it didn't.

We're not going to recap the life of every Android smartphone when it gets replaced. That would be silly. But the Nexus One was Google's earnest attempt to change things, and it deserves a final send-off, which is marginally less silly. And so, after the break, a Nexus One retrospective.

Nexus One: Born, Jan. 5, 2010

OK, that's not quite true. While Google announced the Nexus One at a special press event in San Francisco in early January 2010, it actually had given the phone to employees about a month earlier, with a nod and a wink that they weren't really supposed to brag about it in public. You know how that goes, of course.

So what was Google keeping semi-secret? Oh, just the first smartphone (manufactured by HTC) with a 3.7-inch AMOLED touchscreen, the first in the U.S. with a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, and the first with Android 2.1. Also on the hardware end was plugless charging via a trio of contacts on the bottom bezel of the phone. The old trackball remained, to the delight of some, and the disdain of others. A car dock and desktop dock leaked out, and eventually were sold to consumers.

The Nexus One's birth made front-page news. It's death? Not so much.

Some minor hardware niggles arose, mainly surrounding the touchscreen. AMOLED's not great outdoors, because you can't see the screen due to reflectivity. Also, there are issues with the N1's touchscreen itself, in that its multitouch implementation could be a little inaccurate. Not deal-breakers for most people, but headaches, for sure. Software-wise, a lack of multitouch at launch was a point of frustration, as was a problem keeping a connection to T-Mobile's 3G network.

So that's the phone, more or less, in a few brief sentences. A predictable improvement for the time, and not necessarily innovative, though it was a decent step up from most Android smartphones that were available at the time (the one exception being the Motorola Droid, we'd argue).

The Google phone web store

The part that Google really tried to shake up was in the way the phone was sold. With the launch of the Nexus One came the Google phone web store, at It was (in the United States, anyway), the only place you could purchase the Nexus One. There were a couple of options at first: an unlocked, unsubsidized GSM Nexus One that worked on T-Mobile's 3G and EDGE networks, or AT&T's EDGE network. A Verizon version was promised at launch, months later, was declared dead.  In March, a proper AT&T (and Rogers) 3G version of the Nexus One was released by Google. That same day, Sprint said it, too, would get a Nexus One. That never happened.

The web store model was plagued by some major issues, all of which compounded each other. Consider:

  • No try before you buy: You couldn't actually try the phone before buying it. Was it too small? Too big? How was the keyboard? No way to tell before plunking down your money.
  • Lack of marketing: If a phone's not actually going to be available in a store, you're going to drum up some marketing power. And aside from an initial media push after its announcement, Google didn't do too much to actively press the Nexus One. There was a one-line mention on the home page (and that's no small thing for Google to have done), as well as AdSense ads. But there was zilch in the way of traditional mainstream marketing. No magazine ads. No newspaper ads. No television spots.
  • Who's running this place? At first, there was mass confusion over who was in charge/responsible for customer service. Google threw its hands up and pointed at T-Mobile and HTC as if to say "Hey, we just sell the things." Google finally took charge, its help forums flourished and a customer service phone number was set up. Better late than never, but much damage was done.
  • Confusing pricing/upgrade process: It's bad enough that we're traditionally stuck with subsidized pricing in the United States. It didn't help any that the process for qualifying for a T-Mobile subsidy was flubbed, which ultimately led to a price drop and refunds.

In May 2010, Google announced that its phone web store wasn't working out, and it was ending the strategy. VP of product management Mario Queiroz explained at Google's IO developers conference:

"The web store was another element of the strategy. It was, in many ways, an experiment for us. ... Android was in a very different place six months ago. ... And today, we believe that the right thing to do from a distribution perspective is different from what it was a few months ago. And so we've chosen to double down on our partnerships."

On July 21, 2010, Google ceased selling the Nexus One online.

Long live the Nexus One

Failed distribution strategy aside, the Nexus One is, was and (likely) will be a solid phone for a while longer. Let's remember some of the positives:

The beginning of Android's 1GHz era

CPU speed isn't everything, but it's not nothing, either. The Nexus One was the first Android smartphone in the United States to sport the higher speeds. Not that the Android smartphone market wasn't headed in that direction, but it's a spec worth touting.

