The performance of the Samsung Nexus S 4G? In a word: great! Just working with it, the smartphone felt fast, but it wasn’t until I tested it out objectively that I got a feeling for how fast it really was. Running the Quadrant Standard benchmarks, the device scored a whopping 1697, beating out all of the other reference devices, including the Motorola Droid X and the HTC ETC EVO. There are other new, cutting edge devices like the Droid 2 Global which score even better, but in general, those run faster on 1.2 GHz processors. Meanwhile in contrast, the original Motorola Droid only scored around 300 with its original ROM. Let there be no doubt: the Nexus S 4G has the raw CPU power to get the job done, no matter what the job may be.
With raw power out of the way, we come to the issue of storage. Is the 14 GB of storage capacity in this phone good enough to justify leaving out a microSD card slot? The obvious comparison is to the iPhone. None of Apple’s models include an expansion slot, which doesn’t preclude them from selling millions upon millions of units. But the Nexus is an Android device, and Android devices have traditionally had some kind of expandable storage. Granted that most users probably won’t use beyond the 14 GB that it provides, I still have to treat the lack of a microSD card slot as a negative for the Nexus S 4G. It has to be measured not necessarily against what one thinks the user might need — since all users are different — but against what its competition offers.
A non-obvious advantage of the “Nexus” name is this means it is the one Google recommends for developers, and the company promises it will be the first to get operating system upgrades. This device has Android OS 2.3 Gingerbread, the most recent version for smartphones,
For the most part, the Nexus S 4G has the same wireless features most Sprint smartphones would: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and CDMA/EV-DO. But that’s only for basics — this device is just getting started.
It also features support for Sprint’s “4G” WiMAX network. I put 4G in quotes largely because 4G has become a marketing term: there is no uniformity between what various carriers consider 4G these days. Current “4G” systems vary wildly in speed, even though none actually reach the (admittedly, absurdly high) standards set by the International Telecom Union. But Sprint’s WiMAX network is still nothing to scoff at, giving downstream speeds ranging from 1 to 3 megabits depending on various factors such as location and network congestion.
On the much, much smaller scale, the Nexus S 4G features what’s called Near Field Communication, or NFC. This is the smartphone cousin of Radio Frequency ID technology. If you’ve never dealt with an RFID tag, they are essentially small microchips attached to a broad, flat antenna, which, when powered by radio waves from a reader, can beam back its ID information from up to several feet away. An RFID reader “scans” the tag, like a radio based barcode, and receives the information it has stored. With tags that can be made into stickers and produced as cheap as 5 cents each, they’re nowadays commonly used in stores for anti-theft protection on everything from clothing to shampoo.
NFC works the same basic way, allowing an active device like a phone to communicate with either another device, or a passive tag, albeit at much shorter ranges, around 4 inches. But the applications for this are, as yet, somewhat limited, particularly in the US. Current NFC tags can only hold up to 512 bytes of data, so they’re useless for storing anything more information dense than short text, although they could direct you online to where you could find a website, image, or application. The other major potential use of NFC is for mobile payments, allowing you to either charge small fees to your mobile phone bill, or use the phone itself as a link to your regular banking/credit information. AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile all have test programs underway, but there are as yet few places to use this.
There’re further ideas going around about use of NFC for ticketing to public transportation or events, replacing physical or magnetic keys for homes and hotel rooms, etc. There are a lot of interesting potential ideas for what you could do with NFC, but for the most part, they’re still under development. NFC has an interesting potential future ahead of it; but at the same time, it also has the “solution looking for a problem” quality affected by many supposed world-changing technologies of the last decade. Similar predictions were made about Bluetooth; its role, while useful, has been considerably less than what it was once imagined to be.
Any Android device comes with a suite of PIM (personal information management) software to help you keep track of your schedule and contacts but beyond this, I can summarize of the Nexus S 4G’s productivity applications: in one word — zip. In the simplest language, it has no special apps loaded for productivity. It has the standard Android email applications, and that’s it. You can still view (although not edit) Office documents sent to you via email using a stripped down version of Thinkfree Office, but for reasons I can’t fathom, the application doesn’t have an icon. So you can ONLY open documents with it that you already have via email, or the file manager. Anything else, you’ll have to choose yourself from the Android Market.
Again, pretty much another zero. The Nexus includes the standard Google Music player and YouTube, but naught else, unless you count Google’s Movies app, which among other things, helps you find out what’s playing at nearby theaters.
Those who get this smartphone are almost certainly going to be headed for the Android Market to shop for additional apps. When you do, you’ll find a large selection of games, eBook readers, and other fun software.
The Nexus S’s camera is more or less your typical 5 megapixel mid-line smartphone camera. The quality is decent, but nothing to write home about.
I will say that the LED flash on this model is much stronger than usual. Most LED flashes become irrelevant on anything other than very short range photos, but this one can actually provide enough light to snap a picture in a dark room, and know what you’re looking at in the final product. The resultant photos will be blurry due to focus problems, but that’s not overly surprising.
The Nexus S also features a small front facing camera for video conferencing. The resolution is 0.3 megapixels, mediocre for photos, but enough to do the job if you really like that face-to-face call.
Even taking into account the very healthy 1500 mAh capacity of the battery, I would say that the battery life is pretty good. Even with liberal Wi-Fi use, you can comfortably get through a full day’s heavy use with room to spare. It’s hard to say how much of this should be attributed to power savings in the OLED screen, and how much is smart power management of the processor and Wi-Fi. Any way you slice it, it’s great to see a slim device that still packs a useful amount of battery power, showing that you don’t necessarily have to choose between style and utility.