Outside of the new features that we mentioned already, the Nexus S isn't a huge step over the Nexus One or even, for that matter, most of the Galaxy S handsets. Sure, we welcome the new features like the second camera and the gyroscope, but we were hoping for more new goodies on such a showcase device. What you get isn't a bad lot, to be sure, but the Nexus S could be better.
First we'll start with basics. The size of the phone book is limited by the available memory, with each entry holding multiple fields for phone numbers, as well as an e-mail, a street address, a company name, an instant-messaging handle, a nickname, a URL, and notes. You can pair contacts with a photo, but oddly we couldn't find how to associate individuals with one of the 28 polyphonic ringtones.
Other essentials include text and multimedia messaging, e-mail syncing (both Gmail and not), calendar syncing (both Google and not), a calculator, an alarm clock, and a news and weather widget. You'll also find the expected smartphone offerings like Bluetooth 2.1 (with A2DP), Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n), PC syncing, USB mass storage, and an accelerometer. And to our surprise (and delight), options for USB tethering and using the phone as a Wi-Fi hot spot were among the menu options. We checked these features out and were quite pleased by their performance.
We tested the voice commands and dialing feature with both making a call and composing a text. Both worked reasonably well as long as you speak slowly and annunciate. On a related note, we were glad to see the plentiful accessibility options like TalkBack, SoundBack, and KickBack. What's more, the speech-to-text option can read out text on the screen as you select it. You can secure the Nexus S using a PIN, a password, or an onscreen pattern, and you can customize GPS settings and choose to make your password invisible as you type.
Google features and apps
Though some Android phones have stripped out Google features or forced us into using Bing Search (we're talking to you, Verizon), every Google goodie you could want is on the Nexus S. Onboard are Google Voice, YouTube, Google Search (with voice), Google Latitude, Google Maps with Navigation, Google Places, Car Home, and Google Talk.
Given the GPS issues that plagued the Galaxy S phones--let's face it, the Nexus S basically continues that series--we were apprehensive about the Nexus S' mapping abilities. Luckily, it locked onto our location quickly during our tests and pinpointed us with a satisfying degree of accuracy. In most cases, it was rarely more than about a half of a city block off, which is about 200 feet in CNET's San Francisco South of Market neighborhood. On a couple of occasions it was off by more, but they were the exception rather than the rule. Of course, when we were inside it wasn't quite as exact. For the best experience, you should activate Wi-Fi and the GPS location feature in the Settings menu.
As we mentioned, the Nexus S isn't cluttered with a selection of carrier-imposed apps. That leaves you the freedom to use as many apps as you want through the Android Market. Gingerbread didn't bring any design changes to the Market, but we're not going to complain. Fortunately, the Nexus One accepts non-Market applications.
The 5-megapixel camera has the same resolution as the Nexus One and the Galaxy S series. At first we were peeved that we didn't get an 8-megixel shooter, but after seeing the camera perform, we'll let it pass. You can take pictures in four resolutions, and you can use a broad selection of editing options like autofocus, infinity and macro modes, exposure metering, nine "scene" settings (night, beach, etc.), three quality modes, and three color modes. We're happy to see such a selection considering that many of today's smartphones--from both Android and Apple--lack camera-editing features.
Deeper down, you'll find even more features like five white-balance settings and geotagging. The flash is extremely bright to the point of washing out photos taken in the dark, but we'll gladly take it over not having one at all. You can use an auto setting, keep it on for all shots, or turn it off completely.
Except for the Epic 4G, the Nexus S stands apart from the Galaxy S series in offering a front-facing camera. It has a VGA resolution, which is not uncommon, but you can use it for video chats and self portraits. Gingerbread also adds the ability to switch between the two cameras at the touch of a button. And speaking of which, the camera interface is sleek and user-friendly.
We were hoping for high-def shooting from the camcorder, but that's not the case. Instead it shoots clips in a 720x480-pixel resolution at 30fps. Editing options are limited to three color effects, the flash (it doubles as a steady light), and the five white-balance settings. How much you can record will depend on the video quality; clips for an MMS are capped at 30 seconds, clips destined for YouTube are limited to 10 minutes, and clips in normal mode can go as long as 30 minutes.
