Let me say this right now – if you are in the market for the best Android phone available to date, you’ve found it. The Galaxy Nexus is without a doubt the clear choice above all others, providing the latest Android OS, guaranteed first updates for 12 months, the speed of full system wide hardware acceleration, a camera that takes shots instantly, and an obscenely high resolution screen which is arguably the best in the industry. Read on for an in depth look at what’s on offer.
Screen and Build
The first thing that strikes you when you press the power button (located on the right hand side of the unit) is the screen – 4.65 inches of it punch you in the face in an explosion of colour. I’ll take this opportunity right now to say that this is easily the best screen on any Android device to date. Its aspect ratio is reminiscent of the HTC Sensation, carrying a 16:9 screen purpose built for viewing widescreen video, which is largely responsible for the length of the device, while contributing to its lean width.
The blacks are dark and the colours pop, while thankfully losing the colour oversaturation found on the previous breed of Super AMOLED screens. The resolution – a full 720p in the palm of your hand, makes text crisp and pixels outright difficult to identify, with response times of 1ms eliminating any possibility of ghosting. At 316ppi, the phone is not far off the crown 326ppi found the iPhone 4/4S retina display. Numbers aside, when comparing the two devices in the real world, it is noticeable that both are very close in sheer pixel density. Rest assured pentile does not play in a negative way here like in past Super AMOLED devices, with the technology clearly having been refined in Samsung’s newest revisions of the patented display technology. Looking at the screen at low brightness levels, you will notice some whites become greys, however colour reproduction remains relatively constant. When compared to the iPhone 4/4S retina display, you’ll notice a clear contender in the Galaxy Nexus.
Thankfully the device’s 16:9 form factor maintains the device’s ability to be used in one hand, leaving the other hand free for … [insert dirty remark here]. Because the device is practically all screen on front, you won’t notice all that much difference when compared to smaller 4 inch handsets, except for some additional length.
The device is thin at 8.9mm, coming in at roughly the same width as the iPhone 4/4S (9.3mm), just spread out over a larger surface area. The device is curved and contoured on every corner, tapered from the screen to the battery cover, making the device easy to hold. The back of the device is smooth, while the battery door is made up of a textured plastic. In the hand, the Galaxy Nexus feels as light as a feather, weighing in at 135 grams – 5 grams lighter than the iPhone 4S. The plastic that the handset is made of is vulnerable to scratching, but the phone in no way feels cheap like some have reported.
For those spoilt by their Nexus One’s ability to notify you of incoming email, chats, tweets, facebook updates and text messages, you’ll be happy to know that the RGB notification light has made a much welcome return! Located at the bottom of the screen underneath the ever so slightly curved contour glass, gone are the days of chronically checking your phone to avoid looking like a right snob.
Navigating home screens is quick – easily the fastest of any Android phone to date, bar perhaps the mighty Samsung Galaxy S II. Powered by a dual-core TI OMAP 4460 CPU running at 1.2GHz per core, navigation through the entire OS on the Galaxy Nexus is satisfyingly quick. Although the Galaxy Nexus packs the same SGX540 GPU as its predecessor the Nexus S, you certainly won’t fell any lag throughout the OS (bar the occasional stutter when something is downloading in the background). The GPU, which is now running at its intended clock speed of 384 Mhz (the Nexus S ran the same GPU under clocked at 200 Mhz), is more than sufficient to drive this beautiful OS in all its glory. Keep in mind however that high end 3D gaming may not be as impressive here as on other handsets, due to the device’s older GPU and high resolution. From what I have experienced so far in the last 36 hours, I can assure you that there is no cause for concern regarding the GPU choice made by Google and Samsung here, but something from the latest and greatest would have certainly been nice to further future proof the device and boost public confidence, as the GPU has caused some (largely unfounded) concerns in the Android community.
If you’re a previous Android user, Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) will feel a little different to you, especially if you have not experienced Android 3.0 (Honeycomb). Many touch and hold gestures have now been replaced by double-taps, buttons in all system apps are consistently across the top of the screen (expect for Gmail which brings them down below), native widgets can be resized to fit into almost any space on your home screen, and everything is coated in visual effects. Navigation between screens in Google’s native apps are accessed via left and right swipes, removing the need to accommodate tabs and reserving screen real-estate for actual content.
