When the Nexus One was launched last year, one couldn't help but compare it to the iPhone. At the time of release, the Nexus One had a better screen, better camera and did stand up to the mighty Apple iPhone. This year brings home the Samsung Nexus S, one of the very first to feature the Android 2.3, coupled with a potent processor, married to an ergonomic design and with the lure of future-proof tech like Near Field Communication. Will this take over the much coveted position right at top of the smartphone pyramid? We had the Samsung Nexus S on a long-term review and here's what we have to say.
The much-hyped ‘Contour Display' on the Nexus S is barely discernible but it does provide for a decent palm grip. Did we mention the screen feels smooth as silk? And it's not just the gestures (that register fluidly on the display) we're talking about here but the physical glass display being delightfully smooth. Like some of the handsets in the Galaxy series, this too has no physical buttons except the volume rocker and Power button on the sides. The four touch buttons have been re-shuffled a bit but it's nothing you can't get used to under two minutes.
The Samsung Nexus S is the first high-end smartphone from the company to be stripped of the TouchWiz interface but with Gingerbread taking care of the user experience, we can't say we miss the former much. The immediate user experience of Android Gingerbread (Ver 2.3) isn't drastically different from its predecessor, Froyo. However, there are a lot of small changes working behind the screen, targeted at making the Android experience more hassle-free. You have access to a task manager directly from the home screen. Part of the new interface is also a bunch of interesting apps. The first one to deserve mention would be Tags, an app based on the Nexus S's NFC (Near field communication) capabilities that let you organise and share NFC tags. These ‘tags' could contain pictures, text, internet links etc. You have ‘Car Home' that serves as a personal navigation and infotainment app letting access to navigation features, control via voice actions and the like. You also have a dedicated ‘Downloads' app that keeps track of all your purchases or downloads from Market, a big relief for those who've have had to wonder which little nook of the phone the app they downloaded is hiding in. Pre-installed apps include the cluster of Google mobile services such as Google Search, Gmail, Google Maps with Navigation, Voice Actions, Google Voice and YouTube. The most ineffective of the lot would have to be Voice search. Google probably needs to run the app through a sort of ‘cultural sensitivity workshop' because the long-winding Indian names almost always failed to register on the app.
Apart from NFC, Nexus S can also be set up to be a portable hotspot. You can tether the handset's data connection via an USB or turn on the Wi-Fi hotspot option to have other devices connect to the web through the handset.
With about 16GB of internal memory, we made the most of it by downloading a ton of apps from Market. We flagged off the experience with some ‘productivity-killer' apps on the handset. We went to half-the-world's favourite - Angry Birds. Catapulting the red, yellow and black birds to topple the green pigs looked delightful on the screen, owing to the 4-inch Super AMOLED display. The screen is hands down one of the best lookers in town even if the handset is not! We played BlastMonkeys, Bomb Toss, Donkey Jump and Drag Racing among others. We played all games without a hint of a stutter or lag. The same went with videos that we played back on the handset from YouTube. Running on the 1GhZ Hummingbird processor, we barely had any freezes on the Nexus S and despite more than a handful of apps running in the background the handset didn't seem like it was slowing down. We ran the Quadrant Standard benchmarking test on the Nexus S to see the handset come out right at the top scoring a 1417 over the Nexus One.
Snaps taken with the 5-megger camera (with auto focus) didn't exactly give us stunning results. The colours weren't rich enough but we did have a couple of decent results while trying out the various scene modes. Pictures captured under low-light were also better than photos from other cameras we've tried out. Apart from the 5-megger at the rear, you also have a front facing-VGA camera for video calls.
Voice calls on the Nexus S were quite clear and we never had any dropped calls while using the handset. The battery life on the Nexus S was also slightly better than most smartphones in the market. With the Wi-Fi switched on, push mail activated, regular app usage and a bunch of voice calls, it needed to be charged after almost 24 hours of keeping us connected and entertained.
With an excellent display and operating system, and equipped with promising tech like NFC, WiMax and portable Wi-Fi, the Samsung Nexus S manages to impress despite not being the best-looking thing in town. If substance over style works for you, then you need wait no longer.
Love: Brilliant screen, super-fast processor, NFC-enabled
Hate: Average camera and video, uninteresting hardware design, no external storage