Plugless charging and Bluetooth sync

It's a shame this one hasn't really caught on anywhere else. The two docks officially released by Google take advantage of three little gold-colored contacts on the bottom bezel of the phone to make a charging connection, meaning you don't actually plug anything into the phone to charge it. In the case of the desktop dock, that means very quick access to your phone.  No messing about with plugs.

In addition, the docks took advantage of the Nexus One's Bluetooth capability, meaning you could plug speakers into the desktop dock, and use the car dock to stream music of phone calls.

Trackball notifications

The trackball isn't the most elegant of features you'll ever see on a smartphone. But it served its purpose, and then some. It allowed you to make acute adjustments of cursor location, or scroll through icons instead of touching the screen. But where it really shined (literally) was in its implementation of color notifications. Not officially supported until Android 2.2 was released (it was in custom ROMs earlier), the trackball will blink in different colors for different notifications. As we're not expecting any more trackballs anytime soon, we'll have to let this one live in memorium.

The (admittedly failed) web store model

OK, so it didn't work. But some of us equate the cell phone store experience with that of buying a car. It's not anywhere near a fair comparison, and we still recommend you try a phone before you buy it. But for us crazy die-hard smartphone nerds who are going to buy a phone anyway, it was a nice no-hassle method of purchasing a phone and having it here the next day.

A hacker's dream

Nexus One bootloader unlock

The Nexus One from its inception was Google's next-generation developers' phone. Like the HTC Ion before it, it was designed to let you do pretty much whatever you wanted to it. A simple "fastboot OEM unlock" command opened up the bootloader so that you could load custom ROMs. No impossible security, no fears that a Google gestapo would hunt you down, just a warning that you'd be voiding your warranty.

And from there, you open a whole new world of custom ROMs. It was on the Nexus One that we got our first taste of the all new Sense UI, ported over from the European HTC Desire. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. If you can do it, you can do it on a Nexus One.

Farewell, old friend

And with that, we pay our respects to the Google Nexus One. Oh, it'll be around for a while still, living on in the hands of developers and the die-hard Android fans who bought one (or more than one) in the first place. But it's a great phone that was taken before its time.

As for the store? Eh, it was an interesting idea, but poorly implemented, and likely doomed anyway, giving the nature of the way people prefer to purchase phones -- subsidized and in person.

Fair thee well, Nexus One. Fair thee well.

