Samsung makes its presence felt
One great feature is that the lock switch has moved to within easy reach of your index finger on the side of the phone. That might not seem like much, but for people who are constantly looking at their mobile, it's a handy change. Those same people might be used to a flashing LED that alerts them of incoming messages on a lot of other Android phones—and they might also be surprised to discover there isn't one here. As an alternative, you can download an app from Android Market to simulate that functionality.
With a slightly curving back, the Nexus S is easy to hold
Samsung's 4'', 480 x 800 pixel Super AMOLED WVGA display is a model of precision and responsiveness. As ever with screens using this technology, it has excellent contrast (with infinitely deep blacks), wide viewing angles and great brightness, but disappointing colour reproduction. In general, a lot of users enjoy the contrast between the jet black handset and flashy colours on the screen, but the fact that the colours in a photo look different on a calibrated computer monitor to how they do on the phone's screen can sometimes be surprising.
Gingerbread: looks better, runs faster
The latest version of Android has had enjoyed a few cosmetic improvements. There's nothing revolutionary here, but the whole thing is easier on the eye, more playful and a little less severe. The touchscreen keyboard has been upgraded, and with wider spacing between the keys and an accurate, responsive screen, text input is almost perfect. The predictive text is as accurate as ever, while copy and paste has also been reworked to make it easier to use.
The new keyboard is easier to use
This new Google flagship sets a new standard in terms of responsiveness: moving from one homescreen to another is incredibly fluid and apps always open quickly. The Nexus S never let us down. Despite having the same 1 GHz Samsung Cortex A8 processor and 512 MB of memory as the Galaxy S (currently running Android 2.2, Froyo), the Nexus S is even faster. That's helped by the fact that the Nexus S is an even simpler handset, with no extra software layer, unlike the Samsung Galaxy S or HTC Desire HD, which both have extra tools running on top of Android that mask their true performance.
In short, adding Gingerbread, the latest version of Android, to the Nexus S, has made it even faster than the Galaxy S. Google wants this new handset to be a flagship for its OS, and is actively targeting application developers and early adaptors, which is why the Nexus S should also be the first to receive future updates. If having the very latest software on your phone matters a lot to you, then this is the Android handset you need, and these updates are what really helps it stand out from the competition. Although it has more internal memory than the Galaxy S (16 GB), it's a real shame that you can't extend it by adding a MicroSD card.
Samsung has included a Near Field Communications (NFC) chip in the Nexus S, which means it can be transformed into a credit card or travel pass in some parts of the word right now and even more in the near future. It's currently only being trialled in the UK, but should be rolled out more broadly soon. The chip allows the handset to communicate wirelessly with nearby devices.
Everything we've already said about the interface is also true of the Nexus S' multimedia apps, so you'll have to get used to the simple, stripped-back style. We're sure some users prefer the extra bells and whistles that HTC and Samsung provide on other phones, but it in purely functional terms, the audio and video players do exactly what they're supposed to, even if the experience on the Nexus S is ultimately less rich. Google's latest phone, for instance, is lacking both an FM radio and support for DLNA networks.
Browsing the web is fast and smooth
Web browsing is excellent: pages load quickly, the zoom is accurate and even scrolling through large site is smooth. Of course, having such a big screen is a great help.
The Nexus doesn't (yet) film in HD, so it captures video at 480p with just about satisfactory results, as long you hold still and don't try to film anything that's moving too fast. There's no native support for DivX or XviD video, something which is available on the Galaxy S. If you have want to watch them, you'll either have to convert them first or try one of the apps available in Android Market.
The great video player is even better on such a big screen
Our audio tests revealed a pleasant surprise: the audio jack is very good (for a phone at least) and the sound it produces is pretty decent. That's something that smartphones manage to get right so rarely that it's worth pointing out. The sound produced by the speakers isn't half bad for a mobile either.
With a 5 Megapixel camera, the Nexus S does a great job of taking photos. There's plenty of detail and colours are reproduced accurately. The photos we took were a little blurrier than those produced by the Galaxy S, and so they captured just a little less detail.
There's a pretty vast choice of options for configuring your photos and making sure you get the perfect shot. The focus isn't the fastest ever and some people will probably be disappointed by the lack of a real shutter release button (you have to use the screen for everything). After a while, though, you get used to it. There's also an LED flash, something that the Galaxy S didn't have, and a front-facing camera for video calls.
Version 2.3 of Android is supposed to improve battery life, and the Nexus S lasted almost two days. That's nothing revolutionary in itself, but is certainly better than most other smartphones, which need recharging every day.
- Accurate, responsive screen is easy to use and has great contrast and brightness
- Runs fast, stable OS
- Lots of Internet features, great camera
- Regular OTA updates to the OS, NFC support and a gyroscope
- Excellent audio quality in voice calls
- Super AMOLED screen struggles to reproduce colours
- Entirely made of plastic
- Media: no support for HD video, no FM tuner, no support for DivX video
- No LED alert for incoming messages
- No microSD port to extend memory beyond 16 GB
The Nexus S is an excellent smartphone that makes the most of the latest version of Android, an update that's sure to be a hit with fans of Google's OS. It might have the most advanced technology or any revolutionary new features, but it did everything we asked almost flawlessly and has a much nicer new interface. It's aimed squarely at tech fans—with deep pockets—who really want the latest version of Android. Anybody else can wait for the new version of the Galaxy S, which could well outpace it.