Photo: Dan Frommer, The Business Insider
Google is giving it another go with a new Android-powered Nexus phone after the first attempt with the Nexus One bombed earlier this year.This time Google teamed up with Samsung to design the Nexus S, the first phone to run Android 2.3, Gingerbread.
Although the changes from the previous version of Android are subtle, there’s no doubt that Gingerbread is the best yet.
Unfortunately, it’s not running on the best hardware for an Android phone out there.
For that reason alone, it’s hard to get overly excited about the Nexus S.
However, using Android without the extra crapware carriers and manufacturers insert is a real treat.
Here’s our take on the phone after playing with it for a few days:
- Gingerbread’s design is smooth and easy to navigate. There are five screens to store your commonly-used apps, widgets, and shortcuts. We also enjoyed the new design of the full app library. By swiping your finger, the icons scroll vertically and fall over an invisible edge as if they were riding along a conveyor belt.
- Typing was good, but not great. The space bar felt small, and are texts were littered with accidental punctuation marks. The updated voice-to-text feature worked surprisingly well. It was very accurate and took less time than typing out a message by hand.
- We loved the ability to turn the Nexus S into a wifi hotspot. It switches on with one tap and we clocked speeds at just under 2 Mbps running on T-Mobile’s 3G network. Not bad if you’re just web browsing or checking your e-mail. And your carrier won’t charge you extra for using the feature either.
- The benefits of Android’s compatibility with Google Apps is great. When you boot up the phone for the first time you’re prompted to enter your Google Account information. All your contacts, calendars, e-mail, and Google Voice settings are immediately synced and ready to go.
- We loved the screen. It’s a gorgeous four-inch Super AMOLED display that’s very responsive to touch. It’s no Retina Display, but the extra real estate does make us wish the iPhone 4 had a larger screen.
- It really offers nothing new from a hardware perspective.The Nexus S is essentially the same phone as Samsung’s line of Galaxy S Android phones that are found on every major carrier. There are plenty of Android phones out there with 1GHz processors, front-facing cameras, and OLED displays. It holds up to what’s out there now, but there’s no innovation here.
- The camera is laughable by today’s standards for premium smartphones. There’s no HD video recording, the flash is weak, and there’s no digital zoom. Samsung included front-facing camera too, but without a built-in chat feature like Apple’s FaceTime, you’re forced to rely on apps in the Android Market. We tried using Fring, but couldn’t get it to recognise the phone’s camera.
- The phone feels cheap, fragile, and hollow. There’s also a tiny crevice where the plastic casing and screen meet that’s a magnet for pocket lint and other grime. Very disappointing. But at least it’s light.
- We were very impressed with the battery life. We were able to keep it going for almost two days of normal use before it needed a charge. However, it’s Android’s nature to keep apps running in the background eating memory and power, so we used a task manager to kill unnecessary apps.
The biggest advancement in this version of Android is compatibility with near field communication (NFC) chips that let your phone communicate with other devices close by. The possibilities for NFC chips are endless: Tie it to your bank account and use your phone to make payments. Send contact information to other nearby phones. Set alerts for sales when you walk by a certain item in a store.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing like this available right now, which makes the NFC chip in the Nexus S nothing more than a battery drain. (We suggest turning it off under settings until the time comes when you’ll actually need it).
The Nexus S is available at Best Buy for $199.99 with a two-year contract from T-Mobile. You can also buy it unlocked for $529.99 and use it with any GSM carrier. Unfortunately, that limits you to networks like AT&T’s pokey EDGE service. But it is a good choice for international travellers who want to slip in a pay-as-you-go SIM card while abroad.
So should you buy it?
If you’re already a T-Mobile subscriber or want to switch, definitely. Despite the fact that the hardware is nothing new, it’s still the best Android experience available right now. The unlocked feature is nice, but with the lack of carrier support in the U.S., it’s probably not worth the $500+ price tag. And chances are the hardware will be out shined by the next wave of Android phones in 2011.
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