  • It was good while it lasted.......oh I forgot.....Lots still running arount the interweb.....
  • It didn't need to last very long to do what it needed to. Personally, I think its main job was to throw down the gauntlet in front of the mainstream Android OEMs and challenge them to make truly lustworthy phones. Now we're seeing the fruit of that challenge in the form of the EVO 4G, the Galaxy S line, the upscale Droids, and so on. Well done, Google...well done, indeed.
  • Even though it won't be sold at, it'll still be around in europe and sold directly to developers. Although the NExus is seven months old, it is still ONE OF THE BEST PHONES. It will continue to live and age gracefully thanks to the direct support of google and the overwhelming support of the hacking community. I will forever keep my Nexus One :)
  • Wasn't it basically an attempt to combine their model of generational dev phones with something consumers might also want? It was a good example of the kind of hardware the OS was being designed for and did a good job of setting the bar. After the N1 we saw lots more high res 1Ghz class Android phones where before they were still cranking out the old Magic clones.
  • I'm afraid that my Nexus One will be the last Android phone I ever own. Everybody else is dead set on releasing bastard children of Android with ugly skins that can't be turned off or filling them up with bloat/crapware that can't be uninstalled like the Samsung Vibrant.
  • I agree. I purchased it just because it was Google's favorite phone. Until Google replaces it with another favorite phone (that gets the updates first and what not), I'll stick to my N1. The only thing I like about the iPhone is that every single phone seems like Apple's favorite phone!
  • Just got my N1 last week, hope to keep it for a couple of years. By then there ought to be an Android Dev Phone with monster specs such as dual-core ARM CPU, mega amounts of RAM and onboard flash memory, higher resolution screen, LTE, etc.
  • Because Google still stands behind the N1, and with all of the great rom developers, mine is better than when it arrived at my door. Not giving it up in the foreseeable future.
  • I love my N1 It will continue to be a great phone for a long time. It's kind of like the Delorean of cell phones.
  • you've changed things
  • i live in Italy and the phone its selling here =)
    for 499 euro that is. so its not dead
  • KrispyKrink, have you ever hear of Android 3.0 Gingerbread? Samsung and HTC UI's will be removed from phones when the update comes out to reduce fragmentation and do a complete UI overhaulon Android's user interface.
  • i will be keeping this beautiful phone until the day Google decides to create another phone that wont be intercepted by carriers having to decide when updates be pushed out!
  • Every phone needs to do what the N1 did, and allow easy unlocking of the bootloader in exchange for voiding your warranty.
  • I'd go one better... It should be against the law to sell a subsidized phone. Period. Full Stop. Prices would come down a LOT. Cost to manufacture a nexus one is 175.
    Ok, allow for 100 percent profit, the price should be $350-400.
    More realistically the price would be $250-300. If you can afford the dataplan, you can afford the phone at an un-subsidized price that is REASONABLY priced. In some countries subsidized phones are illegal. Why shouldn't it be that way here as well. As for your warranty voiding, WHY allow that? Make THEM prove the software actually melted something. If they (or you) can restore the original software and the phone works, warranty claim denied, (but warranty still valid). Would you buy a computer where simply loading or Ubuntu voided your warranty? The way it is now, even if you restore the original software your warranty is still void.
  • No, the parts have an estimated cost of 175. Then you need to factor in the cost of manufacturing it. Paying the workers, paying taxes, paying for utilities, etc. Then factor in advertising and promotion, Research and Development, and any patents paid for/applied for to use the device. You end up with a number significantly over 175 You'll notice that in countries that only sell unlocked, unsubsidized phones, the cost of the phone is comparable to the retail cost here. Without subsidies the cost of the devices might go down, but there would be far fewer devices, and the drop in cost wouldn't be as much as you are claiming.
  • There would not be far fewer devices, and there would be price drops. Look, as long as the manufacturers know that the cost will be hidden in subsidy contracts for 99.999% of the market there is no incentive what so ever to reduce the profit margin. The prices are higher in those other countries because they are higher here. If they were cheaper here phones would be bought in North America and exported. Free country does that. Someone else wants to finance phones Fine. Let Car Toys do it. Get a phone loan from your bank. But carriers sell at retail and they can't deny "Bring Your Own Phone" customers. Don't allow anybody who has the ability to force lockdowns to sell on contract. Remove the possibility and incentive for lockdowns and price drops will follow. Economics. It works every time its given a chance.
