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.

2 thoughts on “Nexus S review”

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