Google Nexus S 'Underwhelms,' But Overall Will Please, iFixit Says
Google's second smartphone effort, the Nexus S, is officially
available - which made it high time for the repair crew at iFixit to
get to work on a dis-assembly. "We wanted to see what makes this baby
tick," they wrote, before getting to down to business with their
screwdrivers, heat gun and handy plastic opening tool.
Arriving nearly a year after the launch of the HTC-made Nexus One, Google this time turned to Samsung as its hardware partner, but stuck with T-Mobile as its carrier - with a new two-year T-Mobile service contract, the Nexus S is priced at $200; without one, it's $530. It's also the first phone to ship with "Gingerbread," the latest version of Google's Android OS, version 2.3.
While the Nexus One was offered directly through Google, the Nexus S is being sold at Best Buy, with currently free delivery, guaranteed in time for Christmas. Is it the ultimate stocking stuffer? After an inside-and-out examination, iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens wrote in an e-mail to the media that the team found themselves "just a tad underwhelmed."
Part of this was due to the device's much-ballyhooed curved display. The Nexus S, Google writes on the official Nexus S site, is the "first smartphone to launch with a Curved Display. The curved glass screen fits comfortably in the palm of your hand and along the side of your face."
The iFixit team, however, wasn't so impressed.
"We feel the phone's curved glass is more of a gimmick than anything else, although it does feel very nice when pressed up against the user's face," Wiens wrote. "Our teardown reveals that only the glass itself is curved, but that the LCD and touchscreen are just as flat as any phone's. Although Google/Samsung technically doesn't lie on their site - they clearly mention a curved glass panel, not curved LCD - we still find their -Contour Display' name a bit misleading."
(Regarding that display, Google/Samsung also note that it has 1.5 times the luminance of a typical LCD display, which renders colors as "incredibly vibrant" and text as extra crisp. It also has 75 percent less glare than other smartphones, say the pair, for high-quality outdoor video watching.)
Also setting the Nexus S apart from Samsung's line of Galaxy S smartphones (and the critics will say that very little does) is the inclusion of NFC (Near Field Communication) technology. This means that it can read "smart" tags, or other objects with NFC chips in them, from clothing items to movie posters. In November, T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon Wireless announced they'd be working on a "national commerce network," called Isis, which relies on NFC, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt, at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, talked up the technology, explaining that someday "it could eventually literally replace your credit card."
For the iFixit team, the module, looking "like something straight out of Tron: Legacy," was simply something to peel off the back cover with a "plastic opening tool."
A little more noteworthy, warned Wiens, is that any AT&T customers considering picking up the device without the contract should be aware that "the Nexus S does not support the 850 MHz and 1900 MHz HSPA frequency bands required for 3G mobile data. If you use this phone on AT&T's network, you're stuck in 2G land."
Which would be a pity, considering that the Nexus S comes with a 1GHz Hummingbird processor that's paired with 16GB of internal memory and a dedicated GPU (graphics processing unit). The iFixit team found the processor to be, more specifically, an S5PC110A01 Cortex A8 Hummingbird processor, stacked with a Samsung KB 100D00WM-A453 memory package. Other "notable chips," wrote Wiens, were a SanDisc 16GB NAND flash module, an Infineon X-GOld baseband processor, a Wolfson Microelectronics ultra-low power audio codek and a Skyworks module for dual-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE.
As two cameras and video chatting, are now all the rage, the Nexus S features a front-facing VGA with a resolution of 640 by 480, as well as a 5-megapixel camera, with a resolution of 2,560 by 1,920, on the back. Interestingly, says iFixit, "the two cameras share the same connector on the motherboard and are removed as a singular unit."
Sharing is also done by the earpiece speaker, speakerphone loudspeaker and the sensor bank, which have a data connector in common. "This is definitely a win for integration," wrote Wiens, "but at the same time forces users to replace the entire unit if only one component malfunctions."
The team also found a 1500 aAh, 3.7V, 5.55 watt-hour lithium ion battery inside, which is said to be good for 6.7 hours of talk time on a 3G network and up to 14 hours on 2G. Per Wiens: "That's slightly higher than the 1400 mAh and 1420 mAh battery ratings of the Nexus One and the iPhone 4, respectively."
In all, the newest Google phone garnered a "repairability" score of 7 out of 10. The "main niggles," wrotes Wiens, "being that you need to use a heat gun to separate the display from its frame, and that you have to replace both LCD and glass should just one of them fail (they're fused together). On the bright side, the battery is easily swappable, and you don't need much aside from a #00 Phillips screwdriver and plastic opening tools to disassemble the rest of the phone."
In closing, Wiens said the team found the Nexus S to a be "a solid Android phone overall," that it thinks a lot of people will be happy with.
"Samsung's device is the king of the hill of Android phones - for the next twelve minutes or so, until the new next-best-Android-phone rises up to knock it off its perch."