• Full Review
  • Specifications

Full Review

When Google launches a new handset it's quite an event. The first Google phone, the Nexus One, despite being a really decent phone, never really made an impact because it could only be bought direct from Google, so lacked mass-market exposure. It left the HTC Desire to sneak ahead of it and become a big success - in fact the Desire looked rather like the Nexus One (they are both made by HTC).

First impressions

This time around, Google has got Samsung to make its new handset, the Nexus S. In fact, it makes more than a passing nod to the Samsung Galaxy, with its glossy plastic case, which replaces the metallic sleeve that graced the Nexus One.

It's a more brash, in-your-face sort of handset, having inherited some of the styling from Galaxy S, which won plaudits as the best-looking Android phone ever made. While the iPhone is flat and features sharp edges, the Nexus S is smooth, rounded and curvaceous - it has a rather odd-looking bump, which may not be attractive but definitely makes it easy to hold in the hand. And because its chassis is made from plastic rather than metal, it's a real lightweight to hold.

The Nexus One measures up well - it's a little larger than an iPhone 4 but has a bigger, 4-inch screen (compared with the iPhone's 3.5-inch display) because it takes up more of the front of the handset. (note that the Retina Display on the iPhone has a higher resolution). Besides, the Nexus S is far easier to slip into a pocket than the HTC Desire HD, which has a 4.3-inch display.

The display is an AMOLED screen, so is really bright with fantastic vivid colours that really do justice to the live wallpapers that Android is well known for. The latest incarnation of Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) also has an extra animated background entitled Microbes. It doesn't matter which wallpaper you choose though, they're all certain to catch the eye.

Back to basics

You're not seeing things - there are no buttons on the front of the handset. You'll find the four Android icons for Search, Home, Back and Menus in the same order as they were on the Nexus One, but because they're backlit, they blink in and out of view; you won't see them when the phone is off. Despite the fact it has no buttons, the front of the handset isn't completely flat.

The display is actually concave, which Google tells us is so that it fits against your face when you make a call. We didn't think it made a lot of difference but it is a neat idea. And you may be able to avoid too many scratches if you put the handset down face first.

In fact, it's not just the front of the phone where buttons are scarce - you'll find a power/wake button on the right and a volume rocker on the left side. We might be a bit traditionalist, but we rather like the power button on the top of a device rather than three-quarters down the side where it's easy to knock with your finger. We also think the top is the best place for the headphone jack, but no, the 3.5mm audio jack is on the bottom of the device. It's also made up of a separate piece of plastic, rather than being a part of the chassis, which we're not that keen on.

Once you turn the handset on using the power button, you'll see a familiar screen - it's the same as the last version of the OS. Here you can swipe left to switch in and out of vibrate mode or swipe right to unlock the phone. When you have unlocked it, the main screen looks rather like that on Froyo, the last version of Android.

The only real difference is that the shortcut trays on each page (which takes you to Browser, Phone and Applications), and which shows Wi-Fi status and signal strength, now have a little colour on them. You'll also see the notification bar has changed to a very attractive black (apparently this saves more energy when using an AMOLED screen).

You may also notice that the Power Control widget has had a revamp. This is the widget that allows you to toggle GPS, synchronisation, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off. It is also used to alter the brightness of the display. The bar is the same size as before, but the icons have been changed slightly.

Android Gingerbread

While the likes of HTC, Samsung and Motorola have all played about with the basic Android spec, adding their own UI to improve icons, change navigation and so on, Google has left this as a pure, vanilla Gingerbread - sounds delicious.

And it looks pretty good too, although HTC has nothing to worry about. Where it offer users a choice of a dozen clocks for the home screen, Nexus S owners have only one - mind you they can just head to Android Market and download any one of more than 800 clocks on offer.

But there is one little treat that really distinguishes Gingerbread and makes it a completely cool OS. It may be just eye candy, but it's fantastic! Turn off the display, or leave it to time out, and instead of just turning out the lights you can enjoy a very short animation that snaps the display into a white line across the middle before disappearing - just like an old-fashioned TV. It may be a small thing but it is still spectacular.

The keyboard has also had an update in Gingerbread. You'll find keys have more space between them and predictive typing has also been improved. Also, tap a letter in the top row and you can swipe up to get to the number you need - a nifty addition.

The copy and paste function is also better - there are easy-to-move cursors, which are positioned at each end of the text you need highlighting. It wasn't a bad system in the old version - and remember that WP7 is still awaiting its copy and paste facility. While we really like what HTC has done to the Android OS with its own skin, we have to say that this is the first vanilla version of Android that really has impressed us.

