It's finally arrived: the first serious contender to iPhone 3GS. Google's Nexus One has major credibility, its score of impressive features ensuring it a spot as one of the premier smartphones of the year.
But 'mobile phone' is very different from 'pocket gaming machine'. iPhone 3GS has proved a surprise portable gaming champion and Nexus One has to throw some big punches if it's aiming to take the title.
Screen, controls, processing power, battery life, and games - which one is the best for mobile gaming?
Nexus One Google phone versus iPhone
When it comes to resolution and quality, Nexus One handily beats out iPhone 3GS. Not only is the screen slightly larger (3.7 inches compared to iPhone 3GS at 3.5), but it's of higher quality. The OLED (organic light-emitting diode) used in Nexus One is far better than the standard LCD employed by Apple in its range of iPhone handsets.
Then there's the issue of resolution. Google's device easily trumps iPhone 3GS on that front too with a whopping 800x480 resolution over 480x320 on iPhone 3GS.
All of this matters when it comes to gaming because the higher the resolution and quality of the screen, the better your games are going to look. In this regard, Nexus One definitely has an advantage.
Winner: Nexus One
Interface and controls
Both iPhone 3GS and Nexus One rely on capacitive touchscreens for control, with a few buttons tacked on for crucial commands. Accelerometers in both handsets allow for image reorientation and such.
There's an enormous feature that puts iPhone devices on top, however: multi-touch. Nexus One doesn't have it, instead relying on a trackball situated at the bottom-edge of the screen for complex manoeuvres. iPhone doesn't require one because multiple gestures can be tracked simultaneously.
It doesn't take much thought to see how dramatic an impact this has on gaming. Just look at Flight Control, Star Defense, N.O.V.A. - all leverage multi-touch in a critical way. Without it, these games would be far clunkier and less fun.
To be fair, the Nexus One trackball could be employed in cases where simultaneous analogue input is needed. That, however, doesn't seem nearly as intuitive as multi-touch and cements our opinion that iPhone handsets possesses the interface best suited for gaming.
Winner: iPhone 3GS
Nexus One out-muscles iPhone 3GS with greater raw processing power. It's not a surprise - seven months have passed since the release of iPhone 3GS and it's only natural for technology to progress, Google doing well to pack a faster processor and more memory.
Nexus One boasts an impressive 1GHz CPU than obliterates the Samsung 833 MHz CPU in iPhone 3GS that is actually under-clocked at 600 MHz. That puts Nexus One at nearly twice the processing power of iPhone 3GS.
It's the same story when with memory. 512 MB of RAM doubles that available in iPhone 3GS. With a faster processor and more memory, Nexus One is a powerhouse.
When it comes to graphics rendering, both support OpenGL ES 2,0 which enable all kinds of special effects, lighting, and rendering features. The faster Nexus One processor can handle a lot more graphical data than iPhone 3GS: however, a dedicated GPU provides iPhone 3GS with some help here.
A dedicated graphics processor is always preferable to an onboard solution. The 200 MHz PowerVR SGX may sound paltry, but it's sole purpose is to render pretty things on your screen. That's 200 MHz solely for gaming that Nexus One can't claim.
Nevertheless, iPhone 3GS is still less powerful in terms of overall hardware power than Nexus One.
Winner: Nexus One
It's hard to criticise one handset over the other given the rather underwhelming battery life of both, but it's evident that pretty OLED screen drains the Nexus One battery in short order. Google even admits that Nexus One has inferior battery life, listing it as having slightly less than iPhone 3GS on its technical specifications page.
What's really interesting is that iPhone 3GS squeezes more power out of a smaller battery. Nexus One carries the same 1400 mAH (milliampere-hour) lithium-ion battery as the first generation iPhone compared to 1219 mAH in 3GS.
Winner: iPhone 3GS
Comparing iPhone to Nexus One (more generally, Android) seems a little unfair given where the momentum currently resides, but even when you look to future potential iPhone has the advantage.
First, multi-touch makes iPhone a more attractive gaming platform than Nexus One.
Second, internal flash drives ensure effortless game management on iPhone. 512 MB on Nexus One is laughable in comparison to a minimum 4GB on the first generation iPhone and up to 32GB on iPhone 3GS. Fiddling with microSD cards for extra capacity won't be nearly as intuitive as an internal flash drive.
Lastly, the App Store has proved more successful than Google's Android Market. The App Store has more than five times the number of apps and an impressive 3 billion downloads since its launch in July 2008. Google has not revealed total download statistics for its marketplace, but we can assume it's notably less.
Obviously quantity isn't more important than quality, but iPhone has that going for it, too. iPhone and the App Store are easier and sleeker to use, not to mention the quality of games that have appeared on iPhone are higher than those on Android.
Winner: iPhone 3GS
Overall winner: iPhone 3GS
With a superior interface, better battery life, and more awesome games, iPhone 3GS looks to carry mobile gaming into the future despite the serious threat posed by Nexus One.
Sheer hardware power alone isn't enough to drive mobile gaming forward - Nexus One is more like an improvement on the core iPhone design than a fresh concept. It simply doesn't have the innovative capacity to take mobile gaming to the next level in the same way iPhone has.
That said, Apple shouldn't be quick to issue the fatality. We're not discounting the Nexus One gaming potential and are eager to see how it evolves in the face of competition.