The Nexus S has popped out of the oven stuffed with freshly baked phone to run the latest version of Google's Android software. It combines Samsung's slick hardware with Android 2.3's seemingly endless features, and the result is a confection that's worth nibbling. But don't expect massive changes compared to Android 2.2 Froyo or the Samsung Galaxy S' hardware. The Nexus S is a subtly refined dessert, rather than a gastronomic innovation.-- it's the first
The Nexus S will be available from 20 December for free on a £35-a-month contract, or £550 without a contract, exclusively from Carphone Warehouse and Best Buy. Either way, the phone will come unlocked so you can use it on any network.
Android Gingerbread OS
The Nexus S is Google's latest flagship phone, following in the footsteps of the T-Mobile G1 and Google Nexus One. The 'S' in its name signifies its Samsung origins -- and that's a company that knows how to make some very sexy hardware. But the software that Samsung added to phones like the Galaxy S did more harm than good in places, so it's a pleasure to see pure Android running on the Nexus S.
We're happy to report that Android 2.3 Gingerbread is fabulously fast. The user interface is zippy and smooth, and Google has added some fun treats. For example, when you lock the phone, the screen blinks to black like an old-fashioned telly. Apps open quickly, too. If you've used Android 2.2 Froyo, we don't think you'll notice a huge amount of difference in the speed of the new UI, but it's a big improvement over older Android versions, and the Nexus S is faster than most touchscreen phones other than the.
If we did have to pick nits with the Nexus S' UI, we'd say that it's not as buttery smooth as the iPhone 4's.
Zooming into Web pages using multi-touch gestures, for example, is a slightly more juddery experience than it is on Apple's handset.
But the Web browser in Android 2.3 seems faster than ever, and it rivals the speed of the iPhone 4's browser. The Web pages we tested loaded quickly and accurately, and you get the bonus of Flash Player 10.1 support, so you can see every website just as it was designed to look.
In our tests, Flash worked very well in the browser. We noticed the occasional hiccup, especially when dealing with sites that weren't designed with the small screen in mind. But we think Flash support is well worth having, and we didn't find that the Nexus S crashed or slowed down as a result of this capability.
But we did run into one brick wall -- BBC iPlayer didn't recognise the Nexus S, and the site wouldn't display. There's nothing we know of that would prevent the Nexus S from accessing iPlayer, unless it isn't on the BBC's list of supported phones, so we have high hopes that the Beeb will sort this out by the time the Nexus S appears in shops.
As well as the whizzy Web browser, a few tweaks have also been made to Android's appearance -- it's darker and more handsome than before. The notification bar along the top of the screen and the background on the menu have both gone black, with refreshed icons. The curved edges of icons and UI elements such as checkboxes also now look more angular.
The changes do make Android look smart, and will definitely appeal if you're into the Darth Vader look. But, according to Google, they also have the knock-on advantage of making the screen consume less power, extending battery life. This seems like an obvious way to make the batteries in power-guzzling phones last longer, especially when they're getting ever-thirstier features on the inside, like GPS and Wi-Fi. But just turning the lights off does seem like something of a cheat, and the interface's new appearance may not be for everyone.
We welcome the refreshed interface, but one thing it doesn't do is make Android
easier to use. Compared to some rival smart-phone operating systems, Android isn't
the most intuitive software. It does almost anything that you can think
of and it's insanely flexible, but it's also a nest of menus, options and
choices. If you fancy putting in some time to tweak your phone
perfectly to your liking, the Nexus S will prove a great choice. But, if you
want a phone that doesn't challenge your brain cells, stay away.
Besides the tweaked interface, Gingerbread's most significant features might not be of much use to many users.
For example, the Nexus S supports NFC (near field communication). It's a wireless technology that lets you wave your phone around near NFC-enabled stickers to do things like prompt a browser session. The sexy side of this technology would be using your mobile as an Oyster card on the London Tube, or paying for goodies using contactless-payment systems.
But it doesn't look like we'll be able to use the Nexus S for any of those purposes over here any time soon -- NFC is, like so many cool things, mostly big in Japan. Instead, we're more likely to see NFC being used to subject us to marketing bumf -- for example, film posters that load up an associated website when you wave your phone at them. But, hey, that's how QR codes started, and now they're catching on as a way to share Android apps.