Google Nexus S £549.95

17th Jan 2011 | 18:20

Google Nexus S

Is Android 2.3 and a curved screen enough of an upgrade?

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

A solid if unspectacular performance from Google - it's a great phone with a very usable interface, but perhaps lacks the wow factor of some of its contemporaries

Like:

Snappy OS; Android 2.3 with early future updates; Stunning AMOLED screen; Improved battery life; Cool lock screen animation;

Dislike:

Underpowered UI; Not enough Home screen widgets; Slight freezing at times; Light design; Random phone restarting;

Google Nexus S review: Overview

UPDATE: Now read our Hands on: Samsung Galaxy Nexus review.

Since launching, the Nexus S has undergone a price drop, which we've now reflected in the review. We've also had a few more weeks to play with it, and found a few extra features we thought worth highlighting.

There's also an improved camera section, so check out our detailed look at the snapper-power from Google's latest design.

The Google Nexus S wasn't supposed to happen according to Schmidt. However, the phone that we never expected has now landed in our laps and so we can use it to highlight how the latest tech can and should be used in phones.

You can check out our Google Nexus S video review:

But has Google packed enough tech into this Samsung creation to prompt a resurrection of the Nexus brand, which started with the Google Nexus One, after proclaiming the project was over?

The Nexus S is more than a handset – it's a state of mind (if you believe the way Google is describing it).

Google nexus s review

It's being called 'Pure Google', which is a way for the search giant to distance itself from the kerfuffle surrounding the delays encountered by network-issued updates.

But in reality, the second you pick up the phone you realise it's leaning very heavily on the design aesthetic from the Samsung Galaxy S.

Google nexus s review

Only a shade heavier at 129g, the Google Nexus S feels light in the hand, and with that lacks the 'premium' feel the iPhone 4 and HTC Desire HD both bring through their metallic chassis.

The curved nature of the frame is nice though – it helps the Nexus S sit well in the palm (with the small lip at the bottom helping it fit correctly, the same as on the Galaxy S) and there's also a curved screen on the front to look at with an interested expression.

Google nexus s review

Well, interested or bemused – we're sure this ever-so-slight curve added to the price of the Nexus S, and it's so minimal that we're sure it's nothing more than a gimmick. It doesn't feel any different on the face (it feels nice, just no more than a perfectly flat phone does).

Google nexus s review

The headphone socket is at the bottom of the phone, rather than the top, next to the micro-USB slot – we're not big fans of that, because it feels weird taking it out of the pocket that way. However, some people love it, and there seems to be a definite trend of phones moving towards that design (the HTC Desire HD for example).

Google nexus s review

The touch-sensitive keys at the bottom of the four-inch screen have some nicely strong haptics underneath them – a brief touch will be met with a solid confirmation buzz.

Google nexus s review

We thought the touch-sensitive buttons (which will light up and down under your caress) were actually scratched when we did our first hands-on with the Nexus S, but as you can see our test model has the same imperfection.

Google nexus s review

We're not sure why this imperfection happened, but it makes the phone look a little less premium, on top of the already plasticky feel.

Google nexus s review

One thing we're very disappointed with Samsung and Google about on the Nexus S is the lack of external microSD expansion. Yes, 16GB of internal storage is good-ish, but we want to be able to transfer stuff across without using a PC connection, or add in extra video storage space as and when we want it.

Overall, we think the design of the Nexus S is fine. It's a shade light and there's no metallic feel to enjoy, but we were fans of the Galaxy S design so we're relatively impressed with this too.

Google Nexus S review: Interface

Google Nexus S review: Interface

As we've already heard about 27,000 times, the Google Nexus S is rocking Gingerbread (or Android 2.3). What does this mean in terms of an update? Not that much, if we're honest.

It's especially true when it comes to the Nexus S, which is more ready for future technology than anything else.

Google nexus s review

But it's still the same old Android interface essentially, with a slick feel under the finger and the notifications bar you drag down from the top to see email, text and music updates as and when they land.

Another feature of the new Android 2.3 operating system is an improved efficiency around power management. This is achieved by Android keeping an eye on which applications are running in the background and shutting them down if they step out of line.

