Nexus S first impressions

We received the Samsung Nexus S and have started to put it through its paces. While we poke and prod, check out our first impressions.

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The Samsung Nexus S arrived at CNET today, and as we kick the tires for our full review, we're pleased to offer our initial impressions of the follow-up to the Nexus One.

Design
The Nexus S's candy-bar design is fairly standard--it resembles many of its Galaxy S siblings--but it shows a few unique elements and it's worlds apart from the Nexus One. It's larger and lighter than its ancestor, and it sports an all-black plastic skin with a very faint design on the rear face. We admit, we're a bit divided on the appearance. It's shiny and pretty, but the Nexus S feels too fragile in the hand. Remember that the Nexus One had some metal parts, which gave it a sturdy feel. We're not saying the Nexus S feels cheap, but we'd be wary of dropping it on a hard surface. Also, the plastic surface and the display attract fingerprints like crazy.

Below the display sit the four Android touch controls (menu, search, back, and home). Unlike with the Nexus One, you don't get a navigation trackball; we missed that trackball just a bit. Fortunately, the camera on the rear side is almost flush with the back of the phone--other Android handsets have a protruding lens--and it sits next to the bright flash. The second camera lens is on the front side just above the bright display. Other exterior features consist of a thin volume rocker on the left spine and a power control on the right spine. The 3.5mm headset jack and Micro-USB port sit on the phone's bottom end. Though it's not a huge deal, we'd prefer those ports to be up top.

Samsung is highlighting the Nexus S' "contour" design in its promotional materials. To you that means that the front of the device, display included, is slightly concave. The idea is to make it more comfortable to hold the phone against the side of your head. We're not so impressed, though. The curve is so slight that we didn't notice any difference. We may feel differently after days of use, but the curve seems like a gimmick so far.

Interface
Like its predecessor, the Nexus S offers a straight Google experience uncluttered by a manufacturer's custom interface or a set of carrier-installed apps. Make no mistake that this is a phone for users who want the Android OS served up straight and simple. Indeed, we've always been fans of "letting Android be Android," so we're not going to fault Sammy and Google for going this route. Even with Gingerbread, seasoned Android users will find few new elements. The Super AMOLED display is a little sharper than on the Nexus One, though not too dissimilar from the Galaxy S series. A few of the onscreen icons look different, but the main menu has the "crawl" design where icons disappear into the background. Five home screens are available for customization.

Gingerbread
We're still exploring the full details of the new OS, though we did try the new copy and paste. When using a long press to select words in paragraph, you're now given an option to select just the word you're touching rather than the whole block of text. Then, you'll see new arrows for grabbing just the words you want. It may sound like a small change, but it makes a huge improvement in usability. The virtual keyboard also has some small-but-welcome tweaks.

Features
We'll need time to check out the phone's features, but we can offer a list of the Nexus S' offerings as a refresher. When taken as a whole, you'll see many of the features available in the Nexus One, though the Nexus S adds a near field communications (NFC) chip, the aforementioned second camera, a gyroscope for gaming, and a 1Ghz Hummingbird processor (the Nexus One had a 1Ghz Snapdragon processor). That's not a bad lot, but we were hoping for more from such a showcase device. And we're not happy about the lack of a microSD card slot, HDMI output, and support for T-Mobile's HSPA+ network.

We'll follow up tomorrow with the full review. In the meantime, let us know if you have any specific questions below.

 

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