The Google Nexus S Android phone is cutting it mighty fine for a 2010 launch, with deliveries only promised by the end of December. You can pre-order right now though, and we’ll be honest, you really, really should. Read on for our Google Nexus S review and find out why it’s the best Android phone ever.
It was clear to see when Samsung released the Samsung Galaxy S that it was bordering on greatness. That huge Android phone with a stunning Super AMOLED screen had all the hardware to be phone of the year: but the company’s (Decent) software skin over the top inevitably meant the phone would be some way off the cutting edge when it came to running the latest version of Android. Even now it’s on 2.2 rather than 2.3. So well done Samsung for teaming up with Google, to keep its fine hardware on the very cusp of the bleeding edge.
From the back, the Google Nexus S is barely any different from the Samsung Galaxy S, bar the LED flash on the camera, right down to the hump at the bottom. Samsung’s cheap “Piano black” look from its Omnia Windows Mobile days is still very much on show, but this phone is so thin (10.8mm at its thickest point), it’s hard to begrudge it, especially when all the prerequisite ports have been placed so subtly. 3.5mm audio and a micro USB charging slot can be found on the bottom, while the lock button sits on the right hand side, and the volume rocker opposite it on the left.
Flipping it round, the first thing that struck us is the buttons are in an order we’re really not used to, with the back key on the left and the home icon on the far right. You get the feel for of quickly though, and they’re always responsive, unlike the buttons on the Nexus One. We also love how they black out with the screen – more so than the gimmicky cathode ray tube wipe when you lock the phone’s screen.
The front face is almost all black (save the front facing camera), and curved like the US version of the Galaxy S, the Samsung Fascinate. It’s very sleek, and it’s hard not to love. Sitting on a tabletop, it looks like a cross section of obsidian stone. The only thing missing is an LED for message alerts, which we would have preferred to a noise every single time we want to know when an email has landed.
Physically, the phone is very durable – we know because we accidentally dropped it on the concrete, and it survived without a scratch, much to our relief. We highly doubt an iPhone 4 or HTC Desire HD would have survived the same trip unscathed.
Of course, you only notice the biggest change when you turn on the Google Nexus S’ screen.
The Google Nexus S uses a 4-inch, WVGA Super AMOLED screen, just like the Galaxy S and Samsung Omnia 7, and it’s still first in class. For more on its positively unfair colour, broad viewing angles and excellent response, check out our first look in our Samsung Galaxy S review: Super AMOLED screen analysis.
What’s new is that said screen on the Google Nexus S is actually curved. No, seriously. Look it from the side and you’ll see it’s ever so slightly concave, dipping down slightly in the middle to supposedly match the contours of your face. Perhaps our jawbone is just too damn chiselled, but we didn’t notice any difference when making calls, but it certainly looks great. If the iPhone 4 is all hard lines and Dieter Rams functionality, the Google Nexus S looks like a Palm Pre when it’s just got out of the shower and hasn’t had a chance to put its keyboard on yet. We love the curves, and we think you will too.
The Google Nexus S is the first phone to run the latest version of Android, 2.3 Gingerbread, and it does so without any manufacturer’s software overlay marring the experience and delaying future updates. This is A Good Thing. This is the new reference phone, the one that (for a while at least) will get Google updates delivered to it first. And Honeycomb looks like it could be a big one, so that’s great news.
In truth, Android 2.3 is only a modest upgrade, so Froyo Android phone owners can breathe easy. For now. Google iterates Android often, and frankly, only HTC is improving upon it and worth waiting around for. Motorola, LG and Sony Ericsson have consistently ruined phones with their software skins, so the future proofing option alone is reason enough to go with the Google Nexus S.
The big changes in Android 2.3 visible to the user are a revamped UI, and some new apps and features which can’t really be used just yet. The new look green and black notification bar, which ditches the dropshow for a 2D vibe, is much nicer to look at, and reminds us of the latest dashboard update for the Xbox 360, oddly.
Dig a bit deeper and another welcome change has been included: a more fleshed out task manager. It’s a longstanding myth about Android that task manager apps improve battery life – they don’t, unless they’re being used to kill specific, badly coded apps. Now, you can see what those are, and kill them. So, everybody can stop using this virtual snake oil now.
