The Google Nexus S: Early Impressions

The successor to Google’s Nexus One was unveiled recently, the Google Nexus S. And to be brutally honest, I’m not impressed.

Just some brief history: I’ve owned a device that runs almost every mobile operating system on the market, except Android. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet, so nothing against the platform. By far, the two with the most captivating experiences I’ve had were iOS (I’m locked into 3.1.3, since I’ve only got my iPod Touch) and Symbian Series 60v3. Yes, seriously: Symbian. By far the worst have been Windows Mobile 5/6 (which preceded my Nokia N73) and BlackBerry OS 4/5. So I’ve been around the block as much as someone without buckets of cash can be.

When Apple announced that the iPhone 4 would record 720p video and have iMovie onboard, I was floored. This seemed too good to be true, especially as I had never owned a phone that could shoot at 480p, let alone 720p. Hell, I was merely satisfied that my BlackBerry Curve 8900 could shoot at 320×240 after its upgrade to OS 5 (OS 4.6 capped “normal” video resolutions at 240×160 for some unimaginable reason).

While I’ve owned and enjoyed my iPod Touch (1G) for a while now, I’ve been using iOS as a platform long enough to know that I do not want it to be my phone. I’m quite convinced that the only reason I’m still using it is because:

  1. It was free with my MacBook Pro
  2. BlackBerry OS is rubbish in most areas (except messaging).

I’ve always been a bit of an Open Source enthusiast, and everything about iOS rubbed me the wrong way, but its UI and fantastic media support kept me coming back for more. Android had me intrigued, but it wasn’t until the Nexus One came out that I truly coveted such a device. The Nexus One seemed to have it all: a beautiful screen, an advanced operating system, and the potential to be a multimedia monster. At least, I could have a phone where not only could I take high resolution pictures, but I could also tweak and adjust it (rotate, crop, basic things like that) right on the phone, and shoot high quality video and upload it without a computer. It would simultaneously replace my iPod Touch, BlackBerry and Flip Ultra in one fell swoop. Alas, its price was beyond my reach, and it left the market long before I could afford it.

Now comes its successor, the Google Nexus S, and boy am I disappointed. The Nexus One was Google’s flagship phone, leading the way in capabilities and features. It had a 5 Megapixel camera and recorded video at 720x480p20. The Nexus S has a 5 megapixel camera and records video at 720x480p. As you can see, this is groundbreaking stuff. And unfortunately, things just get more bland.

First off, how does this impact me as a multimedia creation guy? Well, the 720×480 resolution is only ever used in DV, and so if you’re not working with something that expects non-square pixels, your video tends to look rather weird, so there goes using the maximum settings to record video for direct uploading to the Internet. Second, the 480p resolution is unimpressive. 480p recordings have been around for a while now, and it doesn’t replace a Flip HD, if one happens to own one. Even more annoying, this is basically a 4:3 resolution, and almost everything today is shot for widescreen. I could shoot 4:3 for 16:9, but then I lose vertical resolution and it still requires additional processing. In short, this is par, and suboptimal.

The five megapixel camera also isn’t that impressive. 5mp is the new 3.2mp: every phone has it. Nokia’s high end phones have been running 5 megapixel cameras since at least 2008, and 8 megapixel cameras since 2009. Now it’s almost 2011, and I’m not sure there’s a single Android phone that delivers better than 5mp.

So the multimedia capturing isn’t the device’s strong suit. Actually, it doesn’t seem like anything is the Nexus S’ strong suit. It’s running the same 480×800 resolution that the Nexus One had (though this one should deliver better images, and is curved), its processor still weighs in at 1GHz (though the Hummingbird A8-based processor should deliver more kick), and it even shares the same RAM ceiling of 512 MB with the Nexus One. In fact, besides the use of gyroscopes instead of accelerometers, and the addition of a front-facing camera (something else Nokia has had for a long time) and Near-Field Communications, it specs out almost identically to the Nexus One.

