Samsung Google Nexus S musings. Why the heck did Google even bother to launch it?

When Google announced Nexus S we all went giddy with anticipation here in techland. Another Google’s own flagship device! With 1GHz Hummingbird CPU, 4″, curved Super Amoled Display,  NFC, running new Android 2.3, etc; etc;

Such a great device for a new Google flagship! Or is it?

When Google launched their first flagship – Nexus One – it was miles ahead of any other Android handset. It came with 1GHz Cortex A8 SnapDragon CPU, almost twice as fast as any other available Android phone, it had 512MB of RAM – again, twice as much as competing devices. And it launched a second generation of Android OS, which was a huge improvement over the previous Android 1.x version.  (And no, I don’t consider Android 2.0 that launched with Motorola Droid the real Android 2. Just as we told you more then a year ago, Android 2.0 wasn’t a true 2.0, it was a beta or Release Candidate  version of 2.0, customized to more or less work on a single Motorola device, and not ready for wider adoption.)

Nexus One ruled supreme among Android handsets for 4 months, until the first similar specc’ed competitors started showing up.

Now let’s take a closer look at Google Nexus S. Contrary to the empty claims of joint Google/Samsung development – Nexus S is basically the same Samsung Galaxy S. The same CPU, same RAM, same camera, same display size, same everything. There are only two minor differences between the two – a curved display with a curving that you’ll need a microscope to find, and an NFC chip that you’ll have to travel to Japan to use. That’s it. That’s all the improvements you get with the new Nexus S.

Oh, and, of course, Android 2.3 Gingerbread. With the number of improvements so minor or so deep under the hood, that previous Android 2 iterations (2.0->2.1, 2.1->2.2) seem like a huge qualitative leaps. (I agree, keyboard is a huge improvement, but I’m already on Swype and couldn’t care less).

Let’s sum it up. Google  Nexus S is a new Google flagship, which is based on a 6 month old Samsung device. It runs a new iteration of Android 2, which nicely completes the second generation of Android OS to what Google always wanted it to be. But with the improvements which are so minor, that even if other vendors decide to upgrade their handsets to it, most people wouldn’t even notice.

While we already have LG announcing next generation Android devices with dual core CPU’s, which will make the new Google flagship seem obsolete in a month or two.  With HTC, Motorola and Samsung to follow suit as soon as this holiday season is over.

And then there’s the whole Honeycomb Android 3.0 thing just around the corner. It’s coming and probably coming soon – most likely in about 3 weeks at or around CES, or at Mobile World Congress in February. With a qualitative leap over Android 2 probably as big as the one we’ve seen between 1.6-2.0 last year. I know that the most focus of Android Honeycomb now is on tablets, with a flagship Motorola/Google tablet already demoed by Google CEO.

What do you think are the chances that Google will want to have a flagship superphone  for Honeycomb too? Unlikely – with Nexus S released  just a month ago, and probably capable of running Honeycomb too?

Do you remember the end of last year, beginning of this? Android 1.6 Donut/Motorola Cliq, followed by Android 2.0 Motorola Droid/Milestone, followed by Nexus One?  I think the chances of the next generation dual core Android 3.0 Google superphone within the next 1-3 months are pretty darn high.

So why the heck did Google even bother to release Nexus S now?

Not sure, but I do have a theory.

Google might have released Nexus S, well, just because they could. And because Samsung really really really wanted it. Well, probably not the device itself – Samsung couldn’t care less about Nexus S one way or another. What they wanted, was an early access to the next Android release code.

Up until now, when it came to new phone and Android upgrade releases, Samsung has been lagging significantly behind it’s main Android smartphone rivals – Motorola and HTC. The main reason for this lag was the early access rival engineers were getting to the next Android release code, while developing exclusive flagship/new Android iteration launch handsets. Motorola had an exclusive  mass market Android 2.0  device (Verizon Droid/Milestone) for itself for almost half a year, then were the first to upgrade/ship  it’s mass market Droid devices with Froyo. HTC’s work with Google allowed it to beat Samsung to market by 3-4 months with Android 2.1 HTC Desire handset. At the time I even speculated that Samsung may be engaging in some shady practices to slow down HTC before Galaxy S is shipped.

