The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is Google and Samsung's second outing with a joint flagship device (the first was the Nexus S). The phone boasts of some pretty impressive specs and a unique design. But that's not why we are excited about it. The real big deal here is Google's new OS, Ice Cream Sandwich that is making its debut on the device. This is by far the biggest revamp to hit the Android OS and we are really excited about not only the big changes but also the subtle tweaks that make the real differences. Is this device and the OS worth upgrading to or are you better off just looking at the forbidden fruit? Read on to find out!
If we had to describe the device's teardrop tapering design in one word, we'd say WOW! It is really thin on the top and a bit thicker at the bottom. It's beautiful to look at and surprisingly well built ergonomically as well. The front of the device really takes the cake. All you have is the front facing camera, the earpiece and the beautiful 4.65-inch screen. It really looks remarkable.
The bottom of the screen has an LED indicator, which flashes to represent notifications. It's a nice white glow and one of the small touches to the device that add good novelty value.
The only physical buttons on the device are the volume rocker, which is on the left panel and the power, sleep/wake button that is on the right. The bottom of the device has the micro USB port and the headphones jack. The rear of the device houses the 5MP camera with an LED flash. We were lucky enough to review a unit with the "funky" rear panel, which is exclusively handed out to Google employees. If you buy the device off the shelves, the rear cover will be more on the lines of the Galaxy S2. The advantage the Galaxy Nexus faces, however, is the fact that it is really light, weighing in at 135gms, making it lighter than the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy Note.
Overall, the design of the device is great. It's large yet comfortable to hold. It isn't as big as the Samsung Galaxy Note, which at times feels a tad big for portable use. It is bigger than the iPhone 4S, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as the 720p screen is great for multimedia use. The overall build of the device could have taken a new direction. With the iPhone 4S opting for a glass back, unibody industrial design which is pure eye candy, and the colourful yet sturdy polycarbonate design of the Nokia Lumia 800, the Galaxy Nexus feels just a bit dated with its plastic finish.
The Galaxy Nexus has a gorgeous 4.65-inch Super AMOLED display. The large display and the new ICS OS ensures that you don't need physical buttons on the front of the device. There are 3 buttons always present at the bottom of the display, which represent the back, home and running apps. The display is really great for watching videos and some first party Google app widgets such as Gmail and YouTube really take advantage of the screen size. The large screen also ensures a better web browsing experience and a larger, well laid out keyboard ensuring minimal error during typing.
To put things into perspective, the Galaxy Nexus has a 4.65-inch display with a resolution 1280x720 that is 316 pixels per inch. The iPhone 4S has a 3.5-inch IPS display with a resolution of 960x640 that is 330 pixels per inch. The Samsung Galaxy Note has a 5.3-inch Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 1280x800 that is 285 pixels per inch.
In simple terms, it is easy to understand that the display on the iPhone 4S has the best display. Apple's Retina Display outshines the rest in terms of deep blacks, vibrant colours and an overall great experience. The Galaxy Nexus on the other hand may have lower pixel density, but that doesn't affect the user experience. Videos are more enjoyable on the Nexus as not only is the screen really big, but, to the naked eye, both the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy Nexus are at par, with the Nexus snatching points just for the display size.
To start off, the Galaxy Nexus has a 5MP autofocus camera with an LED flash that can also shoot videos in 1080p. Having said that, the biggest USP of the camera is its zero shutter time. We clicked a pic simultaneously with the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy Nexus. The picture was already saved and the camera was ready for another shot on the Galaxy Nexus while the iPhone 4S was still processing the image. The tradeoff here is that the pictures still looked better on the iPhone 4S and quite a few pictures taken by us on the Galaxy Nexus were blurry.
It's not that the camera is bad, it's just that it could have been better.
In terms of effects, the Galaxy Nexus is quite a handful. There are a lot of silly effects such as big eyes, big nose, etc. that you can use while shooting videos. These hold more of a novelty values than anything else. The utility however comes in the fact there are quite a few handy effects you can add to pictures after they have been taken. Editing and filter options have been built into the camera app and you have a variety of options to play with once the picture has been taken.
OS and Interface
The OS, Ice Cream Sandwich, is the real reason why we are excited about this device. The OS has been completely redesigned and we see some features from Honeycomb and a lot of improvements from Gingerbread make an appearance here.
One of the biggest improvements to the device is that there are no physical buttons on it. There are three buttons that are ever present at the bottom of the touchscreen. These are, back, home and a button that shows all the open apps.
Those of you that are used to the Android experience, with or without a third party skin, will have to spend some time with the device as there is a bit of a learning curve and the OS has some really cool tricks up its sleeve that you need to know about.
