When Google launched the Nexus One last year, it was a huge deal, considering it was the first “pure Google experience” device. Unfortunately, the CDMA version of the Nexus One never launched. Along came the Samsung Nexus S, the successor to the Nexus One. It’s the first device to run Android 2.3, Gingerbread, and it’s also a “pure Google experience” device. However, this time around, Google granted Sprint users a gift, the Nexus S 4G. We have been using one as our daily driver for the last couple of days, so keep reading for our full review!
The top is clean, with only a slot to open the battery door.
On the front of the Nexus S 4G, there’s a 4-inch Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 480 x 800, along with four touch-sensitive Android buttons: Back, Menu, Search, and Home. Above the display, you’ll find an earpiece and a front-facing camera for video chat. Like the original Nexus S, the Nexus S 4G also features the “Contour Display.” While the glass on the display is curved towards the top and the bottom, it’s very subtle and it actually enhances the usability of the device.
There’s a lot to like about the Nexus S 4G’s hardware. The 4-inch display strikes the perfect balance (for us, anyway) between a large, readable screen and portability, and thanks to Super AMOLED, colors and text look fantastic on the display. We love the design and styling of the Nexus S 4G; we found the all-black exterior to be strangely attractive. With that said, we do have a few complaints. First, where’s the microSD card slot? Just like its older brother, the Nexus S 4G lacks a microSD slot. The phone does ship with 16GB of memory onboard, but with microSD cards getting bigger and bigger, we’re disappointed that Samsung left out the opportunity to expand the device’s storage. Second, while the Nexus S 4G looks awesome, we weren’t particularly excited about Samsung’s choice of materials on the device. Excluding the display, the Nexus S 4G is basically all plastic. While it makes the device really light, build quality isn’t the greatest.
The Nexus S 4G runs a stock version of Android 2.3.4 “Gingerbread”, which is, in fact, the latest version of Android. Since the Nexus S 4G is a “Nexus” device, Google promises it’ll deliver the latest version of Android much faster than any other phones receive it. Gingerbread has been out for quite a while on the original Nexus S, so we won’t cover everything here. We’ll touch on some of the key highlights of Gingerbread.
Gingerbread introduced a bunch of minor UI tweaks. The black status bar, new greyscale notification icons, new applications icons, spurts of orange when you scroll to the top/bottom of lists, to name a few. We really dig the new, sleek look of Gingerbread, and we think it’s a huge step up from Android 2.2, Froyo.
Google introduced Google Talk video chat in Android 2.3.4, and it works flawlessly. Whether we were chatting with someone on a laptop, or on an Android 3.0 tablet, we were able to connect over 3G, 4G, or WiFi without issue. Video chatters on the other end did mention that we looked grainy — but that’s probably due to the low-resolution front-facing camera on the Nexus S 4G.
In short, we love our stock Android phones, and we think all Android phones should be kept that way. If you’re looking to get a device that will always be updated to the latest and greatest software, the Nexus S 4G won’t disappoint.
The Nexus S 4G is equipped with a 5MP camera + flash. Pictures from the 5MP sensor aren’t great. Colors are washed out and autofocus had quite a bit of issues focusing on objects. You’ll be able to grab quick shots to tweet out or email, but you definitely won’t be replacing a point-and-shoot with this.
That’s not the worst of it though. The Nexus S 4G doesn’t shoot 720p video. We scratched our heads for a bit about this one — every single high-end smartphone shoots in at least 720p, with some devices (like the Galaxy S II) that shoot 1080p. It’s something we’re a little confused about, and it’s definitely a drawback.
The Nexus S 4G is powered by a single-core 1Ghz processor. The current trend is definitely dual-core processors, but the Nexus S 4G doesn’t need it — at this point, anyway. Google did some serious optimizing here — Gingerbread feels super snappy, and graphics are silky smooth. Jumping between apps doesn’t lag, the app drawer animations are super smooth, and of course — the scrolling home screens aren’t a problem for the processor at all.
The biggest differentiator between the original Nexus S and Sprint’s variant is the 4G WiMAX radio. Unfortunately, Sprint’s 4G is nothing compared to Verizon’s LTE network. But that’s not necessarily a horrible thing, unless you’re someone who needs to use the built-in WiFi hotspot functionality as your only Internet connection.
WiMAX speeds were a bit disappointing on the Nexus S 4G, especially when compared with a standalone Clear Spot (Clear is Sprint’s 4G partner). We averaged around 3-4Mb down, with uploads capped at 1Mb. This is significantly slower than those on our Clear Spot, which averages around 10Mb down – close to the maximum speed WiMAX can push currently. Latency was generally well under 100ms, which is fantastic for WiMAX.
If you don’t live in an area with WiMAX coverage, the Nexus S 4G sports a standard EVDO Rev. A radio as well, as with all of Sprint’s 4G phones. Speeds were about what we expected from Sprint, with downlink speeds averaging 600Kb-1Mb down, and around 600Kb up. Certainly not great, but not too bad either.
Unfortunately, the Nexus S 4G suffers from some of the worst lack of reception we’ve seen on any recent phone. While a Sprint Bold 9650 had a solid bars both on and off calls, our Nexus only had one bar (of four). The Nexus also consistently reported extremely low dBs for signal. This is an issue we’ve seen echoed in many other Nexus S 4G reviews, especially those on sites like Amazon and Best Buy. These issues cover both the EVDO 3G radio, and the WiMAX 4G radio unfortunately. We really hope Sprint and Samsung can come up with a quick firmware update, but if not, we suggest they start bundling Airaves with the Nexus.
Google Voice Integration
Sprint and Google have worked together to bake in native Google Voice integration with every Sprint phone, and it’s wonderful. You have the choice of having your existing Google Voice number essentially become your phone’s number, or having your Sprint phone number become your Google Voice number. Why is this so awesome? Because you’re able to use the native phone and messaging apps without anyone knowing you’re going through Google Voice. We think this is really awesome and definitely something which sets Sprint apart from the other US carriers.
The Nexus S 4G is powered by a 1500mAH battery, which is pretty decently sized. Getting through a day on Sprint’s 3G network isn’t a problem at all. We would unplug the phone at 8AM, and come home at 8PM with 30% or so remaining. Thinking about using 4G while you’re out and about? We suggest you only use it when absolutely needed, and quickly turn it back off when you’re finished. We were only able to squeeze about a half day out of the phone with 4G enabled and connected (with one (of three) bars of signal). Unfortunately, 4G, whether it be in the form of WiMAX or LTE, is not a mature enough technology to use as your phone’s main data connection yet.
We really like the Nexus S 4G. Not really a surprise, since we really liked the GSM Nexus S too. The 4-inch Super AMOLED display is fantastic, and we absolutely love that it runs stock Gingerbread. That’s how it should be done — no custom skins, updates straight from Google. There’s a few things that Samsung/Google chose to do that make us absolutely confused — where’s the microSD slot? No 720p video recording? Really, really bad reception? That being said, we still think the Nexus S 4G is a solid offering from Samsung and Sprint. If you’re looking to get a powerful device that runs stock Android, the Nexus S 4G is an excellent choice.