Sprint’s Google Nexus S 4G Review

June 14, 2011

Introduction


Hello everyone, thanks for checking out my highly anticipated review of the Google Nexus S 4G! I was looking forward to reviewing this particular handset so much, and I had a lofty bar set for it. For about a month before its release I was already losing sleep waiting to be able to upgrade to this phone. I had GRAND dreams of silky smooth vanilla Android goodness. I remembered the days of owning my T-Mobile Samsung Vibrant(Galaxy S variant) and how much I loved that phone, except for the few shortcomings that my myTouch 4G would take care of, it was pretty close to the perfect handset. The lack of a front facing video camera, to get a GPS that worked, and to finally be rid of buggy Touchwiz were my main goals. So when I thought of how I could have a Galaxy S phone tweaked by Google, no annoying skins, and running the newest version of Android it sounded perfect. Well my dreams only lasted till the first day I had this phone.

Physical Design and Display


Overall, I thought the design of the Nexus S 4G was beautiful, and the handset is really sexy with its all glossy black finish. However, the light weight didn’t inspire any confidence in its build quality, and so little in fact, that I carried it around in a phone pouch because I was afraid I would break/scratch it under normal pocket carrying. There was a consistent creak that would come from the bottom of the plastic battery cover which was a constant and noisy reminder of how cheap the phone felt. I imagine most of my complaints on the physical aspects of the phone would have been remedied if they designed a painted metal battery door for it. I’ll admit, I’m very used to how high quality the myTouch 4G feels, due to the metal battery cover and the increased weight, so the contrast between these two phones was what really made the Nexus S feel cheap.

The curved display sounded like an intriguing idea, but it was so slight that it generally goes unnoticed. However, it is a gimmick that I bought into and I started to like the idea after a couple of days. Not because I actually could feel a difference while talking, I just thought it was nifty. The second physical concern I have is their choice to eliminate the Gorilla Glass used on the Galaxy S series and go back to a normal plastic screen. Whether it be cost cutting, or the difficulty to make it work with the curved display, the reassurance that the screen was practically unscratchable was gone. But combining scratchable screen fears with a plasticy creaky body really starts to ruin any perception of high quality.

Software


This is one of the areas I really expected the Nexus S 4G to shine and shine it did! Everything was butter smooth, and unaltered by any carrier bloatware. In comparison to skinned Android, I have to say Vanilla seems very toned down and almost boring, but the smoothness of operation takes away any boredom. Even though the processor is a single core Hummingbird, this handset simply flies. Take a look at the Quadrant scores below, and you will find it got a score of 1700, which, in comparison to a stock Galaxy S phone, is a substantially better experience, as the Galaxy S gets only 900. It goes to show how skinning Android really does tax the hardware it’s on. Even start up and shut down were super fast, at only a few seconds. The App Drawer had the 3D cube layout and does it with a smoothness that actually seems odd and out of place to Android, I hate to say. I almost have an expected lag to Android due to it being a multitasking platform, but the Nexus S was butter smooth all the way up to having only 50MB of RAM available. Most of the Google services are preinstalled on the handset, and there is no sign of any of Sprint’s preinstalled apps. So there’s no Telenav out of the box, but you can install it from the market. Also the Nexus S does support the Total Equipment Protection app that Sprint provides to anyone who pays for insurance on their phones.

The vanilla nature of the phone doesn’t mean it’s without any of its own frustrations. One of the first and biggest frustrations made itself known upon my first text message. In sending a text, you’re limited to 160 characters, and there’s no writing a 500 character long text that the phone will auto breakup and send in sequential texts. I’m known for writing novels into my text messages, they end up being 6 texts long so this was very frustrating to me. I installed Handcent SMS, and that subsequently fixed my sequential text issue. However, I don’t like having to run more apps to fix a deficiency in the OS that has been common in messaging phones for the last 5 years.

I also had difficulties switching between 3G and 4G due to a lack of a 4G toggle widget. The only way to do it was in the settings menu. Loading up Quick Settings and trying their “experimental” 4G switcher didn’t work for me either, neither did 4G switcher widgets from the market, so that meant I rarely toggled on 4G. Which lead to being a big speed problem, so check the network connection section below.

Google Maps and the Nexus S 4G’s GPS located my location practically instantly which was a great change from the Samsung Vibrant. Obviously Samsung found a fix for the horrible GPS problems that plagued the Vibrant which often would never find my location after 5 minutes of letting it search.

An odd happening which was remedied by a phone reset was that the Youtube application showed as being installed, but was totally inaccessible. It didn’t appear in the app drawer, I couldn’t make a shortcut or widget, I couldnt launch it from the market or do anything to uninstall the updates. So until the day I reset it, I was very annoyed. However¬†resetting¬†the phone did solve my problems and now YouTube worked fine afterwards.

Call Quality / Speaker

Call quality was great, and the earpiece speaker was CRAZY loud, and I’m usually one of those that likes their earpiece at full volume. I simply couldn’t do it on this phone – it’s that loud. The comfortable volume really was around 2 or 3 out of 5, so that really tells you how loud it gets, which is a big bonus. Even in the noisiest of settings you could always hear the caller on the other end. The rear speaker was acceptable, not too quiet, but not very loud, really nothing of note. I never had a dropped call with the Nexus S, no matter how poor my data connection was, so this really is a phone for people who like talking.

