Rumours about the Nexus Prime aka Galaxy Nexus have been floating around for months as Google is preparing their next major Android update called ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’. All evidence points to Samsung being again the manufacturer of choice, even though some people would have liked to see another company getting a shot at it. Samsung is currently the most successful Android Smartphone manufacturer besides HTC, and their Galaxy line is quite popular. But many people including me hate the built quality philosophy of Samsung, or let’s rather say hardware material philosophy. Even the high-end Samsung devices like the Samsung Galaxy S 2 come with cheap plastic casings, which makes them very light but also not feeling high quality like an iPhone 4 for example. I resisted getting an Samsung Android device for a long time, but since my Nexus One had one big issue – namely phone storage shortage – i had to get a new device. As i want Android updates directly from Google without any delay, the Samsung Nexus S was the only option. I have read many reviews about the Nexus S and comparison articles with the Nexus One but most of them are too focused on pure hardware specs or benchmarks. I want to take a look from some other angles in order to find out which of the two manufacturers did a better job in producing the definitive Google experience device, and which company i would actually prefer to see getting another shot at a Nexus device.
HTC has a reputation of producing high quality hardware for many years now, starting with the HTC Magician Windows Mobile phone which came with an aluminium body. The Nexus One with its metal casing is no exception. It feels great in your hand and nothing is creeking or loose. I was using a Nexus One as main phone for about 1.5 years, and the only real weak spot i could find were the hardware buttons. Many people had issues with the power button which could easily malfunction because of the very small contacts that HTC used. I never experienced this with my Nexus One, but the volume buttons needed a little bit more pressure to react after some time.
Samsung on the other hand is following a complete different direction. Nearly all high end devices from Samsung have great hardware specs, but cheap plastic casing. Even with the Nexus S this hasn’t changed. While the display looks good and also doesn’t feel cheap, the back cover is one of the worst i have ever seen. It’s not an easy task to manufacture a back cover which is collecting MORE fingerprints than a touchscreen display, but Samsung managed this somehow with the glossy Nexus S back. It’s slippery and it looks worse than the display in no time. And not even after to weeks of usage my Nexus S started to creek at two spots (beneath the volume triggers, and at the side of the micro usb slot). The cheaper feel sadly continues with the accessories like the very thin USB cables and a charger which looks like a chinese fake but it’s actually the real thing.
Winner: HTC Nexus One. In the end Samsung wasn’t able to match the high quality feel of the HTC Nexus One primarily because Samsung seems to be keen on using cheap materials even for it’s high end Android phones. I have heard from a few tech bloggers that this might change soon, and that Samsung plans to use unibody metal casings starting from their medium price range phones in 2012. This would be a wise decision because i believe that many people would accept a little bit more weight as a tradeoff, if the device just feels better and more reassuring. Premium feel for premium prices.
I already mentioned that the touchscreen of the Nexus S is very good. The fingerprint resistance of the screen is especially impressive, as you nearly won’t notice any fingerprints on regular usage. And even if you notice some, getting rid of them is very easy with a little swipe on the jeans or tshirt. I don’t even recount how many phones advertise their oleophobic (= fingerprint resisting) screens, but most of them didn’t deliver. Samsung didn’t use the newest generation of AMOLED screens called ‘Super AMOLED plus’ for the Nexus S which is a major setback. The regular Super AMOLED screens have the old PenTile matrix problem which leads to fuzzy text, and an effective resolution that is less than WVGA. Luckily European Nexus S variants are also available with Super Clear SLCD screens, and i opted for this screen technology. This way i get all the good parts of the Samsung touchscreen and great resolution with natural looking colors of an SLCD screen. As a sidenote i should mention that the resolution issue has been fixed with the introduction of Super AMOLED plus screens on the newest devices, since Samsung stopped using the PenTile Matrix approach.
My first Nexus One was actually an AMOLED version, and i sold it later only to get a SLCD Nexus One because i couldn’t bare the huge quality difference between the Nexus One AMOLED screen and the Motorola Milestone/Droid LCD which was also available at that time. Another aspect where the Nexus One got a lot of bad feedback was multitouch functionality (or the lack thereof). While other popular devices like the iPhone could handle real multitouch with more than 2 inputs at the same time, the Nexus One screen could only recognize two finger inputs at once. And what’s even worse is the fact that the screen could easily confuse the axis of the input streams which lead to nearly unusable multi touch gestures. The display on the Nexus One is embedded deeper into the frame than on the Nexus S, there is a visible gap between the display and the touchscreen digitizer which doesn’t look good.
