Saturday, 4 June 2011

Technology Nexus

Nope, we haven't reached that technology nexus. At least not yet...

What I was musing about for the past week or so is this Nexus, and the S version at that. Nothing too important, mind. Just some thoughts on how little can we rely on product reviews, even from places which should really know better. To explain a bit: my trusty(?) Motorola Milestone 2 died recently (wouldn't charge for love or money). Of course, I had to look at a replacement. Sadly, not many companies produce Android phones with a full, physical keyboard. You pretty much have to choose between Motorola Milestone, HTC Desire Z, and SonyEricsson Xperia X10 Mini Pro (now that was a mouthful). The first one I do not trust to work for long any more, the middle one had awful reviews and descriptions of the shoddyness of the keyboard, and the latter - well, it's a decent piece of kit for a phone you don't use much. Like the one I use for my private number. And it is an X10. Which is fine, since I use it a couple of times a month, if that.

But back to the Nexus. So, the reviewers liked it, sort of. Major drawbacks (for them): no dedicated camera key, plastic back cover, no SD card slot, and no comma on the default Android keyboard. Now, in order of (perceived, while reading a review) importance to yours truly, these are listed in an increasing order of importance, with an added "no physical keyboard" item at the very end. Almost a showstopper. But, faced with the slim line-up from the previous paragraph I decided to give it a shot. At least the screen is really big (so the soft keyboard may be workable), and everyone said battery lasts longer than the Milestones (i.e. more than 12 hours serious use). Added bonus (for yours truly, at least): it's a pure Google, with no operator crud or branding.

And now to review bashing...

Item 1: no dedicated camera key. WTF? Why is that important? I mean, I use my phone as a camera on occasion, but it is always such a poor camera (experience) that it is a tool of last resort. So the fact that I have to tap the screen to take a photo is too insignificant to matter. Plus, if you go and get yourself a nice little camera app like Camera 360 then it will focus exactly where you tap. A must have for any serious photo taking, methinks. And if you're doing only half arsed photo taking then why quibble about a camera key in the first place. You could care less. And you do, probably.

Item 2: plastic back cover. Yes, it is plastic. But it is good plastic. So it doesn't matter. Half of your expensive car is made of plastic, after all. At least it makes it light. And it's removable (hello, Apple). My main gripe about it? I could do without a Samsung label. I will look into scraping it off. How it could be improved? Take a leaf out of Sony's book and make it feel like rubberised (see X10 Mini Pro). Not that Nexus S will slide off slanted surfaces, but it'd feel a little bit better. I know, you can add a condom, sorry, rubber cover, but I hate those. In any case, not a problem, sorry.

Item 3: no SD card slot. Yes, I sort of miss this. Every once in a blue moon I find it convenient to stick an SD card into a reader instead of plugging in my phone to a PC. And every once in three blue moons I have a desire to use a different SD card. But, for most part, I do these things mostly because I can, rather than for any really good reason. And built in 16GB in Nexus S is quite enough, at least for me. Yes, more is always better when it comes to storage, but we're still years from the time when I could stick all of my 200GB+ music collection, together with my closing-in-to 100GB photos collection on a mobile phone. If I ever really needed to do that. So, until such a time, the 16GB will do nicely for a couple of thousands of songs and all the offline maps I'll never really use (I mean, when will I really want to go to Moldova?).

So, reviewers, that'd be strike three and you're out if it wasn't for that last item...

Item 4: no comma on Android keyboard. OK. I will admit that this one is truly a gem of ill thought out design. I mean, we still use commas, don't we? True, not a lot of people use as much as I do (which may have to do with me using them all up, but let's not get there right now), but they're still quite common. However, what some reviews fail to point out clearly is that a comma is just a long press and a tap away. I guess for people who don't use very much of them (like, erm, reviewers) that's OK. It's not that you have to go away and copy paste the thing (like you sometimes have to do with an underscore on X10 - Sony, I'm looking at you). And then, if you can afford a Nexus S, you can surely afford FlexT9 keyboard app? It sports a really nice keyboard, and you can also use Swype, and you can also use handwriting, and... So yes, out of the box, Nexus S keyboard is a bit lacking, but it's nothing that can't be solved in two minutes flat. Even by the gang who feel gr8 2 cu.

There you have it then. Major gripes about Nexus S debunked. It's a great phone. The fastest Android I've tried. The battery will stretch to two days if you look after it a bit. I am even considering not getting a couple of spares. Yes, it still lacks physical keyboard, and FlexT9 - nice as it is - is still a bit hit and miss (at least with my fingers), and the Swype dictionaries list could be a tad longer. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Oh, there is one serious gripe I do have, and it seems that not (m)any of the reviews I read (and I did read a good few) failed to mention, or at least failed to count against this nice littlelarge phone: there is no status LED to blink and let you know you had a message/call/whatever you have missed. So, you go to the loo (you don't take your phone there now, do you?) and when you're back you've no idea if someone wanted to get in touch. Now, this is a serious usability issue in my book. It's still fixable with apps that will keep bugging you about missed events, but it is truly more important than a comma that requires and extra tap.

So, there you have it: a critique of Nexus S reviews. Now, yours truly will go back to what he does best, and that is sitting quietly in the corner and waiting for that other nexus, which is better known as Technological Singularity. I just hope when it come, Google Nexus S won't still be one of the the best phones around...