Network Connection

This is the kicker for the whole review, we buy smartphones to have internet access everywhere we go, not to mention paying the $10 premium to be able to be on Sprint’s new “Premium Data” plans mandated for all Smartphones. In the past I’ve encountered Samsung handsets that have had unacceptable reception problems like the Rant and Instinct S30, where calls and data would fully disappear for no reason, so the Nexus S 4G wouldn’t be the first Samsung phone I’ve encountered with reception issues. The Nexus S would always drop down to the lowest connection I’d seen for the areas I’m in. Too many times I’ve seen it on 1xRTT in areas I know I other phones could get 3G coverage, and in areas where I know there is 4G coverage it gets barely any 4G signal at all and would drop down to 3G. Obviously there is some issue, if the EVDO top speeds on Sprint werent bad enough at approx 700-800kbps, the Nexus S 4G often could only get 200kbps download on a 3G connection and as a norm got a measley 1000kbps down on a 4G connection. There was even one time when in an area I know is very close to a WiMAX tower that the best I was able to get was 3000kbps down, and I know some of you will say, 3000kbps isn’t bad! But do note, I saw these speeds once, and once only. These speeds are horrible in comparison to other 4G phones like the Evo 4G and the Epic 4G. I’ve seen each of those phones get 7000-8000kbps in the area near the tower where I was only getting 3000kbps with the Nexus S 4G. Something is wrong with the Nexus S 4G’s radio, whether it is a hardware defect in the antennae design or a software bug that can be fixed, these speeds are unacceptable in a brand new 4G phone. In contrast to the Nexus S, the Samsung Vibrant I had on T-Mobile was a 7.2Mbps HSPA phone. With this phone, I was able to get a steady 5-6Mbps connection all day, everyday without having to switch on an alternate 4G radio. This is the same radio that is in T-Mobile’s version of the Nexus S. So, comparing Sprint’s Nexus S 4G vs T-Mobile’s Nexus S, you could expect a difference of 200Kbps vs 5.0Mbps in normal everyday use, with non-battery-gobbling WiMAX radio enabled. These numbers are just absurd, and leaves the choice between the two Nexus S’ a no brainer, with T-Mobile’s variant winning hands down.

Battery life

This was another problem I encountered right out of the box: the very first day I had this phone it went from 100% right down to 0% and shut off in about 6 hours 20 minutes. I pulled it off the charger around 7am, and it was dead by about 1:30pm. This dumbfounded me and I had no idea how that could possibly be true, as I was barely using it that first day. It burned through most of that battery sitting in my pocket. Off and on I would check my email, I did have the screen on auto brightness, and the stock Nexus Live Wallpaper running when I would turn it on, then back in the pocket. A few days later when I decided I needed to try resetting the phone to see if I could access the YouTube application, the battery life seemed to improve somewhat. This was odd because all the same applications auto installed themselves. I’m not sure what the difference could be, but on average, the battery lasts approximately 10 hours before it really needs to pay a visit to a charger. But, having such poor battery life ¬†is quite sad, and I chose to resort to using a solid black background in order to use less electricity for the SAMOLED display, as well using the backlight at its dimmest setting. Either way, this is preposterous!

Camera / Camcorder / Video Chat

The camera and camcorder on the Nexus S 4G are pretty much the most basic ones you could live with on a daily basis. They aren’t good, and unless you’re using the flash constantly for what seem reasonably lit indoor shots, you can expect to see a lot of graininess and artifacts in your pictures. The same is true for the camcorder – definitely a let down in comparison to the Galaxy S line of phones it is based on. Recording video at 720×480 is horrible looking when you realize the normal Galaxy S is able to record at 720p.

Testing the Nexus S 4G’s front facing video camera using Qik for chat also produced some rather poor results,and the video it was sending was very choppy and pixelated – especially on WiFi which didn’t make any sense. It looked better on its 200Kbps 3G connection than it did on a 10Mbps Wifi signal. These results were very puzzling and I could never find a way to improve the quality. Unfortunately, all these factors rendered the video chat unusable.

Benchmarks

An3DBenchXL - Score:  25447 Р25620
Battery Graph: charging 5% charge per 10 mins 3.33 hours to full charge, discharging 3% per 10 mins 5.55 hours uptime
CaffeineMark: Score:  6294 Р6324
CPU Benchmark: 655ms ‚Äď 648ms
FPS2D – Score: 55 Stdev: 9.02 – Score: 55 Stdev: 4.22
Linpack for Android: MFLOPS: 13.638 Time: 6.15 seconds РMFLOPS: 14.404 Time: 5.82 seconds
NenaMark1: 51.6fps – 52.2fps
Neocore: 55.5fps – 55.7fps
Quadrant Standard Ed. Score: 1419 – 1748
Smartbench 2011: Productivity Index: 806 – 984 Games Index: 2487 – 2511
Total Benchmark; 3D Test Score: 6564 Р6578  CPU Test Score: 4.86 seconds Р4.80 seconds
Touch Test: 5 Simultanious Touches, with a very accurate touch screen

