(Pocket-lint) - Google has turned to Samsung for the next generation of Nexus device, this time known as the Google Nexus S. The “S” heritage plays it straight down the line as an evolution of the Samsung Galaxy S.
Lift the Nexus S from the box and two things strike you. Firstly, caught at the right angle, the face of the Nexus S is almost entirely free of blemishes. The Super AMOLED screen with its deep blacks blends into the seamless bezel and, as Apple is wont to do, the front is covered in a single piece of glass. Only the grill for the ear speaker and the front facing 640 x 480 camera pierce that pristine face.
Of course it isn’t flat, with marketeers jumping on the “Contour Display” as a practical enhancement. Does it fit your face better? Perhaps. Does it make any difference in daily use? Probably not. But that’s the thing about interesting design - it doesn’t have to fulfil a practical purpose - looking good is good enough. And look good the Nexus S does.
Flip the Nexus S over and you are struck by the similarity to the Samsung Galaxy S. It is curvier, the bulbous bottom has been plumped up slightly and the opening for the single LED flash now sits alongside the 5-megapixel camera, but otherwise it is very close to its Samsung cousin. And that similarity extends to construction materials.
The most commonly criticised element of the Samsung Galaxy S is the backplate and we can see that carrying through to the Nexus S. Again it is plastic, so you don’t get quite the same wow factor as you might from the lusciously crafted HTC rivals, or the premium construction of the Apple iPhone 4. However, there are plenty of Samsung Galaxy S owners out there who are perfectly happy with the construction of their phone, and at 129g, it is relatively light for a phone of this size (63 x 123.9 x 10.88mm).
The result is a device that nestles down beautifully in the hand. The bulbous bottom fits into your palm and provides support, so despite the glossy finish, it feels secure when you hold it. Everything falls within easy reach too, so one-handed operation is easy. The controls are touch-sensitive and sit along the bottom of the screen, backlit so you can see what you are doing, offering (from left to right) back, menu, search and home. The arrangement of the controls seems to favour use in the right hand, given the common use of the back “button”, but we didn’t have a problem either way round.
Peel off the back cover and the Nexus S throws up one of its controversial points – there is no microSD card slot. That means no memory expansion over the 16GB you get on-board. For some this might be a real deal breaker, but it’s still a generous amount of memory, as we’re sure many of those complaining about it are currently walking around with a 2 or 4GB card in their phone. It means that if you want to transfer content, you’ll have to hook your Nexus S up to your computer, rather than loading up a memory card. The Nexus S refers to its internal memory as “USB storage” and when you connect to your PC, this is what you get access to.
Sitting in the back you’ll find a 1500mAh battery which gives the phone a decent day’s worth of juice. With average use you’ll find it sees you through the day, but heavy calling, data use or settling down to watch a little video will of course see it deplete much faster. In truth, the only time we found ourselves with a flat battery at the end of the day was when we had to suddenly roll out the free Google Maps Navigation for a 40-minute journey when we found our satnav had died. We got a day and a half from the battery over the weekend, when usage was a little lighter.
Battery life is one good reason for not stepping up the processor clock speed. Some have said the Google Nexus S doesn’t really move forward because it is still 1GHz. Remember that 1GHz today is much better than 1GHz last year and it’s not about the absolute numbers, but rather the performance, which is where these devices should be judged. The 1GHz Samsung Hummingbird processor does just fine, the 512MB RAM is typical, but the HTC Desire HD steps above this with 768MB. Both are sublimely fast.
Both memory and battery use have received more attention in the latest version of Android for which the Nexus S is something of a showcase handset. Android 2.3 brings with it a number of updates and enhancements rather than a slew of new features. For the geeks out there - and there are plenty among the Android fan base - being able to trip out on the graphical representation of your battery use really is the frosting on the Gingerbread, man. This is in addition to the already familiar percentage-based battery use.
Another of the new additions to Android 2.3 is the Manage Apps offering, accessed by punching the menu button from the home page. This takes you through to a four-tab menu, offering a round up of your Downloads, All (apps), USB Storage, and Running. Effectively it offers management and control functions that third-party apps were often used for previously. From here you can, notably, move compatible applications to USB storage with a simple check box and kill running tasks you don’t want.
Visually Android 2.3 looks pretty much the same as Android 2.2, a few tweaks to the status icons are especially noticeable. You get the same arrangement of side-scrolling homepages that you can customise as you like, dropping widgets and shortcuts with merry abandon. One of our favourite little details is the way the screen blinks out like an old cathode ray tube turning off.
The result is a phone that is slick and fast to navigate. Applications launch with speed and there is little sign of any delays as you get down to business with the Nexus S. Running on pure Android also helps bring to the fore how much Android does outside of the extras that are lathered on over the top. Twitter and Facebook already integrate with your contacts, as will Skype; your Picasa album will offer itself up in the Gallery alongside your local content. You even get weather supplied by the Weather Channel sitting in the Clock app. It’s just a question of how far you want to go with these features, as to whether another device will ultimately serve you better.
Of course you get that core Google experience, with seamless syncing with your Google contacts, calendar and mail accounts. You can also have your Google search history incorporated, if such a thing doesn’t frighten the bejesus out of you. You also know that you are going to be head of the pack for updates to Android, you’ll get Flash video support in the browser and all the benefits of the Android Market and its rapidly growing application offering.
What you won’t necessarily get are extras. This is where the battleground really lies for the future. The Google Nexus S isn’t the best multimedia device for example, video formats supported at core level are rather scant and it has no interest in any content you might have on a media server. Some will argue that this is exactly what the Android Market is there for, but for some customers who’ll pick a smartphone that already has these features.