Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Google Nexus S

Here it is, at last. We know that it’s about 9 months since Google launched the Nexus S as its new flagship phone, touting that seductive curved glass screen, near-field communication (NFC) and the latest offering of its mobile phone Operating System – Android 2.3 (Gingerbread). In that time, dual-core phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S II, the LG Optimus 2X and the HTC Sensation have re-defined what it means to be truly “high-end”. In response, the price of the Nexus S has fallen to a rupee under 20,000/- at Flipkart. With the lack of a microSD card slot, and 8-month old specs – does the price justify Google’s offering? Or would you be better off buying a phone from HTC/Samsung/LG/Sony Ericsson (or from any of the other Android phone manufacturers) ? Our full review is itching to answer that question. Hit up that “Read more” button below to read for yourself.


Google Nexus S - Hardware

To put it simply, if you’ve seen/held the Samsung Galaxy S, you’ve seen/held the Google Nexus S. It feels a little less plasticky than the Galaxy S, though. Looking around the sides and edges of the Nexus S, you’ll find the usual array of ports and buttons – the micro-USB port, 3.5mm headphones jack and the mic at the bottom, the slim volume rocker at the left edge and the power button at the right edge (a common aspect of Samsung phones, which could be frustrating if you’re used to finding the Power button at the top of the phone).

The top-front of the phone houses the front-facing video camera and the speaker. The back cover of the phone houses the 5 megapixel camera with the LED flash that the Galaxy S missed out on, and the usual Samsung loudspeaker grille. This back cover was also a little extra tight; we were afraid that we would break something when opening up the phone to insert our SIM card. The biggest “deal” for the Nexus S, its curved, concave front face is something worth looking at, touching and owning. If you want a phone with a face that feels different, looks different and exudes difference – then this is it. The curved screen fits pleasantly against the side of the face during calls, and is a pleasure to swipe across and use. It alone does not justify the purchase of the phone, but it certainly helps.

Unlike the Nexus One, the Nexus S has both Google and Samsung branding. Google must have really really wanted Samsung to make the phone if Samsung was able to coax Google into allowing the Samsung logo onto the phone. This isn’t really an issue – but it’s something worth noting, especially if you’re looking for a pure, undiluted Google experience.

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Google Nexus S - Hardware


Google Nexus S - Software

The biggest draw for us in the Nexus S – the undiluted, Google-made stock Android OS. As soon as we powered on the phone and inserted our SIM, the phone asked to update itself. The 2.3.4 System Update (around 99 MB) came through in minutes (via our trusty Airtel 3G) and we were desperately waiting to check out video calling in Google Talk. It worked fluently – between a PC without a webcam (one-way video, two-way audio), a MacBook (two-way audio and video) and a PC with a webcam (two-way audio and video). If you use video/voice chatting in Google Talk, that alone could necessitate your purchase of an Android phone with a front-facing video camera (as confirmed by Google representatives, voice chatting will also work only on a phone with a front-facing camera – for now).

We generally tend to like simplicity – and for people like us, a stock Google Android handset such as the Nexus S is a huge plus. We didn’t need to hack it (voiding the warranty) or anything – we just have a plain vanilla Android ROM on the handset. It works beautifully without crashing, without draining up the battery. If we have said this before, bear with us as we say it again – the Google Nexus S is the device for anybody wanting a clean, plain vanilla Android experience. Also, since it’s Google’s darling it gets the latest versions of Android the fastest. To illustrate this point, the Nexus S launched with Android 2.3 Gingerbread in December 2010. The Samsung Galaxy Ace, which launched in February 2011, is yet to get an official update in some parts of the world to Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Two big reasons that we see which hugely favour the Nexus S.


