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Google Nexus S - Display and Interface

By Edward Chester



Our Score:


Enabling Google/Samsung to use a curved screen is the company's choice of an AMOLED display. In fact, it's one of Samsung's Super AMOLED displays, that in terms of specs is identical to that on the Samsung Galaxy S. It's 4in from corner to corner and packs in 480 x 800 pixels, making it very much par for the course these days. It is a notch behind the iPhone 4's 640 x 960 pixel display and the 480 x 854 pixel models used in Motorola's latest Android phones but most other smartphones have similar size and identical resolution panels.

When we assessed the Galaxy S, and when we've looked at some previous AMOLED displays which use a Pentile arrangement of subpixels, we've found them to look a little grainy due to the large gaps between all the pixels, and to some extent this is also the case on the Nexus S. However, whether due to better anti-aliasing in the latest version of Android, more subtle tweaks to the display hardware, or just perception, this display seems more usable. Certainly helping out in this regard is its more natural colour temperature, as compared to the Galaxy S with its slightly blue tinge.

Regardless, while not the highest resolution or sharpest screen going, it is very much usable for day to day tasks and thanks to the incredibly vivid colour it produces, its very high contrast and its infinite viewing angles, it absolutely excels at showing video.

Below the screen are four touch-sensitive buttons for Back, Menu, Search, and Home. The white logos for them magically appear out the blackness of the bezel when the phone is turned on and in doing so make us all fuzzy and warm inside – it's the little things in life. The button order seems a little peculiar with us preferring the most-often-used Back and Home buttons to be in the middle but it's a minor point as otherwise they are responsive and easy to use.

Responsive and easy to use is a phrase that could also be used to describe the interface of the Nexus S. While the enhancements to the latest version of Android are subtle, they all add up to a much slicker overall experience. Generally swiping your way around the interface is smooth and free of any stutter, while nice little touches have been added to make the whole experience more intuitive and visually attractive - things like the little flash of orange that appears when you reach the end of a list. There are a few little areas that still need work, like the notifications drop down that requires a very long dragging motion to activate it, rather than the quick flick it should need but these seldom cause significant frustration.

Performance is also helped by the nippy 1GHz Samsung Hummingbird (ARM A8-based) processor with its impressive integrated graphics keeping all the interface animations running nice and smoothly. Some might argue the 512MB of RAM is a bit miserly but we noticed few issues with the phone slowing down or running out of memory and requiring us to close programs. Only when apps were simply being irksome – like the web browser struggling to load a flash video – would things grind to a halt.

Other basic tweaks include the move to a darker theme, where possible, as this helps to use less energy on phones with AMOLED displays (it doesn't help for LCD as they require a constant backlight). The new styling also looks a tad classier. One last thing we do love is the animation that accompanies locking the screen – it thins to a horizontal line then a point before vanishing, just like old CRT TVs used to. Just like the touch sensitive buttons, it's of little practical benefit but it brings a smile to your face.

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December 31, 2010, 2:34 pm

I got it on 21st of Decemeber to replace desire and had planned to send it back as I missed sense. Was going to just get a Desire HD instead. But I love it now, launcher pro changed my mind, as well as the fact that it just works flawlessly. Battery life is a bit better as well, I don't think current batteries are ready for dual core unless they have some way of doing things that makes it not matter. Also there is nothing I can do on the phone that isn't 100% smooth so I am not sure what dual core will bring at this stage. Any ideas?


December 31, 2010, 2:58 pm

@TechnicPuppet: In theory at least dual core processors could actually improve battery life as you could run the cores at a slower clockspeed thus require less power. The problem with that theory is basically no-one knows if that's going to be the case. The software, both OS and applications, need to support proper multi-threading to make effective use of the processor and the processor itself has to be well designed (there's a host of other unknowns but I think those are the two main ones).

That being said I probably wouldn't buy a high-end Android handset now. CES is a week away and we're likely to find out more there about whether or not dual core is imminent, Honeycomb is on the way and the Nexus S kinda comes at the end of the Galaxy cycle. Yes, it's got a couple of new features with the curved screen and NFC capabilities but neither are killer and by the time NFC really takes off it'll be in the next gen handsets anyway. Ultimately this is a six month old design with a few tweaks and considering the pace of progress in the mobile space at the moment that could start to feel a bit outdated VERY quickly once the next wave hits.


December 31, 2010, 4:18 pm

It does look like a nice phone, im just not sure that its enough of a step forward from the original Nexus one to warrant an upgrade for Nexus one owners

Also I have a slight issue to do with the scorings again, specifically the features score. Look at this phone compared to the Nokia N8, admitably the N8 has got a smaller screen and a slower processor and does not have NFC (i believe) compared to the Nexus S, however it does has a far superior camera (more mega pixels with zoom), a micro SD slot, FM tuner and transmitter, HDMI out ect, and yet they both get an 8.

Just to clarify, I have neither phone, it just seems odd that when the Nokia obviously has a far better feature set (why oh why doesnt this phone have a micro SD slot) that they get the same score?


December 31, 2010, 4:19 pm

Also - It would be interesting to see an article comparing the Nexus S and Nexus One both running 2.3, to see if the Nexus S really is worth the upgrade


December 31, 2010, 4:46 pm

@Edward - "However there isn't a microSD slot so you won't be able to add to the phone's inbuilt 16GB of storage, which is a bit of a mistake considering Apple already offers a 32GB iPhone."