Winner: Samsung Nexus S. It’s a curved 4 inch screen with fully functional multitouch support, and very good fingerprint resistance. Even though there were some instances where the touchscreen didn’t react properly i still give this point to the Nexus S. Compared with the overall Nexus S display quality, the Nexus One screen (AMOLED or SLCD) doesn’t have a lot going for it.
Hardware buttons on the Nexus One were very thin, and broke easily as many upset entries in tech message boards prove. It was advised to use 3rd party apps which would utilize the trackball to wake the screen, so you don’t have to use the power button of the Nexus One at all. But honestly i was expecting more from HTC in this regard, you can’t produce a highend ‘superphone’ with a faulty power button. This is clearly a no-go. Samsung did a much better job here, as the volume and power buttons have very nice pressure points, and also seem to be much more durable. I also like the fact that the buttons are easily usable even if the device is in your pocket. It’s possible to use the volume buttons by pressing them through your jeans, so you don’t even have to reach into your pocket to change volume. One thing i never understood is why manufacturers put power buttons on the top of the device, luckily Samsung went another direction and put the power button on the right side which makes it much more comfortable to reach.
Having a trackball on the Nexus One is nice for different use cases i.e. specific text position selection, colored notification lights (via 3rd party app), simulating mouse input for games and remote desktop apps. And i like it much more than optical trackpads which are less reliable. Still i was able to get used to the Nexus S approach of having no notification lights and no trackball or track pad quite fast.
Interestingly the Android soft button arrangement is not the same for the Nexus One and the Nexus S. The home and search buttons have switched places on the Nexus S, where you’ll find the following soft button order: back, menu, search, home. On the Nexus One it was back, menu, home, search. I prefer the Nexus One layout because you’ll use the home button much more frequently and therefore it makes sense to put the soft button in the center instead of the far right. Touch recognition of the soft buttons is good on both devices, but on the Nexus One you have to aim a little bit above the icons to get it working, this is not needed on the Nexus S.
Winner: Nexus S. Even though i don’t like the soft button layout, having much better power and volume buttons as well as a more responsive soft button recognition is enough to beat the Nexus One.
Both Nexus devices are not ‘superphones’ when it comes to battery life. My Nexus One battery charge lasted for about 20 hours, while the Nexus S seems to perform better with more than 24 hours with the same usage.
Winner: Nexus S. 24+ hours on average is more than 20 hours.
Nexus devices are thought to push the envelope and act as a prime example to all Android manufacturers. This was certainly the case for the Nexus One which introduced a whole new hardware power dimension with a 1 GHz CPU and WVGA resolution. There wasn’t anything comparable at that time, and following the release of the Nexus One many manufacturers were motivated to put out devices which matched or bested the hardware specs of the first real Google phone (yes, i don’t count the G1 as real Google phone). Samsungs effort with the Nexus S wasn’t that impressive, as it was based on the Galaxy S hardware which was available for some time and there were MANY Android devices out there which already had better hardware specs than the Nexus S. It just didn’t have the wow factor of the Nexus One which was a very carefully crafted piece of hardware, instead the Nexus S seemed more like an afterthought on existing hardware used to showcase the newest Android revision. One thing which surprised me is the fact that the Nexus S isn’t really much faster than the Nexus One on regular usage. You can see clear advantages in gaming and 3D graphics, but other than that the Nexus One can keep up with the Nexus S.
Winner: Nexus One. While the Nexus S obviously has better hardware specs since it’s about a year younger than the Nexus One, HTC pushed the envelope on the Nexus One hardware specs at the time of the release, while Samsung used medium-level hardware which was outmatched by other Android devices from day one. I’m sure that Samsung would have been able utilize hardware which bests everything out there, but they decided to use their old Galaxy S base instead. This is IMHO not the right decision for a Nexus device.
The Nexus One introduced Android 2.1 with features like multi google account support and animated wallpapers. Furthermore it came with a unique hardware design including a trackball which can be used for navigation and act as notification light too. Being one of the first devices sporting a WVGA screen and GHz CPU the Nexus One was really a benchmark.
Samsungs Nexus S came with Android 2.3 preloaded (shown on the screenshot above), which wasn’t a major update as it changed the UI slightly and also added NFC support. It doesn’t have any notification LEDs or a trackball/trackpad. One of the more interesting hardware features is the curved screen, but after using the Nexus S for some time now i have to admit that the screen is only very slightly curved and there is barely any effect noticeable. Other than that there are no real USPs.
