So, It seems I am picky about smartphones. Having recently learned that I dislike the HTC EVO Shift, and merely don't like the HTC Arrive with Windows Phone 7, I was about to bail on Sprint and get an iPhone. When I called Sprint to verify I was out of contract, they seemed to get anxious, and transferred me twice before giving me a straight answer. they did, however, convince me to try one more phone before leaving, assuring me that I would be able to return a third phone; because they "want to keep" me, as a customer. Since I could not get an iOS device on Sprint, and I had already used a BlackBerry, WebOS, Android, and WindowsPhone7 device in the last twenty five months, I felt limited in my options. Giving into the idea that my dissatisfaction was HTC's problem, I went for a pure Android phone -- one without manufacturer or network software (bloatware) added: the Samsung Nexus S with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread).
From my previous experiences I had determined my list of out-of-the-box functionality I hoped for:
While there's some uncertainly about what an app will do when I leave it, the apparent effect is that the app chooses whether to exit or background. And while it does take a few taps to see what's running (three, no longer five), I feel much better about this multitasking experience than my previous android device.
This leaves streaming media as the only "droid doesn't" out-of-the-box. I've downloaded a few apps to try to do this, but I have yet to find one that I would call "good" for the sources I want to listen from. (Anyone know a good Icecast2 client?)
Accepting that my experience and opinions will be biased by my previous experiences, I will opine that the Samsung Nexus S provides a better user experience than both HTC phones I tried. I attribute this to two main differences:
Would I have liked the Shift if I had just held out for Gingerbread? Maybe, a bit, but it was still laden with HTC's "Sense" UI.
The device itself has a few features and non-features I'd like to point out. The front glass is concave. They say this is to better fit the face, but it's not nearly enough to make a difference there. I expect it has more to do with protecting the glass from scratches by keeping it off the table (or whatever you place it on). The screen is beautiful and responsive; whether this was to keep it that way or not, this is a plus.
The phone lacks a way to mute the ringer without unlocking it. As I've mentioned previously, this is an annoyance. It also lacks a shutter button, which is not a big deal. Additionally, it lacks a notification light, which would have been nice.
The form factor is slick and comfortable; a good size for this class device, and smooth to the touch, making it a pleasure to hold. Both the USB and audio connectors are on the bottom; having them together is preferred. (Sometimes, though, it makes me want to hold the device upside-down, but the screen won't flip that way.)
The front and rear facing cameras are nice to have, but they take pretty poor pictures -- even in good light. What's that? "It's a phone with a camera that takes pictures like a cameraphone." you say? Well, yes; but given there are better phone cameras, I would expect this newer device to feature one of them. The camera LED/flash is good and bright, but makes a better flashlight than picture.
The wifi radio seems weak. I have not tested for any real numbers, but it consistently reports a weaker signal than any other device. Right now I am 1 meter away, and it only reports "Fair" signal strength. When all other devices do fine and further, this one falls short on wifi.
As mentioned, the Nexus S shipped with Android 2.3, also known as Gingerbread. Most of the "pros" are met in my list above, others are some of the other Google built-ins like Navigation (wow!) I enjoy this phone much more than my previous Android. It's hard for me to say exactly what was improved without an older Android here to compare directly, so I will pit it up against my points about Windows Phone 7, which provides a convenient list of talking points:
Maybe I'm crazy, and just broken in by the phones I didn't keep; or maybe it really is better. Either way, I'm going to stop worrying, and keep the phone.