The Nexus S

Almost a year after my first try at switching to an Android-based phone, I’m at it again. I’ve had a Nexus S since Christmas Eve and have been using it as my only phone. I bought it from Best Buy for $199 with a new two-year contract from T-Mobile.

My initial impulse is to spend some time writing a detailed post like the one about the Droid, but I’m afraid that I’ll either never finish it or I’ll go on for so long that no one will read it. So, I’ll make a shorter post of this about my initial impressions of the handset itself, and write about other parts of the phone in follow-up posts.

(Update 12/31/2010: I’ve been posted one of those follow-ups, and added a link to it at the bottom of this post. I’ll do the same for other related posts, so check back here for updates.)

Nexus S-001

The phone is physically nice. The device is just a bit too plasticky, in my opinion, similar to the way that the iPhone 3G and 3GS are. I imagine this contributes positively to the weight of the phone, which is very light in the hand. It’s noticeably lighter than my iPhone 3GS and much more comfortable in this regard than the original Droid.

The Nexus S has an ever-so-slight inward curve to its face, which is both comfortable and attractive. The face of the phone is even more minimalist that the iPhone: it has absolutely no buttons and only a hint of the speaker, front-facing camera and light sensor. While I miss the main button from the iPhone to activate the Nexus S, I think the face of the phone is sexy.

Nexus S-002

The back appears almost piano black, but actually has a very slight almost-carbon-fiber pattern to it on close inspection. It’s adorned with simple, tasteful “Google” and “Samsung” logos, shunning the “fine print” of the iPhones I’ve had. Other than that, the camera, LED flash and what appears to be a speaker or rear mic are all that are apparent on the back. There is a slight bump to the back of the device, which seems to be in vogue these days. This one is at the bottom of the phone rather than the top, and it is comfortable in practice. The back comes off with some effort, providing access to the user-replaceable, rechargeable battery and the SIM card slot.

There are two buttons on the sides: the power button on the right and volume rockers on the left. There’s a Micro-USB plug and headphone jack on the bottom. Very minimalistic. Missing are the four physical buttons and trackball/pad that are standard on every Android device I’ve used. Samsung has chosen to make the buttons soft buttons that appear only when the phone is activated–a nice touch. The other control, which is a trackball on the Nexus One, is gone completely. The newest version of Android, 2.3 or Gingerbread, provides software mechanisms to do text selection, so the trackball is unnecessary. I always thought that control seemed out-of-place on a touchscreen phone, so I’m happy to see its elimination.

One aspect I loved about the Droid last year was its screen. What a difference a year makes! I had the opportunity to use the Nexus S side-by-side with the Droid, and the Nexus S’s screen is better in every regard. The screen is bright, detailed and responds well to touch input. Unfortunately, it’s not up to the comparison with the iPhone 4’s higher resolution Retina Display. So, while the screen was the biggest physical factor in favor of the Droid versus the then-current iPhone 3GS, this year’s iPhone handily wins over this new flagship Android device.

Miscellany: The speaker is acceptably loud–louder than the iPhone 3GS. Call quality is good on the T-Mobile network, and I perceive it to be slightly better than the AT&T-powered iPhone. I haven’t used the camera. As I said in my post about the Droid, I carry a small camera with me almost everywhere and have little use for poor-quality phone cameras.

Overall, I’d say the Nexus S acquits itself well in the handling department. It took some getting used to the power button being on the side, but it is otherwise comfortable and attractive. I’d place it solidly above the iPhone 3GS but behind the impressive iPhone 4 form factor. There’s no comparison to the original Droid I had last year; the Nexus S is hands-down a better handset.

Other Posts About the Nexus S