Several hours ago on a stage in Hong Kong, Google and Samsung held a joint press conference to announce the Galaxy Nexus; the third device in the Nexus family of products. What does a smartphone need to have in order to earn the prestigious Nexus label? First, and most important, it has to run Android the way Google intended it to be run. There are no software tweaks that most consumers typically see when buying an Android device from HTC, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, or from their operator. Second, a Nexus is typically the first device to show off the latest version of Android. The Nexus One was the first smartphone to run Android 2.1 Eclair, the Nexus S ran Android 2.3 Gingerbread, and now the Galaxy Nexus will run Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Third, the Nexus usually sets the bar in terms of the specifications that an Android smartphone needs to have in order to be called high end. As of today, if an Android smartphone doesn’t have a dual core processor, 720p resolution screen, and near field communication support, it can’t be identified as bleeding edge.
Looking at the press release announcing the Galaxy Nexus, several things immediately stood out. Let’s start with the processor. No where does Samsung mention that there’s a Texas Instruments chip inside the Galaxy Nexus, yet TI was nice enough to send us an email with the following blurb:
“Today is a great day for our collaboration with Google. The long-awaited Android 4.0 release is finally being revealed with the OMAP4460 processor powering the absolutely gorgeous Samsung Galaxy Nexus device. I am so excited about this launch. What I may be the most excited by is not only the ability to converge to one Android release for both smartphones and tablets, but to be able to pack that level of performance across graphics or video on an HD screen and within the power envelope of a smartphone device. This is where our OMAP smart multicore architecture makes a huge difference. At the end of the day, brute force (number of cores, for instance) does not rival sophistication.” — Remi El-Ouazzane, VP, OMAP platform business unit
Samsung makes their own chips, most notably the Exynos 4210 processor that powers every variant of the Samsung Galaxy S II except for the T-Mobile version. Late last month they announced the successor to the Exynos 4210, it’s called the 4212. It’s clocked higher (1.5 GHz vs. 1.2 GHz), has a 50% faster GPU, and it’s built on a 32 nanometer process rather than a 45 nanometer process. So why then did Samsung go with a TI chip and not the new 4212 or even the 4210? The application processors in both the OMAP4460 and 4210/4212 are the same, a dual ARM Cortex A9 configuration, but what makes the two system on chips different is the GPU. The OMAP4460 has a PowerVR SGX540 whereas the 4210 has a Mali 400. When Anandtech reviewed the Samsung Galaxy S II last month, they declared:
“There’s no doubt in my mind that SGS2 is the most powerful smartphone out right now, both in the synthetics and in just subjective feel. That’s thanks in large part to Exynos 4210′s dual core Cortex A9s at 1.2 GHz and ARM’s Mali–400 GPU. The end result is an experience that’s buttery smooth and rarely shows any signs of being want for more power. Mali–400 alone is twice as fast as any other smartphone GPU out right now, and Exynos 4210 seems likely to vie for performance crown in Android-land until the start of 2012.
What gives? Why did Samsung go with a chip from another company when they’re already pumping out a superior solution?
Next is the 3G support. We’re delighted to report that the Galaxy Nexus will do 21 Mbps HSPA+ and more importantly it’ll support all existing 3G bands. In other words, the Galaxy Nexus supports 850/900/1900/1700/2100 MHz 3G, so you’ll get high speed connectivity whether you use this thing on AT&T, T-Mobile, or in Europe/Asia. We would have liked to see 42 Mbps HSPA+, but we’re just nitpicking at this point. What’s odd is that Samsung went with a full size SIM card slot instead of switching to microSIM. If they opted for the latter, they could have made the Galaxy Nexus thinner or thrown in an even larger battery. Apple continues to be the only manufacturer who sells devices that use microSIM cards on a mass scale. Nokia is slowly starting to support microSIM, first with the N9, and more recently with the 603.
Then there’s the camera, which comes in at a partly 5 megapixels. We don’t know more about the sensor, maybe it’s larger than the 8 megapixel sensor inside the Galaxy S II, maybe it uses better optics, why wasn’t it talked about in more detail? Why doesn’t the Galaxy Nexus use the 8 megapixel camera in the Galaxy S II? We need to investigate this.
And finally there’s the screen. Not surprisingly, Samsung opted to go with a Samsung made 720p HD Super AMOLD display. Said screen will use PenTile technology, meaning fewer subpixels will be used per each individual pixel; some people will be turned off by that. The Galaxy S used a PenTile display while the Galaxy S II didn’t, and the difference was extremely noticeable. With time we’re positive Samsung will introduce a 720p resolution smartphone screen that uses Super AMOLED Plus technology, which is a fancy way of saying they’ll give you the full 12 subpixels that make up a typical pixel on your ordinary RGB display. The only other company that makes a 720p resolution screen for smartphones is LG. They have a 4.5 inch display that uses brand spanking new AH-IPS technology, which was recently rated as being superior to Samsung’s Super AMOLED Plus technology both in terms of color accuracy and power usage. Expect to see a glut of smartphones being released in 2012 that’ll utilize LG’s panel. For people who can’t deal with huge smartphones, 4.5 inches is the smallest 720p currently goes.
So that’s the Galaxy Nexus in a nutshell. It’s good, but it could have been better, and we don’t know why Samsung didn’t try harder. By the end of this year we expect Google’s purchase of Motorola to be approved and the two can start working on building some new awesome devices. In the span of 24 hours both the Galaxy Nexus and Droid RAZR were announced, and both are frankly incredible, but if you combined what makes each of them appealing into one device, your head would explode.
More mind blowing, that’s what we need in 2012.