Look briefly, though, at the Samsung Galaxy S series. It features phones that have 1GHz Coretex A8’s (very similar to the Hummingbird, from what I can tell), 512 MB of RAM, a bigger screen (same 480×800 resolution, just physically larger) and shoots 720p video. Did I mention that Samsung is building the Nexus S for Google? Then there’s the T-Mobile MyTouch 4G and the G2, with 768 MB of RAM for the MT4G and 512MB for the G2, yet both shoot 720p video, and one features a physical keyboard. Both also have HSPA+ capabilities. So not only is the Nexus S a poor successor to the Nexus One, but it’s a poor flagship among phones of the same type, yet have better specs.

The Google Nexus One was supposed to be the alternative to the iPhone. In many ways, the Nexus One was a, technically, better phone than the iPhone 3GS. As the Nexus One fell by the wayside, the Droid took its place, and still managed to beat the iPhone 3GS at its own game. Now the iPhone 4 is here, and if Google wants the Nexus S to stand up against it, it is doing a very poor job.

The iPhone 4 has a higher resolution screen (with higher pixel density), the option of more internal storage, a more efficient multitasking system (in a high-level technical sense), 5mp camera with tap-to-focus, 720p video recording (and editing), and the super-snappy A4 processor that was given its field testing in the iPad. The tables have turned, and now the iPhone 4 beats the Nexus S in every technical way. In fact, the Nexus S is a very lackluster answer to the iPhone 4, because the only thing it brings to the table is the NFC, which doesn’t have any use yet.

Even Nokia’s N8 is more impressive, mostly because it is pushing boundaries for Nokia. The Nexus S isn’t. Of course, the N8 also shoots at 720p25, has a 12mp camera with a xenon flash (not the weak LED ones found in most phones now), stereo microphones, HDMI-out, and a short-range FM transmitter, so even it has features the Nexus S lacks, and the N8 is generally considered a flop in the United States.

So the Nexus S isn’t great as a multimedia capturing device, it isn’t impressive as a flagship phone, it’s beaten by phones that have been on the market for a while now, and its greatest competitor is better than it in almost every technical way. All that the Nexus S has going for it is Gingerbread, which hasn’t delivered anything big or iPhone-killing yet; the curved screen, which doesn’t do anything besides allow for a cool looking shape, but offers no other useful purpose; and NFC, which has no practical use yet.

Before you jump on me about software, let me explain why I’m not getting into it. I’m sure Gingerbread is a great operating system, and I already know the new Google Maps for Mobile has been announced for the Nexus S, but it’s also been announced for other phones, and likely the Galaxy S phones, the Droids and maybe even the Nexus One will see Gingerbread, so this isn’t anything unique or special to the Nexus S. And while it’s nice that this is a pure, unadulterated Android experience, I’m sure I could hack off whatever skin my manufacturer of choice would put on there.

I want to love the Nexus S so badly, because I loved the Nexus One so much. Since the V key on my BlackBerry started to become slightly unreliable, I had been looking at Android replacements, and I held off, knowing that the next “Google Phone” was due to be announced soon. And now that it’s out, I’m so very disappointed, because I was expecting something better than what was on the market already, and what we were given is worse than the best phones now. I’m not asking for 1080p with LTE, 128 GB of Storage and a 24 megapixel sensor with a flip-out full keyboard, and a pico-projector, but it would be nice if the Nexus S at least did 720p, and offered a sharper screen, something— anything that is just a little bit better than my current options. Something I could point to and say, “that! That is why I want this instead of an iPhone 4!” Instead, my only reason to snub the iPhone 4 is perhaps one of the oldest reasons: AT&T, not some technical reason, or some way in which the iPhone’s OS would hamper my lifestyle.

That is why the Nexus S is disappointing to me, and why I probably won’t buy it (instead of some other Android phone). I hate to say it, but outside of its slow CPU, old OS, and tiny RAM amount, even the N8 is more tempting than the Nexus S.

Successful testing of a live clock inserted into a video stream

We have successfully inserted a live clock shot with a camera from a live video source by washing it through a Panasonic AG-MX70 video mixer and piping that through a Tricaster for the rest of the video.
Continue reading Successful testing of a live clock inserted into a video stream