What’s more, it’s not only a new piece of hardware, but also comes with the latest version of Android version – Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0).
Does it measure up, or should it be filed under “meh”? Read on to find out!
Design and build quality
The front of the Galaxy Nexus, with the screen turned off, is almost featureless. The only things detracting from the smooth black surface are the earpiece and front-facing camera.
There’s also a notification light at the bottom, below the screen, but you don’t know it until it starts pulsing. There are no hardware buttons on the front, as Android 4.0 makes provision for devices without them (though it doesn’t restrict manufacturers from using them).
On the left side is the volume rocker, while the right side holds the power/wake button and three pins for, presumably, connecting to a dock. The latter is positioned to be within easy reach of your thumb, and both protrude just enough to be easily found by touch alone, while not distracting much from the overall appearance.
The top is bare, while the bottom is home for the microUSB charging/data transfer port, as well as the 3.5mm jack. Most OEMs place the 3.5mm jack at the top of their smartphones, but I’ve always preferred having it on the bottom. Your phone might go into your pocket upside-down this way, but it comes out the right way up without any fumbling (and it’s not like your pocket cares how the phone is oriented).
The back is also fairly uneventful, except for the 5MP camera at the top-middle, with the single LED flash below it, a speaker at the bottom, along with some logos from Google and Samsung between them. The camera and LED are surrounded by a thin metal trim, highlighting them without crossing the gaudy line.
The casing of the Galaxy Nexus is plastic, but not the cheap kind. It feels solid and there were no strange creaks or squeaks. Overall, it feels like it can take some damage without snapping in half.
The back plate is also plastic, though it feels thinner and more flexible than the casing. It’s slightly textured, making it easier to grip, and it also doesn’t pick up fingerprints. It’s very easy to remove (there’s a small hole at the top for a fingernail and from there you essentially just peel it off), though it can be tricky to put back correctly.
The Galaxy Nexus measures at 135.5 x 67.9 x 8.9mm, and weighs just 135 grams – just 6g more than the Nexus S, but almost 20g more than the Samsung Galaxy S2.
Overall, the design is excellent. It’s clear that a lot of effort went into making the external hardware as unobtrusive as possible. The build quality is also quite good, though some may consider the back plate to be somewhat flimsy.
At the heart of the Galaxy Nexus is a TI OMAP 4460 chipset with a 1.2GHz dual-core CPU paired with a PowerVR SGX540 GPU. The latter is the same one found in the Nexus S and it is slightly puzzling why this has not received an upgrade.
There’s 1GB RAM to fill your memory needs, along with 16GB or 32GB of internal storage. The Galaxy Nexus does not have an SD card, though there are reasons for this. For the sake of brevity, I’ll only say that including an SD card introduces a lot of tricky problems (for those interested, this Reddit comment explains it).
For connectivity, the Galaxy Nexus supports WiFi a/b/g/n, HSPA+ (up to 21Mbps down and 5.76Mbps up), Bluetooth (version 3.0), as well as NFC – more on the NFC later.
AnTuTu Benchmarks gave the the Galaxy Nexus a score of 5,299 (averaged over 5 tests), placing it behind the Samsung Galaxy Note, Motorola Razr, and Samsung Galaxy S2, but way ahead of the HTC Evo 3D, Sensation and Motorola Atrix.
The Galaxy Nexus screen
The first thing you’ll notice about the screen is that it’s big. At 4.65 inches, it’s definitely in the “large” category. It’s also worth noting that a part of the bottom of the screen will almost always display the on-screen Android buttons, so the amount left for viewing is probably closer to 4.5 inches.
The display is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 1280×720, which means that it has a pixel density of ~316PPI (close to, but not quite besting the ~330PPI of the iPhone 4 and 4S). It is a little sad that it’s not a Super AMOLED Plus display, but the extra room and resolution more than make up for it.
Reading, browsing, gaming, and viewing 720p videos on it were all a pleasure thanks to crisp text and bright, vibrant colours.
One of the things you might not actually notice about the screen is that, similar to its predecessor the Nexus S, it has a slight curve. While the benefits of this are up for debate, it certainly is a distinctive feature for the Nexus line.
Also worth noting is that there is no Gorilla Glass on the Galaxy Nexus. Not to worry though, as it can still take some punishment.
In terms of responsiveness, the Galaxy Nexus performed very well in general use (browsing, typing messages, swiping, etc.). AnTuTu Tester recognised up to 10 touch points on the screen, which is more than enough.
Sound and call quality
Call quality was great with neither side reporting any problems.
Unfortunately, the same can not be said of the external speaker, which was exceedingly soft. In a slightly noisy venue, you’d be hard pressed to hear the phone ring.
On the back of the Galaxy Nexus is a 5MP camera with a single LED flash capable of 2592×1936 pixel shots and 1080p video recording. On paper there’s nothing particularly remarkable about it, but paper only tells half the story.
It’s touted as having “zero shutter lag” and it lived up to that. You can take a horde of shots in seconds and they generally come out quite well.
What’s more is that there’s a built-in panorama mode that just requires you to tap a button to activate it and then pan your phone across the scene.
Sure, the 5MP sensor means that your photos aren’t quite as high in detail as those phones with 8MP or 13MP sensors, but they’re still good quality.
The front-facing camera was quite impressive when using Face Unlock, and managed to recognise a face even in dim lighting conditions.
Video capture was great – it’s hard to argue with smooth 1080p. The video camera app also has a nifty time-lapse option and the ability to take a picture by tapping the screen.
Battery life was excellent. Under heavy use (sending and receiving messages and e-mails, browsing, using social networks, listening to music, and even taking a few photos), you could easily get through a day with upwards of 30% battery life remaining.
