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Nexus S review

A phone sold as a developer phone from Samsung by Google definitely warrants a review, more so when that is my primary phone. Even in today's world (more on that later), this phone has come out with yesterday's specs. Nexus S is similar to Samsung Galaxy S series phone which was released sometime in March of 2010 in Europe and hit the North American market starting May and June to all four carriers.
Where Nexus S differentiates is that it was the only phone in the market released with Gingerbread the latest and greatest from mountain view, California. This phone does not come with any skins on top of Android like 99.99% of the phones that are released on Android, thus creating a huge fragmentation issues that plague the developer community.
With Nexus S -- Google is also changing its distribution channel. With Nexus One, Google sold the phone through it's website only. www.google.com/phone. With the Nexus S, Google has taken baby steps by setting up distribution partnership with Best Buy. This gives opportunity for consumers to touch and feel the device before making a decision.


Specs


So nexus S boasts the same specs as it's sibling galaxy phones -- 1 GHz Hummingbird processor, 512 MB RAM, a 4 inch super AMOLED 800 * 480 display. It has a 5 MP rear facing camera and a font-facing VGA camera, and 16GB of storage. With nexus S, Google has got in to NFC (Near Field Communication). The inclusion of NFC has come with a compromise -- no micro-SD card. Something had to give to get this kick-started and the timing is right to implement NFC when the whole Mobile payment architecture is in place. The battery is 1500 mAH, which is respectable to get the job done.


The specs are not earth shattering in today's world of dual cores and 1.2 GHz dual-cores processor with 1GB of RAM with a lot of other manufacturers pushing 3D video capture in consumer devices. There is no HDMI video-out not a Bluetooth 3.0 support.


So given the specs and the competition in the market -- would the nexus S, the latest offering from Google, the successor to nexus one stand out? Lets dive in.


Feel of the device


There is something about nexus S, which makes the phone standout. It might be the complete black look the phone exhibits from it's back to the glass or it might be the slight Contour display that makes the phone unique. Whatever the reason, the phone does look great and feels great in hands.It's got a nice chin in the back (most probably the NFC chip), which makes holding the phone easy and gives a proper grip. Also for some reason, having a Contour display with concave curve


After using the phone for almost a month I can tell you that the material -- although plastic in most cases has withstood the day to day life grind. The other noticeable difference is that the 3.5 mm jack is on the bottom of the phone and I kind of like it and prefer it then the top. If looked at the other Galaxy series phone, you'll notice the clutter of ports on the top. Even in handsets like Nokia who have been making phones for a long time, clutter the top. With nexus S, the layout of the buttons is simple. It has a volume rocker buttons which are rightly placed on the right. The bottom has mini-USB port and 3.55 mm jack. The power button is on the right side of the phone.There is nothing on the top and it looks clean. On the front of the screen you see a front facing camera, proximity and light sensors. Then there is the capacitive buttons which are laid out the right way for a change. There is no issues with pressing them. Moving to internals, we have quad band GSM radios and tri-band HSPA radios for 3G speeds( T-Mobile uses AWS i.e. 1700 MHz band.) It has a wi-fi b/g/n, bluetooth 2.1 EDR+, NFC chip and AGPS loaded in it.


I will like to make a side note here -- Android, the more I use - the more I feel that having 4 buttons is the right way for customer to use their phone. This is a personal opinion, but time and time again I find the back button at the bottom making the phone easier to use one-handed. The search button -- which intelligently used  and rolled with their ever expanding voice controls easier to use. The menu button for each application to get in to settings also makes the phone easier for one handed operations and mind you - with the larger screen sizes, this really comes in handy.The home button is universal. The 4 buttons is pretty useful for me and I think it's the best implementation of the phone based on the way I use it. For some people, having 4 buttons makes them feel too "techie", especially true coming from one button phone system. It's a learning curve for people.
Also about NFC - There are not many apps to test NFC at this moment. I ma hoping the whole NFC picks up and I am sure with the support of NFC in iPhone 5, things will pick up. NFC gives the ability for the phone/app to read, write and exchange from a NFC enabled target. SO essentially with read and write, a phone or an app can be used to swipe your phone for your bus passes or train passes. With exchange, the phone can be used to transfer money from one bank account to another or without getting sweat on anyone's face, exchanging information like contacts or other information from one NFC enabled device to another.


Samsung to put a 4 inch screen with NFC and a higher capacity battery. The only gripe here is the display. I really wish if Samsung had qHD display on this one. It would have made it so much easier and snappier to get that extra pixels to display more content on the screen.


Software


Now this is the reason people buy phone this days. The phone in today's world is similar in terms of specs and form factor. What matters is what's riding that horse -- or in a car analogy -- what's behind the hood.
Well behind the hood you have Android 2.3.1 or 2.3.2 or 2.3.3 (fragmentation!!) i.e. Gingerbread depending on when you bought the phone. Gingerbread is the latest and greatest from Mountain View making Nexus S, the only phone on that version when released. It's a pure "Google" experience without any clutter and making it available on T-Mobile makes it even better. So how different is Gingerbread from Froyo 2.2 version? Does it make Android faster, does it give Android the finish that's needed to make it classy?