Given the Google Nexus S is also rocking a Samsung 1GHz Hummingbird processor in the background (which offers up some fantastic speeds) we weren't surprised to see judder or freezing kept to a minimum.

However, they weren't completely eradicated – there were times when background applications could still bring the phone to a halt, be it on the lock screen or swiping around the Home screens.

We know that the root of this was often applications we downloaded messing about in the background, but still – we expected an iPhone-like flawless experience.

Another big problem - our review unit was subject to some random shutting down for no reason at times - be it in the music player, making a call or just sitting on the desk. Google is aware of this problem and promises an imminent fix, but overall we're not impressed by this fundamental flaw.

Other than a few improvements, there's not a lot more to talk about in the new Android OS.

Google nexus s review

The user interface has been tweaked slightly – things like a black and green notifications bar (which changes to grey on the odd occasion, seemingly depending on which app you're in) are a nice touch, as are menus that 'bleed' into the main display – but overall it's nothing special.

We're still treated to the cool 3D scrolling menus, which the dedicated GPU handles with aplomb, and five Home screens aren't that much to write home about.

Google nexus s review

The amount of widgets on offer from Google needs to be improved – the power control offering is the only one we really care about.

The music widget is tiny and ultimately terrible compared to the ones you can download from alternative players, although the news and weather offering isn't too bad provided you've set up your RSS feeds correctly.

Being able to rate places such as restaurants and businesses is cool though – it's a new offering we haven't seen yet and allows a quick star score to be put through about nearby vendors.

Google nexus s review

One thing that everyone is talking about though – the 'TV Off' style animation for the lock screen, where the image shuts down to a thin line then to a small point, in the same way as CRT televisions of old.

Is it useful? No. Is it a real crowd-pleaser that epitomises what makes modern smartphones so cool? Yes. And for that we love it.

But overall, we're not as impressed with the Google Nexus S interface as we have been with other phones. The lag aside, the offering from the Galaxy S is much better (with pull down power control and music control from the notifications bar) and HTC's Sense is just as slick with more widgets and the awesome Leap View too.

Google Nexus S review: Contacts and calling

Google Nexus S review: Contacts and calling

Something we were keen to test on the Google Nexus S is the ability to integrate contacts seamlessly across a multitude of accounts.

On one hand, we were impressed with the offering from Google – you can add in Twitter, Facebook, Google and more to the account list, and have them all synchronised to one person's account.

On the other hand, the process of said linking was laborious and difficult at times. Setting up the Facebook and Twitter accounts to include contact synchronisation took some time to start with – the Nexus S wouldn't sync contacts to the phone for a while.

Google nexus s review

After that comes the long, long task of putting them all together. Some, with the correct phone numbers or email addresses, would link together automatically, but if you've got a list of around 200 people this is a very small number.

So the process is this: open the contact, choose to edit, choose to join them with another name, then choose the relevant one. If the correct person isn't suggested (which, in fairness, it mostly was) then you have to scroll through the list to find them.

Google nexus s review

If they have a Twitter account, then the same must be done all over again.

It's not easy to set a default account either - so people with different names in your phone and on Facebook will sometimes default to one you don't really want, and it takes a lot of deleting and editing to get it back to the right one.

When you compare this to the power of the HTC Sense offering and the sheer ease of use it offers (when you start the contacts menu for the first time, the phone will suggest a long list of potential matches and you simply need to confirm them, for example) blows this integration method out of the water.

Google nexus s review

The contact menu view was good though – the WVGA Super AMOLED screen is massively clear and allows downloaded profile pictures to show up nicely on the side of each name.

The tab that allows you to shoot through the list alphabetically is large and easy to hit, and a quick press of their picture will bring up quick options, such as calling or messaging the person.

One thing we did like was that the Nexus S will allow VoIP calling as standard for enabled accounts, so that will be a decent upgrade when enough people get their head around such a service.

If the N900, released a year ago, can manage Skype calling, then the Nexus S, designed to show what technology can do, should be able to do it as well out the box from this service, so we're annoyed off the bat that Skype isn't supported (although you can download and use Skype as a separate application).

The addition of video calling is pretty galling – it's like an iPhone 4 was held up as the bastion of smartphone creation (which, in fairness, it is to many people) and its features all integrated into the Google Nexus S.

