Google's Nexus One - the Evolution of Android

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Yesterday’s big gadget news was, of course, the announcement of the (closest thing to a) Google Phone – the HTC-built Nexus One at CES. To listen to the mainstream media, you’d think this was Christmas all over again – the birth of the Baby Jesus in phone form.  And from what we can tell it is indeed a great device. Whether it can turn water into wine remains to be seen.

One thing that does need a bit of mopping up; not every gee-whizz feature of the Nexus One is brand new. Some of the stuff demoed at CES is part of Android 2.1 – and was part of Android 2.0. Some of the features that mainstream reviewers have touted as exclusive to the Nexus One have actually been available for a couple of months on other handsets – notably the Motorola Droid (dubbed the Milestone in the UK).

Take, for example Google Maps Navigation, complete with voice control. That’s an Android app – not an exclusive, built in part of the Nexus One. And there are now over 20 Android phones on the market, spread across different providers.

According to reports, Google Vice President Mario Queiroz described the handset as the “Next stage in the evolution of the Android”. Note – he didn’t say “the next stage in the evolution of the smartphone“.

Google are cleverer than that. The iPhone currently has the lion’s, tiger’s and leopard’s share of the smartphone market, but it does so with one device. Android, on the other hand is an OS for smartphones plural. Venture Capitalist Bill Gurley suggests that Google are seeking to be the Microsoft of the phone world, making Android the Windows of mobile devices. Gurley further suggests that will leave Apple as, well, the Apple of the smartphone market… exclusive, expensive and constrained by its stubborn refusal to separate operating system and hardware.

In a sense, that makes the Nexus One a trojan horse – a branding exercise for Android disguised as a phone launch. A very good branding exercise, nevertheless.

As for the Nexus One itself? The HTC built device looks great. There’s something of the iPhone about it – there’s no denying that. The same could be said of the HTC Magic though and the Nexus One’s design combines the Magic’s sleek styling with the HTC Hero’s discreet control system. It could well result in a tactile experience superior to Apple’s offering.

I say “could” because I haven’t had the privilege of fondling it with my own mitts yet, but Engadget’s unboxing combined with my own use of HTC handsets in the past suggests this is a device to covet.

It’s coming to Vodafone in the UK within the next few weeks – though the device is unlikely to be tied to one carrier in future. One of the Inspect-A-Gadget team will no doubt post a hands-on review as soon as it’s humanly possible.

In the meantime, you can take a 3D Flash tour of the handset over at Google.

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