Sprint and Google have come together to co-develop the next Google Phone: Samsung Nexus S 4G, which is basically the same phone as the GSM Nexus S, but with 4G and some other customizations. This partnership helps demonstrate the latest advancements and capabilities of Gingerbread (Android 2.3) in coordination with cutting-edge technology. Or at least that’s what the PR would lead you to believe.
It’s important to remember that the Nexus series isn’t intended to wow, per se. Rather, it’s meant to represent the best possible experience of the Android operating system at the time. How well does it live up to expectations? Read on for the full review!
In the box is the standard fare – save for one key addition: a pair of headphones. For those of us who have been in the mobile game for a while, this isn’t too surprising, but compared to the recent offerings available, it’s a nice addition. And they are relatively decent ear buds as well, far superior to a certain white set which is distributed with another line of popular devices.
Powered by a 1GHz Hummingbird processor, 512MB of RAM, 16GB of iNAND flash memory, and a 1500mAh battery, we found the Nexus S 4G to be very quick and yet still light on the power use. Also included is the standard fare of accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, etc, which one would expect from a device such as this. Notably missing is any form of LED notification. While there are ways around this, it is a disappointment to have to turn on the phone just to make sure you haven’t missed anything important.
In hand, the Nexus S 4G is light, comfortable, and easy to use.
The Super AMOLED screen is bright, brilliant, and frankly, beautiful. While the curved display seemed to be more of a novelty (although it does seem to keep the glass from getting damaged when placed face down), it also didn’t serve as a distraction.
The menu buttons were far too dim for us. Compared to other devices on the market, they were practically invisible. And then, to further complicate their use, their order is different than other Samsung devices on the market (Back, Menu, Search, then Home).
On the left side of the Sprint Nexus S 4G is the volume rocker. Said volume was plenty loud and without distortion, thankfully.
On the right is the only other physical button on the device: power. No dedicated camera key, sadly. Both sets of buttons had a very nice tactile feel and were easy to find.
The headphone jack and the microUSB power port are found at the bottom of the Nexus S 4G. With the curved edge, the headphone plug does not fit snugly against the case, but it doesn’t affect the audio quality.
If you look closely, you can spot the microphone port on the bottom as well. We didn’t have any complaints about audio quality other than when the device was on speaker and placed on its back – and even then, only occasionally.
Flipping the device over, we see the 5MP camera (no 720p recording folks, sorry), flash, and speaker.
The back cover is smooth plastic with a dotted black design. Sadly, it only took a couple of days to start seeing hairline scratches on the cover: disappointing results for a flagship device.
The 1500mAh battery is hiding beneath the cover along with the NFC on the cover itself. NFC is just starting to see wider adoption, so we were unable to test its functionality fully.
All of the storage memory is built into the device; no microSD slot here, unfortunately. Personally, this wasn’t particularly bothersome, but we can understand how it would be a source of contention for some.
Compared to the Sprint Epic 4G, the Nexus S 4G is “wafer thin”, so to speak. If not for the curved display, you could easily stack two Nexus devices on top of each other and be only marginally larger. The Nexus S 4G is slightly longer than the Epic, and marginally thinner.
Since the Sprint Nexus S 4G is running stock Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), there really isn’t much to say about the software at this time. If you’ve seen Gingerbread in action, it’s going to be exactly the same on this device. If you haven’t seen Gingerbread yet, you can find a more in-depth overview on the T-Mobile Nexus S review.
Even without a dedicated camera key, the Nexus S 4G still took some very nice photos. While the display would initially show washed out colors, after the shot was taken, the image was very close to the original shot, albeit lacking in contrast and crispness in some situations.
The stock Android camera app is still lacking in many ways compared to Samsung’s own software. There are very few options available to enable better shots right out of the box.
Unfortunately, the Sprint Nexus S 4G, like its T-Mobile sibling, cannot record 720p. While the colors are a little off due to white balance issues, and focus was an issue, the video is still satisfactory for general use. It is disappointing, however, that a flagship device such as this would be hampered by such issues.
Without all the extra bloat or vendor-created launchers, the Sprint Nexus S 4G is quite snappy. Ignoring the dual-core phones which arrived shortly after its release, the Nexus S 4G is still a leader in the pack. We anticipate that a little help from a custom ROM could further boost the performance as well.
Smartbench 2011: Productivity 818, 2505 Games
LinPack: 13.937 MFLOP, 6.02 Seconds
CALL QUALITY/NETWORK SPEED
While we had no dropped calls, we occasionally ran into a complaint when using the speaker phone with the device laying flat on a table or desk, with our callers noting a large echo. This didn’t seem to be easily reproducible.
As for network speeds, the 3G speeds were on par with other Sprint devices we tested. Unfortunately, we could only top out the 4G service at 3082Kbps at one point, with the rest of the tests falling far below. Other sites have reported similar issues with the Nexus S 4G, and hopefully Sprint/Samsung will be able to address the problem with a software update.
Battery life on the Sprint Nexus S 4G is fantastic. Even with heavy call use, the device was easily outperforming my daily driver. Starting fresh in the morning, the average was lower versus allowing the device to sit in standby overnight, of course. If you are a medium to light user, you can expect to get even more use out of the device before having to return it to the charger.
The charging times on the Nexus S 4G did seem to take a little longer than compared to it’s sibling, the Epic 4G.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
The Nexus S 4G can be purchased, with a two-year contract, for $200 on Sprint.
+ Very responsive device
+ Fantastic battery life
+ Stock Android
+ Crisp, colorful screen
- Stock Android equals missing functionality (eg 720p video)
- No dedicated camera button
- No notification LEDs
- Some issues with 4G speeds
Since there isn’t much difference between the CDMA and GSM version, it should be no surprise that we rate them very similarly. And while the Sprint Nexus S 4G is very sleek and sexy looking, one can’t help but feel underwhelmed when comparing it to the numerous other offerings on the market today. Simple changes like notification LEDs and better camera support could have made this phone even more appealing in the long run. Perhaps we’ll see a more outstanding refresh of the Nexus line in the near future. In the meantime, the Sprint Nexus S 4G is an admirable choice.
We rate the Sprint Nexus S 4G a 4/5.