Having to install third party software to perform the function is equally stupid in our opinion – video calling is never going to take off, let's be honest, and to not support it out the box begs the question of why an extra video camera was added, bringing the cost up further.

Google nexus s review

Call quality was much better than we expected though – the noise cancelling worked pretty well in most cases, although when speaking on the bus (don't worry, we made sure nobody else was around) we were asked if we were using a handsfree kit, because there was 'significant echo'.

But we did like the fact the speaker was nice and clear, and more importantly, easy to find on the ear when placing the phone to the head.

Going back to the earlier point about freezing on the Nexus S – we had a slight problem when trying to call someone with another call coming in at the same time. The phone wouldn't let you answer the call or hang up the old one, meaning it was terribly frustrating to watch as you left a pointlessly long voice message.

You can just pull the battery out, of course, but we wanted to wait and see what happened. This wasn't a frequent occurrence, but one that we still didn't like to see.

The dialler doesn't come with smart entry unfortunately, so you can't quickly access your favourite people with a few dabs of the number keys.

There are tabbed options at the top of the phone screen – these are consistent across the phone and contacts options, so it's easy to speak to the people you need to.

Google nexus s review

The call log is also mercifully intuitive – if someone phones you a few times in a row, the entries are grouped together, rather than sitting in separate rows and clogging up the screen.

The Google Nexus S is probably above average in terms of the calling experience on a smartphone, but the fact that the reason it's decent is that it's possible to find your contacts easily and they can actually hear you is indicative of the state of the smartphone market.

Google Nexus S review: Messaging

Google Nexus S review: Messaging

Messaging for Android as a whole has been impressive since the start of the OS – well, once a keyboard was added to the touchscreen, anyway.

That's obviously been improved upon in the Nexus S – not in terms of the messaging options, of which there's very little difference, but in terms of the ease of text entry.

Some reviews have put the new Android keyboard far behind the iPhone's in terms of overall accuracy, but we reckon it's on a par, despite the deceptively small keys.

Google nexus s review

We managed around 95+ per cent accuracy at full typing speed from the off, and that was about where we stayed for the duration of the review. Despite the smaller size, we managed to fire off messages with ease – and while the world seems to be going gaga for Swype, we hate it a little bit for its inaccuracy when you realise how much faster keyboards like this can be.

One little tweak we liked: holding down the symbol key made the numbers available at the top – releasing it jumped back to the letters. This is a really good use of multi-touch, and one we're impressed with.

One thing we didn't like is there's still no comma on the main keyboard, meaning you have to go through the symbols menu to open it up. Why, we don't know, but it's an essential symbol and the omission is noticeable.

Google nexus s review

Of course, the new Android keyboard is still there (technically just 'the Android keyboard' now, we suppose) which means that when you press space, the phone will offer up a question mark, a full stop, a comma and so on, which somewhat mitigates the problem.

Google nexus s review

But when the voice text input key is on the main keyboard screen, we can't help but wonder why these two weren't switched round. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn't speak a text message that didn't need at least two corrections, so it seems a little pointless to have in our eyes.

In fairness to Google, you can change the system layout - you'll have to drop out of the messaging app and head into the phone's keyboard settings from the main menu though. It's a case of simply putting the voice icon in with the symbols, and the comma magically reappears where it should have been from the start.

Many people won't realise this though and get frustrated, so we can only assume this is Google's way of pushing the voice service to as many people as possible.

Another VERY annoying thing with the message entry - the Google Nexus S will often double tap a letter when starting a word, so 'I nibbled the waether vane' becomes 'I nnibbled the wweather vane'... which clearly makes no sense.

Copy and paste now comes with easier to grab start and end points, but all this is a little moot when you consider HTC has managed to implement an excellent keyboard and well-worked copy and paste for ages now.

Google nexus s review

The system is easy to use, with a simple long-press activating the cursors, but at the same time you can only Cut or Copy from the menu – whereas with HTC's system you can search for the word or phrase on Google or Wikipedia or translate it too.

Google nexus s review

If these brands can implement it effectively, why can't Google?

