The Samsung Galaxy Nexus has been getting lots of attention. For starters, it’s the first handset running Android 4.0, AKA Ice Cream Sandwich. Plus, with Samsung’s Galaxy branding behind it, it has a lot to live up to. Verizon has managed to become the first carrier in the U.S. to carry the Galaxy Nexus. The Nexus packs in a large and high-res 4.65″ Super AMOLED display, a dual-core processor, and support for Verizon’s speedy 4G LTE network, all making it a cutting-edge smartphone. NFC, an accelerometer, a compass, a proximity / light sensor, 2 mics, and a barometer are also built in. But is the Galaxy Nexus as dreamy a device as it sounds on paper? Read on for our Verizon Galaxy Nexus review.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Galaxy Nexus is its contour display made of curved glass. Otherwise, its curvy corners are a nice touch too, but its design is pretty bland – even with the inclusion of its textured back cover. At .37 inches thick, it’s also a smidge thicker than its GSM counter-part that measures .35 inches thick. Its build quality, like the rest of the Galaxy II line, is also a bit plasticy. The device itself weighs 5.1 oz in total and packs in a 4.65″ Super AMOLED display with a 720P resolution. 720P displays, like the one found on the LG Nitro HD, are visions of the future and are sure to become more and more common over the next year. Of course, by packing in a Super AMOLED display, you get what you would expect from the Galaxy series of smartphones - a bright display with vivid colors. The Galaxy Nexus’s design is also unique because its front face is button-less. Instead its Back, Home and Recent Apps virtual buttons show up when you need them.
The Galaxy Nexus is running the brand spanking new Android 4.0 OS. There has been a lot of buzz surrounding this next generation of Android because the OS bridges the divide between smartphone and tablet by being designed for both platforms. Design wise, the user interface for Android 4.0 reminds us a lot of the Honeycomb OS that we have been playing with on tablets for a while now. However, Ice Cream Sandwich also feels significantly faster and more tweaked than Honeycomb. As a matter of fact, Android has never felt this responsive.
Ice Cream Sandwich brings a lot of improvements and refinements to Android. For starters, we love the new multitasking system which is as easy as tapping the Recent Apps button. From there you can swipe through thumbnails of running apps and flick away the ones you want to shut down. Widgets can now be resized. You now have the option of increasing the size of the system’s font. The Gmail experience now looks closer to the Gmail you experience on your desktop’s browser. The Face Unlock feature is a new fun way to unlock your phone by using your mug. And finally, Android 4.0 makes it easy for users to take screenshots! This is one feature that has taken way too long to arrive. But now that it has arrived, it’s as easy to take screenshots with Android 4.0, as it is in iOS. Just hold down the power button and volume down button simultaneously, and a screenshot will get saved to your gallery.
But perhaps one of the most significant improvements for us is the fact that the built-in onscreen keyboard is so much more responsive and more enjoyable to use. Google is describing the on-screen experience as “rapid-fire typing”, and they have indeed made improvements to the touch recognition and auto-correction on the keyboard, in order to make the on-screen keyboard experience feel more natural. Until now, the Android on-screen keyboard has always felt like it was lagging behind iOS and Windows Phone’s amazing on-screen QWERTY’s, but finally Android 4.0 can really compete. The new on-screen keyboard is a pleasure to use.
We’re probably going raise hell for saying this, but in our opinion, at the end of the day, Android 4.0 is still not as intuitive as iOS or Windows Phone. That said, with Ice Cream Sandwich, the OS has been further refined and the performance has been improved.
Considering the fact that Galaxy Nexus is the first handset to come running Ice Cream Sandwich out of the box, it’s a bit surprising to discover that the processor inside of it is just a 1.2GHZ Dual-core processor. That is plenty of performance, but it’s just not the fastest processor you can find in a smartphone nowadays. The system also comes with 1GB of ram and 32GB of built-in storage. The device earned a benchmark score of just 1413 in Quadrant. That is significantly less than some of the 4G LTE smartphones we have recently tested, including the Droid RAZR which scored above 2400. That said, when it comes to day to day performance, the device performs with plenty of pep and multitasks well.
The Samsung Galaxy Nexus packs in a 1.3MP font-facing camera and a 5MP low-light optimized rear-camera with a flash. This camera does indeed handle low light conditions, and indoor shots, better than most other smartphone cameras. It’s able to take shots quickly – both indoors and outdoors without much blur, and it captures good amounts of detail, but colors aren’t very vivid. The camera also touts zero shutter lag and the camera is indeed very quick to auto-focus and snap pics. As a matter of fact, the camera snapped pics so quickly that we almost weren’t sure that we had taken a picture at all. The rear-facing camera also has support for panorama picture taking, it can record in 1080p and create time lapse videos. A built-in photo editor is also a welcome feature. Finally, a new instant upload feature also has the potential to be dangerous. When enabled, your camera’s photos will be automatically upload to Google+- and this feature works a bit too well if you know what I mean.
Speaking of Google+, Android 4.0 comes with heavy Google+ integration. The Google+ app is also preloaded, along with Google+ Messenger and Google+ widgets. Some other preloaded apps included Google Music, Google maps, YouTube, Google Books, a calculator, Google Earth, Google Latitude, Movie Studio, My Verizon Mobile, Navigation, Places, VZ Backup Assistant, and more.
From within the Android web browser, you can now hit “request desktop site” so that you’re not limited to browsing sites in their default mobile versions. The updated browser now has an incognito mode for private browsing. You can also have the device sync with your Google Chrome bookmarks. You can also check your data usage and set a data limit, so that you’ll be notified before reaching your limit. Considering the fact that “unlimited” data plans are going the way of the dinosaur, yet 4G LTE makes it so easy to eat up data quickly, this feature might become more needed than ever.
Testing in New York City, the SpeedTest.net app showed downloaded speeds of 11884kbps down, and 3426kbps up. These speeds are faster than the speeds we saw while testing the Droid RAZR, but not as fast as the SpeedTest.net results that we experienced with AT&T’s 4G LTE devices. That said, when it comes to day to day web browsing, the Galaxy Nexus goes head to head with AT&T’s current 4G LTE line-up. 720P videos also streamed off of YouTube on the Galaxy Nexus without a hitch.
As with all of the 4G LTE phones we have tested so far, battery life on the Galaxy Nexus goes really quickly. You’ll get about 4.5 hours of moderate, but continuous use from it before the Galaxy Nexus dies. Fortunately, the call quality experience on the Nexus is solid. We could hear callers loud and clearly and they said the same of us.
At the end of the day, Ice Cream Sandwich running on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus feels a lot like an enhanced, and tweaked version of the Honeycomb OS that we have been seeing on tablets for a while now. The reality is that in a few months the market will be flooded with Ice Cream sandwich devices, and the Galaxy Nexus will not look all that exciting anymore. But no matter what, it will always offer Ice Cream Sandwich in its purist form which many Android enthusiasts prefer. Hardware-wise, the Verizon Galaxy Nexus has a lot to offer, including a large high-res display, a capable camera, and support for 4G LTE. We’re disappointed with its battery life, and the build quality feels like it could be a bit better, but no matter which way you look at it, the Galaxy Nexus is still a cutting edge device - at least for the moment – it’s also a vision of the future and the shape of things to come. The Galaxy Nexus for Verizon retails for as low as $189 with a 2-year contract. A GSM, unlocked version of the Galaxy Nexus is also available from Amazon for $689.
The Good: Thanks to Android 4.0 there is improved multitasking management, and the on-screen keyboard is better than ever, 4G LTE support provides a speedy web surfing and streaming experience, camera takes quick snaps and does well in low light and display is high-rest with vivid colors.
The Bad: Device tends to get hot while in use, poor battery life, uninspiring design, benchmark performance is mid-range and no MicroSD card slot.