There are only a few gadgets that get me excited at the mere thought of owning them. Most these devices are from Apple, but I’d like to say at the outset that I’m not an Apple fanboy. I just appreciate gadgets especially if they offer new, groundbreaking technology. It was no surprise therefore that I wanted to have an iPhone when the very first version came out, and now I’m an owner of an iPhone 4. I also wanted a Macbook Air, so I got one and had to simply justify the purchase as a necessity.
The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is one such device. I was intrigued mainly by Android 4.0 or Ice Cream Sandwich but I also liked that the device has a huge HD Super AMOLED screen and a thin form factor. I have used many Android devices in the past, my first Android device being the HTC Wildfire, which I quickly replaced with an HTC Desire. I liked Android for its customization options and mostly free apps. I have then tried other Android devices, the latest of which were the HTC Sensation and the HTC Sensation XE. But none of these devices raised the level of curiosity and excitement the way the Galaxy Nexus has. Long story short, I decided to buy the phone.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus Specifications
- 4.65″ HD Super AMOLED screen with 1280×720 (315ppi)
- Google Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
- Texas Instruments OMAP 4460 1.2GHz dual-core processor
- PowerVR SGX540
- 1GB RAM
- 16GB, 32GB internal storage
- HSPA+ 21Mbps, HSUPA 5.76Mbps
- WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
- Bluetooth 3.0
- 5 megapixel rear camera with autoficus and LED flash
- 1.3MP front-facing camera
- 1080p video recording at 30fps
- 1750mAh Li-Ion battery
Packaging, Hardware and Design
The packaging of the Galaxy Nexus alone already got me excited. Needless to say, I held the Galaxy Nexus box like a boy getting his dream toy. The white, minimalist packaging is not unlike Apple’s packaging. The box only shows the image of the Galaxy Nexus and the words GALAXY NEXUS below that. The box is quite long, so it already gives you the feeling that what’s inside is something huge.
Opening the box raised the excitement level a notch higher as I was about to hold the Galaxy Nexus for the first time. When I opened the device, I saw just the handset and the box trimming of red, yellow, green and blue which are colors associated with Google. Lifting the upper lid of the box reveals the USB connector and the headset, while the phone’s charger hides in another compartment.
Holding the Galaxy Nexus for the first time gave me an immediate sense of satisfaction. It’s super thin, it’s very light and the screen is huge. The screen is curved but this is somewhat subtle. You will not immediately notice this feature and you’ll need to look at the phone sideways to see the curved surface.
Just as anyone with both a Galaxy Nexus and an iPhone 4 would do, I immediately compared the thickness of the two devices just to see which has the thinner form factor. The Galaxy Nexus is thin at the top, coming in at only 8.9mm thin, but it has a bump at the bottom. So when placed side by side, the Galaxy Nexus is thinner at the top but thicker at the bottom.
But overall, the Galaxy Nexus gives the impression that it’s much thinner by a lot, and this is because of the size of the phone. For a phone with a 4.65-inch screen, you’ll be amazed at how Google and Samsung were able to achieve a thin profile, although Samsung already did this with the Samsung Galaxy S II but that one has a smaller display. It’s also amazing how the bigger Galaxy Nexus weighs almost just half the weight of the iPhone 4.
I was also able to compare the Galaxy Nexus with the HTC Sensation XE and the Nokia N9. The Galaxy Nexus has the thinnest profile, but this is only true when you compare the phones at their thinnest parts. In terms of screen size, the Galaxy Nexus has the biggest screen , followed by the HTC Sensation XE, then the Nokia N9, and lastly by the iPhone 4.
The build and construction of the Galaxy Nexus is far from perfect. The metallic grey finish gives the phone a premium feel and it appears to be made of sturdy, durable stuff. However, the back cover is all plastic and reminds me of the construction of the Samsung Galaxy S II. The back cover of the Galaxy Nexus is quite flimsy and it has a flex when you press the phone a little hard. It’s not all that bad though, but I still wished Google and Samsung went for something harder or stronger. The back cover has a dotted texture so it prevents the phone from slipping from your hand.
For buttons and ports, there’s a volume rocker on the left side, power button and docking pins on the right side, micro USB port and 3.5mm headphone slot at the bottom, and nothing at the top. At the back you see the camera positioned top-center together with the LED flash, the name Google and Samsung at the center, and the loud speakers at the bottom. At the front of the device you’ll see the secondary camera and the receiver. No buttons can be seen at the bottom.
Inside the Galaxy Nexus, you’ll find a 1.2GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4460 CPU, 1GB of RAM, 32GB or 16GB of storage (my phone has 16GB storage) and the usual Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n and GPS connectivity options. The handset of course has an NFC chip which is a technology that allows connection or transfer of data by simply by tapping the devices. I was not able to test this feature yet as it’s not yet widely used and implemented in the Philippines. The Galaxy Nexus also features an accelerometer, a proximity sensor, a compass, an ambient light sensor, a gyroscope, and even a barometer.
