Google has bided its time but now, 18 months after unveiling its smartphone OS, Android, it’s finally gone the whole hog and put its name on a phone.

Admittedly the Nexus One is made by HTC, but you can get it directly from a Google webpage, confirming that the search meisters are ready to go toe-to-toe with Apple on this one.

Tempting package

While the Nexus One is no stunner, its aluminium casing feels reassuringly solid compared with the iPhone's plasticky back. The smooth edges make it comfortable in hand and pocket, too – and, crucially, the more you live with the Nexus One, the more you fall for it.

Despite being thinner and slimmer, the Nexus has a slightly bigger display than the iPhone – and over twice the number of pixels, which makes a real difference when reading text or browsing web pages. The AMOLED technology is wonderfully bright, too, although colours can often seem unnaturally oversaturated. 

Live wallpapers

Making the most of that zingy screen are video wallpapers. How very Vista, you’re thinking. Fortunately, Google’s moving backgrounds are interactive: we’re particularly fond of making ripples in the zen pool.

Android 2.1 has a simplified user interface, and while it's still not quite as slick or intuitive as the iPhone, it's pretty close. It also has some very neat tricks all of its own, like Google Voice for speech control and Google Goggles for visual search.

Words and pictures

From the homepage you can search the web by speaking – amazingly it works brilliantly. Slightly less successful, but still mighty impressive, is composing texts with voice. While the iPhone’s voice control is a gimmick, Google Voice is the start of something beautiful.

Another game changer is Goggles, the ‘visual search’ tool that allows you to take a picture of an object and find out about it. At this early stage it works best with obvious things like book covers and barcodes. But in the future, Google will see all – and know all.

HTC has had some great phones with dreadful cameras, but fortunately this isn’t one of them. The 5MP autofocus cam produces snaps that are a match for Nokia’s smartphones, and low-light shots are less noisy than the iPhone. It takes good video, too, with direct YouTube uploads.


Software frustrations

Enough of the eulogising; there are still some software frustrations to the Nexus. For instance, you can’t click on phone numbers in messages to dial them, and email accounts are confusingly separated.

Over-the-air software updates will likely fix these, leaving three outstanding issues: the unresponsive shortcut buttons at the bottom of the display, the lack of internal storage and the mediocre battery life.

As hardware, though, the Nexus beats the iPhone: it has a better camera, faster brain, nicer build. But Apple’s software is so slick, and its apps and accessories abundant, that the iPhone still edges it. Just.

Stuff says... 

Google Nexus One review

The wait is over: we finally have a worthy alternative to the iPhone