  • Economics: Carriers pay handset makers MILLIONS of dollars (if not billions) for the exclusive rights to certain phones. Those carriers underwrite the cost of developing and building a new model and spend a good chunk of their advertising budget feature them. If carriers couldn't subsidize phones, they wouldn't do ANY of this. This means that handset makers will have to foot the bill themselves, which means there will be a LOT less diversity in devices. Remember, the cost of the devices come DOWN because of exclusive rights and mass production. Carriers add VERY little to the cost of a device before they resell it./ So if handset makers want to sell their phones to more people, they would need to drop the price. The ONLY way to do this is to:
    1) reduce the number of available models so they can focus on fewer designs.
    2) or reduce the quality of the final product. It's simply economics. You can't just say "subsidies make phones more expensive" because Unlocked, unbranded devices are nearly the same price as their locked counterparts, and those companies that make unlocked phones make FAR fewer of them. Lets look at motorola. If they had no backers for android phones they might make the Droid, and then another phone for their BLur line. The X, the devour, most of the blur devices on other networks wouldn't exist. Instead of having 10+ models, they might have THREE (with slight variations for antenna's) Economics will work, but not the way your suggesting.
  • "Would you buy a computer where simply loading or Ubuntu voided your warranty?" OpenOffice is really a bad example to use for that. That'd be more along the lines of installing any old app from the market. Ubuntu is slightly more reasonable, except that you don't need to flash a new BIOS in order to install Ubuntu, last I checked. As for your other argument, see the economics lesson above.
  • I own its younger brother the HTC Incredible and it's a great phone. Its fast, has a good camera, an excellent screen--besides the daylight issue--and I can instantly set it up to either suck the battery or sip it. If it wasn't for this phone, I would have bought the iphone 4 (thank God I didn't!), but this one redeemed Verizon for me after two bad phones (motorola Q & Blackberry storm).
  • By far the best phone I have ever owned and my first "taste" of Android. I am not turning back, Android 'til I die. I just got a Samsung Captivate, but I won't ever get rid of my Nexus One. Watching that video posted in this article makes me think of last June when the AT&T model launched and I sold my iPhone (best decision ever!) to be on the first to receive the phone (AT&T that is). I must have watched and read every article/video on the net during that one day wait until I got it in the mail. I think the Nexus One was the best marriage between hardware and software to ever come into Andy Rubin's Android world. It will go down in history and I wouldn't doubt that it is a huge collectors item in the years to come. Long live the king of Android you had your flaws, but you also were the first to show what Android could really do (unless you think of the Droid). This will remain a "high end" phone for awhile and we will still be enjoying Gingerbread long before any other device out there. OEM's take note...WE WANT A VANILLA ANDROID DEVICE LIKE THE NEXUS ONE...There is a market for it I promise. You will sell boat loads if you just give it a chance. We don't want a skinned Android experience and you are not standing out. Please don't turn Android into a memory. Let Google and their amazing Android team do the software and you compete in the hardware I promise people will still buy your phone. Take my word for it, there is a huge market of people that want a simple Vanilla Android phone with some great top of the line hardware look at the Droid for hell sakes. Oh, and by the way Android was and is meant to be open so pleaaaaaaaaase stop with this locking the bootloader shit that Motorola and Verizon have been up to. You will only destroy the platform. People want choices that is why we don't want the iPhone. We want to side load apps (I'm talking to you AT&T) and we want to be able to flash a great ROM (I'm talking to you Motorola and Verizon). I'm not saying all of us will do that, but some do want the option. That freedom is what brought me to this great platform and putting us in a "walled garden" filled with skinned Android is the only way I will ever leave. Work with Google and create a great phone like the Nexus One and Moto Droid. That is the reason Android is what it is. The trend I am seeing lately is scaring the shit out of me cause the only hope of an all "open" platform in the mobile world is with Android. HERE THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT OF MY MOUTH. /rant
  • Is your Return key broken? That's some wall of text you threw out there. Let me rephrase your most important point: WE WANT A VANILLA ANDROID DEVICE LIKE THE NEXUS ONE
  • 3 stars for you -- just for reading it ;)
  • +1