The camera on the rear of the device is a 5-megapixel shooter with a single LED flash. This is quite a disappointment considering the 8 megapixel sensors used on the current crop of smartphones. There’s a secondary 1.3 megapixel camera on the front.
The display of the Galaxy Nexus is admittedly one of the best I’ve seen so far. It’s one of the reasons I decided to get the device and thankfully, the Galaxy Nexus did not disappoint. Google and Samsung went for a 720p HD Super AMOLED screen that features 1280×720 resolution. Some may get intimidated by the 4.65-inch display but for me, it’s perfect for playing games, watching videos and reading ebooks. Text input and and browsing also benefit from the phone’s big screen.
The screen’s display quality is superb even at this size. It may be inferior to the iPhone pixel for pixel but the difference is practically unnoticeable. The Galaxy Nexus has very good resolution and in terms of color rendition, I like it better than the iPhone’s display. Colors pop, yet it’s not oversaturated. Viewing photos and watching videos on the Galaxy Nexus is a truly a wonderful experience.
Android 4.0 or Ice Cream Sandwich
Powering up the Galaxy Nexus is a fantastic experience. You get the Google logo upon startup, then an animation of dancing colors and figures appears. You are then quickly brought to the home screen of Google Android 4.0 or Ice Cream sandwich.
Ice Cream Sandwich feels like an entirely new operating system. It looks different, it feels different. What I immediately noticed is that the home buttons are now part of the screen and are positioned at the bottom most part. There are only three main buttons – the Back, the Home and the Recent Apps button. When you hit these buttons, they do a glowing effect that simply enhances the navigation experience. I like it that Ice Cream Sandwich now has fewer main buttons as I found the old search button superfluous. You now see a Search Bar at the top of the home screen. There is still a Menu button but it only appears when you run apps and the button now takes the form of three small dots.
The Favorite Apps is now represented by a row of icons at the top of the main buttons and these can be customized by pressing the icons and dragging them onto the center of the display. There are only a maximum of five home screens on the Ice Cream Sandwich, so if you’re someone used to having up to seven home screens on your Sense UI or Launcher Pro, this will surely be disappointing. Personally, 5 home screens is just the right number.
The apps drawer is now combined with the widgets. When you hit the apps shortcut on the home screen, you still get the zoom in effect and you are brought to apps tab. Swiping the screen to the left slowly reveals the next tray at the background which becomes visible as soon as the old tray disappears. The rubber effect is fantastic but it reminds me of the transition on the Nokia N9. If you reach the last tray for the apps, you are immediately brought to the Widgets tab. At the right of the Apps and Widgets tabs is a shortcut to the Android Market.
Multitasking on the Ice Cream Sandwich has been greatly improved. As earlier mentioned, there is now a Recent Apps button which brings out the running apps, so you can easily go back to your previous apps or finish the task you left. You kill the app by simply swiping the icons to the left or to the right. This is one of the best updates to Android in my opinion.
One of the new features on Ice Cream Sandwich is Face Unlock. This is a new alternative to securing your phone and what it does is it unlocks your phone by scanning your face. It’s quite nifty and it’s fun to use. To activate this, you just need to go to Settings, then Security, then tap Screen Lock. You will then be given choices and of these choices is Face Unlock. Hit Face Unlock and you will then be asked to set it up. Setting up is quite easy. You only need to put your face on the oval shown on the screen and the phone takes care of the rest. You also have the option of keying in a password in case the phone fails to recognize your face.
Face Unlock works about 95% of the time in my experience. The other times it didn’t work, I was slight looking sideways or the phone was a little high up. So if you’re in a hurry always, I suggest you disable face unlock. It’s quite frustrating when the phone fails to recognize your face’s profile. And take note also that the phone opens when someone who looks like you tries to open the phone, and some have reported that a photo of you can be used to open the phone. For me, the PIN system is still the most convenient and the most secure.
The camera app on the Galaxy Nexus is a big improvement form previous Android cameras. The interface shows the subject on the left and the controls on the right. The shutter button is in blue color and to the bottom are the shortcuts for camera, video capture and panorama mode. To the left of these buttons are shortcuts for camera selection, zoom adjustment, settings. Tapping on the settings button brings up the options for flash, white balance, exposure, and scene modes.
One of the biggest features of the phone’s camera app is zero shutter lag. Zero shutter lag is quite an amazing feature as it allows the camera to instantly take photos the moment you press the shutter button. There is practically no delay from pressing the shutter to capture so you get what you see on the screen. You can of course set the focus before hitting the shutter or wait for the camera to do auto-focus, a task the Galaxy Nexus does very ably. The instant capture feature on the Galaxy Nexus is even better than what’s on the iPhone 4S, in my opinion. At times you wouldn’t even realize that you’ve already captured the scene and you’ll need to check the gallery if it’s already there.
The camera has editing features which quickly give your photos enhancements similar to what Instagram does. It has options for outputs like cross process, lomo, film grain, vignette and others. You can also crop, fix the red eye, straighten the photo, rotate and apply other quick fixes. What’s also cool is that the interface shows links to services like Facebook, Twitter, Picasa, Skype and other photo sharing services your phone has. If you install third party apps with photo sharing features, that appears on the selection of shortcuts. It’s therefore easy to share photos straight from the camera app.