Google Nexus S - Performance, Quadrant benchmark

With Quadrant benchmark scores in the vicinity of 1400, the Nexus S is no slouch in the performance department. Of course, it can’t oust the dual-core trio of the LG Optimus 2X, the Samsung Galaxy S II or the HTC Sensation – but it certainly can hold it’s own, considering that you paid under Rs. 20,000/- for it. The software interface is smooth – no lags, no freezes, no hiccups. We tested out Adobe Flash and some games that utilise Adobe AIR. They all worked beautifully, and trust us, games built using Adobe AIR are something else. They are a visual treat. Online Flash Videos played well only upto 480p; even 720p Flash videos couldn’t playback without stuttering (the buffering was fine – we tested this on 3G).

So not too many complaints with regard to the performance of the device’s 1 Ghz processor core – but what about the battery life? We’re happy to note that the Nexus S lasted through the day with moderate usage of Internet, gaming and music. With light usage (data off, no GPS, etc), it lasted for nearly two days. The interesting thing was that even when we ran down the battery to a complete zero, the Nexus S had enough battery power left for us to fumble around for the charger and plug it in. Something we don’t see on many devices, these days.

Google Nexus S - Green Hornet Adobe AIR Game 01 Google Nexus S - Green Hornet Adobe AIR Game 02 Google Nexus S - Performance, Games Google Nexus S - Performance, Battery life

Google Nexus S – Performance


Google Nexus S - 5 MP Camera

The 5 Megapixel camera at the rear of the Nexus S may not beat the best cameraphones in the business such as the iPhone 4, the Nokia N8, the Sony Xperia Arc, the Galaxy S II or the HTC Sensation. The camera can however, comfortably make your basic point-and-shoot camera redundant enough to leave it behind for day-to-day use and small-time gatherings and events. As the photos below make clear, the camera is pretty good for wide shots and quite excellent at macro shots (check out the photograph of the MacBook Air keyboard, for example). The built-in LED flash does help in situations, but only if the subjects are quite close to the camera.

Video recording was commendable as well. It’s safe to say that with a camera such as this on your phone, you won’t be hunting for that 5-10k digital camera that you possess. The performance isn’t jaw-droppingly amazing; but it’s just good enough for us to be satisfied with it enough to bid adieu to the world of point-and-shoot digital still cameras.

Google Nexus S Camera - Moving shot Google Nexus S Camera - Macro, MBA Keyboard Google Nexus S Camera - Macro, 5 Rupee coin Google Nexus S Camera - Macro, Clay model - autorickshaw Google Nexus S Camera - Macro, Clay model - autorickshaw with flashGoogle Nexus S Camera - Wide photo, through transparent glass Google Nexus S Camera - Macro, Intel label

Google Nexus S – Camera shots

Audio, Music, Video

Google Nexus S - Google Music Beta, albums

Thanks to our Google Music beta account, we got all our music on to the device by just synchronizing our Google Music beta account with the device. As you can see in the photo above, Google Music beta has a very nice “Albums” section. On certain low-end phones, panning through this array of albums from left to right can make the phone stutter now and then – not so on the Nexus S. It handled the interface with aplomb. Music playback was very good through the provided headphones; not so through the built-in loudspeaker. The classic case of a slight touch over the loudspeaker grille at the back of the phone muffling the sound output of the phone completely – remains. Samsung really needs to figure something out. It simply is unacceptable that a high-end flagship phone (even the Samsung Galaxy S has the same issue) is completely muted when the speaker grille is even slightly covered. This could very easily happen if you’re holding the phone with a finger over the grille, or if the phone’s in your pocket. This could definitely be a deal-breaker for some.

The provided in-ear headphones are a real treat (for a pair of headphones bundled with a phone). If in-ear headphones are not your cup of tea, you would need to buy another pair of headphones or use an existing pair. If you like in-ear headphones, these are some of the best we’ve seen bundled with a phone. The Nexus S also excels in the video playback department. Colours and blacks, especially, are brilliant. Once again, the curved glass surface give the device an ethereal feel when you’re watching a video being played back. If there is something we would like to change with regard to the audio/music aspect of the phone (apart from the location of the loudspeaker grille) is the thin volume rocker on the left side. Would it hurt if the volume rocker was slightly thicker, so that our fingers could actually feel the buttons? Well, we guess Samsung/Google can do better next time.


