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Samsung Nexus S with Gingerbread Review
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Date: Mar 01, 2011
Section:Gadgets
Author: Jennifer Johnson
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Introduction & Specifications

Google's Nexus S smartphone has a lot of attractive features, but the one that attracts the most attention is the fact that this smartphone is the first to ship with the latest version of the Android smartphone operating system—version 2.3. Otherwise known as Gingerbread, this OS is said to be the fastest version of Android yet. In addition to Gingerbread, the Nexus S touts a 4-inch Super AMOLED display, a 1GHz Hummingbird processor, and 16GB of internal memory.

Although the Nexus S is the sequel to Google's Nexus One smartphone, Google is taking a different approach with this product. Whereas the Nexus One was only offered through Google's website, the Nexus S is available through Best Buy stores. Given that the Nexus S will be more visible to customers thanks to its retail presence, we expect Google will enjoy greater success with the Nexus S than it did with the Nexus One.

Since the Nexus S is a Google-branded phone, there isn't a custom UI that alters the Android experience—In other words, you'll get to use Android 2.3 in all is raw glory. Along with that, you'll get the new and improved features of Gingerbread, including a new user interface, an improved keyboard, support for near field communication (NFC), and more. This new OS also builds on many of the most popular features of Android such as multi-tasking and Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities.

Our test unit came with service for T-Mobile, but it's important to mention that this is an unlocked phone that you can use with any GSM / HSPA carrier. Best Buy currently offers the phone for $199.99 with a new 2-year contract with T-Mobile service. For a contract-free version of the phone, you'll need to shell out $530.

Read on in the coming pages as we take an in-depth, hands-on look at what the Nexus S and Android 2.3 have to offer.

Samsung Nexus S Smartphone
Specifications & Features

Processor and memory
1GHz Cortex A8 (Hummingbird) processor
16GB iNAND flash memory
Operating System
Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)
Connectivity
Quad-band GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900
Tri-band HSPA: 900, 2100, 1700
HSPA type: HSDPA (7.2Mbps) HSUPA (5.76Mbps)
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
Near Field Communication (NFC)
Assisted GPS (A-GPS)
microUSB 2.0
Display
4.0-inch WVGA (480x800), 235 ppi
Contour Display with curved glass screen
Super AMOLED Capacitive touch sensor
Anti-fingerprint display coating
Size and weight
Approximately 2.48 x 4.88 x 0.43 inches (63mm x 123.9mm x 10.88mm)
Approximately 4.55 ounces (129g)
Hardware
Haptic feedback vibration, Three-axis gyroscope, Accelerometer, Digital compass, Proximity sensor, Light sensor
Physical buttons: Power button, Volume Up / Down button
Illuminated soft buttons: Back , Menu , Search, Home
Cameras and multimedia
Rear-facing: 5 megapixels (2560x1920), Auto focus, Flash
720 x 480 video resolution
H.264, H.263 MPEG4 video recording
Front-facing: VGA (640x480)
3.5mm headset jack (stereo audio plus microphone)
Software noise-cancellation
Battery
Talk time: up to 6.7 hours on 3G (14 hours on 2G)
Standby time: up to 17.8 days on 3G (29.7 days on 2G)
1500 mAH Lithium Ion battery
Availability
Unlocked and carrier-independent
Available at Best Buy stores in the U.S. and at Carphone Warehouse and Vodafone stores in the UK
In-Box Content
Nexus S
Li-ion Battery
AC Charger
Micro USB Cable
Headset
Documentation

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Design

Samsung's Galaxy S line of smartphones is known for having gorgeous Super AMOLED displays. The Nexus S (made by Samsung and Google) also incorporates this type of display. When we reviewed the AT&T Samsung Captivate, we were struck by just how nice the Super AMOLED display really is, so we're glad to see this display on the Nexus S. What's more, Google and Samsung have incorporated a Contour Display into the Nexus S, meaning the display is slightly curved, making it more comfortable in the palm of your hand and alongside your face when talking on the phone.

The large, 4-inch capacitive multi-touch screen on the Nexus S covers the majority of the front of the device. Above the display, you'll find the front-facing VGA camera. Just below the screen, you'll find four backlit buttons (Back, Menu, Search, and Home) that are flush with the screen and provide haptic feedback when pressed. Did you notice the order on the backlit buttons? It's different from other Android phones we've seen. Although there is no standard for the order of these buttons, we wish manufacturers would use the same order. As users move from one Android device to the next, it can be annoying (albeit for a short time) to re-learn the order of these buttons.