The messaging options are plentiful on the Google Nexus S. There's SMS, MMS (with a conversion from SMS by simply attaching an item), webmail and Exchange email, Google Talk for messaging and you can easily integrate Twitter and Facebook by downloading the official apps from the Market.

Email was particularly easy to set up, because for all types of account we only needed to input our address and password. Most phones have learnt this trick by now, but we were worried Google might not have managed to put this in the 'stripped down' version of the OS.

Google nexus s review

In Gingerbread there are enough tweaks to bring the stock Android experience up to speed with the likes of HTC and Samsung in some areas – not completely, but there is a definite feel that the Android OS in its native form is finally pushing itself to its limits.

Google Nexus S review: Internet

Google Nexus S review: Internet

The internet browser on Android phones has always been impressive, and that was before features such as Flash video integration and multi-touch zooming were included by default.

The good news is that the Google Nexus S is in the same vein, making it very much an internet-friendly smartphone.

The fast 1GHz Hummingbird processor kept the internet spinning past at an impressive rate, and web pages loaded very swiftly, no matter how 'heavy' they were - although some sites needed a little longer 'thinking time' than others.

Google nexus s review

There was still an element of juddering in scrolling around a loading page, and even when the text and images had fully loaded, it was still a little laggy at times. It's only slight, but the iPhone manages to be smooth nearly all the time, and that's where we want Android to get to.

The same can be said for text reflow (where the words re-jig to fit the screen). This is in effect on the Nexus S, but you need to tap the screen once zoomed in to make it work.

Google nexus s review

Sometimes you only need to tap once; other times you have to hit it a few times. It's highly irritating – why can't we just zoom in and the words will resize? That's clearly what we want to do, and the Google Nexus S should be intuitive enough to know that.

Google nexus s review

When we clicked on a link in the web browser, it sometimes took a long while for the loading bar to begin, meaning we clicked again and again before realising that we'd already done it. It wasn't a big issue, but meant loading times were severely compromised.

Flash video seemed to load quickly enough in nearly all instances – pages such as BBC websites and their embedded videos were a little choppy, especially when the 3G signal was low, but others (including full flavour YouTube) managed to jump to full screen with aplomb. However, it still wasn't the smoothest experience we've ever encountered, merely acceptable.

Google nexus s review

Similarly, HTML5 YouTube was in effect, and depending on the type of video you're looking at, you'll sometimes be able to play embedded files in the web browser and sometimes only through the dedicated YouTube application (which is admittedly great).

Google nexus s review

Google nexus s review

The other features of the Android internet browser we've raved about before are still all present and correct on the Google Nexus S, such as being able to share web pages easily via a whole host of portals.

Google nexus s review

If you've got elements such as Twitter installed, you can share links with your friends with no problem, and they'll come up looking pretty good too, especially on Facebook, where the links are nicely expanded for all to see.

Google Nexus S review: Camera

Google Nexus S review: Camera

Google nexus s review

The camera on the Google Nexus S has come in for some slight criticism, with some detractors calling it underpowered and feature-light.

While the specs do support this theory, the only slight problem we encountered with it was the slightly longer shutter speed and autofocus (and a tap to focus feature would have been nice too).

The features on offer are slightly reminiscent of Nokia phones of yesteryear: Scene modes, including Beach and Firework shots, Macro mode focus, exposure correction and White Balance alteration.

But just because the features have been around for a while means they're bad - most of them had a genuine use, and often altered the quality of the shot. Although we still don't see the point in Sepia, and we never will.

But as you can see, the photos we captured were perfectly acceptable, and a little tinkering with the settings gave us some really great pictures:

Google nexus s review

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Balanced: General scenes are captured adequately enough, although the background of the shot is mostly lost to glare

Google nexus s review

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Sharp:The black and white mode adds a clear and arty nature to shots

Google nexus s review

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Why?:We still don't get Sepia mode - unless you're shooting a wild west mock up

Google nexus s review

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Why again?:Negative mode - is it included just to show what alien worlds may or may not look like?