There are also some new features, like integrated internet SIP calling in Contacts, and NFC support for wireless purchasing and data transfer. We weren’t able to test these unfortunately, but we can see both becoming increasingly useful as time goes on. Transport for London, when can we use our Google Nexus S as a travelcard?
It’s worth noting that we did have one odd crash while testing the Google Nexus S: signal simply vanished for an hour at one point. We had another phone on the same network right next to it with full bars, and it returned once we restarted the Nexus S
Under the bonnet, other changes include better support for games developers, and support for new video codecs such as WebM. But really, the big deal is that Android 2.3 is pristine and untarnished. This is what Google intended, at the fasts speed possible. Apps will run on this. It’s peace of mind you’re buying into here. Unless of course, you don’t like Android: Google’s UI changes are only evolutionary, and it still feels muddled compared to iOS. But hey, you get better notifications, so!
Great news! The stock Android keyboard isn’t rubbish anymore. Previously one of Android’s biggest failings and certainly the worst aspect of the Nexus One, you can now actually pick up a snappy pace on it in both portrait and landscape. There isn’t quite the sense of space that the Samsung Omnia 7, which sports the same screen, provides, and it’s still not as nippy as Motoblur’s on screen QWERTY but with the excellent autocorrect, proper punctuation is still swift. There’s no optical trackpad but the new cursor drag is accurate and we found we didn’t need it very much. The long press to activate cut and paste is still too unhelpfully long.
We’re sorry to say that the Google Nexus S’s most disappointing aspect is its camera. The five megapixel camera takes unspectacular, washy images without any of the clarity we were hoping for. Even more surprisingly, you’re restricted to VGA video recording – that’s right, no 720p HD for you. Oh, and notifications aren’t automatically silenced while recording, as you can hear in the clip below.
Considering the Samsung Galaxy S shoots stunning HD video, we’re left a bit baffled by this, and can only hope this will be amended in the next update.
The hardware under the bonnet is blindingly fast: a 1GHz CPU and untampered Android result in an incredibly speedy experience. Oddly, the browser in Android 2.3 doesn’t seem to have been fully optimised, and pinch to zoom doesn’t look entirely fluid (though is always fast). This is the only real visible chink in the armour.
The only other issue we could raise is that the amount of RAM (512MB) is less than that on the HTC Desire HD. You’d really struggle to notice this though, as we never managed to slow it down no matter how many apps we had suspended in one time.
Call quality on the Google Nexus S was superb, and the speakerphone is too, provided you don’t cover the grill on the top left with your finger by accident. Much more of a relief however is that the battery life is reasonable too.
Unlike the HTC Desire HD, we haven’t struggled to get through a day with the Google Nexus S on full blast, account syncing, dabbling on WiFi and GPS now and again, and playing lots and lots of Angry Birds Seasons. The 1,500mAh battery still doesn’t give the runtime of a Dell Streak, but it will be more than enough 29 days out of 30 each month. On a day of heavy use, non-stop, we managed to drain the battery after 12 hours of use, where a HTC Desire would last eight or nine.
For those concerned about GPS issues, Samsung appears to have ironed these out once and for all. On the route across central London we know the Samsung Galaxy S dropped signal on, the Google Nexus S held its location and data all the way.
Finally, a word about the internal storage. There’s 16GB of space to stuff with songs, videos and photos, but no microSD slot. There’s also 1GB of space for apps, up from a paltry 200MB on the Google Nexus One.
The Google Nexus One was a great phone, flawed by limited app storage, dodgy physical buttons and a native Android keyboard that lagged behind the competition. The Google Nexus S has none of those problems: its hardware is top notch, it’s seriously futureproofed, and with Best Buy and Carphone Warehouse backing it in the UK, looks like it has a much more viable business model than Google’s last attempt.
In short: The Google Nexus S is the best Android phone yet, by some considerable distance. Rip up or revise your Christmas list right now.
The Google Nexus S has made our Top 5 lists of essential smartphones, Android phones and Samsung phones, as well as best gadgets of 2010, which is why we’ve given it our Recommended rosette. Check out more Top 5s here and find out more about how they work with our Top 5 guarantee.
We got our readers to test out the Google Nexus S. See what Electricpig fans think of it in our reader inquisition!