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Hands on: Nexus S with Android 4.1 'Jelly Bean'

updated 09:12 am EDT, Thu August 16, 2012

How does the 18-month old Nexus S fare with Jelly Bean?

We recently reviewed the Google Nexus 7, which is the flag-bearing device for Google's latest mobile operating system, Android 4.1 'Jelly Bean.' Powered by a quad-core Tegra 3 processor utilizing the ARM Cortex-A9 architecture and clocked at 1.2GHz with 1GB of RAM, the Nexus 7 runs Jelly Bean with aplomb. So how does the official Android 4.1.1 update for the Nexus S, loaded with much less firepower fare?

It's hard to believe, but the Nexus S is still just 18 months old; yet with the pace of technological innovation in the smartphone space, it feels positively ancient in terms of its hardware. To refresh your memory, it runs an Exynos 3 ('Hummingbird') single-core processor utilizing ARM Cortex-A8 clocked at 1GHz with 512MB of RAM. With Samsung's Exynos 5 Dual just announced in the past few days with an ARM Cortex-A15 architecture, the speed and performance of mobile chips has just taken yet another quantum leap forwards.

There is no question that Android 4.1 is the best version mobile OS that Google has released to date. While Jelly Bean brings numerous tweaks, but just a few headlining features, most of the improvements arrived under the hood in the form of Google's Project Butter efforts. The aim of Project Butter has been to enhance the overall speed and fluidity of the UI, and there is little doubt that Google succeeded on this front. While it is still not as immediate, or as incredibly responsive as Apple's iOS, it is now much more comparable than even Android 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich.' So we were keen to see how the Nexus S handled Jelly Bean, given that it was not convincing in terms of how Ice Cream Sandwich felt on the device - Google took a long time to get the Ice Cream Sandwich install ready for the Nexus S following the debut of the OS last October due to stability issues.

After some initial concerns immediately after installation, Jelly Bean quickly sorted itself out - it appeared sluggish at first, but within a minute or two, found its feet. The screens transition just as smoothly as on the much more powerful Nexus 7. The app tray is slick and fluent, while the new standard Chrome browser scrolls smoothly, without any apparent jerkiness. For owners of the original Galaxy S, that runs fundamentally the same hardware, but which has been consigned to Android 2.3 'Gingerbread,' news that the Nexus S runs Jelly Bean without a hitch will likely cause some consternation.

The headlining features, including enhanced notifications, resizable and auto-adjusting widgets, the updated Camera app, enhanced keyboard and Android Beam all work as advertised and are marked improvements on what came before. Although Jelly Bean is designed so that Android smartphones no longer need to have physical or capacitive buttons, the Nexus S arrived well before this development. Importantly, however, while the Nexus S does not have a purpose-built multitasking button like some newer Android devices, this function can be achieved with a long hold of the home button.

The marquee feature, in many ways, is Google's location aware Google Now app and it works about as well as it does on the Nexus 7. It's a very handy function that 'learns' what your movements are and the types of services that you use most often and has them at the ready. However, the only real area of weakness that we noted on the Nexus S running Jelly Bean is that upgraded voice search is not as accurate, at first blush, as it is on the Nexus 7. Whether that is due to a lack of processing power, or a mic-related issue, is not immediately apparent. Users should also be warned that by turning on the Google Now functionality, typing the Google search box will launch Google Now, instead of taking you directly to your search results.

Overall though, Nexus S users have a lot to look forward to as the Jelly Bean update makes its way across the globe. For users on a two-year contract, it will give your Nexus S a new lease on life and have you falling in love with it all over again. The speed with which the update has arrived should also give hope to Android 4.0 users with manufacturer UI skins - it is not as big a leap as was going from Gingerbread to Ice Cream Sandwich and indeed, manufacturer ROMs are starting to leak on the Internet as we write.

By Sanjiv Sathiah

by MacNN Staff



  1. Ruben Martinez

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 08-16-12

    As much as I love both my Nexus S and Jelly Bean, I can't help but differing from this article...I feel like my phone is so much more sluggish with Jelly Bean. I switch overto my Nexus 7 and am blown away by the speeds, but my S can't seem to handle the OS very well. Above all, Google Now crawls to a start, annoyingly.
    What I hate the most, though, (and I'm not sure if this is the same across all Android devices now) is that if I'm in an app, I can't search within the app (for example, Google Maps) by clicking the Search button on my phone. The Search button closes the app and goes to Google Now, which again opens sluggishly, and then I have to click back to go back to the app I was in. Annoying. Now instead I have to look for an actual virtual search icon/option within the app to search.

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