Though I usually upgrade more often than every two years (thank you, family plan), when my line was up for an upgrade in July I held off. See, I heard that Android 4.0, code named Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), would be seeing the light of day in late 2011. So I waited. And it got pushed back. And I waited some more. And finally, at 8 a.m. on December 15th, I got the Galaxy Nexus: the first ICS phone.
I’ve had it for a few days now, using it almost non-stop. Here’s what I think.
The Galaxy Nexus, prelaunch, stood to be the best Android phone on the market, if not the best phone overall. With top of the line specs and design, a lot of people were interested to see if the phone was up to snuff.
After reading about the size of the phone, I was pretty excited by how slim and light it would be. I was a bit concerned about the width, however; it’s wider than anything I’ve used before.
The Galaxy Nexus
I’ve got to say, I’m really impressed by the way the phone feels. It’s as thin and light as I thought it would be. As for whether it’s too wide, I don’t think so (although a friend of mine disagrees). While the phone is a bit wide for the average sized hand, I feel the curve of the body lends itself to easy maneuvering. I am able to do pretty much what I want to do using only one hand.
This is a very big deal to me
This phone is super fast. It’s partially due to the 4G and the ICS improvements, but the hardware is also top notch. The dual-core processor makes running apps/doing things very snappy and the phone runs smoothly. And speaking of smooth, the screen is also beautiful. Everything moves perfectly, without lag and with some really nice animations.
The only missing thing, hardware-wise, that I wish the phone had is an expandable memory slot; but honestly with 32GB of storage there’s no need for it.
Near Field Communication
Near Field Communications (NFC) allows data to be transferred from device to device just by touching. The Galaxy Nexus has a NFC chip and can support apps that allow for it (Google Wallet notwithstanding. Thank You, Verizon Wireless). While this is still a relatively new field, I’m excited to see what app developers come up with for it. I tried it with my friend and it’s incredibly easy; you just need to get an app called Android Beam, as it seems ICS doesn’t have a stock app for general NFC use.
Ice Cream Sandwich
Okay; here’s what I’m sure you’ve been waiting for. How is ICS? In one word: astonishing. As someone who’s been using Android since the first commercial phone, I’ve seen the operating system grow a lot over the years, but ICS is far and away the most improved iteration.
The new interface in ICS is absolutely amazing. The animations, updated home screens, and resizable widgets make the phone super customizable (even more so than before). The improved app/widget drawer and app folders, strategically placed Market and Settings icons, and virtual buttons that change based on context make navigating Android easier than ever.
Home Screen and App/Widget Drawer
You can also access the notifications bar and camera right from the unlock screen, which I love.
What impresses me the most about the UI is the attention Google paid to typography and layout. There have been subtle (and not so subtle) improvements all throughout Android and the stock apps (dialer, contacts, calendar, messaging, and Gmail). The apps are easier to use and much more aesthetically pleasing. Nice work on Google’s part.
Added and Improved Features
ICS also has a number of added and improved features to work with. Number one on my list (and I’m sure, the list of every author on this site) is native screenshots. Just press the Power+Volume buttons together, and a screenshot is added to your gallery. Words can’t describe how much easier this review was with that ability.
The other feature I use frequently is the improved multitasking manager. Just press the right-most button (next to the home button) on the Galaxy Nexus to bring up a list of the running apps, then slide an app to the right to kill it. I love this so much; it makes managing apps a lot easier – and since I can run a lot more now without a noticeable affect on performance, this is very helpful! You can also use this area to navigate your apps: simply press on one of the apps to go to it.
ICS also includes a data manager, which is especially nice for a 4G phone, and especially when you’re on a network with a data cap.
You might want to check to see whether you are. If you have a plan on Verizon already, they are currently allowing you to keep your plan as-is – unlimited – with a 4G connection.
From Settings, you can get to your data manager, which will show you an adjustable graph, allowing you to change the date range to show you how much data you’ve been using over that period. It will also show you which apps you are using the most. Pressing on one of the apps will give you a breakdown of how much data it’s using relative to the total amount you’ve used. Pretty nifty, right?
The Data Manager
One thing I really didn’t like about my Incredible was how long it took to take a picture. While 8MP is great, speed is important. The Galaxy Nexus takes care of this problem with a vengeance. The first time I used the camera I was in utter disbelief, because not only is it fast, it’s instant. There is zero shutter delay. Some people would argue that the fact that the camera is on 5MP is a detriment to the phone, but if it means having a fast camera, I will gladly take lower quality.
The Camera... and my keyboard.
Included with the camera/gallery is a photo editor that allows you to make adjustments (like fix red-eye, crop, etc) and add effects. If nothing else, it’s incredibly entertaining. Here’s what I came up with:
My brother. Or perhaps Sasquatch.
Awesome Battery Life
I’m not quite sure whether I should attribute this to the hardware or to ICS, and it’s a big enough deal to get it’s own section. The battery life is really impressive. I’ve been using it regularly from around 7:30am to 11pm or 12am and it lasts. Today has actually been most impressive as I’ve been using it for talk, text, data, games, and reading since 7:30 this morning and now, at 9:15pm, it’s still above 50% battery. Whatever Google and Samsung did clearly worked!
There’s no beating around the bush: this is easily the best phone I have ever used. From design to UI, it’s a solid device. It’s super fast, beautiful, customizable, feature packed, and it lasts. The camera works really well and NFC stands to change the way we use phones. I do not have one real complaint about the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0. Could it use an expandable memory slot? Yes, but that is definitely not needed; 32GB is plenty of space for your mobile needs. I’m always reluctant to give a 10/10 for anything (I don’t think I ever have), but this phone deserves it.