There are a lot of preloaded apps that take away the need to download third part apps. As mentioned earlier, the filters and funky options available for shooting stills and videos will keep you busy for quite some time before you resort to third part apps.
If you are a 3G data hungry user and need to be online all the time, you can forget about a third party data monitoring app, as this is inbuilt in the settings of the OS. It is easy not only to monitor your overall data consumption and set a cap on it but also to monitor which of your apps are consuming how much data.
Another interesting feature is that you can unlock the device using your face via the front facing camera. The face lock isn't really a great security feature as the device can be unlocked by simply using a photograph of the person as well.
The notifications too have improved. From the pull down notification bar, it is easy to get rid of selective notification by simply swiping left on as particular notification. Speaking of swiping, it is very easy to "swipe" and close apps that are already running. Sure, it isn't as easy as clicking on an "Advanced Task Killer" icon on your device buts its presence is very cool nonetheless. All you do is use the multitasking button to bring up the apps that are running. Clicking on an app jumps straight to that app. If you want to shut down the app completely, just swipe left, and the app closes.
Just like the iOS, it is very easy to arrange your app in folders. This process is a little too much like the iOS and that isn't a bad thing. All you need to do is drag and drop one app over another and voila! You have a new folder.
Not all the improvements to the OS are for the better. An irritating feature is that the minute you download an app from the Marketplace, a shortcut appears automatically on the home screen. This can get really frustrating if you are a person who likes to keep his apps and widgets organized. Thankfully though, this feature can manually be turned off from the settings.
Browsing the Internet on the Galaxy Nexus is a real treat! The web pages render really fast. The large display is as great as the Galaxy Note to read text on and videos look absolutely amazing. But the biggest improvement is the manner in which tabs are handled. Tabs appear in a vertical alignment and are very convenient to scroll through.
If you were looking to pick up an iPhone 4S just for Siri you may want to hold on a bit longer. Google has integrated voice recognition into the Galaxy Nexus and it is one feature that we think works really well. There is even an option of "English (India)" in the menu and you don't need to put on an accent to get most of the information right. It still has problems in recognizing Indian names and places and the software doesn't talk back like Siri, but the fact that the feature is present and performs all the task that Siri does if not more is a great addition.
Apart from all the fancy shenanigans, the device needs to do something primitive i.e. make phone calls. Yes, it makes calls. The number pad on the device is really large, courtesy the large screen, and is even comfortable to use when driving (but don't use your phone while driving!). The signal strength was good even in areas where some other devices such as the HTC Desire the Sensation XE and the Sony Ericsson Xperia Pro faced call drops. The call quality to was fantastic to say the least. Coming to the most important question, is it feasible to hold a 4.65-inch device on your ear and be comfortable. In a word, yes. It isn't as small as an iPhone but then again, it is smaller than the Galaxy Note. It sort of hits the sweet spot with its size. If you are a dainty one with small hands or a below average build, the device may be big for you, but overall, it's a fit.
The interface is exceptionally smooth and responsive as well. The only time we saw a lag was when we ran a plethora of apps in the background and had a live wallpaper running as well.
As of reviewing the device, there aren't any ICS specific apps available but the existing apps held up really well. We played a lot of Angry Birds, read some news on the NDTV app and it all ran absolutely smooth.
Another great addition, and this one is heaven for widget junkies, is that Google specific widgets such as YouTube and Gmail have been configured not only to take advantage of the screen, but you can actually adjust the size of the widget on the home screen. A small feature but it makes all the difference.
Typing on the device too is a pleasure. The keyboard is well spaced and there are minimal errors while typing. Typing with one hand however is virtually impossible even in portrait mode due to the large screen size. The auto correct feature of the device too has been improved and it is easier to select onscreen text by simply tapping it.
The battery life of the device too was a surprise as the device managed to sustain throughout the day with a little above average use. We made calls, texted, watched a bunch of YouTube videos, downloaded apps and tweeted.
Overall the performance of the device is outstanding with minor hiccups that will go unnoticed by most users. The additions and options available is the settings are varied and eliminate the use of a lot of third party apps. The device not only works as your next gen smartphone but also does a great job at making calls.
If the Galaxy Nexus isn't your cup of tea or you just invested in a new smartphone, click here to see if the device is upgradable to ICS.
If you are looking for a next gen smartphone to pick up the Galaxy Nexus should definitely be on the top of your list. The OS is fantastic, interface is awesome and the hardware too doesn't disappoint. The only issue here is that the devices available and price are still a mystery.
In Pics: Samsung Galaxy Nexus
ICS is a fantastic OS
Great display, build and hardware
Funky camera features
Inbuilt apps that eliminate 3rd party apps
ICS optimized apps will take some time to hit the market
The camera could have been better
Wow factor: 4