Slick and polished, but not quite perfect
The Google Nexus S (or Samsung Nexus S) is the first handset touting Android Gingerbread or 2.3. It’s not really a radical update, instead a refinement of what we saw in the last Google phone, the Nexus One and the Samsung Galaxy S. What makes it different from the first Google Nexus One is that instead of having to buy it through Google, it will soon be available from Carphone Warehouse.
With curved edges and black front with a screen you can barely see, the Google Nexus S is a gorgeous phone. It sports what’s called a ‘Contour Display,’ where the glass is curved slightly to fit the contours of your face, but it’s barely noticeable. It’s certainly not dramatically different to other smartphones.
Pick up the phone and the build is disappointing, it just feels very plasticky - far more so than the similarly priced HTC Desire HD and Apple iPhone 4. External body controls include dedicated volume buttons, power on, micro USB and a 3.5mm jack. There’s no card slot, just 16GB internal memory, unlike the Google Nexus One. Unfortunately it seems Google are following Microsoft’s lead with its Windows 7 handsets like the LG Optimus 7 and omitting microSD slots.
Google Nexus S: Android Gingerbread 2.3 interface
Boot up takes around 20 seconds, where you’re faced with the vanilla Android screen. However, this is Android 'Gingerbread' 2.3 and Google’s added some welcome tweaks. The icons themselves look crisper and cleaner, with a different coloured status bar.
On the main menu options appear almost as a 3D conveyer belt, with options that aren’t on the screen visible disappearing off into the distance at the top and bottom of the list. When you hit the Lock button the screen disappears with a flash like turning off an old TV. In short it feels more polished.
Along with touch-sensitive Back, Menu, Search and Home Android controls along the bottom, which respond well, static Phone, Menu and Browser icons remain at the bottom as you scroll through five homescreens.
Useful shortcuts include hitting the Menu icon to view thumbnails of each homescreen (a bit like Helicopter view on the HTC Desire).
However, while we applaud the interface, it’s still very much plain Android. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but we like the contact and social networking of a skin like HTC Sense on the HTD Desire HD.
Google Nexus S: The screen
At 4-inches with a resolution of 800x480 and 235ppi the screen is exceptionally bright and sharp, it manages to feel generous, without being oversized like the HTC Desire HD. Like the Samsung Galaxy S, is uses AMOLED technology, which provides excellent contrast ratio and a reasonable viewing off-axis.
The screen is made for HD movie clips, which look fantastic. Blacks in particular are very deep - you can barely see where the screen ends and the edge of the phone begins, whites are good, if not quite as pure as the iPhone 4‘s.
The screen is supposed to have less 75% glare than other screens, ideally you need a bright sunny day to test this properly, but on a sunny-ish day it is certainly bright and clear enough, without reflection issues.
Equipped with a 1Ghz Hummmingbird processor and 512MB RAM the Nexus S never feels sluggish and you can swap quickly between programs. There’s also a dedicated GPU chip, which meant no sluggishness while streaming high definition, and standard definition content from You Tube.
Flash support means you can play back videos, using we had no issues with video stopping and starting, although quality isn’t fantastic.
When navigating video and picture rich websites like T3.com, pinch to zoom sometimes was a bit sluggish and double tapping to realign words didn’t always work, however we didn’t encounter these issues with the majority of websites we used.
Google Nexus S: Keyboard
One of the highlights of the Nexus S is the keyboard. There’s more space between the keys and multitouch support means you can quickly swap between the numeric and alphanumeric keyboards, tap ’?123‘ button then press the button, then press it again to return. It just makes typing more fluid.
Text suggestion is far more intelligent, recognising more words and also remembering frequently used words.
Whether you are on a web page or email, hold your finger on a word and it selects it automatically, with ends you can adjust to select more words. Tap again to copy a word, which you can then paste into another application.
Google Nexus S: Multimedia
Still images taken with the 5-megapixel camera are good without being fantastic. The photo interface has been vastly improved, you can adjust the majority of features - such as exposure compensation, scene modes, white balance and front/back camera - without leaving the screen, simply by tapping the icons.
Exposures are pretty accurate, especially on a bright day, although skin tones can be a little pale. The flash is fairly good, easily illuminating a dim/very dark room.Unfortunately the shutter isn’t lightning quick, with a split-second pause when you press it. Unfortunately there isn’t a dedicated button here like on the Windows 7 handsets, which means you need to hold it very carefully to avoid camera shake. There’s also a secondary VGA camera.
We’re disappointed with the 720x480 video, which isn’t great, it exhibits lots of blocking and isn’t very sharp. It’s no match for the 1280x720p offered by the iPhone 4, Samsung Wave or HTC Desire HD.
The music player has a simple, but effective Android interface, with customisable playlists. Sound quality is adequate via a pair of Audio Technica headphones although it’s a shame there’s no EQ adjustment, although the volume control still works when the phone is in Hold position.
The Nexus S will have Google Maps 5.0, which adds 3D mapping, scroll in close to a city and you can see the buildings in 3D, using gestures to move around, although unfortunately our review sample only had 4.7.
Google Nexus S: New features
One of the most exciting features of the Nexus S is the NFC chip. NFC stands for Near Field Communication and is a method of transmitting and receiving data over short distances. Hold the phone up to an item like a poster or T-shirt and it can read website information etc.
It can also be used as a method of making payment, so in the future you will be able to hold your phone over the reader (like an Oyster card) to buy goods. Despite being big in Japan, this technology has not made it to the UK yet.
The Nexus S can also make web calls for a SIP accounts.
Gaming gets a welcome boost too, with the three-axis gyroscope. As we mentioned in our hands-on review the only two games we were able to try were simple demos (see the hands on video for more details) hopefully more games will be available to test this soon.
Google Nexus S: Conclusion
There’s no doubt that the Google Nexus S is one of the better Android handsets currently (or soon to be) on the market. The design is sleek and stylish, the screen is one of the best we’ve seen and it feels quick and powerful. Google’s made some great tweaks to the interface and the keyboard makes for a more fluid typing experience. Battery life on our test model was also pretty impressive, easily pushing on into a second day's use, something that other smartphone makers should take note of.
However, it’s not perfect. For starters, it’s expensive - £549 sim free? Ouch. And the interface, while slicker and smoother to navigate is crying out for improved social networking integration (although granted this isn’t something that everyone will care about). We think a microSD slot should be a given, as should a full HD movie mode - something we expect from Samsung handsets.
After using the Google Nexus S, you get the impression that the best is yet to come, when more games are available and we get a chance to try the NFC chip. Until then, this gets a very worthy 4 stars.
Google Nexus S release date: December 20th from Carphone Warehouse
Google Nexus S price: £549 sim free or free on £35 a month contract
Google Nexus S Specification:
- OS: Android 2.3 Gingerbread
- Storage: 16Gb int
- Screen: 4-inch WVGA 480x800 Super AMOLED
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 2.1, 7.2Mpbs HSDPA, 3.5mm jack, N WiFi, NFC, A-GPS
- Camera: 5MP/front 640x480
- Video: 720x480
- 6.7 hours 3G
- Dimensions: 63x124x11mm
- Weight: 129g