So sometime this summer Samsung probably decided that they’ve had enough of exclusion and asked Google to include them into the early access club. Even if you are Google, you do not say no when worlds second largest handset maker comes calling.  We’ve already seen Google bend it’s rules in favor of Samsung, by allowing Android apps and marketplace access on Galaxy Tab. In this case they offered Gingerbread to Korean vendor.

Which is a great news for all those millions of Galaxy S owners that were frustrated with an extremely slow Android 2.2 Froyo upgrade rollout. Pending carrier cooperation and approval, you should get Gingerbread upgrade on your Samsung Galaxy S before your friend’s HTC Desire or Droid X is updated.

Getting back to Google Nexus S and should you buy it? If you really want a new smartphone with access to the latest Google goodies before Christmas,  Nexus S seems like a great choice. It will serve nicely for the next year, and will probably get the latest Android upgrades (including Hoenycomb) as soon as they are ready to be released by Google.

But if you are in the market for the latest and greatest in smartphones, I’d wait for a few weeks, at least until CES, and see what happens there. Otherwise you might be pawning your Samsung Nexus S on E-bay within a month.

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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  • munkimatt

    I don’t think that’s why this handset exists.

    It’s a ‘developer phone’. If they made the dev handset an all singing, all dancing 2Ghz, Tegra-4, 3Gb RAM, 120Tb hard drive monster from our wildest dreams it’s be great for us phone geeks, but damn useless as a dev phone. How would the developer have a clue how their applications would work? OK, it works on this monster but they wouldn’t know about mid/low range.

    If you ask me it’s perfectly specced. It’s mid range. 1Ghz processors will soon be old news, there’s nothing special about the flash memory or the RAM. Apart from the curvature and the NFC chip, it’s all pretty average. It’s specced like this so that in 6 months time, when the above is the norm rather than top end, developers are still assured that they’re making things available across the entire range of Android handsets and not just for the privileged few with the expensive top end.

    Just my two cents :)

  • Staska

    Well, but they already have a developer device – Nexus 1. Which is very
    similarly specc’ed to the Nexus S.

    If it’s only for developers, why go to the trouble creating new device with
    basically the same specs, except for display.

  • munkimatt

    Well Hummingbird is more capable than Snapdragon, the rest of the specs too are above the Nexus One.

    Oh, and NFC. Which Google want to massively push.


  • Kapil Malani

    Well, it’s an award system by Google!

    HTC made G1 and other android based phones helping Google’s OS make a mark in phone market, for which, Google gave it’s brand name to HTC, in the form of Nexus One.

    Verizon took great initiative in Motot Droid’s advertising and they were given the latest build too, in the form of android 2.0 or whatever it was. Nothing less, Google’s giving Honeycomb to Moto’s pad too, which does seems quite right to me.

    But Samsung who was the last one to enter the party did something more special than either of Moto and HTC. Wondering? Well, it sold as many as 5 million units of Galaxy S (with many variants) all over the world, just in time.

    HTC and Moto always lagged badly when it came to release their phone outside of US/UK, but Samsung’s better marketing/distribution system world over helped it sell 5 mil units, of which 3 mil came from US alone, where it took a brave step of launching it on 4 different carriers. You can rue about what a laggard Sammy’s been in updating SGS to fast Froyo versions, but that doesn’t change the fact that it still sold as many devices as it did, and that most of the users of smart phones don’t even care about updates, whether it’s 2.1/2.2/2.3. It’s only geeks like us who would turn up to PC everyday to see what’s going on Sammy’s update team’s quarters.

    Plus, I agree to munkimatt’s view of Nexus S being a developer phone. I think an hardware update was good for the developers and the time was right, since it would help Samsung too make a profit from the Nexus brand name.


    I am just wondering whether LG will do a Galaxy S with its LG Optimus 2X, since LG also got a efficient system prevailing world over, like Samsung’s. I like the cut-throat competition LG and Samsung represent to each other.

  • jonipitcock

    Both of them will have Android 2.3 eventually but, being a Nexus means that it represent Google. This phone will get OS updates the first and all future issues will be quickly resolved, if any.