Winner: Both devices came with a new Android version as well as some special hardware features, but there is nothing outstanding here. I call it a draw, especially as you can’t blame the hardware manufacturer for the Android versions pros and cons.
I could have used the Nexus One for another year without a real need to upgrade, because i was perfectly happy with the device quality as well as Googles commitment to provide updates. But the internal phone storage size made me sell my Nexus One. In the end i wasn’t able to install or upgrade all apps that i was using because the internal storage on the Nexus One was just too small. After a factory reset the free storage was about 192 MB, which is just to little if you check out how big the recent apps got. Most Google apps like Google Earth or Google Maps are much bigger than 10 MB, and they can’t be moved to the sd card either. This can easily lead to the whole system being slow and unstable (which happens whenever the internal free storage gets below 20 MB).
At this point the maximum size of app storage which can be used by Android is 1 GB, and the Nexus S has exactly 1 GB of internal storage. After installing all my 72 apps, i still had about 600 MB of free storage. Surprisingly Samsung decided against an micro sd card slot, so you have to make due with approximately 14 GB of data storage besides the 1 GB of app storage.
Winner: Nexus S. Even though you can’t expand the storage on the Nexus S, i still view the small internal phone storage of the Nexus One as a much bigger problem. Not being able to install all the apps you want, just because of app storage limitations of the Nexus One is a no-go.
Both devices support 3G/HSDPA, GPS, WiFi, Micro USB and Bluetooth. The Nexus S also throws NFC into the mix. While the Nexus One was not outstanding regarding 3G access and WiFi, i had some problems with the Nexus S. It loses the WiFi connection at home all the time, which didn’t happen on my Nexus One. NFC can be used for services like Google Wallet as a payment method, which never sounded really interesting for me. Such services only make sense if a large chunk of businesses support it, but we are very far away from that situation. So i don’t see any reason searching for some places which could support Google Wallet, this is not meant to be a treasure hunt but a new payment method which might become more convenient than credit cards or cash some day.
Winner: Nexus One. Because i can’t accept that the Nexus S has such problems with keeping the WiFi connection, and i’m not even talking about the sleep mode. I’m surfing at home to some pages, only to see that the Nexus S suddenly lost the WiFi connection and has to reestablish it again. And just for the record, i didn’t have such issues with the Nexus One and the exact same connection at home so this is definitely a Nexus S related problem.
You can find a number of official accessories for both Nexus devices from car kits to docking stations. And you’ll notice the same philosophy from HTC and Samsug as for their smartphones. HTCs accessories are more expensive but also have a much better quality to them, while Samsungs products are cheap and feel cheap. The Nexus One docking station is a great example.
It costs about 60,- USD but has the great benefit that you don’t need to plug in you phone via micro usb slot, but only let it slide into the dock and the charging contacts of the Nexus One do the rest. Furthermore it feels very solid. As for the Nexus S the official dock can be found for 19,99 USD, and you get a plastic glossy dock with a regular micro usb plug. This means that you have to connect your phone to the micro usb plug every time you want to put it into the dock, which is a big hassle. HTC clearly put much more thought into this.
Winner: Nexus One. Again you can just see that HTC was more committed to create something really unique. The Nexus One dock is the perfect prove for this, and in my opinion every highend phone should come with charging contacts for a docking station.
Counting all the points that i mentioned in this article we have 4 Points going for HTC and 5 for Samsung. So depending on your use cases either of the manufacturers could be the preferred option for another Nexus device. When it comes to me i have to say that i’m currently perfectly happy with my Nexus S but it’s just no comparison to the impact that the Nexus One made for Android back then. All the details like unmatched hardware specs at the time of the release, unique hardware design (aluminium body, trackball with multi color lighting, charging contacts for dock, noise cancelling secondary mic), finest built quality and meaningful accessories made the Nexus One a much more impressing product overall despite some flaws like the bad multi touch support. Everybody compared the iPhone to the Nexus One as those two were the flagship smartphones on the market to beat. When the Nexus S was released there were a handful of Android flagships available that already had better hardware, so only very few people felt inclined to compare the iPhone 4 to the outdated Nexus S. It just didn’t leave any impact. So i would like to see another Nexus device from HTC at some point in the future, even though it’s clear that Samsung got the 2011 Nexus Phone. Motorola could also be a very interesting option as de-facto Google hardware division, and there were many rumours in the past that Motorola might get a shot. As Motorola is now a Google company i think we would see something really special, whereas Samsung and HTC will always make a Nexus phone based on their non-Nexus lineup.