It goes without saying, then, that the Nexus S doesn't wow straight away. However there are some hardware extras that do take things up a notch. A particularly simple but very welcome feature is an LED flash for the 5 megapixel camera.
Internally there are other clues as to Gingerbread's abilities, with support for Near Field Communication. This is the same technology used on the Oyster card or on those contact-less bank cards you can now get: just swipe the phone over a sensor and the two will communicate without any other interaction needed. This was demonstrated with a chip embedded into a sticker that, when touched to the phone, brought up a URL onscreen ready for you to click and open in the browser. It's very cool technology that we can't wait to see widely adopted.
Another hint as to the future of Android is this phone's lack of a microSD slot. Instead it has 16GB of storage built in. You're still free to drag and drop files to the phone at will, without the restriction of iTunes or any other software, but you just can't add more storage when it gets full up.
Otherwise the hardware is fairly typical. Round the sides you'll find a microUSB socket, volume rocker and headphone jack but, as we've come to expect on Android devices, no shutter button for the camera. Internally there's the same nippy ARM Cortex A8 1GHz Hummingbird processor as the Galaxy S and it's backed up by 512MB of RAM. All the latest wireless protocols are supported so you shouldn't have any problem getting connected while on the move. Indeed it supports the latest 5.76Mbps HSUPA service for fast uploads.
So the hardware's nice, if not exactly revolutionary, but what really sets this phone apart at the moment is its software. The most obvious initial improvement is in its darkened look. A number of areas have been changed to black, giving the whole interface a classier look. It also helps improve battery life, at least on phones that use AMOLED screens (it makes little to no difference on LCD displays).
Of more actual benefit is the improved speed, which makes all the little animations that accompany your movements through the UI that much smoother and more enjoyable. It's subtle stuff but one of the areas Android has always trailed is in having that last bit of finesse and now we're really starting to see it come through.
This is also felt in the new keyboard design, which now is easily the equal to any other on the market. The "multi-touch key-chording" is particularly neat, allowing you to quickly tap out multiple symbols and numbers or upper case letters without having to constantly switch back and forth between keyboard modes. General responsiveness and word prediction management is also superb.
The new text editing features also make a subtle but big difference, and again raise Android to having possibly the best texting interface on any phone. Certainly it's as good as any other.
The new Voice Actions also work really well, with us able to control all manner of features on the phone with voice alone, even while noisy journalists nattered all around.
As for the other features, like native VOIP support, improved app management and battery usage monitoring, the short time we had with the phone wasn't really sufficient to form any significant opinions, except to say they're clearly all small improvements that are welcome. Once we get one in for review we will of course give these features a more thorough going-over.
From a hardware point of view, the Google Nexus S is basically a Samsung Galaxy S with a couple of minor tweaks and a curved screen, and ultimately in this regard is a bit of a damp squib. It's still among the best Android phones out there but doesn’t really move things on in leaps and bounds. However, combined with the improvements in Android 2.3 Gingerbread, it makes for possibly the best phone on the market right now. It's super fast, packed with features, and easy to use. Just a shame it's so pricey.