Pro’s

  • Super smooth OS, runs smooth no matter how many applications you install
  • 4.0″ Super AMOLED looks very vibrant, and is a good intermediate size¬†between the smaller 3.5″, 3.7″ offerings and the larger 4.3″, 4.5″¬†offerings
  • Beautiful physical design
  • Curved display gives a nice touch
  • Streaming Netflix to phone is nice option
  • Very fast and accurate GPS location
  • Shuts down and boots within a few seconds
  • First to get Android OS updates
  • First to have NFC technology
  • 5¬†Simultaneous¬†¬†Touches the most seen on an Android phone
  • Charging port and headphone located in a very convienient location on¬†the bottom of phone
  • Free use of Telenav GPS Navigator as an alternate to Google Navigation
  • Works with Sprints Total Equipment Protection app for¬†locating a stolen phone

Con’s

  • Lack of ability to send sequential texts, text messages limited to¬†160 characters
  • Capacitive Buttons cannot be seen in sunlight, very dim button backlight
  • Frustrating that 4G speeds are optional, unlike T-Mobile’s and¬†Verizon’s always on 4G radios
  • Lack of 4G toggle widget makes it a chore to enable 4G speeds
  • Unique Android navigation buttons configuration is frustrating when¬†alternating between Android handsets
  • Poor network connection on 3G or 4G hampers data speeds
  • All plastic body feels somewhat on the cheap side
  • Battery life is horrible. It ran for 6h 47m 52s before it died under¬†intermittent use. Auto brightness, with solid black wallpaper are¬†mandatory for maximum life
  • Qik video chat very choppy in WIFI mode made it practically unusable,¬†on Sprints 3G / 4G data connections it totally failed
  • Poor camera and video camcorder quality

Conclusion

Just like the Galaxy S phone I owned before the Nexus S 4G, I really wanted to love this phone. I had a lot of expectations for a flawless experience which never materialized. In a time where there can be very good phones at even the cheapest level like the Virgin Mobile LG Optimus V, I expected better. The Nexus S had such glaring problems that it’s astonishing to me that they got the green light produce it. Overall the phone is beautiful, and runs very smoothly, but I guess we will have to wait to see if Sprint, Samsung and Google issue a fix for the reception and battery life issues. However, with new phones like the HTC Evo 3D and Motorola Photon 4G being released in a week to a month from now, I couldn’t hold on to this phone knowing these issues may never get resolved. I honestly could have dealt with the horrible cameras on the phone, but having such poor connection issues on top of being a battery hog was just too much to ask. Do I think this phone is worth buying? Not in its current state. If they fix these issues then I think the die hard fans should go get it, but if you’re an average user who doesn’t know a lot about Android I think you should buy something more along the lines of the Evo 3D. The lack of skinning really does make the phone seem less impressive, and it seems to be missing some basics. Well, so long Nexus S, I tried to love you, but you broke my heart. Now you’re going home to Sprint.

Score

3.5 / 5.0

Gallery


Comments

  • enik

    Not really a fan of this review. Personally I love being able to toggle 4g as 4g is a battery hog and the fact that its always on is one of the reasons the thunderbolt has such bad battery life, and bar control from android market works wonderfully. The signal is an issue especially the WiFi. Also how do you only get 10 hours ougt of the battery? everyone I know with the nexus s 4g, including myself, gets wonderful battery life.

    • Steve marx

      I agree, this guy is really downgrading what is a very good phone! I do agree about reception. My wife has this phone and everything about it beats my Evo 4G with exception the reception. Its faster smoother and is very nice looking. It does n ot feel cheap to me, just very light which I cant say for my Evo. This site needs to get a reviewer who has reviews more than one phone!!

      • Baylor3894

        Should I get this phone yes or no

  • Seth

    Hey, I got a nexus S 4g on sunday (june, 12) after switching from a droid x. I have also noticed a few things with the phone.

    1. I use to have an evo and with this phone I always had 2-4 bars in my house. However, with the nexus s 4g I often have 0-2 BUT THIS DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING!!! I read several people complaining about the signal strength but i think the signal is fine just the SIGNAL STRENGTH INDICATOR IS NOT CALIBRATED CORRECTLY. I can make calls all day long in my basement where it claims I have 0 bars and pull down .8mb on 3g!

    2. I dont know how long you have had this phone but after a week of charging or so the battery is much better (according to a friend). I unplugged my phone a 6:20am today and its not 10:30pm and I still have 30% battery life (4g is off).

    Overal this is my favorite android phone I have had out of Droid x, Droid 2, Samsung fascinate, HTC Evo, HTC Desire and, the HTC G2.

  • BobbyDal

    a free widget toggles my 4g….nexus 4g toggle Battery life has been a big plus….only phone i have ever owned that a 1 hour phone call didnt wear me out………love the feel
    of my NEXUS S 4G….light and all the right curves….cheap—whatever……Now the truth….
    the reviewer was either stoned or hates Sprint……….oh my god, looking back at this review this is the worst, most distorted review I have ever read…….