  • I got my N1 about 6 weeks ago and I have been thrilled with it. Considering its' age, and that it is still top of the line, that is pretty insane in the smartphone world where something is obsolete soon after it is released. I just love getting the latest Android builds as soon as they appear. Can't wait for 3.0 :) BEST PHONE EVER!
  • To me, the Nexus One was a wakeup call to HTC and Motorola (and others looking at android. With the exception of the Original Droid, before the N1, most devices took a very "safe" approach to android. They used specs people were comfortable with, things barely past what's needed to run their current software. With the Nexus (googles dev phone) they said "Hey, we didn't make Android to be a low end smartphone offering. This is where we're building towards. Catch up or get left behind." Look at the phones that have come out since then. While they might not all be the highest quality yet, most of them are sporting specs that will take them well into Froyo and beyond, and overall the build quality of devices has increased considerably. I think the Nexus One experiment was a HUGE success by this measure. Google knew that online sales of phones would never take off in the US, but most likely it was the easiest way for them to kick all their partners in the pants and get them making hardware that matched up to the quality of the software Google was working on.
  • Fitting eulogy for the best mobile device ever made. Those who have one, know what I mean. Those who don't, you should have.
  • I love my Nexus One. It is the best phone I have ever owned. I won't upgrade until there is another "Android Experience" phone (hopefully one will come with Gingerbread...).
  • What's wrong with this picture.... My Nexus One is the only US phone with a supported version of Google's latest OS and the phone is now history. Not only that, but as many others have pointed out, all of the other US Android offerings are carrier locked with frothy UI add-ons that prevent timely OS updates. I went with the Nexus One because it is not locked and hobbled by the manufacturer and the carrier. At this point there is no comparable offering and it doesn't appear that there will ever be one. Android is now captive to the phone manufacturers and network providers. Bad move and decidedly not "open source".
  • Yeah I hope I to get a Vanilla Android device like the Nexus One on Sprint... HTC's skin is ugh. I hope the Nexus Two is real... They really should do something like that. Better marketing imo.
  • that would never happen. those networks are CDMA. the world operates on GSM, only sprint and vzw are CDMA. Coming in the future with LTE being GSM it is a possibility that one phone could go to all carriers, but radio frequency are easy to adjust on from the Mfg. i wish for a nexus2 but we cant hold our breath, Google has already released a statement saying that won't happen.
  • Was a decent phone but sold for 2 of the worst networks ( t-Mobile and AT&T ) this really hurt this phone I couldnt get rid of mine fast enough , made a good phone near useless when on T-Mobile , this should have been brought out on Verizon or Sprint , would have been far more successful
  • I think that the Nexus One's marketing is what killed it. You can only buy online and can't play with it in the store. Like the Palm Pre and Palm Pixi, good phones, bad marketing. Although the Palm webOS phones were marketed as smartphones for women who never had a smartphone and the Nexus One just wasn't marketed at all or hardly at all. Consumers are very cautious when it comes to buying something that's intangible until it's already paid for before they have it in their hands. Verizon's Droid line of phones, THAT'S how you market a smartphone.
  • The Nexus One was so far ahead of my iPhones (up to the 3G[s]) that it was a no brainer to grab one in the first couple of weeks. It was fantastic, but it had some significant warts, a couple mentioned in the article, that greatly reduced it's value to me and made me seek out "better" phones as soon as they came out: The TOUCHSCREEN wonkiness and lack of accuracy (especially when typing) remains an annoyance that you notice constantly. The AMOLED screen is pretty much useless out doors unless you're in the shade. The AMOLED screen on the Nexus One is so over-saturated with red pixels that watching videos all the skin tones look like the people have bad sunburns. A color calibration utility on any of these phone devices would be great. The CAMERA has a large pink blur in every picture the phone takes. It's more or less noticeable depending on the lighting conditions, but it's always there. Rumored software fixes for this issue never appeared. Capacitive BUTTONS are misaligned, and even with custom kernels and tweaks they're hard to hit accurately. Please spare us some point by point counter to those complaints - if they're not an issue for you, great, they're an issue for me, though they weren't enough to return the phone. The Nexus One still has some characteristics that set the bar so high I've yet to find a phone that matches up these regards: SIZE/WEIGHT/BALANCE of the N1 in the hand is just about perfect. It feels very natural in the palm of my hand. TRACKBALL/BUTTONS/SWITCHES are all well laid out and easy to reach with one handed operation. I wish the rest of the