Google Nexus S - Speedtest results

Data (2G/3G/Wi-Fi) / GPS / Bluetooth

All data connectivity options worked fine, as expected without any issues. We had good speeds over 2G/3G. Wi-Fi connectivity was a breeze as well. Whether it was downloading Apps, the System Update we mentioned in the Software section above, or simply browsing the web and consuming YouTube videos – the phone glossed over all data connectivity functions with smoothness and ease. GPS tracking was on-target and fairly accurate as well. The battery drain while using GPS was expected, but quite unsavoury. The battery dropped from around 93% to about 45% during a 1:15 stint of driving with GPS using the community-oriented Waze app. Bluetooth connectivity was tested with a little bit of apprehension, since the Samsung Galaxy S has experienced connectivity issues with certain phones in our possession. Thankfully, none of those issues were seen with the Nexus S. We were able to transfer files from the Nexus S to other phones, PCs and perform other Bluetooth-related tasks. The Wi-Fi hotspot feature especially worked without a single hitch – sharing our 3G connection with a bunch of friends (or colleagues) was never easier.

External Storage / NFC

Surely you’ve heard or read by now that the Google Nexus S does not have expandable memory capacity – it has built-in 16 GB, and that’s it. Frankly, we don’t see anyone buying 16 GB microSD cards, so this should have you covered. If you don’t know already, we’d just like to note that this 16 GB is not a part of the ROM; it’s treated as “External storage” by the Operating System. So if you want to install a lot of Apps, you’re still going to have to use that oh-so-useful “Move to SD” feature for some Apps to free up space on the ROM (main memory) of the phone. It’s no secret that the Nexus S has NFC support – Near Field Communication. This is something that could definitely turn our world upside down – but it’s yet to take off, yet to gain traction, and yet to find devices to inhabit. We were unable to test this out at all, since there were no folks around with another NFC-capable device. Due to the lack of support of devices and software (especially in India), this is definitely not something that should sway your decision in favour of the Nexus S. There are plenty of other worthwhile reasons to choose the Nexus S over other phones, though; NFC just isn’t one of those reasons.

Final thoughts

Google Nexus S - Google logo

So we come to the part of the review that’s the most important – the verdict. Should you or should you not head out and buy the Google Nexus S? As we noted earlier in this review, if you need to have the latest and greatest version of Android with all its bells and whistles, then a Google phone is the phone for you. However, whether that Google phone needs to be the Nexus S is a big question. Rumours are ripe of the next Google phone to be launched in 2-3 months – the Nexus Prime – which would make the Nexus S obsolete by several points. If you are in the market for a phone and your budget is Rs. 20,000/- then you definitely want to consider this – it’s a valuable buy at that price point. If you head over to www.Letsbuy.com and use coupon codes as we mentioned previously, you could even get it for Rs. 1000/- less. And if you’re still wondering what’s so great about vanilla-flavoured Android, we’d like to point you towards an article on This Is My Next by Chris Ziegler, which details the advantages provided by the Nexus S experience over more powerful smartphones such as the LG Optimus 2X and the Motorola Atrix (yet to be released in India).

Many thanks to Ganesh Arumugam for his contributions to this review.


Girish Jathar said...

Is it legal to have this phone in India? If so how would it work? On microsd sim???

The Indian Geek said...

Hi Girish,

Thank you for stopping by our site!

To answer your queries, the Google Nexus S uses a standard-sized SIM and is completely unlocked - so any standard-sized SIM from any GSM mobile operator in India should work. The phone is available for legal purchase in India - The Indian Geek does not condone the purchase or the illegal (grey/black market) purchase of electronic goods.

You may check with popular online websites such as www.flipkart.com or www.letsbuy.com where the phone is currently available for Rs. 19,999/-


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Vc Harishankar said...

bought it.
awesome. a phone that keeps getting newer. :)
the only 'draw back' is that u cant have 32gb micro sd.
but once usb on the go is activated thru ice cream sandwich, that wont b a problem...

Rajat Malhotra said...

while typing messages we cant enter a new line...is this an issue or are there some settings for it??

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