Is Nexus iPhone’s nemesis?
Matt Warman reviews Google’s new phone, and says it’s almost enough to shake up the market
Google’s new Nexus S is the mobile phone that the search giant – and partner manufacturer Samsung – hopes will allow it to set out a serious challenge to Apple’s iPhone.
That is, of course, the aspiration of every phone manufacturer on the planet, and Apple’s device has relentlessly raised the bar in its recent evolutions.
Above all, the iPhone user experience is effortlessly simple, and the interface clarifies complex tasks. It’s an imperfect handset, but the iPhone, overall, remains the least imperfect package available today.
Google’s rival Android operating system is, according to the man in charge, Andy Rubin, “an enthusiast product for early adopters – or wives of tech enthusiasts”. With 300,000 Android phones activated every day, however, there are clearly a lot of early adopters about.
One of Android’s strengths is its diversity: scores of mobile phone manufacturers use it and there’s a version of it on products at every price.
But the Nexus S is the flagship device. It’s currently the only phone to run the latest version, codenamed Gingerbread, and the only one with “near field communication” (NFC) and an updated interface.
In the hand it feels lighter than the iPhone and other top handsets such as the HTC Desire HD. Its slightly curved screen, designed to feel more natural in a pocket or against the face, is exceptionally vivid, and almost as crisp as the iPhone’s “Retina Display”. Battery life, finally, is a significant improvement on previous Android iterations, just getting me through a day of intensive use.
Indeed, that issue of battery life touches on the most important issue for the Nexus S: it does more than any phone on the market. It can be a portable wireless hotspot; that NFC chip may in the future allow it to be used as a credit card; there are internet phone calls; peerless voice operation; there’s even a cute, cathode ray tube-style animation as the phone goes into standby.
Your old Nokia might last a week between charges, but the Nexus S is, in terms of the demand it places on a battery, like trying to run half a dozen phones at once.
In truth, however, it is an incremental improvement on previous versions of Android. Those whizzy features are all valuable, but the user experience is not yet totally slick.
Andy Rubin has already demonstrated the next version of Android, and clearly Google knows this is where it must do significantly better.
The S is the follow-up to Google’s first own brand phone, the Nexus One. Eric Schmidt, Google’s Chief Executive, told the Telegraph in June that there would be no Nexus Two.
The first foray was “so successful, we didn’t have to do a second one” he said. Now on Twitter Schmidt observes, “I said there wouldn’t be a Nexus 2 but I never said anything about the letter S!”
What the S underlines is that Google realises that only by total integration between hardware and software, however will it produce a really impressive handset.
The UK’s mobile lead for Google, David Burke, observed that one reason for working with partners directly was simply that “we learn so much”.
Google knows it does not have all the answers. Companies such as Motorola, which only make Android handsets, or HTC, who made the Nexus One, are crucial to Android’s development.
Indeed, one could argue that those manufacturers’ own improvements to Android are actually ahead of Google’s own.
Nexus S is marketed as “Pure Google”. Take one look at the bald interface to set the alarm clock, and you may wish for a little less purity. Apps can help, of course.
And Gmail on an Android handset just gets cleverer and cleverer. But Google could fix many holes in Android simply by looking at the Nexus S’s competitor models.
So is Android the future? Without a doubt. Is it yet the present? For “early adopters” it surely should be. For the rest of us the decision remains tantalisingly complicated. The must-have mobile is still the one out soon.