Galaxy Nexus, on Android Ice Cream Sandwich, review [Video]
The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is one of the best smartphones on the market and in my opinion, it's the best all-around Android phone out there.
But really, it should be. Afterall, the Galaxy Nexus is the new flagship smartphone of Google's Nexus line of devices, which are known for offering top specs with the latest version of the Android mobile operating system. In this case, the latest version of Android is known as Ice Cream Sandwich and the Galaxy Nexus is the first gadget of any kind to run the new software.
Spec-wise, just about everything you could want from a smartphone, the Galaxy Nexus has -- and that's a really good thing considering that the phone is selling in the U.S. for $299 on a two-year 4G LTE data plan from Verizon.
The phone, which Google and Samsung teamed up on to design, is just .37-inches thick, is about the same thickness as Apple's iPhone. Inside, the Galaxy Nexus is packed with a 1.2-gigahertz dual-core processor, 1-gigabyte of RAM, 32-gigabytes of built-in storage and near field communications technology.
On the outside, you'll find a gigantic 4.65-inch touchscreen, which may be a bit too large for some. But, in use, the screen doesn't feel as massive as it is thanks to a thin bezel around the display.
The resolution of that screen is an impressive 1,280-by-720 pixels, which is high enough to be classified as high-definition. This provides a big, beautiful, bright canvas on which to watch videos, browse websites and read e-books.
The display is one of the best I've seen on just about any smartphone. It's a pentile display, which can lead to some pixelization from time to time, but the high resolution of the screen allows for smoother images than I've seen on low-resolution pentile screens.
Battery life on the Galaxy Nexus is pretty good for a 4G phone with such a large display. Over about a week and a half of testing, I regularly found that I could make it through an entire workday before I had to recharge the phone. Of course, the more you use the phone, the faster the battery life goes, and 3G phones still have better battery life. But as far as 4G phones go, the Galaxy Nexus is among the best I've used battery wise.
Phone calls were clear and reception on the Galaxy Nexus was also solid with Verizon's 4G service being fast and plentiful around Los Angeles during my testing.
The Galaxy Nexus sports a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera above the display, which works well for video chatting in a Google+ Hangout or with other video calling services. On the back is a 5-megapixel camera that can shoot up to 1080p video, paired with an LED flash.
Video shot on the phone looks good, but in the rear camera's still photos is where I found one of my few complaints with the Galaxy Nexus. By no means is 5-megapixels a weak camera, but the sharpness and color reproduction of photos I shot on the Galaxy Nexus wasn't at the level of 8-megapixel shooters I've seen on other top handsets such as the iPhone, the Motorola Droid Bionic and Razr and the Samsung Galaxy S II.
One huge plus on the Galaxy Nexus for still photos is the ability to take photos with almost no shutter lag at all. Snapping a picture is nearly instantaneous and while this results in taking some blurry photos from time to time, it should also allow Galaxy Nexus owners to miss fewer moments with their phones than with many other handsets.
The look of the Galaxy Nexus is clean and simple. If you've seen the Galaxy S II, then you won't be too surprised style-wise with the Galaxy Nexus. It's thin and even has a slight bump at the bottom, housing a speaker and microphone, just as the Galaxy S II does.
The front of the phone is thankfully devoid of any Samsung, Google or Verizon logos, which is something I'd like to see from more smartphones. On the right side, toward the top is a power button that also wakes the phone or puts it to sleep. On the left is a volume rocker. A mini-USB port for charging the phone is on the bottom, as is a headphone jack.
The whole of the device, except for the screen, is covered in a dark gray plastic which offers an understated look. The back of the Galaxy Nexus has a removable plastic cover, which conceals the SIM-card slot and battery. Unfortunately, this panel has a thin, flimsy feel to it that is also reminiscent of the Galaxy S II.
You won't find any premium materials on the Galaxy Nexus as you may find on other rival high-end handsets. But while the phone doesn't feel luxurious, it's still durable and well-built.
Android Ice Cream Sandwich
Though the hardware offered is mighty by current standards, the best part of the Galaxy Nexus is undoubtedly its software -- Google's Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
Ice Cream Sandwich feels like a turning point for Android. Sure it's the most widely used mobile operating system in the world, but Android has never felt as polished, easy to use, fast or efficient as Apple's iOS. It lacked the design cohesiveness seen in both iOS and Microsoft's Windows Phone too.
Things now are a bit different thanks to Ice Cream Sandwich. Nearly everything has been redesigned and given a new look. This is the first version of Android that I truly enjoyed using -- every tap, touch, pinch and swipe. And that can be attributed to its clean style and the fact that Ice Cream Sandwich is simpler and easier to use than any Android before it.
Gone are the four physical buttons built into the front of Android phones. In Ice Cream Sandwich, all the buttons used for the OS and apps are on-screen and can appear or disappear as needed. The OS makes use of three buttons instead of four: a back button, to get you out of whatever you're doing at the time; a home button, which takes you to your default home screen, and a recent apps button for easy efficient multitasking.
Hit the recent apps button, and a column of screenshots of recent apps will show up (similar to multitasking in Android Honeycomb, the previous version of Android built specifically for tablets). But now, closing down an app running in the background is much easier to do. To close an app, just swipe it to the right or left and it will smoothly roll off screen and out of your queue.
In the pull-down notification center, to discard a notification, just swipe it left or right. If you're in Ice Cream Sandwich's Gmail app, reading an newer or older email requires a left or right swipe as well. This repeated gesture feels like one more example of a new level of thoughtfulness brought to Android in Ice Cream Sandwich.
Other improvements include a contacts app that pulls in contact information from Facebook, Twitter and Google+. For Google+ users, contacts can be viewed by circles of friends, co-workers or whatever groups you set up. The Google search bar now follows you as you swipe across the five home screens of Android.
Virtual buttons rotate to different sides of the screen as you rotate the phone from portrait to landscape orientation. And now, finally, Android has app folders -- just move one app icon onto another to create a folder, it's that simple.
A new font designed for Ice Cream Sandwich called Roboto is used throughout the new OS, adding to the feeling that Android finally has an identifiable style, which it previously lacked.
Google also built tools into Ice Cream Sandwich's settings menu that detail how much data has been consumed by your phone toward the 2.0-gigabyte cap Verizon puts on its users. You can also view how much data is used by each specific app and set a data usage limit to keep from using so much data that overage charges rack up.
Of course, there are some downsides as not all apps are optimized for Ice Cream Sandwich or the Galaxy Nexus' huge screen and iOS still has a superior app selection.
Also, Ice Cream Sandwich offers users the option of a "Face Unlock" feature that uses facial recognition technology to open the phone from its lock screen. It works fast and is an alternative to not locking the phone, or locking it with a passcode or gesture. But the phone doesn't just recognize actual faces, it also recognizes picutures of faces. With Face Unlock turned on, I was able to unlock the Galaxy Nexus with an iPhone displaying a photo of myself -- not exactly the most secure option.
The bottom line
Android Ice Cream Sandwich is without question the best version of Android thus far. When combined with such fantastic hardware, its hard not to pick the Galaxy Nexus as the best overall Android phone on the market.
-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times