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Google Nexus S review

The Nexus S sees Google return to hardware after the mixed success of last year’s Nexus One. This time built by Samsung it is questionable as to whether the market really needs an official ‘Googlephone’, but it should be the handset of choice for anyone who wants to always have the latest OS updates on their phone.

The Nexus S is the first handset to run the latest version of the Android operating system. Version 2.3, also known as Gingerbread, has a range of new features on offer.

The handset itself is nicely designed. The front buttons are touch sensitive and when the screen is off you can’t see them at all. They are illuminated by a white backlight only when the screen is on. There is no branding on the front of the handset either, and you’ll either like the pure black look or be a bit disenchanted with it.

The back of the Nexus S isn’t quite so striking. Branding for both Google and Samsung who make the Nexus S is present and the shiny finish isn’t quite as nice looking as a matte one would have been. It is also possibly likely to get scratched fairly easily.

The front fascia is ever so slightly curved. The curvature is barely enough to be noticeable, but Google says it both hugs your face better than an entirely flat handset does during calls and is less reflective than usual. We aren’t sure about either of these claims, but the screen is superb.

Measuring 4-inches across diagonal corners and with what is fast becoming the standard high resolution specification of 480 x 800 pixels on offer its Super AMOLED technology is sharp, bright and clear. It is at its best for looking at video, a task at which it excels.

Quite unusually these days the Nexus S has two cameras. The back facing one shoots stills at 5 megapixels and benefits from an LED flash. There is also a front mounted VGA camera for making video calls.

There is no shortcut button for the camera on an edge of the Nexus S. The bare minimum of connectors is on offer – just a right side on/off switch, left side volume rocker, and bottom microUSB and headset connectors.

Unskinned Android offers, as usual, access to multiple home screens and widgets. Interface updates include small tweaks like an orange line that indicates the end of a list and locking down via an animation that leaves a white line centre screen like it used to on very old black and white TVs. These are nice touches if fairly insignificant to usability.

But bigger things are also afoot with Android 2.3. There is support for gyroscopic sensors which means apps can track movement in three dimensions. Games developers in particular will like that. And the Nexus S supports Near Field Communication.

This isn’t a biggie at present, but scenarios where you touch your Nexus S to something, say a movie poster, and get access to the trailer, nearby show times and so on are a possibility as are things like gaining access to facilities and events, and spending money.

There is also a new app manager, available from the menu button, which lets you close any apps individually, and a battery manager which shows which apps are really draining power. The keyboard has been tweaked too with a new predictive text system and the ability to hold down the shift key for putting a word all in capitals.

The Nexus S is a pleasure to use with a responsive screen and very fast performance. The 1GHz processor certainly pulls its weight. Our only major complaint about the Nexus S is the lack of memory expansion. There is 16GB of built in storage, which is fairly generous, but you can’t expand on that with microSD cards.

The unskinned user interface won’t appeal to everyone, and the NFC capability is a bit of a waste of time at present, while the hardware specs are not much of an advancement over the Nexus One. But if you want the very latest Android version, the Nexus S is your best option.