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Nexus S vs HTC Desire HD

Take two pumped-up robots with a point to prove and pit them against each other in a battle for ultimate smart-phone supremacy? With pleasure.

Google's Android software bestrides the mobile phone world like an adorable green robot overlord. The HTC Desire HD is one of our favourite smart phones of the moment, winning our October Editor's Choice award. But now that Google has brought out a phone of its own, the Nexus S, does the heat of Desire overwhelm the gravitational pull of the Nexus?

The screen: Beauty and the behemoth

The Nexus S rocks a 4-inch Super AMOLED screen, which makes it more than large enough to surf the Web or watch a film on the go. The phone is made by Samsung, one of the world's greatest screen makers, and the only company that can make the Super AMOLED technology.

AMOLED screens are bright and use less battery life, but they also tend to insanely reflective, as we saw on the Google Nexus One, the predecessor to the Nexus S. Super AMOLED lives up to its name, and we've used this type of screen on the Samsung Galaxy S in blinding sunlight without any trouble.

The Desire HD kicks it old-school with an S-LCD screen, another Samsung brainchild, but one with it shares with other phone makers. But it stretches the screen almost into tablet territory, with a 4.3-inch display.The extra 0.3 inches on the Desire HD doesn't sound like much, but combined with the phone's hefty weight, it feels much bigger than the Nexus S.

Both screens do the job with the same 480x800-pixel WVGA resolution, with no lag and plenty of brightness, but in person there's a clear difference between them. The Nexus S' screen is insanely bright, with vivid, saturated colours. The Desire HD's screen is more relaxed, with colours that look more accurate but less retina-searingly impressive.

In our tests, people tended to like that images and video looked more realistic on the Desire HD, but they just couldn't resist the over-clocked, hyper-colourful world offered up by the Nexus S.

So both screens are fantastic in their own ways, but we lean towards to the Desire HD. The colours and detail are more realistic, and we love the extra space.

Winner: HTC Desire HD

The design: Plastic fantastic

The Nexus S's plastic case feels surprisingly light at 129g. To us, it makes the phone feel less solid than the Desire HD, although it doesn't feel cheap or nasty. The screen has a slight concave curve, which Google claims makes it more comfortable against your face. In practice this 'contour screen' is hardly noticeable, but it does contribute to the phone's overall curvaceous appearance.

Our favourite thing about the Nexus S' design is actually when it's turned off. The black screen, black plastic body and darkened touch-sensitive keys all merge into one pleasingly ominous black monolith.

The Desire HD's case is a gorgeous example of metalwork, with various cunning hatches to get at the SIM-card slot and battery. We think it looks fabulous, but there's no doubt this is a beast -- it weighs in at 164g. This phone feels like it could take some hard knocks, but it will only fit in the heftiest pocket.

The Nexus S' light, plastic case may take some getting used to, but the Desire HD isn't portable enough for most people. We're also charmed by the Nexus S' curved screen -- it may be psychosomatic, but we do prefer talking into the Nexus S rather than shouting into the Desire HD's massive acreage.

Winner: Nexus S

Software and features: Something we can all agree on

Both phones use Google's Android software, but the Nexus S' software is pure, untouched Android 2.3 Gingerbread, without any skins or icons added by the manufacturer. It's also had a little bit of a facelift since the last version, with a darker feel and squared-off corners on menus and other user interface options.

It's not a bad-looking UI, but it's not stunningly gorgeous either. It does the job, but it can look fiddly in places.

HTC has put its own special sauce on top of the Android 2.2 Froyo that's on the Desire HD. HTC Sense, as this software is called, adds some handy features, but it means you may have to wait longer for updates to Android -- HTC has to buff them up before it rolls them out to its phones.

HTC's attempts to make Android better looking are very successful, however, so much so that there's a booming trade on the Android Market for widgets that add HTC-like widgets to non-HTC phones.

In terms of features, both of these cubs are smarter than the average bear, with Wi-Fi, HSPA for fast Web surfing over the phone network, GPS and pretty much everything else you can think of.

The Nexus S is the first Android phone to offer NFC, a touchless technology similar to RFID -- think Oyster-card style payments -- but it's not going to be much use unless this kind of NFC suddenly pops up around Britain. Its other advantages are similarly niche -- the front-facing camera and gyroscope are both easy to live without, for most of us.

The Desire HD has the advantage of a microSD memory card slot, which you can pack with up to a 32GB card. The Nexus S has a hefty 16GB built in, but you can't remove the card to use it elsewhere or load files using a card reader. It's easy to plug the phone into your computer and transfer files over a USB cable though.

They're neck and neck again, but the Nexus S comes out on top for us. Although we love HTC's widgets, and we'll miss the memory card slot, we think 16GB is enough and we can't resist having the latest version of Android.

Winner: Nexus S


Both the Nexus S and the Desire HD lead the smart-phone pack with their cutting-edge cases, gorgeous screens and cornucopia of features. We wouldn't kick either of these phones out of bed for eating biscuits, especially since they're so similar to use, despite the Nexus S' more recent version of Android and the Desire HD's special skin.

The Desire HD definitely has its advantages -- its vast screen, memory-card slot and good-looking widgets chief among them. But we can't leave these two robots locked in hand-to-hand combat forever, and one must leave the robot ring the winner. Based on the criteria we've chosen, the overall winner is the Nexus S.