My new Google Nexus S on Softbank Mobile

I just got myself a Google Nexus S / Samsung Nexus S with Android 2.3.6 (Gingerbread). Several of the applications I had wanted to run on my previous smartphone (Google Ion a.k.a. HTC Magic, Android 1.6) were only available for Android 2.1 or later. I would have had to reflash the phone with something like CyanoGenMod to get a newer version, since Google did not make any updates available for the old hardware.

The new phone’s screen is great. The WXVGA resolution of 800×480 (“Wide eXtended VGA”) provides much more usable space than the HVGA 480×320 (“Half size VGA”) of the Google Ion or the iPhone 3GS for that matter, though it is a little less than the 960×480 of the current iPhone 4. Talking of which, the Samsung is only a few millimetres wider and taller but also a little lighter than the Apple product.

There are several versions of the Nexus S. Some have the AMOLED screen, others the S-LCD. I picked the AMOLED version (GT-I9020A) which was about $15 more expensive but has better image quality than the S-LCD version (GT-I9023).

Setup was very easy, once I figured out how to pull off the back cover to get access to the battery and SIM slots (there was no paper owner’s manual, which instead you have to download as a PDF).

I simply moved the Softbank Mobile SIM from my HTC to my Samsung, put back the battery and switched it on. Voila, it was working on the Softbank network, and I was immediately able to send and receive SMS, unlike the HTC where I manually had to enter parameters for an access point that I had to Google in a thread in some online forum. The downside of the effort to make things work smoothly for most customers was that using a Softbank SIM also changes the language to Japanese. Sure, most Softbank customers are native Japanese-speakers and they will be helped by switching language, it wasn’t what I wanted. Luckily I could manually switch it back.

The GPS of the Samsung is much better than in the HTC, which could not get a location if I was inside my house and wanted to get directions before heading out for a train or bike ride. The Nexus GPS gets the position quickly and much more accurately. With the Ion, when I was manoeuvring the charming back streets of Shimokitazawa (which consists mostly of two story houses, no big skyscrapers to block satellites), not only might it put me two blocks away from where I was, it would not even get the directions right when I was trying to figure out which way was North and South. It worked OK only with lots of open space, such as when cycling along big roads and in the countryside.

One very neat touch is that the Gallery application where you view your camera shots is integrated with Google Picasa, which I use for hosting all pictures from my main camera, a Canon S95. So it doesn’t matter if I’ve taken a shot with the Samsung or with the Canon, it’s always there to show someone when I want to.

I’m still discovering new features and will update the blog as I go along.

More information:

UPDATE 2011-09-10:

I did still have to manually set up an APN for Softbank after all, because with the defaults, even though I could send and receive phone calls and SMS, I could not access the web or use Gmail or Google Maps unless I was on a WLAN. Here is what is required:

Go to: Settings > Wireless & networks > Mobile networks > Access Point names. The initial list was empty. Push the menu button and select New APN. Set the following parameters (leave all settings not mentioned at their initial value):

Name:Open Softbank
Port: 8080
MCC: 440
MNC: 20
APN type: default

After that I could step outside and walk to the end of the road (out of reach of my WLAN) and still browse the web or use Google Maps. The “3G” marker will illuminate in the status bar at the top. Make sure you have the Smartphone data plan from Softbank to limit your data charges, and to have data roaming disabled so other provider networks don’t get used for (non-flat rate) data if you’re out of reach of Softbank.

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