Android Gingerbread Arrives: More Exciting Than New Nexus S?

After much speculation on the features and delivery date, Google (s goog) today announced both the arrival of Android 2.3, aka: Gingerbread, and the Samsung Nexus S handset, a flagship device to run the new operating system. Developers can begin using the new Gingerbread features immediately, although it will take time for devices to support them. The Samsung Nexus S is the first phone to ship with the newest version of Android, beginning on Dec. 16, but the device cameras and 3G hardware will leave some disappointed.

On its Android developer page, Google is highlighting the new software features, some of which are iterations of existing functions, while others are adding completely new mobile functionality. Among these are an overall speed boost, refined user interface, improved text input and a better copy and paste solution. Google has also added support for voice-over-IP calls using the SIP protocol, as well the support we expected for near-field communications: a wireless transaction approach that has the interest of mobile payment processing companies.

Google has also devoted an entire website to the new Nexus S, which will be available as an unlocked handset in the U.S., either with a contract or fully priced without contract on T-Mobile’s network. Sadly, the Nexus S uses a 7.2 Mbps radio for 3G, meaning it can’t take full advantage of T-Mobile’s 21 Mbps HSPA+ network. Aside from that, the device shows marginal improvements over my old Nexus One: a 1 GHz Hummingbird processor, front and rear-facing cameras, a larger, curved 4-inch display (still at 800 x 480 resolution, however) and 16 GB of internal memory.

The additional camera is nice, but the device still only boasts a 5-megapixel sensor in the back, and at launch, only supports 480p video recording. From that standpoint, I’m feeling a little let-down. There’s also no way to expand the Nexus S storage memory because there’s no microSD card slot: another missed opportunity in terms of specifications. I may just hold off on a phone upgrade as I expect my Nexus One to see the Gingerbread update over the air in the near future.

Although I’m reserving final judgment until we get our hands on the phone, which will be soon, I’m actually more excited by the news of Gingerbread than I am of the Nexus S. Continued software improvements can almost turn an old phone into a new one. And for every step forward taken by the Nexus S, there appear to be just as many steps back.

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