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Google Nexus: Do we want too much from next-gen phones?

Later today Google will launch the Nexus One, its latest foray into the world of mobile phones. No one is surprised about this; we already know quite a lot about the Nexus One since Google gave its employees a handset just before Christmas. Photos, anecdotal user reviews, videos, patent files and specs gradually trickled out on tech sites around the world, culminating in Engadget’s full exclusive review of the device (pictured). So we reckon we’ve got a good idea of what to expect when we finally get to see it with our own eyes this evening.

As with all major handset launches of the past two years, the Nexus One has been mooted as an iPhone killer. We’re inclined to think it won’t be. From Engadget’s missive, it doesn’t sound as though there’s anything massively groundbreaking about the handset other than it’s a sleeker, better-looking Android device than the Motorola Milestone (nee Droid). Forgive us, but we were hoping for more. If the next phone can’t read my mind or tell me exactly how many people have me in their phone book then I’m going to be disappointed.

Can less be more?

Mobile phone hype is always about being better, shinier, faster, able to do more; but are we asking for too much from new handsets? After all, we already have plenty at our fingertips for the time being. Just ten years ago mobile phones didn’t even have cameras – now there’s talk of being able to shoot HD video on them. As the new millennium dawned, most of us were on dial-up internet in our homes; now we’re 3G-ing all over town.

We certainly wouldn’t want to be without these things now that we rely on them and there’s no doubt that in a few years’ time we’ll look back and wonder how we ever got by without built-in X-ray vision in the dark days of 2010. We could, if we wanted, have the world in our handsets; but there will always be a cost. In the case of mobile phones, tablets and even e-readers and netbooks, we worry that it’s our minds.

Psychologist Yair Amichai-Hamburger suggests that people today experience more depression than previous generations because of technology. He wrote in the New Scientist recently:

“For many of us it is becoming increasingly difficult to control the impulse to check our inbox yet again or see whether the headlines have changed since we last looked. Our children are in a similar position, scared to miss a vital Tweet or status update on Facebook. In many homes, the computer has become the centre of attention; it is the medium through which we work and play.”

Sound familiar? These are all the things we can now do on our mobile phones from wherever we happen to be. So while we’re watching TV, we’re also checking our email. While we’re waiting for a friend in a cafe, we’re Tweeting. If this technology was already having a negative impact when it was only available at home, the effect must surely be worsened now that it is everywhere we go.

We need to remember to switch off too. Whatever happened to just sitting and having a good think? Daydreaming allows us to come up with ideas and make connections we may never have made; Einstein was known for his daydreaming tendencies and he came up with some pretty good stuff.

So while we can’t help but lust after whatever magical functionality the next handset will have, maybe it’s not such a bad thing that the Nexus One doesn’t have an X-ray function built-in or the ability to write your thank you cards for you. Less can be more. After all, this is a technology still in its infancy – who knows what the long term effects will be? If the radiation doesn’t turn our brains to mush, maybe the apps will.