The Samsung Nexus S 4G is an updated version of the existing Nexus S, slightly retooled to use Sprint's 4G data network for faster speeds. It has a 4-inch curved display, 1GHz processor, and the latest version of Google's Android OS for smartphones.
It's available now from Sprint for $200 with a two-year contract. There is also a version of the Nexus S available from T-Mobile for the same price.
BUILD & DESIGN
The obvious comparison for the Nexus S 4G is to the iPhone. Similar looks, similar design aesthetic, etc., which of course could be said for a vast number of smartphones these days. If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, the iPhone has received an overwhelming amount of blandishment.
And certainly, this Samsung handset plays the part of an iPhone imitator to the hilt; sleek black looks with an extremely thin design. It's not quite as thin as the iPhone 4, but the Nexus S 4G is 0.44 inches thick, while the iPhone 4 is 0.37; a difference you're not likely to notice unless you have digital calipers built into your hand. Besides which, the Nexus features 4G (or at least, what Sprint defines as 4G), which the iPhone 4 can't claim -- that alone can justify a little extra bulk..
The design is a simple tablet shape, utterly symmetrical other than the slightly raised portion of the casing at the bottom. Since this isn't necessary for the battery or any other parts, I presume that its value is tactile, to help you know by touch which end of the phone is which. Although the material is extremely sleek and slippery, it manages to feel comfortable in the hand, with the right size and weight distribution so it never feels awkward.
However, in this case, the resemblance to Apple's design is a little more than skin deep. Out of habit, when I first got my hands on the Nexus S 4G, I ended up spending a good minute searching for its microSD card slot -- prying off the battery cover, pulling up the battery and checking the edges. Then I realized it doesn't have one. While it does have 16 GB of internal memory (of which 14.3 GB is available to the user) that is as much as you get, period, with no option to expand in the future. That begs the question: does it matter? I'll address that in a minute, once we're done with the actual design.
Overall, I like the build of the Nexus S 4G. I'm not much of a fan of keyboard-less devices, and this one hasn't converted me. But as it goes, it's solidly built, sleek, has a good looking 4-inch screen, and it's surprisingly compact. If you like this general design, it's definitely one of the better examples.
Unlike most of its competitors, the Nexus S 4G avoids the traditional LCD display in favor of an OLED panel. For those not familiar with OLED technology, it stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. Samsung produces 40% of all the OLED panels on the planet, so it's no surprise that their phones sport this sort of screen far more commonly than other manufacturers do. The difference between the two technologies is this: instead of being backlit like an LCD, each individual pixel on an OLED screen produces its own light. It is, in effect, a high resolution net of extremely tiny LEDs.
What this means in real world use is quite a bit, actually. Unlike LCDs, OLED screens can produce a "true" black color, rather than all blacks coming out dark grey. The whites are so sharp and bright that it puts my laptop screen to shame. The colors are more vivid than competing LCDs, and to top it all off, they can consume up to 40% less battery power than regular LCDs -- but the fine print on that statement is where we start to find some downsides to OLED as well.
Because OLEDs generate their own light, displaying blackness costs no power. So an OLED displaying a mostly black screen, or white text on black background, will consume much less power than an LCD, where the entire screen has to be lit at all times. However, when displaying mostly white pages -- like, say, websites -- the OLED will actually consume more power than a comparable LCD. That said, on the Android OS, most menus already use a black background, providing some advantages to an OLED.
There's also the issue of daylight visibility. OLEDs are somewhat harder to see out in direct sunlight than a "regular" LCD. This is because LCDs actually have something there to reflect light off, whereas an OLED is more or less simply a flat plate with lights on it.
The Nexus S 4G doesn't have your plain old everyday OLED, it has a Super AM-OLED screen. Compared to the standard type, this is brighter, thinner, and uses less power. Despite this, for some reason, at least on my unit, shades of grey tended to have a bit of a greenish tint. This tint didn't show up in the whites or elsewhere that I could see, just in shades of grey.
Even so, the screen of the Nexus S 4G is pretty nice. The color vibrance alone gives it a head start over many other devices, and if you can get away with running your display with a black background more often, you can extract some definite power savings.
Other Buttons & Controls
Here's the interesting thing about the Nexus S 4G's other buttons -- it doesn't have any. Aside from the silk screened nav buttons on the bottom of the touchscreen, the power button, and the requisite volume keys, there are no other physical controls. Not even a camera button.
I'm not really wild about this whole trend toward fewer buttons. As it stands, if you want to use the Nexus S 4G to, you know, place a phone call, you need to turn it on, unlock the screen, go to the home screen, then access the phone app -- three or four steps to accomplish what in other circumstances would have been a one button job. I know that phone calls are becoming an increasingly low priority in modern phone use, but when you have an urgent need to make a call, it would be nice not to fumble with too many things to get to the actual dialer.
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