Speed and memory

The Nexus S makes the most of the new OS. It has a speedy 1GHz Hummingbird chip under the bonnet and Gingerbread presents it with no problems, so the Nexus speeds along quite happily. You can also now access power management from the home screen menu, so you can check if a cheeky app or two is draining all your energy.

While the Nexus S impressed, it did have a few strange features. Storage for instance. There is 16GB of on-board memory, which is plenty, but it is lacking a microSD card slot. So if you pile on video and music, you'll have to start clearing off your media before you can add anything else. We must say that while the iPhone doesn't have any removable storage, this has always been where Android phones have stolen a march on it. And it's probably only a few phone users who do ever switch memory cards or even own a spare card.

But it seems strange that it is missing when it featured on earlier Android handsets. What are they planning next? To introduce sealed battery units like those on the Nokia N8 or iPhone? The other concern with this lack of card slot is that there is no 32GB version of the phone, if you are a big collector of music or video.

Snap-happy

The snapper is good enough - it's a five-megapixel camera with a flash, which is quite unusual for an Android phone. More notable is the front-facing VGA camera. There are plenty of opportunities to alter images, from white balance, storing GPS location and opting for scene modes such as Candlelight and Party, as well as image resolution and some special effects - we like the sepia one. And here we come to another odd omission. While you can shoot video, there's no HV video option - which is pretty much standard across phones of this type nowadays.

Android 2.3 features

Another big addition is NFC - that's Near Field Communication. This is the kind of contactless technology that is used on Oyster cards on the London Underground. In the future you may well be able to use your phone to take you on the Tube, or to get into your office, or make payments, but not yet. The technology is so new at the moment that there are limited opportunities to actually use it.

Gingerbread also ups its game when it comes to internet tethering: you can use your Nexus S as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot and up to six people can connect to the net through your 3G connection. Plus internet calling is built in, which makes it simpler to use the Skype app, for instance.

Battery life is impressive - it's stronger than on the Desire for example. But remember, any smartphone with a large display is going to chew up that battery power. The new OS is definitely a move in the right direction, but it's not a very big move. And while the phone itself is a step up from the Samsung Galaxy S, the improvements are not monumental. However, if you don't need the extra display space offered by the HTC desire HD, there is little out there to match this Android phone.

The verdict

The Nexus S is definitely the most advanced and best-looking Android phone to date, even taking into consideration the lack of HD video and removable storage. And it has the latest version of Android, which works well on the handset.

But bear in mind that other phones will also have the Gingerbread update soon, so unless you're really keen to get a new phone it's probably not worth getting the Nexus S just for Gingerbread. However, if you're in the market for a new handset, the Nexus S is an exciting, smooth phone with a fast processor and a smooth operation that you may find hard to resist.

Specifications

Specifications

Type of phone:

Smartphone

Style:

candy bar

Size:

N/A

Weight:

129 g

Display:

16 million colours

Resolution:

480x800

Camera:

Five megapixels

Special Camera features:

LED flash

Video recording:

Yes

Video playback:

Yes

Video calling:

Yes

Video streaming:

Yes

Music formats played:

MP3, eAAC+, WAV

3.5mm jack port:

Yes

Handsfree speakerphone:

Yes

Voice Control:

Yes

Voice Dialling:

Yes

Call records:

Practically unlimited

Phonebook:

Practically unlimited

Ringtones customization:

N/A

Display description:

Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen

Website:

www.samsungmobile.com

SAR:

N/A

Portfolio:

N/A

Standard color:

Black

Launch Status:

Coming Soon

Ringtones:

MP3

Radio:

No

Operating system:

Android

Connectivity:

A2DP, Wi-Fi, MicroUSB, Bluetooth

Announced date:

December

What's in the Box:

N/A

RAM:

512MB

International launch date:

December 2010

Battery life when playing multimedia:

N/A

CPU:

1GHz

FM Radio Description:

N/A

Internal memory:

16GB

Memory Card Slot:

N/A

Messaging:

MMS, SMS, Email

Internet Browser:

HTML

E-mail client:

Attachments, IMAP4, SMTP, POP3, Push email

GPS:

A-GPS

Java:

Yes

Games:

Yes

Data speed:

GPRS, 3G, HSDPA, EDGE

Frequency:

Quad-band

Talktime:

400 minutes

Standby:

428 hours

Display size:

Four inches

Keypad:

N/A

Audio recording:

No

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