The highly anticipated Galaxy Nexus will always be remembered for the long awaited launch on Verizon Wireless. Do not let this small speed bump ruin your opinion of this device before you give it a fair chance. Now that the device has launched on Verizon, none of this matters any more… so enjoy my full review of the Verizon Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich.
Pros: Nexus (quick updates, great developer support, â€œGoogleâ€™s babyâ€), awesome screen, Ice Cream Sandwich, snappy hardware, build quality and design, 4G LTE, camera, NFC
Cons: minor connection issues, battery life, mediocre rear speaker, price, camera
(I know that I listed the camera under Pros & Cons. Read more about the camera to find out why.)
The Verizon Galaxy Nexus does not push the envelope with raw speed and highly impressive hardware. Donâ€™t get me wrong here, Ice Cream Sandwich is snappy and performs nicely on the Galaxy Nexus hardware… but the specs are not downright impressive, as many expected out of this device. Under the hood, the 1.2GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4460 processor, 1GB of RAM, and 32GB of internal storage are adequate and outclass most devices on the market today, but I expect this to be old news in February when quad-core devices are announced and begin hitting the market.
Rather than setting the pace for Android hardware (like the Nexus One), the focus of the Galaxy Nexus is pushing the standards for Ice Cream Sandwich. There are no capacitive buttons on the device and the entire front is made up of an expansive 4.65â€ 720p display. The user experience is smooth and the device does not have any noticeable lag or slowdowns. Part of the reason for this may be the optimizations Google included for TI OMAP processors.
I am happy with the device as long as my experience is not hindered by the hardware, but it may have been nice to have something a tad more impressive so that it would be able to â€œhang with the big boysâ€ on the market for longer.
One of the major selling points of the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is Verizonâ€™s 4G LTE network. Verizonâ€™s 4G LTE network is speedy and the GN performs extremely well on the network.
My favorite thing about the Galaxy Nexus is the design and build quality. This device screams minimalism. The plastic body construction is light, but do not mistake this for being cheap. I feel that the build quality is sturdy and appealing. The cherry on top of the sundae for me would definitely be the inclusion of a hidden notification LED (RGB) – like the LED on the Nexus One.
Other points of interest are NFC and MHL (HDMI out over microUSB).
I mentioned the display above, but I cannot stress the importance of the 720p HD Super AMOLED display. This display is purely awesome. The colors are gorgeous and the display is bright. When the Galaxy Nexus was launched, the main concern about the display was the PenTile subpixel matrix scheme. PenTile essentially uses fewer subpixels and can be noticeable on some displays… but I do not find this to be an issue on the high pixel density display of the Galaxy Nexus.
The only times where I think the PenTile display is noticeable is on pure white backgrounds and images. For me, the biggest downfall of the Galaxy Nexus display is somewhat difficult visibility in bright sunlight. This has been an issue on a number of devices and it is difficult to avoid. The entire front of the Galaxy Nexus is a single piece of glass. This is highly reflective of sunlight, so it can be naturally hard to see.
The sound quality of the Galaxy Nexus is satisfactory. The rear speaker is not extremely loud with stock Android 4.0 and does not have exceptional highs and lows… but the mids are clear. I can only assume that talented developers will get their hands on this and provide equalizers to improve sound quality. The volume level could also use a boost, since the speaker seems to be quiet at times. Using headphones was more enjoyable and offered better sound than the speaker.
The battery life of the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is not highly impressive, but it is not a complete letdown. I was expecting to see terrible battery drain on this device due to the large display, dual-core CPU, and 4G LTE radio. I am content with the stock battery and am able to make it through the day just fine… but this may vary from user to user.
I recommend picking up the extended battery for this device (and any 4G LTE device) to help get you through the day. The extended battery on the GN does not make the device extremely bulky and is actually one of the nicest extended batteries available. Some days I notice I am running low on juice and I would benefit from having a little more battery life.
The stock Galaxy Nexus battery life is awesome compared with my HTC Thunderbolt (on Verizon 4G LTE), so it looks like 4G radio technology has at least improved some since the first generation LTE devices were launched. That being said, the battery life could use some improvement.
The Galaxy Nexus is tasked with representing the latest and greatest Google has to offer. It is the first device to launch with Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). One of the main reasons for buying a Nexus device is getting the latest software from Google.
Ice Cream Sandwich is a big step forward from Android 2.3 Gingerbread and is the first step to reducing â€œfragmentationâ€ of the Android device landscape. Android 4.0 is the universal OS that developers (and consumers) have been waiting for… it bridges the divide between phones and tablets and combines the best of both worlds from Gingerbread and Honeycomb.
The first thing you will notice when you power on the Galaxy Nexus is the distinct lock screen, which borrows features from Gingerbread and Honeycomb and sets the pace for the rest of the Ice Cream Sandwich user experience. The lock screen uses an unlock gesture similar to Honeycomb and allows the user to unlock normally or unlock directly to the camera (for quick pictures).
The user is also able to use a new feature, Face Unlock, which uses facial recognition to unlock the device with the front facing camera… no swipe, pin code, or pattern unlock needed! Ice Cream Sandwich also features native lockscreen music controls and the ability to use the notification tray to view notifications from the lock screen.
Once you have unlocked the Galaxy Nexus you will notice a number of general interface tweaks. Most importantly, you will find the soft buttons along the bottom of the screen for Back, Home, and App Switcher. You will also be immersed into the newly designed default Android theme, called â€œHoloâ€. The updated theme brings new colors and fonts to the interface and freshens up the Android look and feel.
