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Nexus S 4G Review: Gingerbread Phone Gets a 4G Boost

At a Glance
  • Samsung Nexus S 4G (Sprint)

    PCWorld Rating

    Google and Samsung's joint collaboration is enhanced with Sprint's 4G data speeds, but the Nexus S still has a few hardware oversights.

When we reviewed the GSM Nexus S last winter, one of our biggest complaints about it was its lack of 4G connectivity. Thankfully, a CDMA version has arrived on Sprint with support for the carrier's 4G WiMax network. With the exception of 4G as well as Google Voice integration, however, the Nexus S 4G ($200 with a two-year contract from Sprint; price as of 5/15/11) is virtually identical to the GSM version. It has the same camera, AMOLED display and slick design, but you're still capped at 16GB of memory as the Nexus S does not have a microSD slot.

(Editor's Note: Portions of this review were taken from the GSM Nexus S review posted on 12/10/11)

Hardware and Design

The Nexus S isn't exactly leaps and bounds ahead of the Nexus One in its hardware. Like the Nexus One, it has a 5-megapixel camera and is powered by a 1GHz processor. It has a few key differences, however. For one, the Nexus S has an NFC chip built into it. Essentially, NFC chips can turn your phone into a sort of credit card. Ideally, when you wave your phone in front of a retailer's sensor, your purchase will immediately be placed on your account. For a detailed explanation of all that NFC can do, check out this primer.

The Nexus S's design unquestionably bears the Samsung aesthetic as much as the Nexus One does HTC's. That is both good and bad. In appearance, we think the glossy, all-black Nexus S is a lot more attractive than the Nexus One. In construction, it feels a lot flimsier and more plasticky than its HTC counterpart. Measuring 4.9-by-2.5-by-0.43 inches thick, the phone is a bit larger than the Nexus One. Weighing 4.5 ounces, the Nexus S is lighter than its sibling.

Like the Samsung Galaxy phones (the Vibrant or the Epic 4G), the Nexus S sports a 4-inch Super AMOLED display. The display is also curved (what Google and Samsung are calling a "Contour Display") so as to fit more comfortably next to your face. The curve is subtle, however.

Android 2.3, aka 'Gingerbread'

You can find in a separate article an extensive discussion of Gingerbread's new features and updates. While the update isn't a huge overhaul of the user interface, it has some very useful enhancements. Some of the most notable features include the improved software keyboard (though we still prefer Swype), NFC support, support for multiple cameras in the camera UI, and an overall boost in performance. Some subtle tweaks throughout the interface make Android look more polished. More blacks in the menus make icons pop, and animations make the UI more approachable and playful.

Like the GSM Nexus S, the Sprint version is free of carrier-added apps and bloatware--which is always nice.

Google Talk Integration

Google Voice integration is limited. It simply allows Nexus S 4G users to use their existing cell number as their Google Voice number. Google Voice comes preloaded on the phone, but the preloaded version offers no additional functions or features than the app that any Android user can download from the Android Market.

Traditionally, when you sign up for Google Voice, you are assigned a "Google Voice number" that can be associated with any of your phones--your cell phone, your office phone, your home phone, whatever. When someone calls your Google Voice number, the call rings on any or all of those phones.

Normally, when Google Voice users decide they want to use their existing cell phone number as their Google Voice number, they much pay a $20 porting fee and then establish a new account with a new number for their cell phone. But Sprint Nexus S 4G owners--in fact owners of any Sprint phone--can use their existing cell number as their Google Voice number. No number porting-their Sprint number and their Google Voice number are the same.

Camera

The Nexus S has a 5-megapixel camera with a flash and the same resolution as the rest of the Galaxy S pack. As we've mentioned in other Galaxy reviews, the camera quality is good, but not superb. The Nexus One also had a good, but not mind-blowing camera. Colors in my indoor shots looked a bit faded, and generally, photos were slightly grainy. One feature Samsung and Google overlooked is a dedicated shutter key on the phone's spine. It is a small detail, but it really makes a difference when snapping photos.

The camera's user interface has a nice variety of settings that you can tweak to your liking. It has autofocus, macro and infinity modes, four resolutions to choose from, nine scene settings, three color modes, three quality modes, and exposure metering.

Like the Samsung Epic 4G on Sprint, the Nexus S sports a front-facing VGA camera for making video calls or taking self-portraits. As mentioned above,Gingerbread's camera interface adds support for multiple cameras.

You can shoot video as high as 720-by-480-pixels at 30 frames per second. A video we shot outdoors looked pretty good, if a bit jittery when a fast-moving object went by.

Wireless Speeds

The throughput speed performance of the phone was consistent with the speeds we've measured using other Sprint 4G (WiMAX) phones this year-not terribly slow but not as fast as 4G should be.

We took the Nexus S 4G to three locations in San Francisco, and measured the upload and download speeds of the phone each one. We measured at Church and Market, at Moscone Center and at our offices at 2nd and Bryant Street. At each location we measured connection speeds inside the building, and standing just outside.

For our inside measurements, the phone clocked an average download speed of 1.4 megabits per second (mbps) and an average upload speed of .3 mbps. For our outside measurements, the Nexus averaged 2.5 mbps for download speeds and .85 mbps for upload speeds.

Bottom Line

The Nexus S is a solid Android phone made even better with Sprint's 4G data speeds. With the added bonuses of Android Gingerbread, NFC support and a gyroscope, the Nexus S is certainly one of the best phones to get on Sprint as well. We still can't help but knock it for its lack of expandable memory, though. If you plan on using your phone as a music player or want to take a lot of pictures with it, expandable memory definitely comes in handy.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Google and Samsung's joint collaboration is enhanced with Sprint's 4G data speeds, but the Nexus S still has a few hardware oversights.

    Pros

    • Ships with Android 2.3
    • Sprint version has 4G speeds

    Cons

    • No expandable memory
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