Nexus One vs. iPhone 3GS: Which Phone Is the Better Video Device?

Google’s (s goog) Nexus One has been making lots of headlines this week, but one aspect that has been largely overlooked so far is how the phone performs as a video camera. We decided to find out and let the Nexus One compete against the iPhone 3GS side by side.

This shoot-out is especially interesting because Google’s Android OS has been supporting video capture even before the iPhone did. The company enabled video-recording functionality with the Android 1.5 update it rolled out last May. However, initial results didn’t really impress, as the HTC G1 was seriously hampered by its mediocre camera. So how did the Nexus One stack up?

The G1 only recorded video at a resolution of 352×288 pixels and with a frame rate of 12fps to 19fps, depending on the recording situation. The Nexus One, on the other hand, captures video at 720×480 pixels at 20fps or higher, according to specs provided by Google. That’s better than the iPhone 3GS, which only records with a resolution of 640×480 pixels, albeit with up to 30fps, according to Apple (s aapl). But enough of those specs — let’s see some video.

Here’s a scene shot right outside our office in downtown San Francisco, with lots of moving objects.  First, the Nexus One:


And now the iPhone:


As you can see, both phones do reasonably well. However, watching the video in full-screen mode clearly reveals notable and distracting artifacts, while the Nexus One video still seems crisp enough to be acceptable. Verdict: This one goes to the Nexus One.

Things are a little different once you challenge the Nexus One with low light conditions. I shot this clip in our elevator:


Here’s the same clip shot with the iPhone 3GS:


The Nexus One has some issues adjusting to changing light conditions. It was OK filming the inside of the elevator at first, but adding some daylight for a second seriously screwed up its white balance, resulting in a dark and yellow-ish recording. The iPhone 3GS, on the other hand, has no issues with quickly adjusting to changing conditions, even though one could make the case the overall recording may be a little on the pale side. Still, the iPhone wins this one hands-down.

A few words about the user experience: Recording video virtually works the same on both phones, even though you might have noticed that I had some difficulties stopping the recording on the Nexus One at times. Google’s new phone does shine when it comes to uploading media to YouTube, automatically adding title and tags to the clip. The iPhone, however, was yelling at me for not adding a description or tags before I pressed the upload button. I’d give this one to the Nexus One if I hadn’t run into trouble actually uploading one of the clips, which seemed to abort every time.

The final verdict: The Nexus One is far from perfect, but it’s a pretty good video-capturing device if you learn to deal with its shortcomings, like the unreliable white balance. Overall, it’s at least en par with what the iPhone has to offer in this area, and at times actually excells Apple’s phone with better picture quality.