Samsung Google Nexus S review: Royal droid

GSMArena team, 11 February, 2011.
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Good 5MP snapper

On the hardware side of things, the Google Nexus S has a 5 megapixel camera module for a maximum image resolution of 2560 x 1920 pixels and an LED flash.

Gingerbread is also the first Android to officially support two cameras and the Nexus S will let you snap photos with the video-call camera too. Of course, brand-specific workarounds have been around for a while (take Galaxy S, for instance), so it’s not really a new feature to droid land.

The user interface is pretty decent, although not exactly perfect. The three main controls are on the right side of the viewfinder – from top to bottom, they are the gallery shortcut (which shows the thumbnail of the last photo taken), the still shot/video switch and the virtual shutter.

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The Nexus S camera interface

Right next to those controls is a vertical column of semi-transparent shortcuts – each one brings up a menu with various settings. This has the advantage of accessibility (all settings are one tap away) but some of the menus are too long and you have to scroll up and down to find the setting you’re looking for.

You get the usual settings – scenes, color effects, white balance and exposure compensation. Photos can be geotagged and you can use the front camera to take self-portrait shots (it’s just a VGA camera though)

The image quality produced by the main camera of the Nexus S however is very pleasing. There’s a fair amount of noise but at least most of the fine detail survives the post-processing. Contrast and color rendering are good too. Overall, it’s like an improved version of the Galaxy S.

Shot-to-shot time is just over a second. Not bad but nothing impressive on a 5MP snapper either. At least, the SuperAMOLED screen and its excellent sunlight legibility mean you’ll have no problem framing your shots, even with bright sunlight behind you. Unfortunately, there is no camera key.

Here go the samples for you to check out.

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Google Nexus S camera samples

Photo quality comparison

The Google Nexus S enters our Photo Compare Tool to join the 5MP lineup. The tool’s page will give you enough info on how to use it and what to look for.

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Google Nexus S in our Photo Compare Tool

D1 video recording, again

We thought we had moved past this phase with high-end smartphones but here we are again – the Nexus comes with D1 video recording @ 30fps. We’re guessing it’s a software limitation that stops the Google Nexus S from recording 720p HD video, as the internal gadgetry should have enough muscle to do that (the Galaxy S can).

The interface of the camcorder is similar to the one of the still camera, except that there are fewer settings available. You can set the video quality, adjust white balance, apply color effects and that's that.

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Camcorder UI

Videos are recorded in 3gp format, which uses low bitrate, which in turn leads to some compression artifacts. The automatic exposure adjusts rather abruptly during shooting and that causes annoying flickering with the passing cars.

The frame rate of the videos generally hovers around 28.5fps but that should be smooth enough, even if it doesn’t reach the intended 30fps. Still, the uneven frame rate leads to the occasional perceivable choppiness.

Here is a D1@30fps sample video (12MB) for you to see.

The Google Nexus S didn’t qualify for our Video compare tool, but we shot a video using the same setup nonetheless.

Connectivity has it all

The Google Nexus S has all the connectivity options available in the Galaxy SL – quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE and tri-band HSPA with download rates of up to 7.2 Mbps and upload at 5.76 Mbps.

Similar to the Galaxy S and SL, the Nexus S offers Wi-Fi (b/g/n) and USB v2.0 with a microUSB standard, but lacks the Bluetooth 3.0 – it’s downgraded to version 2.1.

It has an internal storage of 16GB, though unlike the Nexus One it doesn’t have a card slot, so no expandable storage option is available.

Also the Nexus S comes with an integrated NFC (Near Field Communication) chip. It means the phone will be able to act as an electronic card to pay your bus ticket, as your wallet for paying to vendors, at restaurants and such. The list goes on and on.

Mind you, NFC doesn’t have a global reach but it will surely pick up speed in 2011. Plus Nexus S doesn’t have the software needed to utilize the technology properly – or better yet developer lack the APIs to use the NFC in Android 2.3. Thanks to the recently announced Android 2.3.3 that should be fixed.

A great web browser

The Google Nexus S browser is a strong performer. With added Flash 10.1 support and the latest and fastest Android version out there, 2.3.1 Gingerbread, it really does a great job.

The user interface is pretty much nonexistent at first sight. Once the page loads, all you see is the URL bar and the bookmark button on a line at the top of the screen. Once you zoom in and pan around though even that line disappears (scroll to the top or press menu to bring it back).

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Nexus S web browser • Bookmarks

That way you have the entire 4” screen for web browsing. The Nexus S browser supports two zoom methods – double tap and multitouch pinch-zooming.

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Browser in landscape mode • Settings

The browser supports text reflow, but it works only with double tap zooming – a moment after adjusting the zoom level, columns of text adjust to fit the screen width. Without text reflow you will either have to zoom out until the text fits (but then it’s too small to read comfortably) or scroll sideways to read each line.

The minimalist UI is quite powerful – hit the menu key and six keys pop up. You can open a new tab, switch tabs, refresh the page, go forward, and open bookmarks. The final button reveals even more options (text copying, find on page, etc.).

The bookmark list shows a thumbnail of the bookmarked page and you also get a “most visited” list in addition to the history. Just like with the Galaxy S and SL.

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The bookmarks section • Most visited

One of the best parts of the Nexus S web browser is the full Flash support. YouTube videos played quite smoothly (360p-480p), and so did the games from Kongregate, for example.

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Playing a flash game in the browser • Playing a You Tube video

The high-quality videos on YouTube and other Flash video services had some dropped frames, but the overall Flash performance turned out pretty decent.

You could use the YouTube app if you find navigating YouTube in the browser hard. The experience on the Google Nexus S is one of the best you can possibly get from a smartphone.

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