Following in the footsteps of last year's, the Nexus S presses a 4-inch AMOLED display into a glossy, black plastic body, but where a number of people thought the Galaxy looked cheaply made, we'd challenge anyone to say the same about the Nexus. This newer design feels solid and looks sleek thanks in part to the phone's curved display. You probably heard some of the marketing buzz about this "unique" if subtle feature, and while this is not a ground-breaking leap forward for phones, we do like the way the screen looks and feels.
On the back of the Nexus is a seriously enormous-looking camera lens, covering an 5-megapixel sensor, and a much smaller external speaker vent. Samsung has positioned the headphones socket on the base of the handset, rather than the top; a point of difference we didn't fully comprehend until we played a game in landscape mode with headphones and discovered for the first time that the headphone jack didn't obstruct our finger positions.
One interesting design tidbit you'll notice when using the Nexus S is that Samsung has reversed the layout of the navigation keys on the touch panel below the screen, placing the Home button on the right and the Back on the far left. At first we found this difficult to get our heads around, but after using the phone for a while it began to make sense, especially when web browsing. Having the Back button on the left does make it much easier to access, and though your usage may differ, we tend to use the Back button far more than we use the Home key.
Samsung has reversed the layout of the navigation keys, a nice change once you're used to it.
If you're looking for an Android handset complete with dozens of widgets and wallpapers to customise the look and feel of your phone, the Nexus S is not the best phone for you. Google has backed the Nexus S as its developer handset, meaning it will be the first handset in Australia to run Android 2.3 (Gingerbread). It will be the first to get new Android updates, but also requires Samsung to keep the software exactly as Google designed. There's no Samsung TouchWiz user interface here, and though many will consider this a blessing, there is a sense that the Nexus S feels a little naked. This might underwhelm new Android users who are looking for the most attractive phone, but veteran Androiders will know where to look on the Market for downloads to spruce up their new handset.
The stock Android experience runs like a dream on the Nexus S, as you might expect from a Google-endorsed handset. Swiping through the five available home screens is smooth and almost entirely without any animation jitters, and transitions between screens, like the home screen and the applications drawer, are silky smooth as well.
Multimedia and the web
The multimedia experience of Android smartphones has slowly been improving over recent releases; however, the Nexus S makes it obvious this is not the work of Google, with the out of the box multimedia experience being as simple as the available home screen customisations. You'd be hard pressed to find a Samsung handset in the last 12 months or more that didn't support DivX and XviD video playback and DLNA media sharing with other home electronics, but these important features are notably absent from this handset. The Nexus S supports MP4 video, as well as AAC and MP3 audio, and while some other sites are claiming it will read DivX files, it didn't work with any of our test files.
More disappointing, though, is the phone's sometimes laggy web browsing experience. For many people, web browsing is the core of a new smartphone, which is more important than call quality or any messaging feature. The Nexus S performed well under our page load speed tests, which is on par with the fastest Androids we've seen, but interacting with a loaded page can sometimes be a trying experience. Swiping to scroll down a page can be met by a second or two of lag, followed by extreme animation jitter. Even when the browser is working well it still feels like you're dragging the content of a website through molasses with your finger.