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Google Nexus S round-up

Google Nexus S round-up
UPDATED: Introduced. 1GHz Hummingbird chipset, the curved screen is called Contour Display. Gingerbread supports NFC chips, VoIP and tethering natively, and also has an improved virtual keyboard

With the original Google Nexus One, El Goog tried to step where no one had placed foot before, namely selling the device through its own website, with the intent that people can choose any of the major US carriers. The idea was supposed to be disruptive for the carrier model, but Verizon and Sprint quickly ditched support for the device, and Google was left hanging with only one carrier subsidizing its handset - T-Mobile - and an expensive unlocked device to sell with AT&T or T-Mobile bands. This summer, the Google Nexus One by HTC was discontinued.

Now, about a year after the first rumors about a Nexus One appeared, came the first ones about its successor, tentatively named the Nexus Two. There has been a tectonic shift again in smartphone land - Android has become an ubiquitous mobile OS, and the manufacturer of choice for the next Google Nexus phone is now Samsung, since the internal coding of the phone was listed as Samsung GT-i9020.

The Koreans climbed to the top of the Android food chain developing the Hummingbird chipset and Super AMOLED screen technologies, which landed both in the groundbreaking Samsung Galaxy S. No wonder then that the next Android developer’s phone - the Google Nexus Two - was rumored to be simply a rehash of the Galaxy S.

Just when we were content that the current-best Android smartphone hardware will be used for an Android 2.3 developer’s phone, and were watching the Gingerbread man take its place next to the Froyo mockup on Google’s lawns, the storyline took an unexpected twist.

In early November rumors started trickling down that Samsung has run into a hardware problem with the device, which, after November 11th, started to leak with a new title - the Samsung Nexus S. Google's Eric Schmidt clarified in an interview at the Web 2.0 Summit (video embedded below) - "I only said there won't be a Nexus Two... " - then joked something about "S" being an inverted "2", so the final phone could indeed be named the Nexus S.

Those hardware problems, rumor had it, were stemming from the fact that either Samsung, or Google, had an epiphany, and decided to futureproof the device by opting for the latest and greatest dual-core chipset inside. Recently the handset turned up again at the FCC, just to announce it has new Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS chips inside, which would most certainly happen if you change the chipset mid-flight.

The only dual-core ARM-based silicon that is in devices now, is NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 - however, we are only seeing it commercially available in tablets so far. Its smartphone poster childs - the Motorola Olympus and the LG Star, are not going to appear before next year, it seems. The only other Cortex-A9 dual-core chipset we know to be almost production-ready is actually Samsung’s own Orion, which, at least in theory, should beat Tegra 2’s already amazing benchmarks. Samsung said that Orion will be shipped to "select customers" in Q4 of this year, and we are certain the company has put its name first on the list.

Thus, what we are looking at for the Google Nexus S, is a thin and light plastic handset, with a slightly concave profile - thinner in the middle than at the ends, which is supposedly a new screen design Samsung is pitching as more usable. The phone is to have two processor cores running at 1GHz, with all the performance and battery-saving benefits coming out of it. After all, developers need to start coding applications for the upcoming barrage of phones with two CPU cores, working at once, so it would be smart that a development handset has such a chipset. The amount of RAM is not exactly clear, but given the Galaxy S's 512MB, it could hardly be anything lower.

The quad-core graphics subsystem of Orion will take the theoretical gaming capabilities of the handset close to those of current generation consoles, at least in raw numbers. As for the screen, it will most probably be the same 4” Super AMOLED display we've come to know and love in the Galaxy S, or the Samsung Focus. The chipset should also be able to play and record full 1080p HD video, and we are looking at a 5MP camera with flash now.

The mobile CPUs are developing in leaps and bounds, and there’s hardly a match on the software side of things. It will take time before the mobile operating systems, and the developers, manage to come up with software that takes full advantage of this horse power. That is why what we find most intriguing about the Google Nexus S is not the hardware, but rather Gingerbread, and the accompanying features.

We were thrilled when Google’s own CEO Eric Schmidt took the stage at the Web 2.0 Summit not long ago, holding a Nexus S in hand, and said that both it, and Gingerbread, are “weeks away”. Besides the startling fact that we might be seeing the first dual-core smartphone before Christmas, running the newest version of Android, we were pumped to hear the real reason Eric Schmidt brought it with him.

He was actually pitching its contactless capabilities, saying that Gingerbread, hence the phone with Samsung's new programmable NFC chip inside, will natively support mobile payments and access ID now. He demonstrated one of the functions by tapping the device on a placemark, then it beeped and showed the location in a while. This will also work for shopping and payments, without you having to take a picture and scan barcodes.

This is huge - Google's CEO said that it might replace credit cards, as it is perceived as more secure. With the new carrier billing venture by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, the Nexus S can give Google a headstart in this lucrative field. We wrote extensively about the mobile payment status quo around the world and in the US a few months ago, and it's great to see how fast things are advancing. Watch Eric Schmidt talk about the upcoming revolution, and showcase the Google Nexus S in the meantime, in the first few minutes of the video below.

Another improvement expected in Gingerbread, are some tweaks in the interface. From what we saw in the leaks at Xda-Developers, and in a recent video, they are mainly cosmetic - the launcher buttons are colored now, the notification bar is black, and overall the icons have been overhauled. Not that impressive, at least on the surface, so obviously the big changes in the stock UI are to come in the tablet-friendly Honeycomb, Android 3.0.

Interestingly, on the pictures the Google Nexus S is seen running on T-Mobile, and a recent Best Buy premature posting indicated it will indeed be on Big Magenta’s network, similarly to the Nexus One. On the resubmitted FCC filings it is again listed with AWS CDMA – all roads point to T-Mobile.

And, finally, we've compiled some camera samples from pictures we found on Picasa, that are taken either with the Samsung GT-i9020 (late October/early November), which was Samsung's internal coding for the phone, or with the handset's updated firmware showing it as the Nexus S (mid- and late November), according to the EXIF data. The pictures seem to have been snapped by various Google employees, or maybe their friends and relatives, judging from the Google bus shot.

We've taken out all pictures that contain clearly visible faces, so as not to get anyone in trouble, and have tried to emphasize on shots under different conditions - for example same scene with and without flash. The camera seems to churn out average 5MP shots, but we didn't expect much else. Below the pictures is a video sample, taken with the phone, which, however, is taken at 720p resolution, while we were expecting a full HD video sample, provided that the phone has a dual-core Cortex-A9 chipset; we hope that is due to the author shooting in the lower resolution, or ironing out the kinks in the firmware that allow full HD video.

Gingerbread is rumored to have many other new features, besides NFC support and tweaked interface. It should take full advantage of the six-axis gyroscope, found in phones like the Galaxy S, by featuring advanced motion sensing APIs, gravity included. These, coupled with the console-level graphics, could deliver some stunning Wii-like games, as well as have their say in gesture control, and augmented reality.

Other improvements coming with Android 2.3 to the Google Nexus S would be native video chat, updated Android Market, better virtual keyboard, Google's WebM media format support, as well as maybe access to some sort of music and video streaming services.

As far as we know Google, these might not all be rolled at once into the Nexus S, but even if only the most plausible of the above mentioned hardware and software improvements are present right out of the gate, we are already salivating over the handset. December 6th just can't come soon enough. What do you think?

source: Xda-Devs, Engadget, Picasa, FCC

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