The funny thing about Android is that a new "best" phone comes out every few months. Fortunately, current Android owners don't have to be terribly envious of the Nexus S, even if it is, yes, the best Android phone now.
The Nexus phone is the current definitive Android handset. The original Nexus One set the tone for every major Android phone that came after it this year. So many of the things aggro-nerds now take for granted, like 1GHz processors, 5MP, 720p cameras and 800x480 OLED screens, debuted in the Nexus One. It was also the most highly polished, carefully designed Android phone yet, the first one that really made people go, "OK, now, I get it." It was all these things because it was, essentially, Google saying to the world: This is what this next year's Android phone is like.
So it's interesting to see that the Nexus S, a year later, isn't so different from the original. It's essentially a Googleified version of Samsung's Galaxy S phones (available on every major US carrier in various guises). The two major things it brings to the table for Android as a platform? Support for NFC (think invisible QR codes, but click here if you're going "huh?") and a front camera (unused by Google for video chat for now). It's hard to imagine that, unlike the Nexus One, it won't be radically outclassed in a few months.
The Nexus S is nonetheless the new Google Phone, the main phone that Google's engineers will develop against, the phone that'll get all the new Android OS hotness before every other phone. A sanctuary of pure Android.
We've reviewed Android 2.3 Gingerbread separately, so do check that out if you're waiting for an update to your current Android phone. Looking at the hardware only, the guts are largely identical to Samsung's other S phones, so it's not breaking much new ground.
The new Contour Display, intriguing as it sounds, is visually subtle, resembling a slight depression in the glass screen that you imagine might be made by your arse if you sat on it too long. Pressed against your face, though, it feels genuinely ergonomic. (Speaking of, phone calls sound great, even if T-Mobile's coverage can leave something to be desired, as it did over the weekend in Baltimore.) Underneath is Samsung's nearly ubiquitous 800x480 AMOLED screen, which sings with Android's new interface, loaded with blacks and bright, pop-y oranges and greens. A weird issue to note though: Set to automatic brightness to conserve power, the screen becomes very warm, like pee yellow.
Fast and responsive, in every sense. And it has better battery life than the average Android phone, though these two things are as much due to Gingerbread as the hardware. The Contour Display is nice, and so's the AMOLED screen, even if the 800x480 res doesn't feel so fresh anymore. Want to love the nerdiness of the NFC reader, just need more stuff to do with it.
It feels cheap, in a seriously bad way. Not very becoming of the Google Phone of 2011! It's apparently plagued by the same GPS bug as other Galaxy S phones; it took forever to get a GPS lock. Side lock button is mighty annoying. No HSPA+ love from T-Mobile (read: No T-Mobile "4G"). No dedicated camera button.
Overall, the Nexus S is an good baseline phone, which does a few things really well (the screen and speed), a few things okay (the camera, see full-size samples here) and a few things not so great (build quality and materials). The real reason to buy it? The promise that you'll get the full Android experience and Google's latest and greatest software before anybody else.
Awesome music by Killabite, used with permission.