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The Nexus S is a relatively thin and lightweight smartphone, measuring just 0.43 inches thick and weighing about 4.55 ounces, making it lighter than the HTC Droid Incredible and Apple's iPhone 4.

 

Here's a closer look at where the weight of the Nexus S stands in comparison to a few other popular smartphones:

Samsung Captivate
4.5 ounces
Nexus S
4.55 ounces
HTC Droid Incredible
4.6 ounces
Apple iPhone 4
4.8 ounces
Motorola Droid X
5.47 ounces
Samsung Epic 4G
5.47 ounces
HTC EVO 4G
6 ounces

 

The Nexus S has a very sleek, contoured feel. Thanks to the rounded edges and corners, the Nexus S feels very comfortable in one's hand. The glossy case feels very polished and smooth. Even with its glossy exterior, the display on the Nexus S didn't attract a lot of fingerprints thanks to the anti-fingerprint coating. In fact, the Nexus S seemed to attract far fewer fingerprints than other smartphones we've seen. Even with the few fingerprints the phone did attract, the phone's display was always very responsive.

Whereas the front-facing VGA camera is designed for video chat, the rear-facing 5 megapixel camera is designed for picture taking and video capture (720 x 480 video resolution).  Next to the camera, you'll notice an LED flash. The rear speaker is located to the right of the camera and the flash.

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The Nexus S comes with 16GB of iNAND flash memory. The phone does not have a microSD expansion slot. Although the onboard storage should provide plenty of space for most users, we still prefer to have a microSD slot for added storage and versatility.

On the left side of the Nexus S, you'll find the volume rocker. The right edge of the phone houses the power button. At the base of the unit, you'll notice a microUSB port, microphone, and 3.5mm headset jack.

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User Interface

Obviously one of the most touted user interface features of the Nexus S is the fact that it runs on the latest version of Android—version 2.3. With Gingerbread, you'll get a new notification bar that's easier to read. You'll also get an improved on-screen keyboard with multi-touch support that is designed to make typing faster and more accurate.

The Nexus S also has a NFC (Near Field Communications) chip that can enable things such as short range transfers. Although the technology hasn't fully caught on in the US, it's a cool concept that we hope to see more of in the future. In addition to mobile payments, it's quite possible developers could start to take advantage of NFC in apps as well.

Android 2.3 doesn't bring drastic changes in terms of navigation or cosmetics; most of the changes are behind the scenes. That's not all bad, though, since many users have grown quite fond of Android's UI. Still, there are a few small differences worth mentioning. For starters, the status bar icons, dialer, and a few applications have received a revamped look.

    

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One of the biggest changes you'll likely notice with Android 2.3 is the revamped keyboard. Google has cleaned up and redesigned the look of the onscreen QWERTY keyboard. There's also new functionality in the form of word suggestions, copy, paste, and selection.

For some reason, the on-screen keyboard felt slightly smaller on the Nexus S than on other Android smartphones, though we couldn't confirm this. Overall, the keyboard was relatively comfortable and easy to use though, so even if the keys are a bit smaller, they didn't have a big effect on our ability to tap out messages.

In the app menu, you may also notice an icon titled Downloads. Here, you'll find anything you've downloaded from the Web in one easy to reach spot. If you frequently download content from the Web to your phone, this will likely be a very helpful utility.

    

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Android 2.3 also comes with integrated support for VoIP / SIP calling. This functionality may not be used by all, but there will definitely be a set of Nexus S users who find this to be a very attractive feature.

Since the Nexus S is a Google-branded phone, you won't find a lot of extra apps preinstalled on this phone. That's how it should be in our opinion, so we're glad to see the minimal number of preinstalled apps on the Nexus S.

The Nexus S has five fully customizable home screens. As with other Android smartphones, you can access a list of eight most recently used applications by pressing and holding the Home button.

    

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Performance

In terms of performance, Google and Samsung have a winning combination with the 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird processor and Gingerbread OS. During our testing period, the phone always felt very zippy and responsive.

The 5 megapixel rear-facing camera on the Nexus S may not have quite the same resolution as other smartphone cameras, but we were impressed by the quality of images that we got from the camera in the Nexus S. After all, we would much rather have a sharp, usable 5 megapixel image than a less-detailed and more grainy higher megapixel shot (as we've seen on some other smartphones) any day. Overall, the photos taken with the Nexus S were very usable—both in well-lit and in low-light environments.

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Google and Samsung claim you'll get up to 6.7 hours of talk time and up to 17.8 days of standby time while connected to T-Mobile's 3G network. Overall, we were very pleased with the battery life on the Nexus S and had no problems making it through an entire day with moderate use while talking, texting, checking email, and surfing the Web multiple times throughout the day.

