Why The Nexus S Matters

Last week the Nexus S went on sale at Best Buy stores in the United States. The Nexus S is the second generation of Google’s phone, which is the only Android phone with a “pure Google” experience. The Nexus S ships only with Google’s software and has none of the alterations that carriers and hardware vendors like to add to their phones. With the Nexus S Google continues to push the envelope of hardware design and smartphone retail sales.

The hardware design changes of the Nexus S are subtler than the Nexus One, and the most notable is the inclusion of Near Field Communications (NFC). While NFC is in little use at the moment, Google has elected to turn the capability on by default. I expect they will be promoting NFC very hard during 2011. So far I have not noticed any additional battery drain due NFC being on.

The Nexus S also has a front facing camera, making it one of the few Android phones to have such a camera. It is surprising, however, that Google has not provided any software for the Nexus S that uses the front facing camera. Right now you can configure the built-in Camera app to use the front facing camera, but third party apps like Fring do not recognize it.

The Nexus S is the first Android phone to not include removable storage. It does have 16 GB of built-in storage, which is the most built-in storage of any Android phone. What is really strange is how Android continues to treat that storage as two parts, USB storage and internal storage. While the nearly 1 GB of internal storage is a lot, it is still a cap that you need to manage. I prefer that Android treat all storage the same, just as Windows Phone 7 does, but if there has to be a split, I think there ought to be more than 1 GB of internal storage.

You may recall that Google attempted to influence how consumers buy smartphones by directly selling the Nexus One on their web site. Most people believe that part of the Nexus One “experiment” failed, and Google appears to have learned the lesson by partnering with Best Buy to sell the Nexus S. The approach that Google has taken still bypasses the mobile phone companies, but will provide consumers with a way to see the phone before buying it. What remains to be seen is whether Google will stick to just Best Buy, or whether they will expand to other retailers like Target and Walmart as Apple has done.

Google appears to have determined that the best way to change the smartphone market is by trying to obtain enough adoption of their approach by consumers to influence changes by hardware manufacturers and carriers. The Nexus S does not include as many changes as its predecessor, the Nexus One, but it still has a few that might result in changes during the coming year. Regardless of whether the hardware changes will be adopted, the Nexus S is the phone that provides an untainted version of Android and will likely continue to get updates to Android before other phones.