Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Nexus S - Two weeks in

I've seen a fair few user reviews of all sorts of products, from technology devices to bags of crisps. User reviews tend to suffer from one of two problems - that of rationalisation or using a review to take a few pops at the supplier because the user feels mightily aggrieved.

I'm going to try to take a middle road here. I'm presenting an honest look at the phone. It cost me £430, and I'm able to say it's not perfect. It is, so far, the best phone I've ever owned or used, but there are plenty of problems with it which I'll try to spend time explaining without concentrating on the bad at the expense of the good.

Before I start, a fair question is "Why review a phone"? In the days of my Nokia 3210 there was perhaps not much need. Today smartphones are finally befitting of their name. I use my phone as my music player, my web browser, my twitter client and my routefinder. I also send the occasional text and, just once in a while, I might make a call.

Hardware

The phone is certainly decent looking. It's all black and allows nothing to distract from the screen. Part of my reason for upgrading from the HTC Hero that I had previously was the smallish screen - 81mm feels even smaller now I'm used to the 100mm on the Nexus S. This isn't about boasting - browsing the web and reading from the screen are considerably more pleasant for those 19 extra mm.

Without the screen on the phone doesn't have that much definition, but the position of the volume rocker switch makes it relatively easy to orient the phone when you're hunting around in your pocket.
Display

While I'm talking about the screen, let me explain what it's like while it's on. The quality is phenomenal. There's no backlight here (this is an AMOLED screen), so blacks are Spinal Tap compatible and whites and colours shine. The image is exceptionally sharp and a joy to look at. Photos don't do it justice as they tend to attract moiré patterns, but I'll give it a go.

The soft-buttons below the screen (which only illuminate when the screen is on) have caused me no bother at all, and the detail of the screen itself is exceptional.
Performance

The other stand out feature of the Nexus S is that it's fast. I mean really fast. It leaves my HTC Hero standing. One can get technical and think that the 1GHz processor in the Nexus is what allows it's to supersede the Hero's 528MHz, but the more I use the phone the more I think the reason for the speed is the absence of manufacturer's bloat. The phone runs Android. There's no HTC Sense, no TouchWiz. I picked up a friend's Galaxy S a few weeks ago. This features the same processor as the Nexus S. It was fast, but not as fast as the Nexus. More gallingly, and more telling, was the inclusion of three separate app stores on the Galaxy S - one from Samsung (manufacturer), one from Orange (carrier) and the standard Android Market. This is the sort of shoddy interface design that astounds, and shows why the less involvement carriers and, to an extent, manufacturers have the better.

This lack of external interference was a big attraction of the Nexus S for me and encouraged me to buy the phone direct and not on a contract. The improvement in experience has been even better than I expected.

I wondered if I'd miss the built in features of HTC Sense. Short answer: not one bit. Little things like picking out contacts and navigating the calendar are so much quicker and more responsive on the Nexus S. In fact all the default apps are excellent, with the browser particularly speedy.

The very fast and easy to use update to Google Maps. The 3D building features is pretty, but currently pointless

While blogger defaults to a mobile view, this web page loads excellently when set to the full version and is very readable with easy zoom where needed.
So far, so much praise. Well, as I say, the phone has generally been excellent, but here are a few of the most annoying issues:

The UK

It is almost as if Google are not aware of the existence of the UK. When you turn on the phone and sign in with your Google account (note that my account is a UK account) you get a nice e-mail from Google welcoming you to the Nexus S. It tells me I "can contact Samsung directly at +1 855-EZ2NEXUSS". Hmm - that's a fat lot of use. No problem, I'll head to the Samsung UK page if I need any support. Except their page doesn't even know about the phone they make. This isn't good. Don't worry - there's a full Nexus S support site - oh guess what, it's entirely geared for the US market. This is exceptionally poor. I'll leave it to the reader to guess whether Android Voice Actions work in English UK (I'll give you a clue - even though the verbs such as 'send' are clearly the same, the answer is not yes).

Update: A lady named Mary at the @GalaxySsupport account has been very helpful, but she has been the exception. E-mail support in the UK just hasn't responded, while US e-mail support told me they wouldn't support a UK device (the web form in the US was truly awful). Frankly Google are doing very poorly here.

Battery life

This is the most disappointing aspect of the phone to date. Many of the reviews said that the battery life was good. Tech Radar said 'Android 2.3 seems to be pretty darn good at holding up the power management.'

Oh that that were the case. Even with moderate use and a full night's charge the phone is almost dead by 18:00 if I unplug at 07:00. I have Twitter updating every 15mins and GMail syncing, but these are not uncommon uses of such a phone. I have WiFi on, but only connected while at home (there is no network at work). The battery plummets over the day. Because of the issue above it's not even obvious who to contact about this.

Notifications

As with all Android-based phones users can install their own MP3 files to be used to alert of incoming SMS messages, calls or alarms. There is quite an odd bug on the Nexus S which means these seem to sometimes randomly change to a different MP3 file - not even one stored within the notifications folder. I've engaged via Twitter with @GalaxySsupport who have made some suggestions, but none which has yet fixed the intermittent issue. This would be much less of an issue if the included alarms etc were anything other than bare-bones.

Update: This is a reported issue with Android 2.3. Regrettably there's no sign of this yet being fixed.

Other more minor issues

The new Android keyboard
The updated Android keyboard present on the Nexus S is, in my experience, very impressive to use. There are two minor issues. One is that entering a web address in, say, an e-mail is quite hard - the phone continually tries to 'suggest' what word you mean, resulting in something of a mess, and keeps adding spaces after the dots in a URL. This is, of course, no problem when typing a URL into the browser as suggestions are turned off.

More annoyingly the seemingly useful feature to switch between suggestion languages (I have French and English installed) is flawed in two regards. Firstly it's far too easy to switch between the two languages accidentally by lingering on the spacebar for too long. Cue annoying instances where the auto-suggest is working in a different language to your brain. Secondly the layout of the keyboard changes with the language. While ideal for some, for most people (who have one primary language and another, less-used, secondary) this is a feature that desperately needs a toggle to turn it off. Suddenly making the loaction of the Q on the keyboard home to the A is almost impossible to mentally adjust to.

Update: I was wrong in the above text - the change between languages is not caused by me lingering, but by a reproducible bug in the keyboard software that has been reported. Again, no sign of being fixed.

Wrap-up

Other than the battery life these issues are relatively minor (the support issue is poor customer service, but I hope doesn't inhibit my use of the phone). I'll continue to badger Samsung about the battery and see if anything is amiss.

As I said at the start, my overwhelming view of the phone is positive. If you want a versatile phone with a superb screen that performs fast, fast and fast again then this should be at the top of your list.

1 comment:

Alex said...

I have recently just switched to the HTC Aria and although it's not a patch on the Nexus S it too is blighted by short battery life. I'm not even sure my HTC Aria makes it as long as 6pm. Lets hope they get this fixed!