While the Nokia N900 offers 32GB plus a microSD slot...


December 31, 2010, 5:58 pm

I can't disagree with anything anyone is saying as I was saying it myself last week. Like I said it was going back, but there is just something about it that really appeals, so that along with knowing ill get every update first swung it.

Plus I have a deal with the g/f that she takes my old phones so I get a new one every year the way the contracts work.


December 31, 2010, 6:05 pm

2 things put me off upgrading to this (from the Nexus One):

1. As others have pointed out - no micro SD and only 16gb of storage. A high end phone like this should really be offering an expansion slot regardless of on board storage. Is this maybe related to the Galaxy's issues with memory cards?

2. No plug-less charging. One of the big (but understated) features of the N1 for me is being able to drop it into the desktop dock for charging - as a heavy user I have a dock at the beside and another on my desk at work.


December 31, 2010, 6:45 pm

Small mistake in your otherwise excellent review: This phone does not currently offer 720p video recording.

john g

December 31, 2010, 7:04 pm

You show a picture of the battery management screen and say that it's new to Android 2.3 but my Desire HD has exactly the same capability running Android 2.2. Is this something that HTC added or something that has been overlooked in previous reviews?

Also, was the review written before Google Maps 5 was released on December 17th? I've been using it for a couple of weeks and the vector-based graphics and improved caching are a great improvement.


December 31, 2010, 8:56 pm

Great phone, but omitting the MicroSD slot is like taking one step forward and 10 steps back. Why oh why?!?

I suppose the internal storage could be used as app storage. I suppose that one of the reasons why Google didn't like the idea of app storage on the SD card was because they didn't want to give users the ability to remove the vital SD card while those apps are running. That would create some stability issues, but removing the slot is hardly the answer. I'd rather the slot was just placed behind the battery or something, thereby forcing the user to shut down the phone before removing the card.

I really hope this 'feature' isn't a sign of things to come.

Denis iii

December 31, 2010, 9:14 pm

Still not worth it. Watched a utube clip showing the interface and usage is all over the place with one function working though so here but different there and different again here and there so a complete fail IMO.

Will wait for new Win7 phone with the software upgrade and working memstick.


December 31, 2010, 10:19 pm


Hotmail supports Exchange and while I don't have a Nexus S it works fine on my Gingerbreaded Desire with support for mail, contacts and calendar sync.

Also, Google Maps 5.0 has been out for a few weeks now with the new 3D view, vector graphics and offline caching. I'm surprised that it's not intalled by default but should only take a quick update.

I found your comment about it not being ideal to have to install apps a bit strange. Isn't it a bonus that you can easily add functionality with a quick download? Seems like the whole point of having an app store to me.

I totally agree that some of the inbuilt apps aren't the best but for me the whole point of Android is it's customisability. Being able to change pretty much everything to get it working exactly the way you want it to. It does just work but with a little effort it can work so much better.


December 31, 2010, 11:06 pm

More excited about the software than the hardware I have to admit.

Edward, you have become a true professional. Watching your vide review, there was a point when you had just mentioned about scrolling and reaching the end with a 'bump' and the settings menu didn't exhibit this features. After going up and down a couple of times, you gave up. I'm sure your face (which we couldn't see) was probably saying WTF??, but your video commentary went on as if nothing was out of the ordinary!!

Well done. A true pro!!


January 1, 2011, 12:12 am

This looks like a great phone, however now the software is at last a challenge to ios, they need to sort out the build quality. The iphone 4 has what feels like a 'no compromise' approach to quality with it's glass back & s/steel surround. Most people will be buying these phones on a long contract and a plastic back just doesn't inspire the 'built to last' confidence I'd want with a daily use item that I'm going to spend the next 2 years using.


January 1, 2011, 3:38 pm

Can anyone comment on whether Android has a problem with text messaging or not? The specific issues seems to be that now and then it'll send texts to the wrong people. Is this true?


January 1, 2011, 7:25 pm

Good review Ed. Very interesting. If I was upgrading at this moment, then this would probably be my no.1 choice. I have a HTC Desire at the moment and while the Sense interface is good I would prefer one current up to date android update. My froyo update only came through a month ago! Have played with a friend's GalaxyS and was very impressed. The larger screen means a lot to me as I use my phone probably more than my macbook for email and browsing. the lightness compared to my Desire is not significant but as I carry my phone all the time in my pocket it would be welcome. And although I abhor glossy plastic I did think the GalaxyS's use of it was classy and modernistic compared to the rather unremarkable mocha metal/plastic mix on the desire. And the screen as shown in the video review looks and sounds as if it is the right size, quality, and feel, to meet my needs. It will be another year before I upgrade, so probably the successor to this phone will be in the running for me.


January 1, 2011, 11:09 pm


Yes there is a bug in the messaging app. Sometimes when you select a thread it inadvertan opens a different one. If you're not careful you can then end up texting the wrong person.

Definitely needs fixing although I use handcent which doesn't seem effected by it.


January 2, 2011, 8:55 pm

Nice review. Is there any chance that you will be allowing full screen playback on your review videos at some point?


March 16, 2013, 12:50 am

This phone is TERRIBLE. It only last for a couple months and then something goes wrong this is my 3rd time getting this phone because of this reason.


May 26, 2013, 7:22 am

no memory card slot...........:(

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