The hardware buttons found on the majority of Android devices are replaced by soft buttons, which are arguably superior – unlike their hardware counterparts, these soft buttons dynamically change based on the handset’s orientation, or the application being run. Best of all, they’re hidden during video playback, allowing you to enjoy YouTube and other videos in full widescreen, banishing those annoying white lit buttons which used to so distractingly glare in the corner of your eye. While on any other screen these buttons could look tacky and out of place, here on the Super AMOLED screen, with a black background as dark as Satan himself, you often forget that they are drawn by pixels. There is no learning curve here if you’re coming from a capacitive button device – the buttons are where they should be and even more responsive than before.
Probably the most important addition to the OS is full system-wide Hardware Acceleration. It’s about time. No longer are slick transitions restricted to the iPhone legion – Android is now on a level playing field here, and in many ways, the accelerated experience is superior to that of iOS. Transitions feel as or more buttery here than on the iPhone, which carries a sense of additional weight because on every screen, on every webpage, more is going on and more pixels are being pushed – making the enormity of this accomplishment that much more satisfying. This is truly the first time where you can rest easy – slowness and downright lagginess are a thing of the past in Android. Applications which are created using the latest Android SDK will automatically have hardware acceleration enabled. For legacy apps, a setting under developer tools on the device is available to force hardware acceleration for all 2D graphics. This can mess up some applications, but enabling this setting is worth it until devs update their apps.
Speaking of legacy apps, not all work, and some will refuse to install direct from the market such as QuickOffice Pro. Chances are that a lot of these apps will happily install if side loaded onto the device by file transfer/email. Regardless, it must be mentioned that straight out of the box, do not expect all of your apps you had on your previous phone to install on here. Devs are working furiously to update compatibility of their apps. Some developers simply need to flick the switch to enable the application to install on the Nexus. Give them time.
The keyboard has been updated and now brings further enhancements to auto-correction, including the ability to separate words that get stuck together. This has been a long time coming, but finally you’ll be able to punch away and not have to worry about separating words manually because you accidentally hit the B key instead of space. Words not found in the dictionary will highlight red Microsoft Word style, revisiting the incorrect word with a tap greets you with a drop down menu of suggestions, with another tap to replace said word.
It’s worth noting that there are additional accessibility settings to cater for users with disabilities. For those with vision impairments for example, Android 4.0 provides an option to change text size from normal, to large and very large, which is applied system-wide. It can even be reduced to small, for those that like their text tiny.
The rear speaker outputs decent sound – far better than anything in the HTC range of Android devices (not difficult) and right up there with the iPhone 4S in terms of volume and quality, perhaps trailing it ever so slightly. You won’t have any concerns with the sound output. Sound does tend to get a little muffled when the phone is placed on its back, which is due to the speaker being located on the rear of the device, as opposed to the very bottom. Conversely this gives the sound output natural amplification. It’s certainly nothing to be concerned about.
Call quality is decent, both for the caller and recipient. Calls carry a decent level of bass, and are free of tinny highs. The main issue of note here is the random volume bug that has been circling the web, which is said to occur when the phone drops back to 2G on the 900mhz band, causing the volume of the device to change without user intervention, sometimes even muting the device. A software fix is reportedly days away, so while this may affect you in the short term, it will be history soon. A secondary microphone used for noise cancellation is located on the back of the phone up near the camera and proved quite effective in clearing background rustle.
Forever have Android users wanted a browser to contend with the hardware accelerated smoothness of their Apple counterparts. Thankfully, the browser has been fixed. The Browser is certainly up there with the best of them, including mobile Safari on iOS. There are many features in the Android browser here which when coupled with the new found hardware acceleration, make it superior to the iOS platform – text wrapping once again makes a return, allowing walls of text to be re-wrapped with a double tap, neatly confining text to its own resizable column, making things incredibly easy to read. This continues to be the best part of the Android browsing experience over others which makes all the difference when reading a text heavy page. You can resize the screen to how you want it, and the text will reflow.
For Chrome users, the day has come to finally discard those third-party apps for bookmark syncing – the Galaxy Nexus browser syncs with your Google account, pulling down all your bookmarks from the cloud and placing them in neat little folders from whence they came. This is a two-way street, with bookmarks made on the Nexus being kept in your Google account and retrieved by all instances of your desktop Chrome browser as soon as they get back online. Chrome is now with you when you’re not at your computer (or Chromebook).
A maximum of 16 tabs can be opened at once. This is a blessing for the majority of net whores out there who use their phone browser to do things like product research while they’re out and about, which can get frustrating with 8 tabs or less.