As to quality of photos, I can’t say though that it’s better than those taken by the iPhone 4S. Honestly, I was quite disappointed with the camera of the Galaxy Nexus. The handset has all the bells and whistles but Google and Samsung decided to use a 5 megapixel camera which does not perform exceptionally well. The output is just so-so and most of the time, I find the scene overexposed or lacking in contrast. I also noticed that the camera tries to enhance the clarity of the shots even before you take it so you’ll notice that the subject on the screen is quite different from what you actually see. On broad daylight, the photos are noticeably better but still they are not the best output I’ve seen. The iPhone 4S, which I have already tried using, delivers noticeably better photos. For purposes of uploading to social networking sites, though, the camera’s output suffices. On low light settings, the iPhone 4S wins over the Galaxy S by a wide margin.
Here are sample photos taken on the Galaxy Nexus. Click on the photos for the bigger versions.
Video capture also suffers from the same shortcomings of the stills capture.
Performance, Battery Life
The Galaxy Nexus is the fastest, snappiest, and most intuitive Android phone I have used to date. This is admittedly because of the tight integration between hardware and software. The Galaxy Nexus does not have the best hardware specs but it is nicely complemented by Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. The result is a performance that is near flawless as far as user experience is concerned.
Ice Cream Sandwich is admittedly the best Android version so far, and I must say that this can only get better in time. Google is in the right direction based on what it did with Ice Cream Sandwich. The user experience is way better than on previous Android versions. Ice Cream Sandwich is quick and pretty and there’s nothing to really ask for from a user’s perspective. What I like most about Ice Cream Sandwich apart from the great looking UI is the implementation of multitasking. This is the closest to true and effective multitasking I have ever experienced on a handset. The Recent Apps button is very handy and I find myself using it half of the time when navigating the phone. Tapping the button brings you to your previous apps, and you can also easily go back to your tasks by tapping the icon, or kill it by simply swiping it to the left or to the right.
Internet browsing has also improved on Ice Cream Sandwich. The default browser is zippy and quickly loads even the heaviest of pages. It’s nice that the Galaxy Nexus supports HSPA+ so I’m able to experience faster connections compared to the 3G connection on the iPhone. If browsing speed is important to you, this is one of the reasons to choose the Galaxy Nexus over the iPhone 4S. The Android browser is highly intuitive, with pages easily accessible from the tabs shortcut, and the menu button is perfectly positioned at the top. Here are some screenshots of the browser.
The Galaxy Nexus is fast in loading apps, and multimedia experience on the phone is something worth praising. It handles heavy graphics easily, so playing games is lovely on this phone. The fact that the screen is huge adds to the user experience. Watching movies is also great, thanks to the phone’s beautiful 4.65-inch Super AMOLED screen. I ran some Antutu and Quadrant benchmarks on the Galaxy Nexus and I must say the phone performed pretty well. Here are the benchmark results.
Battery life on the Galaxy Nexus is acceptable. I don’t know if Ice Cream Sandwich is less power hungry than previous versions, but I suspect this has contributed to the phone’s satisfactory battery life. Battery performance on the Galaxy Nexus is nothing exceptional but for my needs, it’s just right. For use that involves, calls, messaging, playing games, internet browsing and watching a movie, the Galaxy Nexus lasted about 15 hours. Battery life of course is extended if you do fewer tasks.
The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is one of the best phones I have ever used. The hardware is great, although admittedly, the phone doesn’t have the best set of features. The performance is still fast though, and i didn’t find anything to complain about in terms of performance. What contributes to the phone’s stellar performance are the screen and the operating system. The 4.65-inch Super AMOLED screen is fantastic to say the least, and can hold it’s own against the display of the iPhone 4S. It’s sharp, its vibrant and the colors are just wonderful. At 4.65 inches, the Galaxy Nexus is surprisingly handy, and personally I prefer this size as it gives me better experience in browsing, playing games, watching movies, and reading ebooks. I found the iPhone 4’s display too small at times, and I’m therefore thankful for the huge display of the Galaxy Nexus.
Ice Cream Sandwich is admittedly the star feature of the Galaxy Nexus. This is the first device to run the new operating system after all. As the main feature of the device, I can say that Ice Cream Sandwich is mainly responsible for the superb user experience. It is the best Android version that Google has cooked up, and I am happy to say that I am now officially back on team Android . The OS is so good and the Galaxy Nexus is equally good-looking that I have been convinced to switch loyalties. I was on Android before but the shortcomings made me switch to the iPhone 4. Now Ice Cream Sandwich made me an Android believer once again. The iPhone 4 is still with me, but it’s now just my secondary phone.
The Galaxy Nexus is not perfect though, so I cannot give it a perfect score. The 5 megapixel camera takes decent photos, but it ruins an otherwise exceptional camera software. I am also quite unhappy with the phone’s plastic back cover as it is too thin and gives a clicking sound once in a while. But apart from these complaints, I can say I’m a happy and proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy Nexus.