Android world would standardize on the four buttons in the order that Google specified (Back/Menu/Home/Search). The trackball is essential for easy selection of text until Google kangs (copies) the iPhone's brilliant magnifying glass way of selecting text. BUILD QUALITY. The phone is built solidly, and you can tell just by holding it. No cheap plastic here. OPEN device. Unlock, root and custom ROM away. No hassles. EVERY pocket computer should be so easy. LED FLASH - how any phone can get out of the manufacturer without one of these now is beyond me. Since the Nexus One I've tried the EVO 4G and returned it (mostly because Sprint's 3G service is too slow in Los Angeles. I've also purchased an iPhone 4 and a Samsung Galaxy S (the actual European/Asian S phone, not the US variants that T-Mo and AT&T are offering). Other than the touchscreen and display accuracy/resolution, the N1 remains a more compelling device than the iPhone 4, but the Galaxy S mostly blows it out of the water. It's faster, the screen is orders of magnitude better looking and it looks great. Unfortunately the Galaxy S lacks an LED Flash and only has three buttons, with the on/off switch in a weird place. My final eulogy comments for the N1 would be that it was a brief star that set some standards other still can't match, but its flaws made its glory fleeting instead of long lasting. It's still a fine phone, but if you're going to drop $600 on a device there are much better options out there at this stage in the game. I'm not saying farewell to my N1, though, with a contract free T-Mobile SIM card in it, and T-Mo having the fastest 3G of any network I've tried in Los Angeles, the N1 makes a fantastic Wireless Hotspot for my laptop and other SIM-less devices. I've moved on to the SGS as my regular phone, but the N1 still maintains a soft spot in my heart for it. ;-)
  • I love my Nexus One too! I won't know what to do when I need to replace it some day unless Google decides to release a replacement of their own again. If they ever do release a replacement for the N1, I hope they keep the capacitive buttons, the same screen size and the same form factor (no physical keyboard). I still think Google should be selling the N1 and its accessories at stores like Best Buy, Radio Shack and Amazon at the very least. I'm sure they would get a lot more sales of the phone that way, and I still want a car dock and a backup battery!
  • The killing of the Nexus line is an absolute disaster for Android as far as I am concerned. Even coming from an iPhone 3G, I thought Android 2.1 barely passable. Froyo, however, is absolute magic. I would not switch to an Android phone without it. So if my Nexus were to die tomorrow (please goodness no), what would I replace it with? A carrier-crippled, locked, skinned, version of 2.1? No, no, and hell no. But those are my only other options now. That is the "state of the art." It is unbelievable, and very demoralizing as an Android convert. If I'm going to be forced to contend with that crap, I might as well get another iPhone. That's not a threat, that's a tragedy.
  • I'm surprised and a little disappointed that: A) Google still hasn't established any kind of retail presence to continue selling unlocked phones, as they promised when they admitted the web store wasn't gonna work out. Although they'd probably wait to do so by debuting a next-gen phone, so maybe that's the hold up... After all, it wasn't 'till right NOW (more than 6 months after the N1) that all four national carriers finally started selling Snapdragon-class phones (or faster). B) More phones (or any whatsoever?) haven't mimic'd the N1's charging contact points. I realize that the market for custom docks is probably not that big (since most people swap phones every 2 years) but there's probably a reason for that. Docks are kludgy w/o those contact points, and harder to design so that sliding the phone in is a smooth process. Those contact points made it easier imo... I was planning on buying the dock just for the Bluetooth streaming if I got a N1 (also a great idea, I'm surprised there aren't more Bluetooth/music docks).
  • Although I didn't move fast enough to grab one before it became no longer available, I played with a friends N1 w/froyo and regret not having done so. It's a great phone. NOW, if Google decides next year(or when ever) to release a "NEXUS 2" w/Froyo or Gingerbread, w/dual core prcssr, 16g or 32g intrnl memory, 4" supr amoled screen, 8meg cam w/led flsh and released as a dev phone???!!! I'd buy it in a heartbeat... Anyway I read about this phone and yeah it pretty much led other companies to step up and bring to the table some interesting phones out now(Droid X, D Incred, Galaxy S etc..)
  • Double ETF, that is what killed it for me. If you cancelled after 30 days, but before 4(?) months, you paid a "device recovery fee" to Google, as well as your plans ETF. Google's reasoning was they lost their commission from T-Mobile, and T-Mobile's reason was they had to recoup the subsidy they provided. Essentially you were paying the same fee twice. Not sure which company was being greedy, but it was a bad start to a phone you had to buy most likely without ever seeing it in person first.