Dec 27

Nexus S Review and Tips

The Nexus-S is the newest Android Phone direct from Google and I like it.

This has been a Google Christmas for us. It began with the unnannounced arrival of a CR-48 laptop, which has been quite a pleasure to use (see the prior post).

My daughter and I both had the original G-1 phone, and they were on their last legs. Batteries that could barely last a few hours and then only if you did not get a phone call! We were seriously overdue for new phones, and the rumors of the Nexus S convinced us to hold out until this "super-phone" was available.

I am seriously impressed with how far the Android system has come. Even though, this review is still "early" impressions; it takes a while of day-to-day use to completely understand the strengths and weaknesses of any device.

Things on the phone are moving crazy fast! Google today released an over the air, or "OTA" update with a few bug fixes. It fixed for me the rendering of a mobile web gadget that makes some use of Javascript, so I imagine the problem was probably affecting others on certain web pages. Further, Swipe caught up with a new release for Gingerbread (and others)... which the OTA update promptly broke. However, a quick re-install of Swype easily fixed the problem.

The speed, form factor and screen readability (particularly outside in the sun) are nothing short of outstanding. Battery life is outstanding. Since everyone's usage is so variable , I can't be too specific on battery life, but both of us have been using the phones extensively all day mainly for surfing without running into a need to recharge. By the way the connector is a standard "micro" usb, which Motorola an Kindle both use...

The new and improved applications are welcome to those of us who were frozen on Android 1.6. Some of the new apps and features are discussed below.

The first of two outstanding features that I'm still adjusting to is Swype, a great alternative keyboard entry capability. Secondly, the phone has outstanding speech recognition. In fact, I used the speech recognition to find and install most of my applications and it was seamless. I also used it to send a text reminder which means that you say something like remind me to check the oil this week and you get a nice e-mail with the message nicely typed out in your inbox,  it works great.

I'm also enjoying the e-mail notifications from multiple accounts. I use the "mail" tone on the phone to remind me to check mail on the computer since the phone seems to get them sooner than my computers do and from all accounts. The phone handles Google Apps accounts and regular Gmail accounts very well. I was impressed with the automatic integration of multiple address books into contacts. I took the option of only having contacts with phone numbers on the phone. This avoids having e-mail only contacts appearing in your contacts folder on the phone, many of these may be E-mail lists and the like.  I don't deal with any Microsoft Exchange or POP3 accounts anymore (thank goodness) but the reports are that those are also handled way more gracefully than on earlier Android phones.

Maps are greatly improved but I have not had much occasion to use  them for real navigation.

Call quality, which also features noise reduction, is excellent. The noise reduction uses a rear facing microphone to detect and eliminate background noise. Call voice quality seems quite clear and good.

From Drop Box

This is a picture of a desert my Wife made for one of the Christmas gatherings "Bouch de Noel"

The regular camera takes very good pictures and has auto white balance and some additional controls. I'm actually a fairly experienced photographer (used to do it professionally) and have been surprised and impressed with the picture quality. However, as I mentioned previously, it's still pretty early to say for sure. I have seen some complaining about the camera but my experience would lead me to think it may be an operator error!  I was also impressed with how easy it is to share the images with multiple services; the integration with Picasa is outstanding (the "Gallery" app automatically syncs to Picasa). The front facing camera is clearly intended for video chats but at the moment Google Video is not available. The forums say that Tango, another package may be an option. I think I'll wait a bit though.

In many ways the phone seems way more advanced than the CR-48. It installs a wide variety of applications and files (like music and multimedia files) readily while the CR-48  so far deals exclusively in the cloud.

I have yet to experiment with the phone's tethering capabilities, but I'm definitely looking forward to playing around with it. There appears to be some confusion about T-Mobile's attitude to it, but I'm sure they'll figure it out.

Voice over IP is another challenge I have not quite gotten the hang of yet. The T-Mobile Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA), a technology that allows mobile users to send and received phone calls via Wi-Fi, is not yet available, (don't know if it will be). Alternative VOIP approaches such as Sip services which seem to be a bit fiddly. I was able to cobble a solution together (based on Google Voice and Sipgate) but it only worked in one direction, they could hear me but not vice-versa. The help areas suggest that I should update my router firmware, but not sure I want to take that leap yet. I have downloaded updates but it remains a task for another day. Others report success with this path, so maybe I'll get around to it before too long. Google Voice seems to work fine on its own. I'm still having some difficulty getting the full use case though. I did allow Google Voice to take over from the carrier voicemail and I will say that I enjoy the voice transcriptions; they actually are useful.

At the time I was getting going with the phone the Delicious fiasco was also going on and I began to switch to Diigo for bookmarks and I discovered they have a suite of cool apps that integrate well with Android. Power Notes (part of Diigo) allows access to all bookmarks and notes, and is somewhat more lightweight than other apps. "Chrome to Phone plus" is also available (from Diigo) and allows sending "read later" items and maps to the phone. I could not get the Google version of the Chrome to Phone working, but it seems the Diigo product is far more functional anyway so I don't really mind.

The new Google Reader app is  a nice addition, and provides a much more seamless user experience than the previous version.

I'm looking forward to a better VOIP experience (and maybe UMA) (both via wifi and maybe even 3g), and Video calling via Google chat, I'm sure we are just at the beginning of the new features we will be seeing rolling out on the platform.

The new Car Home view is also a very nice addition for on-the-road. It provides much larger buttons for the main functions you might use while driving, including handy large buttons for calling frequent contacts. It sort of looks like the Windows Phone 7 interface!

(added by my daughter) >> OVERALL, I LOVE THE PHONE AND CAN'T PUT IT DOWN. MY FAMILY HAS TO SURGICALLY REMOVE IT FROM MY HAND WHEN IT IS TIME TO SIT DOWN TO DINNER. TOM BRANDER, PROPERTY OF GOOGLE. (it actually is a fair summary of my feelings.)

Tags: Android, Nexus-S, Phone

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