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The Nexus S is a rebel child, officially declining to use the brand names of either of its parents, Google and Samsung, despite having their logos tattooed on its back. But it's got nothing to be ashamed of -- it's a great combination of Google's software smarts and Samsung's hardware savvy.

Although you won't be able to buy a Nexus S until 20 December, exclusively from Carphone Warehouse and Best Buy UK, we had the pleasure of taking the phone for an early spin. With pre-production hardware and software, the sample that we used wasn't quite ready for prime time, but it still ran insanely quickly and smoothly.

We also got a glimpse of Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which is making its debut on the Nexus S. But we don't think this update will blow minds as much as the last iteration, Android 2.2 Froyo, which brought Flash to the Web browser. 

We like Gingerbread's support for a gyroscope and front-facing camera, both of which are built into the Nexus S' hardware. There's also a graphics processor that's separate from the main Hummingbird processor. Combined with the gyroscope, that opens up the possibility of even better Android gaming.

Gingerbread's headline features won't mean much to many users, however. Its NFC (near field communication) wireless technology could possibly replace QR codes as a quick way to grab content or link to Android apps without having to type anything in, but any really compelling uses are still in the future.

Built-in SIP, which makes it possible to make VoIP calls directly from the phone's dialler without installing another app, will take a while for most people to figure out. Like tethering, we think it could be a handy feature that many users will ignore. 

The treats we think you'll enjoy most in Gingerbread are speed improvements and a few tweaks to the user interface.

Still, there's something delicious about being the first to get the latest features, and having pure, unadulterated Android on the Nexus S means you're likely to get operating-system updates before anyone else, too.

Check out our preview for an in-depth assessment of the phone's pros and cons, based on our hands-on experience. We'll be updating the preview with a full review once we've taken the Nexus S for an all-out test.

In the meantime, click through the photo gallery above for a peek at the Nexus S' new, darker user interface, shiny black case, and unfathomably coal-black soul (maybe).

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The Nexus S' curved screen looks dramatic in pictures, but it's barely noticeable in real life. It's meant to make the phone more comfortable when held against your face. We like it, although the effect may be mainly psychological.
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The back of the Nexus S is very Samsung-esque. In fact, it could be mistaken for a Samsung Galaxy S, with the same bumpy bottom.
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For the first time, the Android version in the phone's settings is shown by its nickname, Gingerbread, rather than its version number. But it's worth noting that the phone we saw had a pre-production build on it, so that could possibly change on the final phone.
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Even though this phone wasn't quite finished, loading Web pages was blindingly fast, and pages rendered as quickly and as accurately as ever. Multitouch zooming was smooth and fast, too.
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Comparing the Nexus S to the Google Nexus One, the differences in the new user interface become more obvious. The menu background and the notification bar have gone from grey to black, which helps to conserve battery life.
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Checkboxes and other user-interface elements have been tweaked too, also going from grey to black.
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The Android keyboard has had a refresh, offering a handy shift key that you can hold down to enter numbers quickly, and revamped autocorrect.
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Even the Android Market has had a minor tweak, in the form of a 'related' tab that points you at similar apps. This addition is already getting rolled out to older versions of Android.
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Gingerbread offers NFC technology, which means it could support contactless events, like opening a Web link by waving the phone near an NFC-enabled sticker, as pictured. But there aren't many ways to exploit this feature in the UK yet, so it won't mean much for now.
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