Google nexus s review

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Google nexus s review

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Focused shooting:As you can see, the difference between Auto and Macro focus modes is marked - there's a real reason for using both

Google nexus s review

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Snappy snaps:Fast movements can be captured pretty well, and detail is preserved

Google nexus s review

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Google nexus s review

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Adding the light: The exposure settings do have an effect - although turned down too much can damage shots slightly

Google nexus s review

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Night so good:Even slight motion can affect the night mode, and the colours all blur together

Google nexus s reveiw

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Google nexus s reveiw

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Flash flop: The single LED flash is OK for taking pictures of close items, but extend the throw and its gets lost in the velvety night

Google nexus s review

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Snow joke: Snow mode is relatively effective, taking most of the glare from this shot, although it has become a little dark

Google nexus s review

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Settings win:Tinker about a bit and you can get some really nice shots - this was snapped using Snow Mode, Infinity focus and Black and White mode

Google Nexus S review: Video

Google Nexus S review: Video

The video camera on the Google Nexus S is something of a dissapointment - and not only because it cannot record in HD, unlike its Nexus One brother.

720 x 480 resolution isn't high enough in our opinion, but the framerate seems to be acceptable (apart from in the first shot) and the autofocus doesn't feel the need to constantly operate during the shot.

The monkey's eyes are what scare us the most though.

Google Nexus S review: Media

Google Nexus S review: Media

The approach for Android has never been one that focused heavily on the media side of things, and that's not really been upgraded for Android 2.3.

There are a couple of tiny tweaks, but if you're looking to get a dedicated media phone, this handset (screen aside) isn't going to give you pause compared to something like the iPhone 4.

Music

Remember the stock Android music player from the T-Mobile G1? Well, not a lot has changed since then, although the UI is a little more attractive now.

The main music display is still mostly album art and easy-to-press buttons for music skipping, but there's not a lot more to talk about than that.

We're not seeing an equaliser (although they do drain the life out of your battery) and there's nothing more exotic than a party shuffle mode to get excited about.

Google nexus s review

Sonically, the Google Nexus S holds its own – bass levels are, at times, non-existent, but for the most part it's eminently usable as a music player.

One irritating thing the Android OS will do to your music: if you've gone through and sorted out your iTunes collection, downloading artwork from Apple's server and the like, the Nexus S won't recognise the picture (because it doesn't tag in the metadata).

Google nexus s review

Instead, it will choose a file with a picture on it, and tag every single song that doesn't have a picture embedded with that image instead, leading to a very amateur-looking media player.

Video

Video on the Google Nexus S looks superb thanks to the WVGA Super AMOLED screen, rocking a full 800 x 480 resolution count.

At full power, the brightness is definitely acceptable for viewing in most situations – we pulled it out on the street and managed to watch footage no matter what the conditions (although we wouldn't recommend it for safety's sake).

Under a lamp and in bright daylight the Google Nexus S' screen was just about visible; that 1.5x brightness increase seems to be correct.

Google nexus s review

Video format support is something more of a worry though, because we weren't able to view the full range of our movie test selections by a long way.

We were told that DivX was supported, but our movie simply wouldn't play. Neither would AVI files, although MP4 seemed to be just tikkity-boo, as you'd imagine, as were 3GP formats.

However, don't go thinking WMV will be an option. It's not, unless you download another media player. The same can be said for video aspect alteration – if something is showing up in 4:3 in the standard Android Media player, it's staying that way, which is irritating for (legally) ripped DVDs that may have gone slightly wonky in encoding - you'll need to get separate software to sort it out.

Photo

The Google Nexus S has the same media playback gallery as before – namely it looks awesome, but is pretty much useless.

Don't even think about using this for finding your videos, because the grid view will only show you thumbnails, so working out the names is nigh on impossible unless you head into the file and check the details.

Google nexus s review

Photos are a little better, since you can see the one you're after with a minimum amount of fuss, and in a nicely scrollable view as well that tilts into a third dimension under your finger.

Google nexus s review

However, if you've got a few folders in the Nexus S, you'll have trouble tracking down your pictures at the start because every repository will load up. We'd rather the Nexus S came with a proper file manager or a very simplistic gallery – this is too halfway-house for our liking.

Google Nexus S review: Battery life and connectivity

Google Nexus S review: Battery life

We had a good play with the Google Nexus S in real conditions to see how the battery lasted – and the good news is that Android 2.3 seems to be pretty darn good at holding up the power management.

Google nexus s review

We'd usually last about 10-11 hours with an HTC Desire or Desire HD before thinking about finding a charger, but the Nexus S managed to push right through from one day to the next without hitting the red zone.

Google nexus s review

This means that while you'll still need to charge every night (as with most smartphones) you can easily get to two days' use if you're only a little more judicious on use, which is good if you go away for a weekend or something.

Google is quoting talk time of up to 6.7 hours on 3G connections (14 hours on 2G) and nearly 18 days of standby time in 3G mode, which moves up to nearly a month on 2G signal.

Google nexus s review

The 1500mAh battery manages to get pretty close to this in real use – we measured talktime on 3G at around 2-3 hours before seriously depleting the battery.

We also like the addition of this nifty battery meter, which can be found by tapping the top of the screen in the 'Battery Use' section of 'About Phone'.

Google nexus s review

If we were to create the perfect conditions where that standby mode could be achieved (ie nothing updating in the background, no apps running and a 3G mast with no data coming through – perhaps if we stood on Mars) then the number is feasible.

Google nexus s review

But standby time for a normal person could probably be stretched to 3.5 days if you're desperate to keep a lid on the consumption.

And a little bonus FYI – the battery meter has turned 90 degrees to be resting on its base, rather than sideways on. We know. Earthshattering.

Connectivity

Ah, the old favourite of Android lovers the world over – the PC synchronisation software. The sheer detail with which you can process your information, back it up, restore it whenever... we're only kidding. There is no such thing on offer.

You basically get one offer when hitting the phone with a USB lead – the chance to turn on USB storage or not.

Google nexus s review

It's not going to change your world, but it's a great way of getting data onto you phone. No fancy pants media player to worry about, just dragging and dropping. Like our forefathers did.

Debugging mode gets a little Android bug icon now, which is pretty cute, but that's the biggest change on that front.

Google nexus s review

Other connections are all pretty stable. Bluetooth transfer times over 2.0 were fine, A2DP didn't bounce about and cut out randomly as it does on other smartphones, and the Wi-Fi hotspot mode (where you can share your 3G signal with other devices) worked first time, with the ability to specify a WPA key a nice touch, too.

We did have problems with the Wi-Fi connection at times, though – it's very poor, even when we were near the router the phone could only muster three out of four bars. Curiously, the range seemed the same as other phones, so perhaps it's just the way it's being read rather than anything more sinister.

3G connectivity was perfectly acceptable too, although gone is the HSDPA icon to signify the faster speeds – it's 3G or nothing here, my friend.

Google Nexus S review: Maps and Apps

Google Nexus S review: Maps

Good news everybody! The Google Nexus S is compatible with the newest version of Google Maps thanks to the integrated GPU.

This means vector graphics and 3D imaging to make you really feel like you're in the picture. This will mean 3D versions of 300 cities and gesture controls that allow you to swipe or move the phone to reposition the map.

Google nexus s review

Offline mode is also supported, so you won't need to worry about losing your 3G signal when out and about using the GPS - and Google's new maps can even cache the places you visit most for offline mode.

Although, if you go there a lot, will you need a map? Hmmmmmm....

The mapping application is fantastically fast. We managed to keep up with whatever we were looking for easily, and the maps loaded a lot faster than we're used to on other phones.

Google nexus s review

The good news for those looking to upgrade from the Samsung Galaxy S – the GPS issues have been resolved, in that you can actually now get a signal with no problem.

In a busy area, you're looking at about 11 seconds for a fix from cold, with an almost instant approximation of your location through cell tower triangulation.

Google nexus s review

If you're in a car with a clear view of the sky, this drops to around 4-5 seconds for a fix... really nice to see and showing that Google is serious about navigation.

Car mode is also included with the now-normal line up of Google Maps Navigation, so the large four-inch screen will be decent for using the Google Nexus S as a dedicated sat-nav device.

Google nexus s review

This performed well in real time use, although we didn't use a dock or anything - instead preferring to chuck the phone in the redundant ash tray. The voice commands came over loud and clear though, making it easy to drive through unknown territory without looking like a chump.

Apps

The Google Nexus S comes complete with a wide range of applications out of the box, including an enhanced download centre, Google Earth and the aforementioned Google Maps Navigation.

Google Earth simply sped along with the integrated GPU, and found our location and resized the images very quickly indeed, in the same vein as the pre-installed maps.

Google nexus s review

Spinning through the application was easy as well, and really feels like a next-generation piece of kit when doing so – it will be something to show off to your friends down the pub, assuming they haven't already seen the same thing on the iPhone, of course.

Looking at another of the headline technologies: the near field communication (NFC) technology was demonstrated to us at Google HQ using a sticker with information built right in.

Google nexus s review

It worked instantly, taking us to information on an address in London, and in the future can be used to stream trailers, pictures and text. It's all very theoretical at the moment because it requires others to get on board – and we're miles away from being able to use our phone as an Oyster Card.

Google told us that the Nexus S can't write information via NFC yet, meaning it will only be useful for reading info from smart-enabled objects, and that's not as exciting when you realise a QR code can do pretty much the same thing.

Google nexus s review

One of the first things we did was turn off the functionality in the settings – we have no idea how much power it would use in real life if it's not scanning things, but for a good few months at least it will be a completely unnecessary feature.

The Tags application was cool too, because it kept a history of everything you've scanned on the NFC chip and also let you bookmark your favourites.

So if a tequila model comes past and offers to let you scan their T-shirt for a voucher, you won't have to keep doing it multiple times if you lose it... wait, that doesn't sound like an advantage.

App managment

Google has also included a menu option to help you manage applications from the Home screen, where you can click in and see what's running, what's installed and whether there's some boring application you want to jettison.

Other applications of note include the new YouTube application (which has to be downloaded when the phone is first turned on to get the new fancy version) which offers up portrait viewing of your videos and an improved search engine.

Google nexus s review

A dedicated downloads section is also in effect – meaning you no longer have to skulk through the back alleys of your internet browser to find the files your slurped down from the cloud earlier that day

But more noticeable are the absences here; we want things like a dedicated file browser, an improved music and video player and support for Office documents out the box – it's insane that you have to go and get the right tools from the Android Market as soon as you turn the phone on.

Google – we hope you step this up in the future, as these additions would make Android phones around 72 per cent better straight away, and avoid taking some of the well-deserved shine from the slick UI.

Gaming

Google has promised better gaming with the Nexus S – a top end GPU complete with three-axis gyroscope mean it could take on the iPhone 4 in some respects as the top gaming handset.

However, the Android Market is pretty bare when it comes to decent games beyond the awesomeness of Angry Birds – even Flick Kick Football doesn't play as well on this phone as on the iPhone.

Google nexus s review

There could be a big gaming future for the Google Nexus S if the major names properly offer their wares for the Android ecosystem – but the power hasn't been realised yet.

Google Nexus S: Benchmarks

tablet benchmarks

Google Nexus S

How it rates against the rest - higher is better

S2

How we test

TechRadar aims to produce the most helpful phone reviews on the web, so you're able to make a more informed buying decision.

Part of this testing process includes benchmarking. It's a good way of measuring the overall performance of a product's internal hardware components.

We use Antutu System Benchmark to test tablets. It's a comprehensive Android benchmarking app and produces consistent results.

Antutu measures an Android device's CPU performance, 2D and 3D graphics performance, memory speed and internal and external storage read/write speeds. It combines the results for each test and gives the device a final score.

We test each device three times and take an average.

Google Nexus S review: Hands-on gallery

Google Nexus S review: Hands-on gallery

Google nexus s review

Google nexus s review

Google nexus s review

Google nexus s review

Google nexus s review

Google nexus s review

Google nexus s review

Google nexus s review

Google Nexus S review: Official gallery

Google Nexus S review: Official gallery

Google nexus s review

Google nexus s review

Google nexus s review

Google nexus s review

Google nexus s review

Google nexus s review

Google Nexus S review: Verdict

Google Nexus S review: Verdict

Google nexus s review

We've always been impressed by the trajectory of Android, and with each passing iteration it's got closer to being a bit less for the hackers and more for the mainstream (although its open source ethos has remained).

