Nexus S review

Owing to its sta­tus as the cur­rent hot Android phone, the rep­u­ta­tion of and con­tin­u­ing sup­port for the Nexus One that came before it, and the Nexus line’s no-crapware, pure Android nature, last month I made a Sam­sung Nexus S my next mobile phone.

My pre­vi­ous phone, for ref­er­ence, was the first Android device, a T-Mobile G1 (HTC Dream).

I like almost every­thing about Nexus S. The device is, for the most part, blaz­ing fast, smooth and com­plete­ly open.

By “open,” I mean:

  • It’s sold SIM-unlocked, mean­ing I can switch between almost any ser­vice provider. This isn’t very use­ful on a dai­ly basis, but is a great option to have for inter­na­tion­al trav­el.
  • Gain­ing root access to the phone is sim­ple. Rather than rely­ing on a secu­ri­ty hole to get root, Nexus devices have offi­cial sup­port for unlock­ing the boot­loader, which opens up the phone to what­ev­er you want to do, installing what­ev­er you want, etc.
  • Even if you don’t root, the Nexus S — like all Android devices — is “open” in a very prac­ti­cal way: apps can be added to these devices from any source you as a user deem wor­thy. If Google doesn’t see fit to include a giv­en app in the Android Mar­ket for what­ev­er rea­son, the devel­op­er can pro­vide an .apk file how­ev­er they like, and you as an adult can make up your own mind as to whether you want to use it.

Here are a few things I like:

  • It’s fast. There’s almost nev­er a hic­cup in run­ning apps, switch­ing between them, hav­ing calls and mes­sages come in when you’re doing some­thing else, etc.
  • Front-facing cam­eras may be stan­dard these days, but I love final­ly hav­ing one in my phone. Just need video sup­port in the Skype app…
  • The screen is amaz­ing. It’s bright, high-resolution, and the glass is actu­al­ly curved, which lets it sit face-down on a table with­out scratch­ing, fit the cur­va­ture of your face, and as some have sug­gest­ed, there are ergonom­ic ben­e­fits for your thumb as well.
  • I don’t know the specs, but the bat­tery life with active use seems way bet­ter than my G1.
  • Lots of onboard stor­age. 16 GB may not be enough for some peo­ple, but it is for me, and I pre­fer this over deal­ing with a slow, unre­li­able microSD card.
  • Small touch­es like the afore­men­tioned curved glass, head sen­sor that dis­ables the screen dur­ing a call, ambi­ent light sen­sor for auto­mat­i­cal­ly adjust­ing screen bright­ness make for a nice expe­ri­ence.

Here are a few things I don’t:

  • The brows­er some­times lags a bit while scrolling web­pages with mul­ti­ple large images. I don’t see a lot of this, so it’s not that annoy­ing.
  • No 4G. Of course, T-Mobile doesn’t have “true” 4G ser­vice, and 3G speeds are enough for web brows­ing… and almost every­thing else I usu­al­ly want to do. Where this has been a prob­lem for me is in stream­ing high-quality music using the Last.fm app; the play­back very often catch­es up to the load­ing. That said, I feel like Last.fm may be part­ly at fault too, as the app seems unre­li­able in oth­er ways that make me doubt it.
  • In-browser Flash per­for­mance sucks, but I’ll take it over none at all so long as Flash ele­ments can be off by default and loaded only on-demand (and they can).
  • I get annoy­ing audio inter­fer­ence in the car when the phone is plugged to the audio while also charg­ing. Not sure if this is the phone’s fault, as it doesn’t hap­pen in the house.
  • Doesn’t shoot HD video, but instead, widescreen VGA… sim­i­lar to my Canon Pow­er­Shot from six years ago. I can’t fig­ure out who thought this was a good idea. I don’t do much video, so it’s not a deal-breaker, but an annoy­ance. I’d love to see them fix this with a soft­ware update, which should be pos­si­ble giv­en the beefy hard­ware in this thing.

The lack of key­board wor­ries me:

  • While the aver­age per­son prob­a­bly has to occa­sion­al­ly enter a sim­ple pass­word and a poor­ly thought-out sta­tus update, I’m a writer and a geek (did you guess?), so accu­ra­cy of text entry is impor­tant to me. Typ­ing on-screen kind of both­ers me.
  • I hate the lack of con­trol when com­pos­ing text, even if auto-correct takes care of most of the inac­cu­ra­cies. It also cor­rects my inten­tion­al mis­spellings, col­lo­qui­alisms, “big words” and many prop­er nouns. The thing to do here is obvi­ous­ly make sure it says what I want before click­ing “Send,” but that’s not always easy.
  • Like I said, I’m also a geek. Who the fuck uses com­mand lines these days? I the fuck do. I man­age a Lin­ux serv­er at work, and very often remote­ly con­nect to the com­put­ers at home to do things through­out the day. Not only is typ­ing awk­ward, but oth­er things don’t work, like double-tabbing key for com­plet­ing com­mands and file­names.
  • On the plus side, on-screen options like Swype and SwiftKey, and Google’s pret­ty good voice input makes this hurt a lit­tle less. Still, I’d total­ly go for an iden­ti­cal phone with a key­board, even if it was a bit thick­er and heav­ier.

But I’m opti­mistic about the future of my phone:

  • As a Nexus phone, its updates are man­aged by Google, so there isn’t any wait­ing for Sam­sung and T-Mobile to get their act togeth­er and release updates to future ver­sions of Android.
  • Its open-phone sta­tus should make it appeal­ing to third-party devel­op­ers like Cyanogen, who will hope­ful­ly con­tin­ue sup­port­ing it into the future.
  • While I’m a lit­tle con­cerned about buy­ing a new phone now, giv­en the upcom­ing wave of Android phones with dual-core CPUs (Tegra II and oth­ers), I’m not sure that my phone being left “in the dust” will be a con­cern for the next cou­ple of years. After all, desk­top devel­op­ers haven’t exact­ly made great use of multi-core CPUs, which have been wide­ly avail­able there for at least five years now. They’re still good to have for mul­ti­task­ing, which is a nice fea­ture to have your mobile OS sup­port, but the sort of mul­ti­task­ing we expect out of our phones doesn’t usu­al­ly involve two CPU-intensive tasks, but rather one that chugs along per­form­ing some menial task (play­ing music, rout­ing GPS, etc.) while anoth­er in the fore­ground does what you want it to at the moment.

In all, I think Nexus S makes a pret­ty good G1 replace­ment, and will serve me well into the future. I’ll keep you post­ed, uh, Inter­net.

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