Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Nexus S Review

Well, it's finally here. After waiting breathlessly for three months, my taxes arrived and I purchased my Nexus S. This will be my review of the phone based on heavily technical perspective along with one of custom builds as I rooted the phone.

I was pleasantly surprised when I pulled the Nexus S out of the box for the first time. Whoever did the photos for the product page needs to be fired. The photos make the Nexus S appear to be some morbidly obese phone that would make hardware keyboard sliders blush. The reality is that it is an incredibly slim phone. Except for the reverse chin that the Galaxy S phones are known for, this phone is less than half an inch thick.

The overall appearance of the Nexus S is that of a faceless black slate. The extremely responsive capacitive buttons beneath the screen are not visible without the screen being on. There are only two hardware buttons, a volume rocker and a power button. The back has only one noticeable feature which is a chrome bezel around the camera lens, harkening back to the Nexus One. Needless to say, Google has intended this phone to be more art than industrial.

Like all Galaxy S phones, the Nexus S has the 4" Super AMOLED screen. This is one of the best looking screens on the market today. Its closest competitor is the IPS Retina display on the iPhone 4. While the SAMOLED display doesn't match up in the sharpness department, it more than makes up for it in the color production, contrast, blacks, and power saving departments.

Sadly, the phone is made with slick, glossy, lightweight plastic. After only a couple days of owning it, I already have a minor scuff mark on the rear. I've ordered a silicone case for it. Sure it reduces the overall sex appeal of the Nexus S, but I'd prefer to keep my phone scratch free. The only other thing of external note was the curved glass screen. I've heard that it is for ergonomics and to reduce glare from sunlight. Personally, I can't say whether either of these are true, but it certainly makes the phone unique.

Internally, the phone is powered by the same 1 GHz Cortex A8 processor known as the "Hummingbird". Performance wise, the phone is pretty much better than first generation Snapdragon processors and roughly equal to second generation versions. The big claim to fame however, is the PowerVR SGX540 GPU powering the phone. Every game, benchmark, and user interface element is made smooth and fast by the 200 MHz GPU.

The phone comes with much of what you would expect out of a modern smartphone. It has Wifi (b/g/n), Bluetooth (2.1, forsaking 3.0 on the original Galaxy S), A-GPS, Accelerometer, and 5.0 MP rear camera. The unique features are the near-field communication (NFC) chip, gyroscope, and front facing camera. Clearly Google has intended this phone to set the bar for future Android phones. It doesn't lead the pack like the Nexus One did, but it does set the standard.

There are some drawbacks to the hardware, depending on your point of view. The Nexus S lacks an SD card slot. Some will find this a deal breaker, but I never used up my 16 GB card on my Nexus One so I wasn't bothered by it. The plus to it though is the 16 GB iNAND chip inside the Nexus S has ridiculous read/write speeds near 20 MB to 32 MB per second. The Nexus S also lacks 720p recording due to a hardware limitation. Personally, I didn't see this as an issue as it can do 480p which is sufficient for videos on the fly. Finally, the Nexus S only has 7.2 Mbps data speed and not HSPA+ or 4G speeds. Depending on your location, this will or will not make a difference. Either way, I achieved 2 to 4 Mbps speeds with the Nexus S and I have no issues loading up webpages quickly.


Much can be said about the Nexus S and its version of Android. The phone runs the latest version of Android (2.3.3 as of this post), code named Gingerbread. Mechanically, Gingerbread isn't really superior to Froyo. It does have better battery life thanks to an enhanced presence in killing unneeded apps, plus the JIT engine has been improved. No, most of what make Gingerbread unique is the UI overhaul. Google has traded out much of the silver-grey appearance for black and green. Icons have been changed along with a few other aesthetic changes. The two most prominent are the "force field barrier" when one hits the end of a menu and the CRT-like screen off animation. Both are wonderful, but largely Gingerbread is incremental rather than exponential like Froyo was. 
The real weak spots in Gingerbread are really not related to the OS itself, but the apps. Many apps don't yet take advantage of Gingerbread's newer drivers and guts. My favorite launcher program, Launcher Pro, runs choppy at times compared to the butter smooth appearance that it had with my Nexus One running Froyo. Until the developers catch up to the newest version of Android, it will continue to seem incomplete. Also, bear in mind, that it took until 2.3.3 to fix some very devastating bugs in the OS.

Battery Life and Performance

In terms of battery life, after rooting and installing a custom kernel and OS, my battery life is probably anywhere from 16-20 hours of light use. This is not nearly as good as the 24-32 hours I could achieve with my Nexus One, but decent enough to make it through a day without issue. 

Data speeds tend to remain constant in my area at 2 Mbps+. Peaks are usually around 4. Signal strength is weaker with this phone compared to my Nexus One. I found myself losing signal in areas that my former phone wouldn't. 

Voice quality has been excellent. Callers sound distinct and clear and have had no issues with hearing me. The Nexus S excels in call quality.


The Nexus S once again shows the cutting edge of Android. It isn't the most powerful out there as new dual cores overtake it, but it does have the newest version of Android and a huge developer community behind it. The phone probably isn't for a novice however. It is better suited to an advanced user that either wants to root or develop for Android. 

Pros: Beautiful screen, artsy design, excellent performance, future proof for NFC, good battery life, easy to root. 

Cons: No HSPA+, no SD card slot, no 720p, many programs not up-to-date with Gingerbread, no native video chat yet, plastic body is a liability.

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