Google Nexus S review
Google is making another run at selling its own smartphone. The new Nexus S--like its earlier, ill-fated Nexus One--is now on sale
direct from Google's site as an unlocked device with a clean, standard Android configuration.
But unlike the Nexus One, you can inspect a Nexus S in person before buying it: Best Buy stores carry the phone, which goes for $529.99 without a wireless-service contract or $199.99 with a T-Mobile plan. (That carrier--the only one on which the Nexus S supports 3G mobile broadband--doesn't list the Nexus S on its own site. Then again, the S doesn't connect to T-Mobile's faster, 4G-ish HSPA+ service.)
(2:57 p.m. While Google's site has a "buy now" link, that takes you to Best Buy's site. The Nexus One took the opposite approach, with sales confined to Google's site.)
The obvious selling point for the Nexus S is the same as for the Nexus One: You get a "pure Google" phone free of the ill-advised modifications carriers can't seem to resist inflicting on their Android devices.
The S also runs a newer version of Android: 2.3, called "Gingerbread."
The most useful and most troublesome bits of Gingerbread relate to working with text.
When you're writing, it's a lot faster to position the cursor: Tap anywhere in your text, and a large, easily moved cursor appears below. Google has finally delivered an acceptable replacement for the trackball once standard on many Android phones--but many months after manufacturers stopped including it.
Likewise, Gingerbread finally builds in simple, free-form text selection--but does so inconsistently. In the Web browser, you just hold a finger over a word for a second or two for a pair of bracketing icons to appear around it, which you can slide around at will. In the Gmail app, you have to press the menu button, select a "More" item and then choose "Select text" off the menu.
(See Joshua Topolsky's Engadget writeup for an extended rant on this.)
Other shipping Android phones should get Gingerbread eventually--although carriers often take their time to package and test Google's updates. So what sets the Nexus S apart as a phone? Speed: The loaner phone provided by Google's PR department zips along, even in such processor-intensive tasks as flying through a 3-D view of my surroundings in the Google Earth app.
My own, nearly year-old Android phone can seem intolerably slow in comparison. (This is a downside of being a technology columnist: It rarely takes long to realize the obsolescence of my own purchases.)
The only notable slowdowns I observed came when I tried to play one Flash clip in its browser, using Adobe's add-on software: This week's video segment about mobile digital TV took its time to load--and then played without any video, leaving only a soundtrack intact.
Battery life on this model looks good compared with other Android devices--it lasted for seven hours and 22 minutes with the Pandora Web-radio app playing and the screen constantly illuminated. But even with Gingerbread's improvements in power management, the S's standby time is well short of the iPhone's.
The S includes both front and back cameras; the back offers five megapixels of resolution, although the grainy photos it took didn't appear that sharp, while the front only provides 640-by-480 pixel VGA resolution. You'll have to select your own video-calling app for it.
This gadget also leaves out two standard smartphone features: a notification LED and a microSD Card slot. Here, the 16 gigabytes of onboard memory are all you get; you can't expand them later on.
Then there's something called Near Field Communication. "NFC" may sound like an item off the spec sheet for a Star Trek communicator, but it's basically a successor of the short-range wireless used in a Metro SmarTrip card.
Since very few NFC sensors are in the field, Google sent along an NFC-enabled Google Places decal that a restaurant might place in its window. I opened the Nexus S's Tags program, held the phone over the decal and the Tags application displayed a link to a YouTube clip about the Nexus S.
Like NFC, the Nexus S is more about potential than reality. In this case, the potential is not that millions of phone shoppers will go out of their way to buy it--but that wireless carriers will see how appealing an Android device could be without their usual interference. Will they take the hint? Post your prediction in the comments.
| December 16, 2010; 11:13 AM ET
Save & Share: Previous: Mac App Store to open Jan. 6
Next: Google updates Android Maps app, making iPhone maps look even older
Posted by: BriefEpisode | December 16, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | December 16, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse