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It seems like every week that a new Android smartphone is being released, which can make the choice very hard for the customer. Android is full of choice, which is a positive thing for the platform but after a while the choice can become a little much. That said, there’s always been one particular breed of Android phone that brings an unrivaled experience. That experience is the “Pure Google” experience and it will only come from the Nexus line. The latest entry in this line, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, has created quite a stir and in this review we’ll see just how sweet the phone and the latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich really is.
The spec sheet runs long and sexy on the Galaxy Nexus and while it doesn't necessarily eclipse some of the existing high-end Android phones today, it's still a top notch handset. The Galaxy Nexus is a whole lotta phone and while it may be considered too large to some, we haven't found issues with its size.
Gone are the days that Android phones require physical buttons and the face of the device is as clean as it gets. Ice Cream Sandwich brings on-screen buttons for navigation and you'll find these buttons on the display, but more on that later. The contoured display itself is a massive 4.65 inches and has a resolution of 1280 x 720. This is one of the first few 720p phones we've come across and we must say that worries concerning the Galaxy Nexus' screen can be laid to rest. The screen on the device is very clear and crisp. Even with the Pentile Matrix on board, we've yet to see anything that would yield complaints.
Above the display, you'll find the earpiece, 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera, proximity sensor, and ambient light sensor. Since the device is void of hardware buttons, the only other thing you'll find on the face of the Galaxy Nexus is the hidden, multi-colored notification LED. It's nice to see it right where trackballs and trackpads used to be placed on Android phones before but I do wish it was a bit bigger.
The top side of the Galaxy Nexus is clean, with the power button and three-pin dock connector found on the right side of the device. Placing the power/lock button on the right side does show that this handset is just as much of the Galaxy S family as it is Nexus, and we're ok with that. When dealing with such a large handset on a phone, having the power/lock button on the side of the device feels more natural to unlock. Moving over to the left side, you'll find the volume rocker and the bottom houses the phone mic, charging port, and 3.5mm headphone jack. I'm not a fan of having headphone jacks on the bottom of devices but many may not care in the least bit.
The rear side of the Galaxy Nexus is somewhat familiar if you've ever handled a Galaxy S II before. The textured backing feels better than what you'll find on a Galaxy S II, but it's still just textured plastic. Called a hyper skin, it provides a nice amount of grip without feeling too rubber-like. You'll also find the 5 megapixel camera with LED flash towards the top, and both Google and Samsung logos on the back. If you're rocking the Verizon version, expect to see Big Red's logo in the middle instead of Google's.
The internal hardware of the Galaxy Nexus is pretty top notch for a device coming out in late 2011. Sporting a 1.2GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4460 processor,16GB of internal memory, NFC, barometer, gyro, etc. The Galaxy Nexus sports just about anything you'd expect to see on a device of it's kind.
The overall design of the Galaxy Nexus is simple but well thought-out. With the screen off, the face of the device looks sexy as can be and the textured, dark grey backing provides a nice contrast. The design is modern, if not a bit understated, which adds a bit of elegance the the handset as a whole.
Like the Nexus S, this Nexus handset also sports a curved glass display but is far less dramatic than we hoped. The curve is very subtle and many may not even notice it until later on. We really wish the curve was a bit more stark but not so curved that we were dealing with a banana phone.
While we have the HSPA+ version, the LTE version of the handset will be slightly thicker. While the thickness of the LTE version won't make it a big phone by any means, the profile of the handset will lose just a little bit of the sexy design we love in this version.
The build quality of the Galaxy Nexus is pretty much what you'd expect from a Samsung smartphone today. Like the Galaxy S II, the Galaxy Nexus is built mainly of plastics, which lends to a very lightweight feel. The in-hand feel of the handset is great and even though it's a rather large phone, it still sits nicely in the palm of your hand.
Sure, we would have loved Samsung to embrace metal when making the Galaxy Nexus but we've seen what can happen to all glass and metal phones when dropped, so we're just fine with the materials used in the phone. The use of plastics in this handset works well and keeps the phone light. Those worrying about the cheap factor should have those woes calmed, as the Galaxy Nexus feels like a very premium device.
While we're loving the hardware of the Galaxy Nexus, if this was a Gingerbread phone, some may be more easily swayed by other high-end Android phones today. Obviously, the Galaxy Nexus has Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich as it's main weapon and the latest version of Android is definitely enough to choose Samsung's latest offering over the competition.
In a nutshell, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is pretty damn awesome but that doesn't mean it's perfect. Those who have been using Android for a long time will have to break habits from previous versions and it can be a somewhat frustrating process at times.
One thing that will immediately change the way you use Android on the Galaxy Nexus is that fact that there are now on-screen keys for navigation instead of physical or capacitive buttons. Ice Cream Sandwich also does away with dedicated search and menu buttons in favor for in-app options, which can take a bit of getting used to.
The three buttons that made the cut for Ice Cream Sandwich are back, home, and multitasking. The multitasking option will display your most recent applications via thumbnail and you can simply swipe apps away if you're done with them. This doesn't actually kill the task but it allows you to get at what's most important to you more quickly. You may find yourself ignoring the multitasking option in the beginning but once you get the hang of it, you'll wish it was always there for Android.
There's a lot to go over with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, so we're just going to skim the top right here. We'll have a more in-depth review of Google's latest and greatest version of Android very soon and will include things like the new Google apps, Android Beam, and more. Below are a few core changes found on the Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0.
The changes begin at the lockscreen and it now features the familiar look and feel of Honeycomb. A small ring is found at the bottom of the screen and you can drag it to the right to unlock the device or slide it to the left to immediately open the camera application. Unfortunately, Google has removed the option of silencing the device from the lockscreen.
A nifty feature for unlocking the device is Face Unlock. It's there for novelty more than security but it's certainly an interesting feature. Face Unlock allows you to take a picture of yourself and will scan your face when you turn on the phone to unlock it. If you have a very good picture of the person, it can be tricked, but it's definitely a feature to show off to some friends rather than securing your device.
Ice Cream Sandwich now allows you to drag down the notification bar while your screen is locked and dismiss them if you so choose. Last but not least, if you're listening to music, the lockscreen will have music controls, along with the album cover art for easy access.
The Android Homescreen is familiar enough but it's full of new features. You're still given the same five screens to customize with applications and widgets but there's definitely enough differences to get excited for.
Similar to Honeycomb, the you'll find the static Google Search bar up at the top of the screen at all times. For some reason, even though you can't remove the Google search from the top of the screen, there's still a Google search widget available.
Moving to the bottom of the screen, the favorites tray now has two more slots to place applications or folders and is completely customizable. The only option in the favorites tray that is non removable is the all-apps soft key.
Folders have also been revamped for ICS and the new method takes heavily from iOS, as you simply need to drag one application over another to create a folder. From there you can customize the icons where you want them and rename the folder. Even better, after you have your brand new folder created, you can now put it into your favorites tray.
Accessing all of your applications hasn't changed in Ice Cream Sandwich but the way you navigate through them has been tweaked quite a bit. With Android 4.0, you scroll through applications horizontally now and swiping to another page will produce a nice animation. Adding an application is done in the same way as previous versions of Android but when you long-press an app you're presented with an option to uninstall said app on the top of the screen.
Another Honeycomb feature that made its way to Ice Cream Sandwich is that Apps and widgets now live in the same place and widgets now have their own dedicated tab at the top. You can also get to your widgets by swiping past your last page of apps. You're now given a preview of how your widget will look on the homescreen, which is pretty nice. That said, it can be a bit overwhelming if you have a lot of widgets.
The new way of moving through apps and widgets may take some getting used to but it's cleaner and much easier on the eyes.
The notification bar has been revamped in many ways and we're loving what Ice Cream Sandwich brings to the table. If available, texts, emails and others will show a picture of the sender next to the notification. This adds a more personable touch to the notification panel and it simply looks nice.
While you'll still be able to clear all of your notifications with the simple "X" symbol on the notification bar, Google has made it easier than ever to dismiss specific notifications by using a simple gesture. The gesture is found throughout the entire OS, which is a simple swipe. The new way of dismissing individual notifications is definitely a nod to WebOS, and custom ROMs like CyanogenMod have had this method implemented for some time now.
One small tweak that has been added to the notification bar is that there's now a dedicated settings option that's found right next to the date. This will alleviate the need to dig through your applications or even go to your homescreen to get at the settings menu and we're more than happy to see it.
In addition to the many new navigational methods found within Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, virtually every core Google application has been revamped. Stay tuned for a more in-depth review of Ice Cream Sandwich in the coming days.
There's a fun animation found on the Galaxy Nexus when you do a little digging. It's nothing too special but have a look for yourself.
Overall, Ice Cream Sandwich gets a lot right and most changes are a good thing. Still, there's a bit of a learning curve that even some long-time Android users will have to sit with for a while to become adjusted. You'll likely find yourself attempting to go to the bottom of the screen to tap on the search or menu key, which are sadly missing. Still, even with our short time with the Galaxy Nexus, we're fairly used to the new ways of getting around.
One should keep in mind that not all applications are completely friendly with Ice Cream Sandwich yet. Like Honeycomb, if an application hasn't been updated for ICS, a virtual menu key will appear along side of the multitask key. Some applications act a bit wonky at times (including Google's own Finance application) but I have yet to see one force close on me yet.
As we said before, the latest version of Android is pretty awesome. While it has a learning curve, it's still easier to use than any previous version of the OS and it looks pretty damn good in the process.
The web browser is a joy to use on the Galaxy Nexus and just makes one of the best experiences even better in Ice Cream Sandwich.The look and feel has been refined and since there's no dedicated menu button any longer, you'll find everything you need at your fingertips.
As expected, you'll find the address bar along the top of the browser, as well as the soft key for showing all of your open tabs and the three dot menu soft key for settings options.
Not only is the browser within Ice Cream Sandwich significantly faster, it also brings along some great features along the way. One feature that many people have been waiting for is Chrome Sync, which will sync all of your bookmarks on the Chrome desktop browser to your phone. This feature is especially nice for those who flash custom ROMs and are used to manually backing up their bookmarks every time, as it's all done for you now.
Another feature found in the browser is Incognito Mode, which doesn't save browsing history or cookies. This is a simple feature that has been available in CyanogenMod for some time now and it's just nice to see that the stock Android browser is sharing many of the same features found in the Chrome desktop browser. Another feature is the ability to request the desktop version of a website. This is very useful for websites that recognize you're on a mobile device and don't offer the option for accessing the desktop version of the site.
At the moment, Adobe Flash is not available for Ice Cream Sandwich but we do know it will become available before the end of the year.
The latest version of Google Music looks better than ever and it's more integrated into the system with Ice Cream Sandwich. The slick UI remains largely intact from previous versions and easily allows you to hook into the cloud for your uploaded tunes. Now when you're listening to music, controls are now displayed in the notification panel and lockscreen. It's nothing we haven't seen in other Android phones with custom UIs but it's more than welcome in stock Android.
Although DLNA support isn't mentioned and no pre-installed DLNA app is installed, you can make it happen. I installed Skifta, along with MX Video Player and I was instantly streaming videos to the Galaxy Nexus from my network's server.
In a world with 8 megapixel cameras as the norm for smartphones, it's easy to be a little disappointed by the Galaxy Nexus' 5-megapixel shooter. While megapixels certainly aren't everything when it comes to a good camera, the shooter on the Galaxy Nexus is a bit of a let down. That said, the revamped software may make it worth the while for some.
Google has been hard at work with the camera software on Ice Cream Sandwich and the Galaxy Nexus features some really fun an useful options. We first caught a glimpse of live video effects at Google I/O earlier this year but it's one thing to see them demoed and it's another to have them in your hand. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
The first thing you'll notice in the camera software is that it's been significantly cleaned up from previous versions of Android. No more border surrounding the viewfinder or janky settings along the left side of the display. Ice Cream Sandwich is easier than ever to use and that extends to the camera software as well.
When launching the camera for the first time, a small box in the middle will tell you that touch-to-focus is present. This simple feature is a nice addition to the stock software, as it's been implemented in several Android phones before.
Most of the action is found on the right side of the display, with the last photo preview on the top right, the camera shutter button in the middle, and a menu for switching between camera, camcorder, or panorama modes on the bottom right. You'll also find the option to switch to the front-facing camera, easy to use zoom bar, and more settings along the right side of the viewfinder.
The Galaxy Nexus ships with a handful of nifty filters to apply to photos and that customization extends even further when you jump into the gallery application. The features are simple and to the point but it's when you dig into the camcorder settings that you realize there's a little more to the shooter on the Galaxy Nexus.
At this point, you may have already seen the demos of the live video effect from Ice Cream Sandwich and while these may be more fun than functional, it's these effect that really separate it from the competition. This isn't to say that these type of effects aren't available elsewhere but they surely aren't found integrated into the basic camera software. From big eyes and mouth to warped faces, the live video effects are very fun to use. You'll also find things like time lapse and custom backgrounds when shooting video, which just goes to show how much effort Google put into the camera software of Ice Cream Sandwich.
The Galaxy Nexus' camera has no shutter lag whatsoever. While competition claim the same thing, it's that emotional connection that Marin was talking about that ultimately slows down the process.
As a whole, the camera on the Galaxy Nexus is decent but it's definitely not perfect and we wish Samsung had thrown in the same camera module found in it's Galaxy S II. That said, when recording video, the Galaxy Nexus seems to suffer from the same problem of being "wobbly" found on the Galaxy S II. The picture is nice and crisp but if you move around too fast you'll notice some odd issues.
Battery life on the Galaxy Nexus is a bit of a mixed bag and you can thank most of the drainage from the display. That said, I could still manage to squeeze almost 9 hours out of the device with WiFi, GPS, and the screen to full brightness. With the display on automatic brightness, you'll probably see more life out of the handset as a whole. It's nice to have such a gorgeous display on a phone but it's tough when it's the main battery killer.
In a nutshell, the Galaxy Nexus is the best phone I've ever touched before. This is easy to say for a couple of reasons. Up until the Galaxy Nexus, my hands-down favorite phone was the Galaxy S II (specifically the Sprint and international versions) and the Galaxy Nexus is rather similar when it comes to in-hand feel and build quality. That said, the Galaxy Nexus goes above and beyond with a modern and sexy design that makes you feel like you're holding the future in your hand.
Ice Cream Sandwich signals a new beginning for Android and you can tell that Google has spent a lot of time refining its OS. It's not iOS-simple but you'll easily get the hang of things after using the handset for an hour or so, if not less. There's a lot to love about Ice Cream Sandwich and while Android 4.0 will be debuting on other handsets in the coming months, the Galaxy Nexus provides the Ice Cream Sandwich experience the way it was meant to be.
Shutterbugs will likely be turned off a bit by the Galaxy Nexus' 5-megapixel camera but for most people there will be enough features the handset has that will make the inferior sensor a (almost )non-issue. The camera is decent but if you're looking for a top-notch camera, we'd suggest the Galaxy S II or the Amaze 4G.
Whether you're looking into the LTE version that's essentially awaiting release or wait for the possibility of the AT&T or T-Mobile version, the Galaxy Nexus will be able to hold its own over any phone available today for the most part and most will be very happy if they "go Nexus."
Both the Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich show that Google has no intentions of losing it's crown as the global smartphone leader and that this is truly just the beginning of Android's reign.