Techcitement Review: Samsung Nexus S 4G
By Mordechai Osdoby. August 15, 2011, 12:45 PM CST
The Samsung Nexus S 4G is not a new phone, I’ll cop to that. However, in light of the recent recent OS update coupled with today’s big news, I thought I’d give it a whirl.
Right out of the box, the Nexus impressed. It’s packaged nicely and looks well made. While the housing is plastic instead of metal, it doesn’t feel cheaply made. There’s a slight curve to the 4” display. Google is calling this their “contour display”. I don’t know if it adds actual function, but it sure as heck looks nice.
There’s a simple volume rocker on the left side, a USB-Micro port and headphone jack on the bottom, and an on/off switch on the right side. Adjusting to the on switch and headphone positions actually took me a bit of time. I’m still not a fan of headphones on the bottom as a rule, but the phone got enough other things right that I sucked it up and dealt. One unique factor to the Sprint version that I tested is a “butt” on the phone at the bottom. This may be to accommodate the NFC (Near Field Communications) chip that was added. While this seems awkward, it actually helped my grip when the phone was held in landscape mode.
I’m unable to test the NFC functionality, but beyond that there are plenty of other features to check out. The CDMA Nexus S touts a Super AMOLED screen, 15 GB of storage (sorry, no add-in slot), a 4G connection (where available), front and rear facing cameras, and the most recent version of the Android OS.
One area that I need to ding the Nexus S for is the capacitive buttons on the front. I suppose it would ruin the neat screen and great looks, but the lack of any kind of tactile sensation when pressing the back, menu, search, or home keys is frustrating. Like the headphone issue, it’s not enough to make me hate the phone, but it’s a bit annoying.
You know what’s the opposite of annoying? Not having to deal with any Android skins. The Nexus S runs stock Android and shows just how well Gingerbread works as an OS without any “icing”. I’ll be posting a separate review of the OS, but this may be the best phone for a straight-up Gingerbread experience.
The 4G connectivity is spotty, but I blame my area for that, not the phone. Oddly, there is no signal in Midtown Manhattan, but I found one one in Washington Heights. Not sure what’s up with that. When I did get a 4G signal, it was amazing. Because tethering is a function out of the box, it’s also potentially more than just a toy.
GPS is great, which is a welcome change from the Galaxy S series phones I’ve used so far. Google Nav on the Nexus S is a great solution for getting where you need to go.
As for the cameras, I’m not a shutterbug, but after using my Palm Pre’s bare-minimum basics camera, the idea of a working 5MP with autofocus is very nice. Photos are clear, even when taken with the front facing camera. Video chat was not tested, alas. Still, keep in mind that this is not a fancy camera. It doesn’t even record in 720p. Great for casual pictures, but not going to replace a dedicated high-end camera.
The absolute best feature of the phone has to be the screen. The AMOLED looks amazing. I had some minor issues in direct, super-bright light, but that’s an issue with just about any phone. Viewing angles were perfect, to the point that this may be the perfect video device for watching something with a second party. And if you do watch something, be prepared for it to look great. Sharp colors, no lag, just great.
However, the multimedia aspect of the phone is hurt by the typical cellphone speakers –- invest in a good set of headphones for this one, folks. On the other hand, actual call quality (yes that’s right, I still use my phone to make calls) was great. People were telling me it was the clearest I’d sounded in a while.
While I normally think of Android as a more “geeky” OS, my whole family easily picks up on how to use the Nexus S. In fact, my wife wants to know if we can keep it. A lot of this, I think, had to do with the amazing screen. The stock Android experience on the phone is fine for the average user, and it’s snappy and responsive.
Battery life is often the Achilles heal of smartphones. The Nexus S has much better standby time than some phones, but if you’re going to use it heavily — say for videos, multiple e-mail accounts, calls, and texts — then you’re going to want to charge it every five hours or so (and of course, if you’re going to tether or use GPS, best to have it plugged in). This is better than a ton of other phones, so it’s hardly a deal breaker. I recommend having a spare battery on hand.
The one thing that I have a hard time defining is the pocketability of this 4” phone. The Nexus S feels a bit large in my hand in portrait mode (although my wife was okay with it), but perfect in landscape, which helps with the multimedia and gaming aspects of the device. It’s a tad too big for my shirt, but it’s a good fit for my pants pocket. That’s a big step up from phones like the HTC EVO.
If you’re a heavy keyboard user, then you may have to make seriously adjustments to the all-virtual aspect of the Nexus S. I strongly suggest you look at another device if you’re all about the tactile keys. Despite that I usually am a heavy real keyboard user, I can adapt to the built-in stock Android keyboard with little to no pain. I’m not saying I’d type a review on it (which I’ve actually done on my Pre), but it’s good enough for day-to-day use.
How hackable is the Nexus S, you ask? I’m not about to root a review unit, but a quick search of the net shows more than a few ways. However, I don’t see the appeal in this case. The phone runs stock Android 2.3.5, with no annoying bloatware to get rid of. There’s not much to tweak. Because Google supplies updates on this phone, it’s unlikely that users will be left in the lurch and forced to find their own solutions. In the event that you want to, you can easily customize this phone.
When all is said and done, the Nexus S is a solid and smart smartphone. If you ‘re in a 4G area and you like slate style smartphones and the Android OS, I say go for it.
About Mordechai Osdoby
One of the co-founders of Techcitement, Mordechai is a man whose obsession with tech once led his wife to refer to a laptop as "the other woman".