The multimedia side of things has never been Android’s strong suit and it remains the case with 2.3. The music player is functional but not excatly slick while the video player gets the job done but is lacking when it comes to format support, with DivX and AVI files not playing ball. You can download alternatives, of course – as you can for most programs, but it’s not ideal to have to.
Finally, the ridiculously fancy looking but highly impractical photo viewer is also something of a let down. It works but it’s flashy 3D interface is more bothersome than bodacious. We gather Android 3.0 will improve things significantly on the multimedia front so it really can’t come soon enough.
As ever GoogleMaps is onboard and it’s just as easy to use as we’ve come to expect. In fact it’s incredibly fast at both rendering the maps and finding out where you are. You also get the excellent sat nav app for proper in-car navigation. Eventually you’ll aso be able to get the new vector based version of GoogleMaps that is not only even faster but also includes 3D models of over 300 cities and the maps can be stored offline – the reliance on constantly having to download maps is the current version’s biggest failing.
As for the rest of the phone’s apps, there’s not much beyond the basics of calculators and calendars but all the essentials are included and are nice to use. As for the app store, it still trails the iPhone for both games and apps but is still way ahead of the rest and again you can find a pretty decent selection.
One of the new additions to Android 2.3 Gingerbread is the ability to switch between front and back facing cameras in the camera app, and we can report it does work (there really isn’t much more to say on the point).
The front facing camera is only VGA so is extremey limited in its usefulness but the rear one is a 5-megapixel unit with autofocus and an LED flash. It doesn’t set itself apart from the crowd in any way but is entirely competent and will suffice for the usual casual snaps. As ever we lament the lack of a physical shutter button and a Xenon flash but these are still the exception rather than the norm.
HD Ready, 720p, video is also available and you can use the LED with it. Results are again fine but not extraordinary. We really would like to see smartphone manufacturers start to push the boat out a bit more with their cameras but again this is a general complaint and isn’t something to hold against Google per se.
Some people have been a bit disappointed with the Google Nexus S, pointing out that with dual core, high resolution smartphones around the corner, it doesn’t really push the boat out far enough for what is supposed to be a flagship device, especially given its high launch price. And, this is certainly true to an extent: it is basically just a souped-up Samsung Galaxy S and lacks basics like a microSD slot.
The software improvements that come with the latest version of Android are also lacking in some areas, like the archaic music player and bizarre picture viewer. Also, the curved screen and inclusion of NFC are for the most part just gimmicks right now.
However, there’s no denying that if you can stand the glossy plastic back, this is a very nice piece of hardware both in terms of looks and usability. Add in a version of Android that is currently unique to it and that improves the experience in many subtle ways and you have what is to our minds the clear top dog of the Android smartphones. What’s more, it’s price has now dropped to a more sensible level so it’s no more expensive than most of the competition.
The continued dominance of the Apple App Store and the ease of use of iTunes will mean some still want to stick with Apple while the less than stellar battery life and call quality will mean serious smartphone fans may want to look elsewhere but if you’re looking for something that sits nicely between the two, it’s definitely one to consider.