Lets tackle with what's new in Gingerbread


1. UI refinements -- According to Google -- It brings uniformity across the OS and also increases the speed in general. 
2. A new keyboard that makes typing faster
3. A new implementation of cut-copy-paste
4.Improved Power Management (Killer feature according to me)
5. Better control over applications and processes
6. SIP (Finally!!
7. Near Field Communication (NFC)
The other features and APIs were also introduced for gaming developers and small feature enhancements


What's missing?
1. Got a front facing camera --but no integration with GoogleTalk :-(
2. Camera app and Music app really need an overhaul.
3. Google Music -- Where art thou?


Lets tackle the new enhancements first.


UI refiniment - For a casual android user, they would not see much difference between 2.2 to 2.3x version. This is a good thing -- as a lot had changed in 2.2 version and with 2.3 coming in less than 5 months of release, making drastic changes would have even increased learning curve. Google has started putting some effort in making the UI a bit more refined and consistent. One can notice the 3D like effect in the app drawer flowing without any lag. The nice touch of color notifying the user about the start and end of page. The addition of Manage Task button within home button is a welcome change from Google. The menus in the OS along with native app GMAIL has been refined to give it a classy feel.


New Keyboard - I always preferred stock keyboard over Samsung keyboard or any 3rd party keyboard. The keyboard is nice to type in and the keys register the stroke without any issues. I don't have a giant hands and that helps. Even after the new enhancement and giving keyboard options to include "voice" button in the front, Android has not recognized the need for a dedicated ".com" button. Also there is no direct way to change the language within the keyboard. I still think -- Motorola has the best keyboard for Android devices. Apple's keyboard is nice -- but according to me -- Windows Phone 7 nails it. 


Cut-Copy-Paste - Let me put it one sentence - It's got better, but still a long way to go. OK. I'll add two more lines. What is Google thinking here? It's in-consistent and at times I still doesn't get how to select and image? By default the cursor goes to the start of the word? Why?
Google -- Look at Apple and you'll know why cut-copy-paste was introduced a year and a half after iPhone was released!


Improved Power Management and Better control of Application and Processes-- Now, I can talk about this forever -- A better and a more transparent power management for user from the home screen. Not that Android 2.3x needs a task manager, but Android has reached to a place, where I personally don't need a task manager to kill apps or processes. Android is smart enough to do it.


SIP -- Session Initiation Protocol - Finally Google got SIP build in Android. This is crucial for consumers in European market where they use SIP more often than the American counterparts. SIP also gives us the ability to live just on data (dreaming). I tried SIP with CSIP and SIPDROID and both worked fine with localphone and WQN. Ideally, I would like to see Google Voice lower its charges to compete with VOIP providers on global scale and maybe, things would look much better!


Near Field Communication - Nothing there to test. Good concept. Waiting for apps or a trip to SFO to test in trains!


So what makes Android so special that there are around 350000 activations a day? What's in it? People had an argument that Apple isn't on 4 carriers to compete with Android. Now with the release of iPhone on Verizon - that argument is mute -- one way or the other. 


What makes android great is the native apps --


GMAIL, GOOGLE, GOOGLE VOICE and MAPS and a choice for consumer to pick different devices from different carriers. 


Lets talk about Google Voice -- I ported my number to Google Voice and it's been almost a month using it -- It's a better solution than Blackberry Messenger services. The voice is clear over 3G and Wi-Fi and it definitely saves me minutes and text charges.


Maps -- One word -- Awesome. Voice activated navigation in almost 18 countries, Real-time traffic, places, latitude and also included is a "Car Home" app which is simple and gives the ability to do multiple things within the app.


GMAIL -- The gmail integration with android is what makes me buy an android phone. It is a natural fit.


What's missing?


Google needs Google Music and they need it fast. There are tons if iTunes haters and yet iTunes is one platform to satisfy everyones hunger for music, apps, movies, podcast and entertainment. Hate it or love it, it's there and it makes life simple. Google has relied on choice for a long time and it's time now.


Google Talk 


Need Google Talk integrated with gmail and contacts and life would be easier!




Camera


I am impressed by Samsung Nexus S camera. It works fine for a 5 MP shooter. It really takes some neat pictures in low-light. 


Battery


Now this is one talking point that I can talk on and on about. Nexus S has given me a consistent 24-30 hr battery life over a month now. 30 minutes or talk, 30 mins of tethering, 1 hour of music, Videos popping up from reader, gmail is always synced, Twitter feeds every 2 hours and the Location services is always on. 
I am really impressed with the phone's battery. This is a testament to the "pure" android experience.


Wrap-Up


Android has come a long way in a short period of time. 2.3.3 was a small evolution from Froyo, yet it definitely made huge strides in power management, UI refinement and battery saving changes made in the system along with a change to Dalvik engine to make things faster. There is still a lot of work to do for Android and that is a good thing. We all know how HoneyComb looks and can definitely see certain aspects of the code utilized in the next version of android making few things that are lagging at this point addressed. As far as phone is concerned -- this phone although a clone of Samgung's other galaxy devices -- stands out head and shoulder above it's cousin. 
With the usher of devices to hit this summer -- and a fresh trend of devices to go "Pure" would determine if Google is succeeding in it's effort to put one OS on all 4 carriers without any skin. If they do achieve that, I see them #winning.

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