Photo quality was quite satisfying, though it won't knock you over. Colors looked natural and there was enough light without the flash, but we noticed some image noise around the edges of most objects. Video clips are about the same: good, but not excellent. Once you're done creating, you can transfer your work off the Nexus S easily using USB syncing, Bluetooth, e-mail, or a multimedia message. Of course, you can upload clips and shots directly to YouTube or Picasa, and we like that you can tweak the latter by cropping or rotating. The Gallery application is unchanged, but that's not a bad thing after the welcome upgrades from Froyo.
Audiophiles can use the standard Android music player. You'll find the usual set of options like album art, playlists shuffle, and an airplane mode. It all works fine, but we continue to hope that Google sharpens the music player soon. As with photos and videos, transferring tracks on and off the phone is easy.
The Nexus S offers 512MB of RAM and 16GB of internal memory. Though the latter should be more than enough space for most users, we remain unhappy that there's no memory card expansion slot; we've continually knocked Apple for no memory card on its iPhones, so we have to do the same here. Not only does it limit customer choice, but also we reckon that there will be some users who may just need more space.
The Nexus S' browser is unchanged from most Froyo devices. Web pages look great on the bright display, and we could navigate easily by scrolling and panning. Features include pinch-to-zoom multitouch, multiple windows, bookmarks, and the ability to find text on a page. What's more, you can use the nifty new copy and paste in the browser.
Powering the Nexus S is the same 1Ghz Hummingbird processor on the Galaxy S devices. The difference between the Nexus One's 1Ghz Snapdragon processor is readily apparent; we cruised through menus almost instantly, and all applications that we used opened within a few seconds. There were a couple of exceptions--the Photo Gallery took almost 5 seconds to start up--but they were rare. When we compared with the iPhone 4 in side-by-side testing, we didn't see much of a difference, which isn't surprising since the Nexus S' processor is a close cousin of the chip on Apple's device. Though we thought that the Nexus S could offer a dual-core processor, its chip is single-core. So for now it's back to waiting game for that feature.
We tested the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Nexus S world phone in San Francisco using T-Mobile service. Call quality was quite admirable during our initial testing period. We had enough volume, the signal was clear, and voices sounded natural. We didn't encounter any static, and background noise was kept to minimum. Our only complaint was that there was a very slight hiss during some calls, but it wasn't annoying.
Samsung Nexus S call quality sample Listen now:
On their end, callers said we sounded quite good. In fact, a few people couldn't tell that we were using a cell phone. On the whole, however, our friends reported good clarity without too much interference. They had a bit more trouble if we were calling from a noisy place, but those instances were few. Similarly, automated calling systems could understand us most of the time.
Speakerphone calls were admirable as well. The volume on our end was really loud and the voice clarity was some of the best we've heard. We had to sit close to the phone if we wanted to be heard, and it was best if we were calling from a quite place, but that's not unusual. Bluetooth headset calls were satisfactory, but quality will depend on the headset.
As we mentioned, the Nexus S is optimized for T-Mobile's 3G network (AWS 900/1700/2100) so AT&T users will have to deal with GPRS and EDGE speeds. Yes, that's disappointing on an unlocked phone, since it limits your choices for jumping carriers. Yet, even worse is that the Nexus S doesn't support T-Mobile's "4G" HSPA+ network. After all, the carrier is promoting the heck out of that network, so we wonder why such an anticipated device wasn't let in on the high-speed party.
Complaints aside, the data speeds are pretty snappy. Busy Web pages like Airlines.net and the full versions of WOW.com opened in less than a minute with simpler sites taking even less time. In our experience, T-Mobile's 3G network outperforms AT&T's.
The Nexus S has a rated battery life of 6 hours talk time and 17.8 days standby time. In our initial talk time test, we came away with a respectable 7 hours and 20 minutes. Here are our official CNET Labs tested results. More smartphone testing results can be found here.
|Video battery life (in hours)||Audio battery life (in hours)||Boot time (in seconds)||Web page load time (in seconds)|
|Samsung Nexus S||8.1
We noticed that the Nexus S took almost 5 hours to charge the first time we powered the battery. Yes, first charges can take longer than normal, but it was still worrisome considering that we turned off extraneous features like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. On subsequent charges, it powered up faster. According to FCC radiation tests, the Nexus S has a digital SAR of 0.51 watt per kilogram.
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