Testing the Nexus S 4G's WiMax woes

CNET editors took the Nexus S 4G out for a spin and discovered that it does have poor WiMax performance compared with other Sprint 4G devices.

Nicole Lee Former Editor
Nicole Lee is a senior associate editor for CNET, covering cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, and all things mobile. She's also a fan of comic books, video games, and of course, shiny gadgets.
Nicole Lee
3 min read

The Samsung Nexus S 4G arrived to plenty of fanfare last month, as Google's flagship Nexus phone was finally blessed with 4G in the form of Sprint's WiMax network. Unfortunately, we've heard plenty of reports that the 4G radio on the Nexus S 4G is either defective or just not up to snuff compared with other Sprint 4G devices. We decided to test this claim out on our own. Here are our findings.

Last weekend, I took the Nexus S 4G out to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and the 4G coverage was dismal to nonexistent. I used Ookla.net's Speedtest app to measure speeds. The best I could get was 3.36Mbps down and 1.08Mbps up, with an average of 2.25Mbps down and 0.8Mbps up. As I traveled across the city, signal coverage didn't seem to improve beyond a couple of bars. However, I wasn't sure if this was a failing of Sprint's 4G coverage, or of the Nexus S 4G in particular.

So, over the long Fourth of July weekend, we compared the Nexus S 4G with the HTC Evo 3D in three different locations and with three different methods of measurement. The first location was in the Excelsior district in San Francisco; 4G coverage here is nonexistent, and provided a good control as we simply compared the 3G speeds. The second location was in the Mission district in the thick of July 4 celebrations, where there is typically heavy network congestion. The third location was downtown San Francisco, near the CNET offices, where we usually get the best 4G reception.

For measurement, we ran the Speedtest app on both phones 10 times each to get average download and upload speeds for each location. We also timed how long it would take to load the CNET front door, and we timed how long it would take to upload a 37.2KB camera-phone photo to a limited Google+ circle (just so we don't flood our followers with the same photo over and over again).

Location: Excelsior district, outskirts of San Francisco

Nexus S 4G   HTC Evo 3D
4G coverage None None
Average download speed 0.66Mbps 0.92Mbps
Average upload speed 0.47Mbps 0.35Mbps
Loading time of full CNET front page 13.6 secs 13.2 secs
Upload time of 37KB JPEG 3.2 secs 2.8 secs

Location: Mission district, in the heart of San Francisco, middle of a crowded park

Nexus S 4G   HTC Evo 3D
4G coverage 1 bar 2 bars
Average download speed 2.5Mbps 2.42Mbps
Average upload speed 0.68Mbps 0.6Mbps
Loading time of full CNET front page 10 secs 8 secs
Upload time of 37KB JPEG 2.8 secs 2.7 secs

Location: Downtown San Francisco, where we usually get good 4G reception

Nexus S 4G   HTC Evo 3D
4G coverage 1 bar 2 bars
Average download speed 2.47Mbps 6.7Mbps
Average upload speed 0.75Mbps 0.84Mbps
Loading time of full CNET front page 11.3 secs 8.9 secs
Upload time of 37KB JPEG 2.4 secs 2.3 secs

What we discovered was that in areas of heavy congestion/poor reception and nonexistent 4G coverage, the speed test results were about the same. In fact, the Nexus S 4G was a tad faster at times, even when the HTC Evo 3D showed more bars. However, in an area where we usually get strong 4G signals, the Nexus S 4G lost consistently to the Evo 3D.

This shows that if you take 4G out of the equation, the two phones have about the same speeds. However, in a good 4G area, the Nexus S 4G failed to keep up with the HTC Evo. As a result, we do think there's something not quite right with the Nexus S 4G's WiMax coverage. We've heard that Sprint and Google are already working on an update; we'll let you know once we find out if and when that happens.

UPDATE: Sprint has announced that it will be rolling out an update to the Nexus S 4G that will hopefully resolve the signal strength issues.