The whole experience may feel strange for those that have grown to know and love Gingerbread. It was definitely a foreign feeling for me when I first started to use the Galaxy Nexus. Subtle differences and tweaks to the interface took some initial adjustment, but now they all feel like second nature and I understand why Google included the changes in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
One of the major changes that caught me off guard in Ice Cream Sandwich was the lack of a search button. Google opted to remove the search button in favor of a persistent search bar along the top of the homescreen. I am not a big fan of this design change and would rather press a search button as needed. I feel like the persistent search bar is unnecessary and takes up space on the screen. If the user wants a search bar on their homescreen they have the freedom to use a widget and should not be forced to have the search bar visible. Luckily, most AOSP ROM developers also feel the same way and have already added the search button back to the soft buttons!
More Native Tweaks and Improvements
It feels like Google finally caught on and began to focus on the end-user with Ice Cream Sandwich. The changes are heading in a direction that will allow for a better environment for both developers and consumers. Android 4.0 is full of standards and features that make the UX (user experience) more consistent and complete.
The Notification Tray now includes a button to the Settings Menu.The user is also able to swipe to remove notifications, similar to custom ROMS like CM7.
The native Google applications have also received an overhaul for Ice Cream Sandwich and bring an uplifting design change. These native apps are more consistent, for the most part, and offer an experience that aligns nicely with the new ICS design.
Other changes that are nice for the user include native screenshots (pressing volume down and power button), improved app drawer with a section for widget previews, and convenient homescreen folders.
Some aspects that took time to adjust to were the dialer/contacts application and the keyboard. The contacts application integrates nicely with Google Plus and fits nicely with the vision of Ice Cream Sandwich… but I did not like the â€œFavoritesâ€ section as much as Gingerbread. The tiled look reminds me of Windows Phone 7 and does not feel practical. Yes, it is pretty… but it is much easier for me to quickly look at a vertical list of contacts and choose the person I need to call.
The stock Android 4.0 keyboard also includes improvements, but I would definitely not be caught using it on a daily basis. The text prediction and text input is not awful, but alternatives such as SwiftKey make typing much quicker and easier. Android 4.0 does bring better text selection and on-the-fly spell checking to the table. The Google voice typing is also very impressive and provides real-time speech recognition and dictation. Rather than saying one sentence and waiting for text suggestions, voice typing actually types as you speak!
Many times people forget that these devices are supposed to be phones. The Galaxy Nexus phone quality is up-to-par and all of my calls on Verizonâ€™s voice network were clear. The phone speaker seems to be adequate and I do not remember having any issues hearing the party on the other end of the line. The noise cancelling on this phone also seems to work well and I never got complaints about call quality.
As we all know, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus includes an underwhelming 5MP camera sensor. Now, before we jump down the Googleâ€™s throat, it is important to realize that the megapixel count of a camera sensor is not the only important factor to picture quality. Other factors, such as camera optics, play a big role in overall picture quality.
Sadly, the optics on the Galaxy Nexus are nothing to brag about and the 5MP sensor is not impressive either. The camera shoots clear pictures and is satisfactory for my needs on a smartphone device, but those looking to use their phone for their primary camera will be disappointed. Honestly, I do not particularly recommend using any smartphone to replace a cheap 10MP point-and-shoot digital camera because the lens quality, image processing, and lens technology is just not advanced enough yet for the small cameras in phones.
What Google left out in camera hardware, they attempted to make up with camera features. The new and improved Ice Cream Sandwich camera app features panorama mode and other editing functionality. This is a clear progression from the old AOSP camera, which was barebones and basic.
The Verizon Galaxy Nexus brags an ultra-fast shutter speed (with zero shutter lag), panoramic mode, and full 1080p video recording. From my experience, the quick shutter speed is really awesome. It is great to have the ability to snap pictures as fast as you can press the button. The only downfall that I noticed was lack of image stabilization and problems focusing when shooting pictures too quickly. It is easy to accidentally shake the device when pushing the shutter button on the bottom of the screen (and holding the device in one hand). Having better image stabilization would have been nice!
Overall, the camera is adequate. It will get by on a daily basis and is an average performer. Sadly, this just does not cut it for high-end devices (like the Galaxy Nexus) these days. The industry standard on all recent flagship Android phones has been 8MP. The zero shutter lag, quality 1080p video, and new camera software functionality helps to ease the pain of the poor camera, but it does not totally make up for the lack of a higher quality sensor. I think that people are most shocked that Samsungâ€™s other top-end smartphones on the market have all shipped with 8MP cameras (the Galaxy SII).
Check out the gallery below to see some sample shots from the Galaxy Nexus camera!
Unboxing and Impressions Video
Overall, the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is a solid performer and does a great job of bringing Ice Cream Sandwich to the market. The user experience is smooth and the device is snappy. Verizon’s 4G LTE network is impressive on the device and the battery life is above average, compared to other LTE devices. Although the Galaxy Nexus does not have cutting edge hardware specs, it is still a top-end device and is arguably the best Android device available at this time. If you are an Android fanatic that has to have the latest and greatest, then the Galaxy Nexus will not be a disappointment. In my opinion, the greatest thing about owning a Nexus is the great developer support and AOSP updates from Google!Â