The Google Nexus S is the first Google-branded phone manufactured by device giant Samsung. Running on Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread out of the box and easily upgradeable to 2.3.4 in most countries, the 4 inch Nexus S has seen its fair share of popularity due to its unique outward design, solid specs and penchant for seeing Android updates ahead of the competition.
Samsung has taken a new approach to external design with the Google Nexus S, introducing a unique, convexly curved screen to the equation that makes the Nexus S more comfortable to hold against the face. The curved design, coupled with the sleek angles and large screen give the device a certain quality of style not seen in much of the smartphone market.
Available in both black and white the case for the Nexus S has a glossy plastic finish which does detract from the end result somewhat, but not enough to really damage the handset’s visual appeal. Although we can see that scratches would be more readily visible on this kind of surface we still think the Nexus S will stay classy over the full length of a 24 month contract as long as it’s not too badly mistreated.
Of course there are the normal physical buttons: power/lock and the volume rocker. Both these keys are easy to press but not so much so that they are easily activated when in the pocket. The now standard capacitive Android buttons can be found below the screen in order or Back, Menu, Search and Home (from left to right).
Getting Started with the Google Nexus S
Setup is simple and standard with the Nexus S. A few short prompts are given and once you’ve either synced or created your Google account you’re on your way. As always it’s a good idea to plug the handset in to a computer straight away in case there are any updates, but ours automatically updated from 2.3.3 to 2.3.4 automatically over the air so you mightn’t need to depending on your carrier.
The Google Nexus S, although designed and manufactured by Samsung, comes running the base Android user interface (UI). There’s no fancy skins to slow down performance and everything has a very crisp and snappy feel to it. The Home menu has 5 different screens to fill with icons or widgets that we did find was a teeny bit jerky at first. However, it was nothing major and we found that performance was improved when we turned off the native live wallpaper and opted for a still image instead. It also improved battery life, which was already sufficient to last more than a day with medium-to-heavy use.
The Android 2.3 Gingerbread UI not only adds speed and battery efficiency, but also sports a few cute UI changes. Most notably are two examples found in the menus and one found when locking the device. The first is in the applications section, which now appears to roll off the top and bottom of the screen 3 dimensionally. This effect doesn’t really add any functionality, but we still found it to be a welcome addition to the familiar Android UI.
The second addition is a small orange flash that appears whenever the end of a scrolling menu list is reached. Once again it’s nothing major, but does still add an element of polish to the experience.
The third is a quick visualisation that happens whenever the screen is locked. Instead of turning straight off the screen minimises in to a horizontal white line before condensing in to a dot and disappearing, much like one would find on an old television set. It’s a cute little addition and once again helped give the impression of a fully finished device, rather than a hastily assembled one.
Speed, Apps and Browsing
For its price range, the Google Nexus S sports some impressive hardware. The 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM provide a smooth and generally pain-free interfacing experience with both the native Android 2.3.3 and 2.3.4 Gingerbread operating system (OS) versions.
App support is, of course, fantastic on the Android platform. There are literally hundreds of thousands of apps to choose from, many of which are free due to Android’s tendency to opt for in-app advertising, rather than one-time payments. We had a little fun and filled one of our home screen with Google-made apps and found them all to work extremely well with the Nexus S.
The web browser is also pretty efficient. It’s not the fastest browsing experience we’ve had on a standard 3G network but it’s definitely close. We often found that we received a full 3 or 4 bars of 3G connectivity in areas where some of our other devices received little to no wireless support at all. There’s also the added bonus of Flash support on the Android platform. Flash support does cause the browser to move a little slowly when loading Flash intensive pages, but we’ve found the positives far outweigh the negatives on most Android devices.
Camera and Multimedia Playback
The Google Nexus S sports a reliable 5MP camera with LED flash. While pictures don’t turn out quite as clear as on the Apple iPhone 4’s camera of the same MP rating, the Nexus S still churns out images of high quality. The camera does have a bit of trouble with fast movement, especially in low light and the LED flash can definitely be a little over-zealous at times. But overall we were happy with what the Nexus S had to offer in terms of image-capture.
Video filming was much the same. Videos came out pretty well but once again had a bit of trouble with fast movement, especially if the device itself is doing the movement. Night-time recordings are probably best avoided but daytime video came out fine.
As far as video playback goes the 4 inch, 480 x 800 Super AMOLED display offered clear images and vibrant colours. Blacks came out nice and stark and there wasn’t any noticeable bleeding or dodgy pixilation.
The same could be said for the music player, which we found to be quite intuitive. Partially because many Android devices use this standard Google media player and partially because of its simple layout and design.
Email and Messaging With the Google Nexus S
Syncing an email account with the Nexus S was just as easy as on other Android devices we’ve used. The first time the email client is opened the user is prompted to sync an account and away they go.
For both messaging and emails the virtual keyboard makes things simple. Sporting the standard Android keyboard, rather than a skinned version, speeds up tactile response and the 4 inch screen allows for a comfortable spread of keys across the display. We found that we rarely had to slow down while typing.