As with the Samsung Captivate and other Galaxy S devices, the screen on the Nexus S is absolutely gorgeous. The Super AMOLED touchscreen is bright, colorful, and sharp. Viewing angles are also excellent. As you'll recall, Super AMOLED enables phone manufacturers to make even thinner phones while also providing more vivid colors and terrific viewing angles. The screen did attract a few fingerprints here and there, but the anti-fingerprint coating definitely seemed to make a difference on the Nexus S in comparison to other phones we've tested.

During our tests, we enjoyed clear conversations and did not have any dropped calls. The people we spoke with said they could hear us clearly. We felt the earpiece and the speakerphone were adequately loud.

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Performance Testing

In addition to using the Nexus S in a variety of everyday usage scenarios, we also conducted some formal performance testing to see how well the Nexus S compares to other smartphones.

CPU testing
Android CPU testing

Graphics testing
Android graphics testing

 

JavaScript testing
JavaScript Android and iPhone testing

 

Overall, the Nexus S fared very well in our performance tests. The Nexus S came in behind HTC's EVO Shift 4G and EVO 4G smartphones in the Linpack tests. In An3DBench, the Nexus S edged out the Samsung Captivate and the Samsung Epic 4G to take the No. 1 spot. While testing JavaScript performance using SunSpider, the Nexus S came in just behind the HTC EVO 4G.

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Performance Testing - Web Browsing

Browsing the Web is certainly a key feature of any smartphone, so we also conducted some formal speed tests to see how well the Nexus S compares to some of today's hottest smartphones.

The BA.net test shows the Nexus S outperformed all other smartphones in our reference chart. In comparison to smartphones using other 3G networks, the Nexus S also fared well in the Speedtest.net tests.

The Nexus S produced some interesting numbers in the Xtremelabs test, particularly in the upload category of the test. Here, you'll see the Nexus S delivered faster upload speeds than download speeds. All of our other devices used for comparison delivered the opposite—faster download speeds than upload speeds. We ran the test multiple times on the Nexus S and obtained similar results. When we ran the test in Wi-Fi mode, the Nexus S delivered more typical results with a download speed of 6,246.8Kbps and upload speed of 2,711.6Kbps. Still, these numbers are atypical since they show a significantly faster upload speed than we've seen with other smartphones via Wi-Fi.

While these numbers can help us compare phones, it's important to keep in mind that Wi-Fi and network speeds are likely to vary depending on the type of connection, strength of signal, and other factors. During our real-world tests, we were pleased with the browsing speeds of the Nexus S.

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Conclusion

The Nexus S has a lot of good things going for it, including a thin and attractive form factor, Android 2.3 operating system, fast processor, and more. Since the Nexus S is branded by Google instead of another manufacturer, you'll get a raw look at Android 2.3 without any other custom UIs that alter the experience.

Overall, we were very satisfied with the performance and usability of the Nexus S. We also appreciated that the phone didn't come with any bloatware—something you don't often see on phones today. For some users, the fact that the Nexus S is available as an unlocked smartphone will also be an attractive feature.

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We wish Google and Samsung would have given users the ability to expand the phone's storage capacity with a microSD card, though 16GB of on-board storage will likely be adequate for most users. We also wish the Nexus S was available with additional carrier options. Not that there's anything wrong with T-Mobile's network—we just like options. With additional carrier options, we also feel that the Nexus S would get the extra attention and visibility it deserves.

There are a lot of Android smartphones on the market today. As a result, it seems we're frequently saying, "This is the Android phone to beat." Although we're sure it won't be long before another phone takes the prize, thanks to the fact that the Nexus S is the first smartphone to ship with Android 2.3 (aka Gingerbread), we feel it definitely deserves to be in the running for the title of "best" Android smartphone. 

Combine the fact that the Nexus S combines this new OS with some terrific hardware, including a zippy 1 GHz Hummingbird processor, gorgeous 4-inch Super AMOLED display, and 16GB of internal memory, and we feel the Nexus S is indeed one of the best smartphones out there today. Although many very promising phones will be shipping (or upgrading) to Android 2.3 soon, for now the Nexus S has a definite edge over the competition thanks to the fact that it is the first Gingerbread phone to market.

 

 

     
  • Android 2.3 (Gingerbread)
  • Fast 1 GHz Hummingbird processor
  • Gorgeous 4-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen
  • Thin & lightweight
  • Sharp camera
  • T-Mobile's 4G coverage is still somewhat limited
  • No microSD expansion slot
  • No HDMI

 



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