Samsung Nexus S review: Samsung Nexus S

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MSRP: $549.99

The Good The Samsung Nexus S offers a brilliant display, decent call quality, and enough features to keep you busy. The Gingerbread OS offers usability improvements, and the stock Android is a welcome change for AT&T.

The Bad The Samsung Nexus S feels rather fragile, and it lacks a memory card slot and LED notifications. AT&T added no new features, and data speeds were slow.

The Bottom Line The Samsung Nexus S brings a much-needed stock Android OS, Gingerbread, to AT&T. But eight months after its original debut, the handset feels underpowered and behind the smartphone curve.

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7.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Editors' note: Since AT&T's Samsung Nexus S is nearly identical to T-Mobile's, we will focus mainly on performance differences for this review. For CNET's full analysis of the Nexus S series, including design and features, check our review of T-Mobile's Nexus S.

Eight months after it originally went on sale with T-Mobile, the Samsung Nexus S continues to make the carrier rounds by landing at AT&T. You'll find few differences from its counterparts at T-Mobile or Sprint, which is both a good and a bad thing. On the upside, we continue to appreciate the sleek design, brilliant display, and stock version of Gingerbread (Android 2.3), but we're disappointed that AT&T couldn't offer us anything new. We don't get HSPA+ support (at least Sprint's handset is 4G) and the handset still lacks LED notifications and a memory card slot. In a vacuum that might be fine, but when compared with AT&T's recent Android devices like the HTC Inspire 4G and Samsung Infuse 4G, the Nexus S doesn't quite measure up.

AT&T's Nexus S is indistinguishable from its two siblings. You'll see the same trim profile (4.88 inches long by 2.48 inches wide by 0.43 inch deep; 4.55 ounces) with the "contour" design that is meant to match the curve of your head. But here again, the phone feels too fragile in the hand.

The Nexus S is pretty, but we'd take care when handling.

The 4-inch Super AMOLED display is responsive and no less brilliant with its 16.7 million colors and 800x480-pixel resolution. You can customize the five home screens at will and adjust the brightness and the backlight time. You'll also find the same external controls, virtual dial pad, and virtual keyboard.

The Gingerbread OS brings a redesigned keyboard to the Nexus S.

Indeed, the stock Gingerbread OS remains one of the phone's top attractions (see the T-Mobile review for a complete analysis of Gingerbread). We particularly like the improved cut and paste, the Battery Use menu, and the new voice-input features. What's more, the stock Android and lack of carrier bloatware will appeal to purists.

The feature set is respectable, but we wish that the Nexus S gave us more improvements over the Nexus One and that AT&T had at least made a small effort to distinguish its Nexus S from the other versions.

The Nexus S' camera lens and flash sit on its rear face.

Inside you'll find an NFC chip, a 5-megapixel camera, a front-facing VGA shooter, access to Google apps, Bluetooth 2.1 (with A2DP), Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n), PC syncing, GPS, USB mass storage, 16GB of internal memory, messaging and e-mail, a full Web browser, a personal organizer, USB tethering, and a Wi-Fi hot spot. As we said, though, you'll have to do without an external memory card slot and LED notifications.

Like its counterparts, the Nexus S has admirable photo quality.

We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Samsung Nexus S world phone in San Francisco using AT&T service. For the most part, call quality was admirable and we detected little static or feedback. Voices didn't always sound natural (see below), but we could hear our callers clearly and our friends could understand us with few issues. Like on its siblings, the volume on the AT&T Nexus S was a bit lower than we'd like. It wasn't a problem in most locations, but we had trouble hearing in busy public places.