The Nexus S' 1500mAh battery showed impressive signs of life in our short period of testing. In heavy use (though not tons of calling), we sustained about 20 hours of life before the phone was crying for its charger. We suspect that amount would be slightly lower if we'd spent a bit more time on calls, but it's still a solid showing considering the amount of downloading apps, screen testing, and general messing around we did with the device.
You'll certainly be able to make it through a day with the Nexus S, but if you're a heavy talker or plan on doing a lot of gaming, you may want to consider a second battery.
The big story with the Nexus S isn't really about the hardware. While there are some notable upgrades and changes on the front, what the phone really represents is a gateway to the next stage of Android, version 2.3 -- otherwise known as Gingerbread. For those expecting a sea change in the OS, we'll tell you up front that you'll be disappointed. When we say evolution, we mean it. This is kind of the Snow Leopard of Android updates -- a lot of motion behind the scenes, but not a load of cosmetic and navigational changes. There isn't a ton here that's dramatically different than Froyo
, but there are some notable additions that are worth taking a deeper look at.
Other little updates include a new orange burst of color which happens when you reach the end of a long list, and added transparency in menus, giving the OS a glassy feel. Additionally, the battery use and task manager have new views to graphically depict usage on the phone. Speaking of task managers, Google has now seen fit to add a proper menu option to the task manager right from the home screen menu. We're guessing the popularity of third-party killers was enough to convince the company that confronting the issue head on wasn't such a bad thing after all. It's a welcome addition here, and we found ourselves reaching for it fairly often (not due to performance issues... just because we're fastidious when it comes to application management).
Google has also updated some of its live wallpapers (which look nice, but we're not that fond of). We will say that this time around, whether it's the new OS or that Hummingbird CPU, we didn't see the kind of performance issues when running the wallpapers that we saw on the Nexus One. Still, we prefer to use the phone with static backdrops.
The biggest change you'll notice, however, comes in the form of the new keyboard. Not only has the company cleaned up and refined the look of the onscreen QWERTY, but it's added new functionality for word suggestions, copy, paste, and selection. Additionally, the keyboard finally exhibits more expected multitouch behavior, thanks in part to new threading that the company has added. Those changes allow you to do things like tap the punctuation key and then slide your finger to the character you want. We'd be gushing about what a great addition that is, except Google forgot one important thing -- when you lift your finger off of your selected character, the keyboard should then flip back to the ABCs. It does not. Instead, you're left stranded in the punctuation menu, meaning you've got to tap the toggle again to get back to your QWERTY. What kind of sense does that make? The whole point of being able to slide your finger to another character is to save clicks and time -- but having to click back out defeats the purpose. The intention is good, but the way Apple has it working on the iPhone is a much better, smoother method. Another gripe we have about the keyboard is that Google seems to have shrunk the height of the keys, making the keyboard on the Nexus S's 4-inch display feel cramped. We're not sure of this, but it definitely seems like the company has reduced the keys in size.
On a slightly brighter note, there are big improvements in word suggestion and selection, including new markers which you can use to grab selections of text. Well, let's be clear -- Google still has major issues with text selection and editing on Android devices. The first striking problem is that there is not a consistent method of selecting text on the device. None. At all. In the browser, you long press on text to bring up your anchors, then drag and tap the center of your selection -- boom, copied text. In text editing fields, however, in order to select a word you must long press on the word, wait for a contextual menu to pop up, and then select "select word" -- a completely counterintuitive process. In the message app you can long press to select only the entire message, and in Google Reader? You can't select any text at all. Even worse, Gmail has a different method for selecting text from an email you're reading, and it's far more obnoxious than any of the others. There, selecting text goes from being mildly annoying to downright silly. Want to grab some text out of an email? Here's your process: hit the menu key, hit "more," hit "select text," and then finally drag your anchors out. Funnily enough, a little cursor appears when you start selecting -- a holdover from Linux? To have this many options and discrepancies over something as simple as copy and paste should be embarrassing to Google. What it mostly is, however, is a pain to the end user.
And that's kind of the crux of our problem with Android in its current state. We don't question the power of the OS, but the fit, finish, and ease of use simply is still not there. There is something disconcerting about an operating system that changes its rules from app to app -- for a mobile interface to work well, it has to be approached holistically and organically. There is something cohesive in OSs like webOS and iOS -- a language that you can easily learn to speak and feel confident about using to get what you want -- that just seems to be missing here.
There aren't a ton of new pieces inside 2.3, but there are a few notable new additions to the app lineup. The first one is Tags, which is an NFC app which records all of the links you've gathered using the new tech in one easy to locate bag. You can star and delete these links much like Google Reader or Gmail. The second app which is notable is Downloads. This collects anything you've pulled down from the browser in one easy to reach spot. It certainly makes identifying where specific apps or files came from much easier, though it doesn't offer a ton of day-to-day utility.
Under the hood
Besides all the front-end stuff you can see, there's a lot that's less obvious happening in Gingerbread. Firstly, Google has added integrated support for VoIP / SIP calling, which means you can plug in your favorite service and access it through the native menus in the OS. This won't appeal to everyone, but there's definitely a certain segment of users that will be stoked to see this feature.
What really gets our juices flowing, however, is the fact that Google seems to be going full tilt on making Android a gaming platform. The company has enriched the OS with a handful of new APIs and dev tools which improve native code support and set the stage for faster, better looking games (and other graphics-heavy applications as well). It will be exciting to finally see developers taking advantage of the formidable hardware inside a lot of these devices. We don't know if the Nexus S is already utilizing some of these new tools, but as we said before, the OS seems blazingly fast and silky smooth when it comes to animations and transitions.
It seems like every couple of weeks we're saying something along the lines of "x is the best Android smartphone on the market right now." We'd like to tell you differently when it comes to the Nexus S, but the truth is, it really is
the best Android device available right now. Sure, we'd prefer it was on Verizon, and yes, there are some issues with the phone and OS that detract from the good bits... but there are also a lot
of good bits. We'd been longing for a Galaxy S device that wasn't burdened by Samsung's sometimes-clunky TouchWiz
, and in joining forces with Google, the company has more than delivered.
There's no shortage of great phones available right now, and there's no question that 2011 will usher in a flood of devices that make 2010's offerings seem forgettable. Like we said earlier, this isn't a perfect device -- and in fact a lot of what's exciting about this phone is what's happening behind the scenes. It's as if the stage is set for the arrival of Honeycomb along with a slew of features. Still, when it comes to state of the art for Android right now, the buck stops here.