Reviewing the Samsung Nexus S with Pure Android

Samsung’s Nexus S smartphone is truly a one-of-a-kind device. As more Android devices poor on to the shelves, this device stands out as a pure Google experience. The hardware is all Samsung, but internally, there’s nothing added by Samsung, other than device drivers. The UI, and experience is all Google, like it or not.

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Recently launched in Canada by all of the major carriers, it is also available unlocked directly from Future Shop. So you can pick up this phone and use it on any network you like – just about. Keep in mind that Wind, Public Mobile, and the other new entrants are running on a different band. ;-) The price range for the Nexus S varies depending on which carrier and what plan you get. You should be able to find it for somewhere between $50 and $600 if you go for the unlocked version.

Specifications

The Nexus S has just about all the features you could ask for – Powered by Android 2.3, weight of 129 grams, and with dimensions of 123.90x63x10.88 mm. Given it’s ultra thin design (under 11mm) the Nexus is a amazing for what they were able to pack into it: 1500mAh battery, a 5 MegaPixel camera, Super AMOLED screen, Bluetooth 2.1 and USB 2.0, and 16GB of internal storage. They also managed to add Near Field Communication (NFC) into this small footprint. While there isn’t much out there today to take advantage of NFC, the hope is that there will be before this phone is sent off to the big cellphone graveyard in the sky. The Nexus S is running Samsung’s S5PC110 processor, a 1GHz ARM based CPU that preforms very well.

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As you review the hardware features of this phone, there’s one thing that it’s missing. I didn’t notice it at first, but within the first day of using the phone I ran into this and it ended up being one of those things I wish could be changed. It’s missing a slot for a MicroSD card. Yes, I know that I could email myself the files, or perhaps connect it to  my computer and transfer files that way. But it’s not always convenient to boot up your computer just to copy a file to your device.

Getting Physical

The Nexus S is a unique looking smartphone for a couple reasons. The biggest one would be the contoured display. I’ve hear the benefits of this “sold” to users in a number of different ways. The most common is that it is somehow more natural, and provides a better experience when you are interacting with the phone. The contour is definitely a talking point for the phone. The people that noticed it usually did right away and had lots of questions about its pros and cons. The people that didn’t notice it by themselves, and this was the larger group of people, saw it as more of a marketing gimmick.

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My guess is that the truth is somewhere in between. Does it provide a better user experience? Not that I noticed. Is it all marketing? No, I don’t think that’s true either. I’m sure that some people find it more comfortable to talk on because the small curve on the screen means that it would hug your face a little more than the average device. Is it cool? Yes, but it’s not something that I would pay more money for.

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The other unique physical factor of this phone is the bump on the back of the phone at the bottom end. It actually makes the phone easier to hold in your hand when you’re working on the keyboard. On most phones, especially phones with a soft-keyboard, the keys are too close to the bottom edge of the device. As a result the device is poorly balanced in your hands and at that point you’re more worried about it dropping than getting your email done. Proper balance in your hand is key to a good solid keyboard on a mobile device, and Samsung nailed it with the Nexus S.

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Nexus S photos by Kendra

The back of the phone is more than just the average back door. On the Nexus S the back door is the antenna for the NFC. When the door is off, you can see two little connectors that allow the internals of the phone to connect to the external NFC antenna on the back door. To open the back for the phone, you’ll need to insert your thumbnail in the little cut-out along the top of the phone. From there, you can gently pry off the back door. The top of the device isn’t exactly where I would have expected the battery door to open from – typically it’s the bottom of the phone. Regardless, it’s not a big deal were it is, I’m just happy to have the ability. I would have expected the backdoor access to be along the bottom of the device. However, the MicroUSB charge port and the headset jack are along the bottom of the phone.

Pure Android

The idea behind the Nexus group of smartphones it to provide customers with a device that is pure Android, with no modifications or enhancements by the hardware manufacturer and/or the carrier. Samsung’s Nexus S is one of these pure Android experiences. The only changes or additions that Samsung made was the drivers to make it work with their hardware. Otherwise, the Android experience is 100% Google. There’s no fancy changes to the interface like you would find with Samsung’s Galaxy line or HTC’s line of Android devices.

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The question is which do you prefer? For me, I really like the interface that Samsung has built on the Galaxy line of phones. For me, that is much more fun to use than the Nexus S. There are elements that I like with the pure Android approach like getting Android updates in a timely manner. However, I don’t know that it’s enough for me to go the Nexus route over the Galaxy series, or other enhanced Android phones.

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There are some really nice additions in Android 2.3 that I have not seen on other Android 2.3 devices. Maybe it was there and I never saw it, or it was removed by the carrier and OEM, I can’t be sure. The battery usage report is a very powerful tool that shows you how much battery power different parts of the device are using. It’s a great way to find out what is using the power and adjust the settings of that application to reduce the power drain it causes. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see that the display is a huge part of the power consumption on a device. And this could easily be trimmed by turning down the brightness of the screen a little.

Another thing that tends to get lost in the carrier customization is the Live Wallpapers. While they’re still on the device, they aren’t enabled by default. With the Nexus S, the Live Wallpapers are on from the time you first power up the device. Whether or not you leave it on is up to you and the power consumption of the Live Wallpaper you picked.

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The built-in voice recognition software was downright amazing. When you have the keyboard open and are working on an email, text message, or whatever you are looking to type, press the little microphone icon to the side of the space bar and the voice app will pop open. Speak your message to the phone and it will go and do it’s thing and return back what it thinks you said. On my first time using it, the app was about 50% correct. I promptly deleted what it returned and started over again speaking just a little slower and giving just a little more of a pause between words and it returned with a 100% accuracy each and every time from then on. It was even accurate in acronyms like USB and SD.

Final Thoughts

Samsung has done a top-notch job on the hardware that powers the Nexus S. From the awesome screen to the powerful processor, the Nexus S kicks at every curve. While a MicroSD card would be nice, it certainly isn’t critical given the 16GB of on-board storage. The pure Google Android 2.3 provides a powerful operating system, even if it lacks the flashy custom home screens of some of the other Android devices. As is typical with Android, there is a lot more power and customizability in Android than Apple’s iPhone. So if you find the iPhone limiting, you’ll be right at home on this device.

About Mike Temporale

Mike Temporale has written 614 posts on Mobile Jaw..

Mike Temporale grew up fascinated by computers since an early age. His first hands on with a computer came when he was 7 years old and a travelling lab of Commodore PET computers made a stop at his school. Hooked on the new world these devices offered, he took any chance possible to get in front of a computer. When Compaq launched the iPaq 3600, he was hooked again. This time on a whole new world of mobile computing. Today, Mike spends his day helping clients deploy and manage their mobile device around the world. From installing custom software, to locking and securing data, and everything in between. He is also the Editor in Chief at Mobile Jaw - a site focused on today's mobile world.