Nexus 1 + Froyo notes & iPhone 4

The Android 2.2 “Froyo” update finally came through over the last few days for Nexus 1 owners. After a few days of on-and-off usage, some notes to add to my initial review of the N1 running 2.1:

What’s new:

  • Speed: Things definitely feel snappier than they used to, but not really in a firmly quantifiable way. I’ll try another head-to-head scrolling test after a bit, but I can still expect to see the N1 way behind on that — scrolling still feels jerkier, and usually slower, than on an iPhone.
  • Tethering: For me, this was one of the main the killer features that pushed me to actually buy the N1, and I’m very happy to see it working! AT&T might finally have gotten around to enabling tethering for the iPhone, but they’ve shot themselves in the foot by making it cheaper to buy a new Android phone instead of the $20/month to not get a bandwidth limit increase on your iPhone. Over your 2-year contract, that comes to $480 wasted on AT&T… and it still wouldn’t power your Wifi iPad while the Android will! Sorry, guys. I know which features I want.
  • Screen: my background image is still pretty badly banded, but gradients in the web browser look smoother. There may be piecemeal improvements in how images get rendered and dithered for fullcolor output, but it’s still a bit inconsistent.

Otherwise, the OS isn’t mind-blowingly different, but definitely has a lot of nice little bumps. Ars Technica has a general review of Froyo on the N1 if you want to peek at a few other under-the-hood changes.

Update: There’s also a notification system that looks like a very flexible superset of what the iPhone platform has, which might be very nice for things like sending realtime updates to our upcoming mobile client without it having to poll in the background. That ain’t much useful to users yet, but we’re sure gonna use it in future!

Compared to the iPhone 4

Of course, Apple’s been moving as well. iOS 4 is out for the existing iPhone 3G and 3Gs, and the new iPhone 4 is available and busy fighting a reception issue scandal.

iOS 4 on my iPhone 3G feels like a very nice incremental improvement. Things aren’t radically different, but it’s definitely a bit nicer: folders have helped organize home screens by moving out rarely-used apps, background processing is a big help for a few apps (like Pandora!) and there are other niceties like threading in the mail reader.

I haven’t picked up an iPhone 4 for personal use yet, but I did swing through an Apple store the other day (when the crowds had died down a bit!) to check it out. There are only a couple of interesting user-visible hardware changes beyond the case change:

My favorite is the awesome, awesome high-resolution display. I am really looking forward to this pixel density being available on desktop-size screens… some day we can stop worrying about pixels and just have text and graphics that look good.

There’s some talk that HDTV has actually set display technology back for large formats; I’ve seen only a handful of commercially-available monitors that venture much beyond 1920×1080, and those are all to gain extra desktop space not to improve density/sharpness.

The screen on the Nexus 1 is visibly sharper than the iPhone 3Gs, but even with my slightly blurry vision is visible pixelated at smartphone-usage distances from my eye. The iPhone 4 really, literally, truly moves it into the realm where pixels no longer matter; as this level of display technology makes it out into the broader market, I think it’s going to make a big difference in what we’re comfortable reading on a small screen.

The front-facing camera & video calling support is the primary selling point in Apple’s current ad campaign; the nice saleslady demoed it for me, and the quality’s pretty good for what it is. But honestly I don’t see myself ever using it as more than a gimmick; I’ve had a webcam on my laptop for 5 years and have never been on a video chat that’s not about trying out the video chat feature. Perhaps Apple will prove me wrong — and like with video chats on computers, some people get a lot more mileage out of it than others. I can certainly see if I had a small child we’d probably be on with my parents a lot more often — my mom doesn’t need too many real-time updates on the cats. ;)

There’s also an improved main camera, which may be a nice extra but isn’t a killer feature for me — the current phone cameras are adequate (though not great) and aren’t main selling points for me.