Thoughts on the Google Nexus S & Android

What people thought was the Nexus 2 (two) is now announced as the Nexus S. It is a collaboration between Google with Samsung. Full details about the phone can be read from http://www.google.com/nexus/#!/features. Being of a smartphone enthusiast and advocate, I would like to just share a few thoughts on the Google Nexus S and what I think should happen in the industry (and what we can do about it).

Connectivity

  • GSM
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 n/b/g
  • Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
  • Near Field Communication (NFC)
  • Assisted GPS (A-GPS)
  • microUSB 2.0

Comments:

While the inclusion of wifi (N) is expected, especially so late in 2010, it seems that the rest are just the mundane specs from early 2010. Sure the NFC seems like a new technology for the general masses outside of Japan, but according to one, http://www.androidpolice.com/2010/12/07/nfc-in-gingerbread-is-crippled-its-one-way-only-and-not-the-way-we-want/, it is only a one way communication (with no transmitter from the device itself), and that is just bad. It makes the device, a glorified tag/bar-code scanner. Bluetooth 3.0 has been supported in recent high-end smartphones from Samsung, which makes it saddening to note the lack of it here. Galaxy S scores points here over the Nexus S.

Display

4.0″ WVGA (480×800)
Contour Display with curved glass screen
Super AMOLED
235 ppi
Capacitive touch sensor
Anti-fingerprint display coating

Comments:

It is understandable that Samsung is still determined to enforce their view that SuperAMOLED is much better than the Retina Display of the iPhone. Granted that is the case, but why then would they put out the PPI as one of its features if it will not match or be anywhere close to the iPhone’s RD PPI score of 330? It would have been a real game changer if Samsung had pulled a higher resolution display, like Sharp’s tablet. It is not something that is unachievable given that they own the manufacturing plants. The contour display is an interesting design; I suspect it provides better viewing angles that normal displays cannot deliver well (plus, it is attractive physically).

Size and weight

63mm x 123.9mm x 10.88mm
129g

Comments:

Very thin and very light for a 4 inch display phone 🙂 Plus point indeed.

Hardware

Haptic feedback vibration
Three-axis gyroscope
Accelerometer
Digital compass
Proximity sensor
Light sensor

Comments:

These are the standard for current high end phones, so no complains, just a bit of a yawn, since it does not push any boundaries that already existed. The gaming ‘gyroscope’ of course is imported from the iPhone 4. I wonder whether Google/Samsung is merely being a ‘follower’ in this? They could have incorporated some 3D display or maybe even utilising the front camera for gesturing (ala, mini Kinect), or something. It seems too standard for my liking.

Processor and memory

1GHz Cortex A8 (Hummingbird) processor
16GB iNAND flash memory

Comments:

Here is the biggest disappointment; the same processor used by the iPhone (of course the iPhone’s is a modified form, re-modified by A4 in-house) and used by the Galaxy S and Wave. It is fast, but I doubt that it is faster than Texas Instrument’s processor used in the Droid X. An A9 processor would have blown everyone out of the water. My only reason (my assumption) would be the fine tuning of A9 to Android at the moment, which is not completed as yet. We see that problem in some of the released Tegra 2 tablet systems. This would have re-booted the gaming capabilities of Android, and to really ensure that the developer community would be charged up to try new things not only on the iPhone but on Android too. I have not much complain with the internal memory of 16GB, except that many are unhappy due to the problems of flashing (given that Android phones are mostly flashable and flash friendly). I personally think people are making too much of a complaint on something that is not important. How many of us totally use up the 16GB memory besides as a storage tool for our massive digital music library? In fact, the space saved could have been used for something else. Could have. Sigh.

Cameras and multimedia

Back-facing: 5 megapixels (2560×1920)
720 x 480 video resolution
H.264, H.263 MPEG4 video recording
Auto focus
Flash
Front-facing: VGA (640×480)
3.5mm, 4-conductor headset jack
(stereo audio plus microphone)
Earpiece and microphone
Software noise-cancellation

Comments:

Droid X’s three microphones was game changing and definitely was intriguing for people to consider  the need for good audio quality for calls and video recording. However, Nexus S seems like the standard fare; it gives of the, this is just for developers and not consumer use. An 8 megapixel camera would have been brilliant considering that Samsung’s lenses are some of the best in the industry. It is also telling when the best resolution for the video recording is only 720*480. The front facing is not surprising given that many Samsung Galaxy S models (in Malaysia at least) has the secondary camera.

Battery

1500 mAH Lithum Ion

Comments:

Good size. Wireless charging would be a good addition, considering how often one would charge their smartphones nowadays.

Comments on Other things:

The main emphasis of the Nexus S seems to be this: An average phone that shows what Google’s Android can do with average components. I am sure this will succeed (if indeed this is their emphasis) because the focus is more on Gingerbread (Android 2.3) then on the hardware itself. Which is a real pity since Samsung is a well established company and Google is already getting into the groove of what works and what does not. They should have also focused on the hardware component like how HTC HD2 was the ultimate HTC-Microsoft design which is able to compete with many current generation phones even though it is more than a year old in design. That is what is needed in this industry that is changing TOO rapidly; a product that has a more significant life cycle. The first Nexus was something like this; many still use it and are loyal to it (see XDA forums for most active devices to note this). Instead, we find Android 2.3 fragmented in some ways already; the gaming parts are geared more for the upcoming PSP phone by Sony Ericsson. It would have been nice to see Nexus S incorporate that right out of the box, maybe with some physical buttons for gaming. We can only hope. Every time Android seems to be making headway, iPhone comes out just slightly ahead. Google has the resources, I am sure, it’s more of the risk-taking aspect which they seem not willing to take.

User Focus:

Picture above: Dell’s Stage UI, Sony Ericsson’s Timescape – all are lacking in user customization though it is miles better than iPhone’s offering.

I find that the best thing that Android has to offer for consumers like me is the ability to customize the phone at the software level. Tweaking the user interface at the moment is quite a challenge for the uninitiated. There seems to be many ready 3rd party developers there, but not enough traction to make it more acceptable for even new smartphone users. The age of users being forced to conform to one UI design needs to be thrown away. Personalisation is one of the key things that many power users would definitely want, which new users would be terrified of trying. Something of course cannot change, like for example, the way users select applications (by pressing a button regardless of how the apps are ordered, whether from a drawer or something else). There is much also that can be offered for Tablet design.

I personally find the iPad layout to be limiting and unfriendly (wasting too much space). We have barely scratched what is the best UI and most usable UI for the tablet medium, and so also for the smartphones. I think OS providers should provide means for the users (not just 3rd party developers) to extend their customisations beyond widgets, wallpapers, and see how a person may change their preferences depending on the device type and size. I would be very interested in dabble in this area given time and resources. UI design, speed, efficiency and utility is one of the most unexplored area in the apps development industry. Android, though it is more open than others, still do not grant users that freedom or liberty to the basic user. Let the user decide. Let them explore without fear of harming the experience (cloud syncing could be an option or preview modes or demo modes). This is the way to go in 2011 and 2012, as I foresee it.

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