Under lighter use, you could go for two or three days without worrying.
Also worth noting is that the battery charges quite quickly. Using the bundled charger had the battery from 15% to 100% in just under two hours.
New Nexus hardware (historically) means that there’s a new version of Android that it’s showcasing, and the Galaxy Nexus comes with Android 4.0, otherwise known as Ice Cream Sandwich (our review unit had 4.0.2). Android 4.0 merges the tablet PC and phone builds of Android and brings a multitude of updates with it.
The first new feature is one which seems to have divided both users and onlookers – the new typeface, Roboto. I am no expert in this matter, so I’ll rather just say that I found it quite pleasant to read. Matias Duarte (senior director of Android UX) went into some detail about it on Google+ and there’s a very nice article on BoingBoing.
The lock-screen has received a new coat of paint. At the bottom centre of the screen is a circular lock icon which can be swiped right to unlock, and left to go directly to the camera. The notification bar can also be pulled down in the lock-screen, provided that you don’t have a lock-screen security mechanism set up.
Speaking of notifications: these can now be individually cancelled by simply swiping it to the left or right. Notifications can also contain richer elements – for instance, an audio player can display play/pause/skip buttons along with song info and an album cover.
Moving on to the home-screen, this has received some subtle tweaks. There is now a persistent search field at the top of the screen, though it doesn’t take take any widget space away from the user. There is a new folder system which allows you to create a new folder by dragging one app on top of another. The bottom shortcut bar now allows for four shortcuts (excluding the launcher icon), and these can be changed by users with other shortcuts or even folders. Scrollable widgets are now properly supported.
The launcher is now horizontally paginated – paging right brings up new pages from behind the current page, while paging left fades the current page into the background. Widgets are now incorporated into the launcher and are accessible via a tab at the top or by paging to the end of the apps. I don’t particularly like this implementation – I think it would have made more sense to have the swipe action switch between the apps and widgets tabs while keeping the vertical scrolling in specific sections.
With that said, for the first time, I don’t feel the need to replace the homescreen/launcher with a 3rd-party one.
One change that’s been somewhat controversial is the inclusion of on-screen software buttons instead of dedicated hardware buttons. At this point, it’s worth noting that software buttons are not intended to replace hardware buttons, but to offer OEMs the option to include either one.
At the bottom of the screen, no matter where you are in Android, are 3 buttons: “Back”, “Home”, and “Recent apps”. “Search” and “Menu” buttons now need to be implemented by app developers, which makes sense as not all apps make use of them.
However the “Menu” button is currently a bit of a mess. Depending on the app, it can be in one of three places: in the top right corner of the top action bar, in the bottom right corner of the bottom action bar, or (if the app has not been optimised for Android 4.0) in the bottom right corner next to the recent apps button. The first two locations are acceptable – app developers need the flexibility for their apps – the last location is just silly.
“Recent apps” isn’t technically new – it used to be a long press function of the “Home” button – but the UI for it is much different from previous phone versions. As in Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), apps are now in a scrollable list with their name and a shot of their current state. Swiping left or right removes the app from that list. It is not a “task killer” in the traditional sense, nor does it need to be.
The last new button to be introduced, is the optional “Up” button, located in the top left corner. This has caused some confusion, but hopefully the new Android Design website will clarify its use. Essentially, the “Up” button is for in-app navigation, while the traditional “Back” button generally takes you back to the previous screen viewed (though it can and does get more complicated than that).
The keyboard and text input in general have been upgraded. Word prediction is truly excellent and if it can’t find a correction, the word is underlined. Simply tapping on a word will select it, bringing up a list of suggestions along with the option to put the word in your dictionary. A feature that I find outrageously useful is that if a word gets wrongfully corrected, simply hitting backspace will revert it to what it was before correction.
Naturally, the browser gets a bump up. Bookmarks can now be synced with Chrome, pages can be saved for use offline, and tab management has never been easier (two taps creates a new tab and a tap and a swipe removes a tab).
There’s a new security feature that had some people (including me) chuckling when they figured out it could be fooled with a photograph, namely Face Unlock. It’s easy to configure, and during the set-up you are required to choose a secondary pin/password/pattern for when it can’t recognise your face. While Face Unlock is probably the least secure of all the mechanisms available, it’s the first one I can see myself using for an extended period of time without getting frustrated.
Weird PINs, convoluted passwords, and patterns that require all sorts of finger acrobatics make me want to throw my phone into a pool of lava, while Face Unlock is rather unobtrusive and even a little personal – your phone recognises you.
Next, there’s “People” – a new app that serves as a central location for contact information. Google+ ties in with it quite nicely, though it remains to be seen if other social networks will do something similar. One problem with it is that contacts aren’t merged, so you can end up with multiple copies of the same contact because of multiple accounts and/or Google+.
Of course, there are lots of other additions and improvements. Most of the Google apps and widgets have been updated; taking screenshots on the device is now possible (hold power + volume down); there’s a data usage monitor that allows you to limit mobile data usage; Android beam works really well – just hold two capable devices back-to-back and tap the screen to share; and many more that there’s simply not space to discuss.
If someone were to ask me which phone they should get for their next upgrade, I would have very little hesitation in recommending the Galaxy Nexus as one of their top considerations. It is a remarkable device into which a lot of care and attention has gone.
However, the RRP of R6,999 – R7,299 can be a killjoy to some, but hopefully contract pricing will be more agreeable.
The Galaxy Nexus is the standard by which Android phones will be measured for the next year, and it has set the bar high. I’m quite excited to see what device manufacturers can come up with.