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Nexus One: Google hits smartphone home run

01 May 2011

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About 17 months ago, EDN dissected Google's first Android-based and developer-intended handset, the HTC-designed T-Mobile G1 that Google had released roughly one year earlier. About two months ago, Google unveiled its fourth-generation developer smartphone, the Samsung-developed Nexus S. Between these bookends, two other HTC-crafted devices, the Google Ion or ADP2 (Android Developer Phone 2), and the Nexus One, emerged. Google last year sold the Nexus One directly to consumers in a six-month experiment. As a partnership project with iFixit shows, the Nexus One represents a substantial leap in capability beyond the G1. More than a year after its unveiling, it remains a leading-edge product, both in an absolute sense and relative to its Nexus S successor.

1. Like many of its HTC-developed contemporaries of the era, the Nexus One leverages a Samsung-manufactured OLED display. Crisper and touting richer colours than a conventional LED-backlit LCD (liquid-crystal display), its comparative downsides include washed-out images in high-ambient-light environments, greater power consumption than LCDs in some situations, and limited availability. OLED-supply shortcomings prompted HTC to subsequently redesign several handsets for LCDs.

2. Synaptics supplies the Nexus One with the same ClearPad 2000 touchscreen and controller technology as that in the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 mini and many other touch-augmented mobile electronics devices.

3. The primary system PCB's underside showcases a Samsung MCM (multi-chip module) encompassing 512MB of NAND-flash memory and 512MB of mobile SDRAM. Power-management ICs include Qualcomm's PM7540 and Texas Instruments' TPS65023, and Skyworks' SKY77336 tackles the GSM communications power-amplifier function. Google sold Nexus One versions that supported both AT&T and T-Mobile's 3G (third-generation) cellular-data frequencies in the United States. Google initially also planned a Verizon-cognizant CDMA (code-division-multiple-access) variant but decided a few months later to reference-sell the HTC Droid Incredible instead.

4. The primary PCB's topside includes Qualcomm's RTR6285 RF-transceiver IC and 1GHz, first-generation QSD8250 Snapdragon application processor, which integrates cellular modem and GPS functions. The QSD8250 also includes the proprietary Adreno graphics core that the company acquired from Advanced Micro Devices' ATI Graphics division. The QSD8250 is a variant of the ARM Cortex A8 architecture, thereby supporting the ARM Version 7 instruction set, but Qualcomm's ARM architectural license gave Snapdragon's engineers additional design flexibility to—at least on paper—deliver multimedia performance higher than that of a conventional Cortex A8 SIMD (single-instruction/multiple-data) multimedia product.

5. Between the two Qualcomm devices is the Audience A1026 audio processor. This IC works in conjunction with two Knowles Electronics MEMS microphones; one resides on the handset's underside to capture the user's voice, while the other is located on the back—to the left of the 5M-pixel still camera lens and associated flash—and focuses on ambient environmental sounds. Whereas conventional beam-forming techniques simply subtract ambient noise from the voice input to enhance the perceived quality of the input on the other end of the cellular connection, Audience's more complex Computational Auditory Scene Analysis approach mimics how the human auditory system operates, thereby justifying a dedicated silicon engine in the Nexus One design. Other manufacturers, such as Motorola and Verizon, with the Droid, instead shoehorn the voice-processing algorithm onto the application processor. A speakerphone transducer resides in the handset backside's upper-right corner.

6. The Nexus One one-ups Apple's iPhone series and many other modern handsets by integrating Broadcom's BCM4329 wireless transceiver, which supports 802.11n-transfer-speed enhancements, albeit only in the 2.4GHz band. The iPad, iPhone 4, and third-generation iPod touch also use the BCM4329, but Apple hasn't yet unlocked the chip's beyond-802.11g capabilities. The BCM4329 also handles the Nexus One's Bluetooth 2.1 and EDR support, but Google hasn't yet harnessed the chip's FM-transmitting and -receiving features. Instead, hackers have migrated code from the similarly equipped HTC Desire to begin the unsanctioned and incomplete process of adding FM-radio capabilities to the handset.

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