The Google Nexus S is designed to be the device that showcases the power of Android 2.3 and comes without the constraints of network upgrade delays – if Google updates something, the Nexus S community will be the first to know.

Don't be fooled by all the hype, though: the Nexus S is pretty much just a hopped-up Galaxy S. Sure, it's got the fancy screen and NFC chip inside, but once the Samsung model gets beefed up to Android 2.3, there won't be a huge amount to choose between the two (as long as the terrible lag is fixed).

We liked

Android is an OS that's going places, there's no doubt about that. It bridges the gap between iPhone and Symbian^3 phones such as the Nokia N8 very well, giving open source opportunities with a very well-done UI.

The operation is virtually judder-free, the GPU under the hood pushed the animations along at a wicked rate, and the burgeoning Android Market app store makes the Google Nexus S a very well-specified phone.

The Google Maps and Navigations offerings are still superb, with easy to use software and a dedicated Car Mode making locating yourself a very simple task.

Things like the beautiful screen are obviously a stand-out joy to use, and we're of the opinion that the bulging bottom and plastic cover is nice to hold rather than a poor version of the metallic phones out there.

We disliked

The lack of a comma on the keyboard might sound like a little issue, but to us, it's massive and could quickly get annoying. Sure, you can download another keyboard to solve the issue, or tinker with the settings, but that's not what you should have to do out the box to make the phone a decent proposition.

The text wrapping on the internet browser was hard to get right too, and sadly hasn't got better with time – is it too much to ask for that we get a phone with the ability to zoom in and out of text and show it all at once?

Google nexus s review

The lack of microSD slot is terrible as well. Samsung prides itself on being a media-centric company, so we think it must have been removed at Google's request, although for the life of us we can't think why.

The price of the Nexus S is ridiculously high for the average gadget lover. Sure, it has some neat features but we reckon that slightly curved display added a few quid to the cost of manufacturing, and had it been flat the world wouldn't have simultaneously wept and cursed the ground the Android development team walked on.

UPDATE: Google has slashed the price of the phone just before launch, making it a lot more palatable at a little over £400 - much better, and just in time.

The constant restarting is an issue as well, plus that double letter thing from the keyboard is insanely annoying.

Verdict

It's a tricky one to rate, the Google Nexus S. A good place to start would be the obvious: it's a cracking phone, with a lot to be excited about.

For instance, the NFC chip is going to be a real boon in the future we reckon – Google's got plans for that tech, and that's partly why the Google Nexus S was created, to highlight what can be done on a handset.

From the moment you pick up the phone (assuming you don't hate the plastic feeling) and turn it on, you know you're getting something special – even the booting screen looks amazingly sharp.

The stuff Android gets right is all here on this phone – widgets, an easy-to-access notifications bar, easy-to-use applications and a dearth of openness about the underlying system make this attractive to both the man on the street who wants the latest phone and the modder who wants to root and play and customise to his or her heart's content.

Android is certainly maturing at a fantastic rate – you can do so much now, and the incremental improvements to features such as the keyboard show that there's a lot of potential with this OS to iron out any bugs.

But it's not a five -star experience on the Google Nexus S for a number of reasons: the ever so slight jumpiness and lagging, while very much not a big issue, take the gloss off the Android effect.

The sub-par media player needs updating badly, and the lack of a microSD slot is bound to irk some.

Google nexus s review

You've also got the benefit of being the first to receive the updates to Android version xx whenever it arrives – no more kicking your heels and waiting for your network to service your needs.

In short, there's nothing wrong with the Google Nexus S. In areas, such as the internet browser and improved battery life, it shines, and the overall feeling is one of a great phone that's going to grow with you as you discover little tweaks, tricks and the best new apps.

But while there's nothing to anger you about this phone, there will be times when it irritates you slightly, when the screen freezes momentarily or when a call scrambles its brain.

If you love Android in its purest form, then the Google Nexus S is the phone for you. If you like it a little more feature rich, check out the HTC range. And (whisper it) if you're agnostic and can afford it, the Nexus S is still not an iPhone beater, so make sure you check out all your options first.

Android 2.3 Gingerbread Google Nexus S Samsung
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