You have to have been living under a rock not to have come across the Android operating system. It has been gaining ground as a smartphone operating system at all levels of the market from high end to the sub £100 mark. The developer of the operating system, Google, has for the most part kept out of the hardware arena. The software giant released its first handset, the Nexus One, about a year ago and has recently followed that up with its second, the Nexus S. So, is home grown hardware better than that made by third parties?
What is it and who is it for?
The price alone is an indicator of the target market for the Google Nexus S. At £382 (ex. VAT, SIM free), it sits at the higher end of the market, and you’ll need deep pockets or a compliant Finance Director to afford one. The price is an indicator that the specifications ought to be top notch—and indeed they are.
Most noticeably the Nexus S is at the cutting edge of the Android platform. It runs Android 2.3, the latest operating system version. As we write no other Android handsets run version 2.3, but inevitably that will change as software updates hit older phones and new ones are released running the latest OS version.
Google is good at pushing new OS updates to its own handsets where third parties and network operators are not, so that in theory at least, the Nexus S offers those who like to stay ahead of the game a chance of doing so. With support for Microsoft Exchange well integrated before version 2.3 appeared, the Nexus S can sit happily in corporate environments.
Does it do it well?
The Nexus S looks superb. Made by Samsung it is reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy S, sharing that handset’s slight bump at the bottom back of the chassis. More importantly perhaps, the Samsung designed chassis has a superb blank front with no branding and no buttons visible when the handset is switched off. The buttons light up when the screen is switched on offering touch access to the usual Android Back, menu, Search and Home functions.
The 4-inch screen is stunning. Delivering 480 x 800 pixels the screen sports Super AMOLED technology and it is sharp, bright and clear. Web browsing doesn’t get much better on a smartphone and checking company Web sites ought not to present problems.
Despite the large screen this is not a heavy smartphone. It weighs just 129g. The weight is kept down by the plastic chassis. Less attractive than metal it still feels solid under the hands and it ought to survive well with the other bits and bobs in your brief case or bag.
The hardware is impressive with a fast processor (1GHz Cortex A8), Wi-Fi, GPS and HSDPA all present and correct, and there is 16GB of built in storage. Android on the Google Nexus S is ‘plain vanilla’ or ‘unskinned’. This means there is no third party additional element to enhance the look and feel. What you get here is simply the Android operating system designed as Google intended. That means five home screens, a variety of wallpapers, and plenty of widgets to help personalise the look and feel.
If you want more future proofing (we’ve already noted Android 2.3 and Google’s propensity to offer timely OS updates), then the presence of NFC (Near Field Communications) in the Nexus S might excite. This is arguably the Next Big Thing in smartphones, and we are likely to see it emerge as a platform for purchasing as well as data exchange over the coming year.
Other features include a front facing camera, a feature newly supported by Android 2.3 as well as a 5-megapixel main camera with flash. And there are software enhancements to Android 2.3 including a useful manager for running applications which lets you see how much storage and memory individual apps are consuming and close any that are overloading the system.
One potentially very useful new feature of Android 2.3 for businesses is support for SIP-based VoIP calling. This isn’t supported natively by the Google Nexus S, but third parties ought to be able to come up with apps to take advantage.
Where does it disappoint?
There are a couple of ergonomics issues. Call and end buttons are absent, but that’s not too much of an issue as it is easy to call up the dialler and then tap these buttons on screen. More irritating is the absence of a navigation button of some sort. While for the most part this is not a problem, there are times when a navigation button would provide useful precision. Selecting a Web page link, or tapping the editing point in text, such as e-mails, are two examples.
The front of the chassis has a very slight curvature to it. You probably wouldn’t notice this unless you were looking for it. The only reason we can think of for its presence is to slightly curve the Nexus S around your face to help with call clarity, but we’re inclined to think the money spent on production could have been better used.
It is a very big disappointment that the Nexus S does not have any way to boost the 16GB of built-in storage with microSD cards. Now, 16GB may be enough for most business users, but anyone who likes to pop a card into a reader to get data on and off their smartphone will be disappointed, and if you like to relax with a little music or video watching the absence of additional storage potential may really rankle.
Would we recommend it?
The Google Nexus S is not to everyone’s taste. Its unskinned version of Android lacks the bells and whistles of smartphones from the likes of HTC and Samsung. But it does run the latest version of the increasingly popular Android operating system, has some future proofing in that Google has been good at delivering updates quickly in the past, and has some up-to-the-minute new features like NFC and SIP-based VoIP capability. The lack of expandable memory is a real annoyance though, and the SIM-free price is not to be sniffed at. But it’s definitely a phone techies will enjoy.