Android Thoughts: 48 Hours With a Nexus S

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Monday, December 20, 2010

48 Hours With a Nexus S

Posted by Jon Westfall in "Android Talk" @ 07:00 AM

It got here around 48 hours ago, and I've got some interesting observations on the newest Nexus phone. So how does the gingerbready goodness stack up to the bar set by it's older brother, the Nexus One? Well let's talk about it in my Micro-Review-Quick-Look!So let's dispense with the pleasantries - if you don't know about this bad boy phone yet, check out Google's Nexus S page for the specs. Suffice it to say, it's got everything you would expect in a modern slate smartphone. Notably absent would be a physical keyboard, LED lights of any kind, and a micro-SD card slot. Notably present? 2 cameras, Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), a really nice Super AMOLED screen, and an anti-fingerprint coating that actually works 95% of the time.

The Good

It's easier to list my thoughts in bullet points, so let's just use those. Imagine these as small chunks of my consciousness over the past few days:

  • Holy $%# that screen is SWEET! What hooked me on the Nexus One back in March when I saw Darius Wey's N1 (at a lunch with Janak Parekh, both Windows Phone Thoughts alumni) was the screen. Notably black, a color I like, being actually black. The Nexus S's screen, being built by Samsung (who are getting quite good at the whole screen thing) goes a step further. Turning the screen on to see the Google logo is an interesting experience - the white text looks like it's floating on the device, because you can't see where the screen border ends and the black casing of the device begins. Even now I have to hold the phone at an angle to see this border clearly. Given Android 2.3's darker skinning than previous versions (e.g., in the notification bar for example), the Super AMOLED screen really shines brightly.
  • This thing has curves! The Nexus One was very utilitarian in it's case design, while the Nexus S has some pretty sweet curves that feel great in the hand and look very nice as well. The curving screen and slight chin on the bottom back provide a very solid yet still elegant user experience.
  • It's a premium device. Just like the Nexus One, the Nexus S represents all that Android smartphones can be in 2011. Whereas 2010 was the year of "power" (e.g., faster processors, faster OS, and the final "missing parts" of the OS being dropped in Froyo), 2011 is shaping up to be the year of "style". A great user experience in a phone that no one would be embarrassed to be seen with.

The Bad

It isn't all unicorns and roses...

  • I kinda miss LEDs, and a button layout I know. So Google - next time you release specs for an OS, please make all carriers use a standard button layout. The 4 buttons at the bottom of the Nexus S screen are in a completely foreign layout to me, causing me to make many mistakes in the first few days of use. And while the idea of no blinky lights is appealing, there are times I miss them. Why not include them but actually create a setting to turn them off (This idea must be really radical to phone makers since I recall wishing for the same thing in 2003 - you can give us the power to turn our devices into mobile hotspots yet you don't trust us turning little lights on and off?!?)
  • Android 2.3 is a yawn fest. OK, so they changed a few things, but it isn't the same level of change we saw from Eclair to Froyo. Still it is nice to have a stock Android UI, as god... I mean Google... intended it. But if you're looking for killer new features, I doubt a few new widgets and changes under the hood will do it for you.
  • Internal storage is nice, but SD cards are nicer. So Android appeals to both new users and power users alike. Given that, why not include a Micro-SD card slot? The thing got rooted in less than 12 hours after release, features the same nice fastboot oem unlock-capabilities as the Nexus One, and yet the hacker community has no easy way to move files here or there onto it.

So in the end, what would I give this phone? Let's go with 4 out of 5 gingerbread robots on this one. If you're in the market for a new phone and want the top of the line Android experience (and are cool with 3G on T-Mobile USA only*), then go for it, especially if you're a Nexus One owner now. If, however, you want a monumental shift, wait a year - because I can only imagine what the Nexus # (Or whatever it's called) will bring!

* In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I'm really loving the fact that T-Mobile users finally get cool fast phones - I suffered through 2003-2008 on the pinkish carrier, and lusted after some of big blue world's phones. Now it's payback!

Jon Westfall is the Executive Editor of Android Thoughts, a member of the Thoughts Media Network. In his spare time he studies how humans make decisions as a member of the PAMLab and Center for Decision Sciences at Columbia Business School. He lives in Peekskill, New York, with his wife Karey, cat, and antisocial parakeet.


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