Another great feature, is the dedicated menu option to request the Desktop version of a page, changing the UA string to tell the host to serve you the fully fledged desktop page, without having to scroll around to find the button to switch, or without having to switch browsers or hidden settings via about:debug. Another great addition to the browser that hasn’t been widely reported is the ability to invert colours, so whites become blacks, allowing you to take further advantage of your black craving Super AMOLED screen, while accommodating for some satisfying nocturnal browsing.
Probably the only disappointing thing about the Galaxy Nexus is the camera. At 5 megapixels the rear shooter certainly isn’t horrid – in fact it is above average for a smartphone camera, but compared to something like the iPhone 4S camera which can essentially replace the need for a point-and-shoot, the camera does not offer the same colour reproduction or sharpness. It’s not all bad though. Photos are truly instant. So instant, that you can quite happily machine gun your subject, which is bound to give you a good photo out of a bunch. Flash strength is decent, with the quality of shots dependant on how fast the flash is able to get out there before an instant photo is taken. The camera is certainly capable, but you may need a little patience and get adventurous in the settings. Because of the instant capture, you’ll also need to ensure you have a steady hand, otherwise you can easily blur your photos with slight movements. Machine gun to get that shot. It’s worthy of note that photos can now be edited post shot using a variety of tools in the gallery app, so no more resorting to third party apps to do simple touch ups.
Video capture is at full 1080p/30fps. Quality here isn’t as good as the 4S, with some dropped frames in lower light conditions, but with care this can really produce some nice video. The front camera is a more modest 1.3 megapixel number, capable of shooting your mug in 720p at 24fps. Not half bad El’ Goog.
The phone is pentaband, and will thus connect to any cellular network in the world that uses GSM. Any. This means, no matter if you’re on Optus, Telstra, Vodafone or on any of the overseas networks like AT&T, T-Mobile, Orange – you can use your Galaxy Nexus. It also means that if you plan on changing providers or travelling overseas, you won’t get caught having to buy another handset just so you can use 3G out of metro areas. 3G speeds experienced so far are decent, with dropped signal caused by entering lifts and the like returning almost instantly after stepping back into range. Having had previous Android phones which would take their sweet time to reconnect to data, the Galaxy Nexus appears to have stepped past this problem. It loves its data.
File transfers are handled by the MTP method which will certainly annoy some. While file sharing is still supported natively in Windows, Mac OSX and Linux users will need to install a special driver and/or use special software in order to transfer files. This is due to the way the Galaxy Nexus file system is set up – “SDCARD” storage is no more, now storage is one slab of space across the entire device – all 16GB of it (with out of box free space around the 13GB mark). This is to overcome the cramped space restraints by having a System, Data and user (SDCARD) partition, which caused some users to run out of storage space, unless the app supported the move to SDCARD feature. Now apps and user data all reside on the one space.
Wireless N is on board with dual-band support. If you have a router that supports 5.0 ghz you will experience faster data transfer rates. Also included is Bluetooth 3.0, Wifi Direct (for device to device sharing) as well as NFC. NFC plays a bigger role here on the Galaxy Nexus than on the Nexus S – in Android 4.0, files can now be shared using Android Beam, which involves touching 2 NFC capable devices together and tapping send. A great way to share a map, an app or photo with a friend also packing a Galaxy Nexus … if you know one.
Battery life on the Galaxy Nexus has been surprisingly good, and should be with the 1750mah battery. Using the Nexus over the last day, I have been able to survive on single charge while web browsing, Gtalking, making a few quick calls and reading feeds, and the battery hasn’t even been conditioned yet. Compared to the iPhone 4S and it’s shocking battery life (until the battery bug is fixed – 5.01 did nothing), the battery on the Galaxy Nexus is great, and well above average. For those that love aftermarket extended batteries, it must be noted that the battery also acts as the NFC antenna, so if you’re in the market for a replacement or bigger battery, ensure the battery you pick up is official, otherwise no Android Beam for you.
There definitely aren’t many other phones that I could recommend over the Galaxy Nexus. In fact, I could only recommend one other phone – the iPhone 4S. If your choice is Android and money is no object, this is the only phone worth owning today. While next year will bring the advent of quad-core powered phones and tablets, the Galaxy Nexus will live on as the device to first get updates, the device which will be centre stage for devs and app compatibility, and the benchmark for all phones to follow. While the camera is somewhat disappointing in that it has not greatly evolved from its predecessor (apart from instant capture), everything else more than makes up for that shortfall, and then some. Get this phone.