The Google Nexus S is one of the most anticipated handset launches of 2010, and we managed to get our hands on one of these Samsung-made superphones to put it and its new Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS through its paces. But, before we give the handset the flogging of its life, we figured we’d unbox the device and show you what makes this thing tick. From hardware to software, the Nexus S is a great Android smartphone, to be sure, but it lacks the same game-changing panache that the Nexus One brought to the table. Keep reading for our initial hands-on impressions of the hardware and software.
First, the hardware. The Nexus S is every bit the high-end Android phone that we expected it to be. It rocks a 4-inch Super AMOLED display – the same display that you’ll find in the Galaxy S smartphones from Samsung. It also uses the same 1GHz Hummingbird processor and 5-megapixel camera (with LED flash) that you’ll find in the Galaxy S lineup. And, with support for T-Mobile’s 3G network, GPS, and WiFi (B/G/N), there’s no doubt that the Nexus S is one capable handset. The device is slim, the design is sexy, and the display is beautiful. But, because the Nexus S is so similar in design to the Galaxy S, we can’t help but feel a little disappointed.
To be clear, the Galaxy S is a solid device. It feels good in the hand and boasts top-of-the-line features that are sure to impress. That said, Samsung used a lot of plastic in the industrial design of the Galaxy S, which some might say gives the handset a somewhat “cheap” feel. Unfortunately, that same sentiment could be applied to Nexus S. Whereas the first Nexus One set a new gold standard in Android phone design — what with its bleeding-edge specs and aluminum unibody construction — the Nexus S delivers a user experience that is slightly above par with other Android superphones of today. In other words, the Nexus S hardware is good, heck it’s great, but we really did expect more from Google and Samsung.
There’s no dedicated camera shutter button, which could be a deal breaker for some. There’s also no microSD card slot, which is likely to be a deal breaker for many. Without an external storage option, the Nexus S is limited to its 16GB of onboard storage. It’s likely that Google and Samsung decided to limit the storage options on the Nexus S as part of their plan to push the upcoming Google streaming music service, but we still miss the microSD card slot – there’s nothing like having the ability to transfer your entire music collection from phone to phone via memory card.
The software, though, is where the Nexus S shines. As the first handset to rock the new Android 2.3 Gingerbread OS, there’s no other Android phone on market that can compete with this bad boy. Gingerbread includes support for NFC features, like Google’s HotPot service. It includes a new file download manager that lets you organize and manage all the files you might have downloaded from the web (podcasts, PDFs, documents, etc.). You also get a refreshed camera app. And, with a bunch of other slight UI tweaks, the Nexus S is as good as it gets as far as Android OS is concerned.
But, it’s not all roses and rainbows. We expected Android Gingerbread to bring a significant design refresh to the table. Turns out, Gingerbread offers very little in the way of UI updates. Some icon colors have changed here and there, some apps (YouTube) have undergone changes, there are kinetic scrolling changes, and you get an updated keyboard. Aside from that, though, Gingerbread is not much different from Froyo. In fact, we’d say Froyo was a more impressive update to the Android platform, seeing as how it introduced some serious performance upgrades over previous Android versions.
One of the coolest features of Android Gingerbread is the integrated support for NFC. Simply enable NFC in the settings menu and bring the Nexus S within a few inches of a Google NFC sticker (like the kind you’ll see in the videos below), and the handset automatically reads the data embedded in the NFC sticker and prompts you to view that data. The possibilities with this tech are endless. And, once Samsung enables full two-way NFC communication (send and receive), the Nexus S will be the Android phone to beat.
In the end, the Nexus S has all the makings of a great phone. We still can’t help but feel a little disappointed that Google and Samsung — we include Google because they keep pushing the fact that they worked closely with Samsung at every step of the industrial design of the handset — decided to basically stuff an NFC chip and Android 2.3 Gingerbread into a Galaxy S variant. The Nexus One revolutionized Android phones, and while it may not be fair to expect the Nexus S to be just as revolutionary, we feel cheated that it isn’t any more exciting than the NFC feature and the new Android OS version.
A full review will follow shortly. In the meanwhile, enjoy the hands-on image gallery and videos below!