Sprint Nexus S 4G Review

Place the new Samsung Nexus S 4G next to its predecessor, the Nexus One, and you won’t be able to tell much of a difference. Therefore, immediately the Nexus S 4G is off to a good start. Taking a good design, and updating its feature set, Samsung and Google have teamed up to update the Android purist’s phone, complete with support for Sprint’s 4G network.

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Product At-a-Glance

Pros
  • Great physical design feels natural in hand
  • Bloatware-free Android experience
  • 4G WiMax support
  • Front-facing camera
Cons
  • No expandable storage or LED notification light
  • Feels cheaply made
  • Spotty 4G performance reported by some
Summary

The Nexus S 4G updates the great feature set of the original Nexus One with more modern technologies, and gives Android users looking for a respite from bloatware a device to call their own. If you consider yourself an Android purist in the slightest, give the Nexus S 4G your consideration. It’s a great device on a solid carrier, running a gorgeous version of Android’s latest Gingerbread operating system.

Place the new Samsung Nexus S 4G next to its predecessor, the Nexus One, and you won’t be able to tell much of a difference. Therefore, immediately the Nexus S 4G is off to a good start. Taking a good design, and updating its feature set, Samsung and Google have teamed up to update the Android purist’s phone, complete with support for Sprint’s 4G network.

Sitting in the palm of your hand, the phone is light and comfortable. Nothing seems obtrusive or poorly designed. Similarly, it’s incredibly thin making it a godsend for those of you whose jeans are a bit too tight.

That being said, the Nexus S 4G‘s incredibly light weight makes it feel a bit cheaply made when you’re holding it. The device is constructed almost entirely from plastic, which doesn’t help its case much. Also, the phone is lacking an LED notification light and ability for external storage, which is a bit disappointing.

While these small design-oriented qualms may take a bit of the shine away from the Nexus S 4G, it most certainly doesn’t hold back in its feature set. Samsung packed in a NFC chip, 5 megapixel rear camera, VGA front-facing camera, USB tethering, and a WiFi Hotspot feature, along with all the other typical smartphone features (ie: b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 2.1, etc.).

For those of you who are not entirely familiar with NFC, or Near Field Communication, the premise is simple: close-proximity data transfer. How could you use this? So far, the most common proposed use are wireless payments. That means that instead of swiping a card, you could place your phone on a card reader (similar to Visa’s Paywave), and manage the payment through your phone. While it’s not widely supported yet, you can expect more hype over NFC coming soon. Similarly, the technology can be used for a variety of other exchanges of personal information, including contact sharing, and even acting as a digital key to your car or house. Ultimately, it’s a good feature to have in a phone that will most likely see use soon.

The camera on the Nexus S 4G performs roughly as well as almost every other smartphone we’ve tested. It produces promising photos in daylight, but begins to struggle in lower light situations. It does have a usable LED flash, however, making those low light photos a little more bearable.

Most prominently, however, the phone leads the way with access to Sprint’s upcoming 4G network. Don’t expect coverage if you’re out in the suburbs, but for those of you in the select cities blanketed with glorious 4G goodness, the Nexus S 4G might be for you.

The battery in the Nexus S 4G performs decently well, getting roughly the same sort of battery life we saw with the original Nexus One. The battery is rated for 6 hours of talk time.

Beyond the hardware design, the software on the Nexus S 4G will be the major draw for many potential buyers. The Nexus line of phones is known for its barebones, stock Android experience. That means you won’t be stuck uninstalling ridiculous applications that you don’t actually want on your device, which is always a plus. A clean Android experience is incredibly refreshing after using many devices littered with useless and unwanted applications and skins.

Moreover, announced earlier this year at CTIA, Sprint slipped in one extra feature to the Nexus S 4G: Google Voice integration. This means that you can link your Nexus S 4G’s phone number to your Google Voice account, allowing you to check voicemail on either your phone or online, as well as manage your call forwarding from either portal. We didn’t get a chance to test the feature, but from what we hear, when it works, it works well. Limited reports of some issues with users not being able to take advantage of this new linking feature. Google is known to occasionally hit small speed bumps scaling features to release status, so it’s likely that these problems are just temporary. All things considered, this feature is a great addition for those Android users who are looking for even more integration with Google’s offered services.

In our testing, call quality was on par with most phones we’ve tested on Sprint, which is very good. The phone was a bit difficult to hear in very noisy environments, but the speaker is more than acceptable for most situations. As a phone, the Nexus S 4G met our expectations. Sadly, the Nexus S 4G is still constrained by Sprint’s slower 3G data network. If you can get on their 4G network, however, its smooth sailing. Our WiMax connections were snappy in the city, but sometimes a bit unreliable. There have been many reports of users receiving minimal 4G connectivity in areas that have heavy 4G coverage. We didn’t get to extensively test the 4G capability, but in our brief outing, we connected successfully, and managed to load a few sites, including NYTimes.com, in under 20 seconds.

The screen on the Nexus S 4G is vibrant and crisp. Brighter colors are slightly dull, but darks are deep and rich. Performance wise, the stripped down Android core runs without a hitch, which is a nice change from bloated custom Android outfits.

The best way to describe the Nexus S 4G is refreshing. It updates the great feature set of the original Nexus One with more modern technologies, and gives Android users looking for a respite from bloatware a device to call their own. If you consider yourself an Android purist in the slightest, give the Nexus S 4G your consideration. It’s a great device on a solid carrier, running a gorgeous version of Android’s latest Gingerbread operating system. It’s as simple as that.

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