Android This Week: Nexus S for AT&T; G2x gains Gingerbread; Honeycomb lags iPad

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The Samsung Nexus S, essentially a flagship Android handset for Google, launches for AT&T’s network on Sunday for $99 with contract. Although the phone debuted in December and doesn’t have a dual-core processor like many new smartphones offered today, the phone has solid features and gains from being launched by Google. Instead of relying on a carrier to test and then push out software updates, Nexus phones are updated directly by Google; often far faster than other phones.

In addition to the vivid Super AMOLED display and native support for Google Talk video calls, a key differentiating feature in the Nexus S is the near-field communications (NFC) chip. This works with Google’s Wallet service, a method to pay for goods by tapping a smartphone on a payment terminal. At the Wallet launch, which was exclusive to the Nexus S for Sprint’s network, Google said it planned to expand support to more phones, and I suspect the Nexus S for AT&T is the next Wallet-capable handset.

Since no other Android handsets have NFC chips, it looks like the Nexus S is the only game in town for Google Wallet, but that doesn’t mean other handsets are getting stale. A software upgrade taking the LG G2x from Froyo to Gingerbread appeared this week. T-Mobile didn’t officially announce the upgrade, but LG’s software upgrader application can download it to Windows PC and install it on the phone. I haven’t yet tested the upgrade, but several readers have, indicating smoother overall performance. That’s welcome as G2x owners have experienced some slowness and random reboots with the phone; a shame because it has potential to be a peppy performer with the dual-core chip and stock Android interface.

On the tablet side for Android, consumers, developers and analysts are still trying to understand how Honeycomb tablet sales are doing. Apple’s iPad gobbled up 9.3 million sales in the last quarter and has now sold 28 million units. Given that companies aren’t sharing exact Android tablet sales figures, we can only estimate how Honeycomb is working out nearly 6 months since the platform launched. Using data on both the total number of Android device activations and those that hit the Android Market, a conservative estimate is that one Android tablet is sold for every eight iPads. Looking solely at data over a two-week period shows the gap could be as high as 21 iPads for every Honeycomb device.

There’s plenty of time for Honeycomb’s numbers to improve though as the tablet market is still relatively young. And this situation mirrors that of Android’s start in the smartphone market as well. When the G1 launched in October of 2008, I pointed out that it would take at least six months before the platform matured enough to capture developer’s attention. We’ll know by the holiday season if the same pattern holds true for Android tablets.

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