Every year or so, Google treats Android users to its latest true “Google experience” phone as part of the Nexus line. Google originally set out to change the way American consumers purchase their smartphones with the launch of the Nexus One, ditching carrier subsidies and lock-ins for the freedom to choose your own carrier. However, the high price tag held it back from being a big seller. Google quickly changed it strategy with the Nexus line, instead focusing on ensuring that the Nexus line would be the first to receive the most recent version of the Android OS. A pure “Google experience” the Nexus line comes with the “vanilla” version of Android, meaning no carrier bloatware or custom UI’s. It is Android as Google intended Android to be.
The Galaxy Nexus, the third generation of the Nexus line, followed the same routine by being the first Android handset to run Android 4.0, dubbed “Ice Cream Sandwich”. As as we will discuss later in this review, this Android 4.0 really is what makes this phone stand out from all of the other Android handsets on the market right now. While others anxiously await their Android 4.0 upgrades, Galaxy Nexus owners have had the pleasure to run Android 4.0 since its launch in November.
When I received the Galaxy Nexus from Verizon Wireless for review, I was anxious to dive into Android 4.0. I have used other Android handsets in the past running previous Android OS versions, but they also felt like they were just a step behind iOS. Previous Android builds were indeed powerful, but always seemed to lack the polished user interface that I had been accustomed to seeing that I have been carrying an iPhone as my primary phone since 2008. I was also interested in seeing the performance of Verizon’s 4G LTE network, as my area recently received the 4G LTE network upgrade.
The Galaxy Nexus, while being a “Google phone”, is not manufactured by Google. Instead Google teamed up with Samsung to build the Galaxy Nexus, as they did with the Nexus S before it. The Galaxy Nexus became another addition to the best-selling Galaxy line of Android phones from Samsung, but without Samsung’s TouchWiz UI and other things you would find with a Galaxy phone. When you pick up the phone, you immediately can tell that it’s a Samsung product. The Galaxy Nexus felt lightweight and has the same gorgeous Super AMOLED display found in the Galaxy line of Samsung Android smartphones. The phone also features a slightly curved 4.65 inch display. The curvature of the screen is not noticeable when looking straight on to the screen or using the phone, but does increase comfort slightly when holding the phone up to your ear for a conversation. I felt that the Galaxy Nexus hugged the natural curve of a human face much better than the standard “candybar” or “brick” style we have all become accustomed to since the advent of the iPhone. There is a power/sleep button on the top right side of the phone, a volume rocker switch on the left side, and a micro-USB port at the bottom for charging and syncing. The standard headphone jack is found on the bottom right side of the phone, a design choice I wasn’t crazy about. I didn’t like that if I wanted to listen to music through headphones, my phone would essentially have to sit in my pocket upside down, requiring me to then have to pull the phone completely out of my pocket and then turn the phone around while ensuring I don’t snag the cord to get to the power button on the top right side. The headphone jack would have been much better at the top of the handset.
The first thing you will notice about the Galaxy Nexus is its stunning display. The Galaxy Nexus has a large 4.65 inch Super AMOLED Plus display that has a 720p resolution. The display really shows its power when watching movies or viewing photos, where colors were vivid and images were sharp. Colors were a bit oversaturated, something common for AMOLED displays, however, they have improved a lot since the first AMOLED displays from Samsung in 2010. Text looked very good on the display, but I still found that Apple’s Retina Display was slightly better with text overall. The display is also a widescreen display, so this definitely was a plus when streaming HD movies via Netflix.
Another thing you may notice immediately as well is the Galaxy Nexus’s lack of any physical navigation buttons. New to Android 4.0, Google has decided to ditch the dedicated Back, Home, Search, and Menu hardware buttons for on-screen software keys. The Galaxy Nexus also includes a small LED indicator light below the screen if you’re a fan of having a notification indicator. A 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera is hidden on the top right corner of the front glass, and an 8 megapixel rear camera is situated in the center of the phone near the top of the phone. The rear camera is also capable of taking 1080p video at 30 frames per second, on par with other flagship smartphones like the Droid Razr and iPhone 4S.
The Galaxy Nexus also includes a 4G LTE radio for connection to Verizon’s ever-growing 4G LTE network, with 3G support for times when you can’t have 4G. Battery life was also very good, something that I’ve struggled with using an Android handset in the past. The Galaxy Nexus was able to last just as long as my iPhone 4S, even with 4G on, which is impressive (and my iPhone 4S is running iOS 5.1). I was able easily power through an entire day of normal usage without having to recharge the Galaxy Nexus. This may be due to its large battery, but Android 4.0′s better power management is also a huge factor.
Other specs include a dual-core 1 GHz plus processor with 1GB of RAM, double that of the iPhone 4S. The Galaxy Nexus has the horsepower to get what you want done quickly and efficiently. My only real complaint about the hardware is the amount of plastic used on this device. While Samsung is known for using plastics to keep costs down, for this phone I was hoping for something that felt a little more quality in my hands, especially when comparing it to the build-quality of the Droid Razr Maxx or the iPhone 4S. The Nexus is definitely a light phone in your hands, but I prefer for a phone to feel a little more substantial than just a piece of molded plastic. When holding the glass and aluminum iPhone 4S or the Kevlar infused Droid Razr, the Nexus didn’t feel very substantial to me. For example the rear of the phone is a very thin piece of plastic that I could be easily snapped when replacing your battery or 4G SIM card.
The Galaxy Nexus’s hardware is better than good, but not great. But for where the Galaxy Nexus lacks in hardware quality, it more than makes up for it in software. Simply put, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is the best version of Android ever, and for the first time I felt like Google had finally matched iOS for the most part in polish. The Ice Cream Sandwich keyboard for starters was the most responsive and easy-to-use keyboard I’ve encountered on any Android handset. I was able to easily type out any email, text message, search query, or note without any issues. Secondly, Android 4.o includes much better task management and power management than previous versions of Android. Ice Cream Sandwich is a lean machine when it comes to power. The menu button is gone, and instead replaced by smart contextual menus accessed by touching the upper right hand side of the screen where you will find a small area with three vertical dots. This allows developers the opportunity to fine tune their menus for their particular apps, a given for iOS developers and a natural progression for Android. The search button is also gone, instead being replaced by a Google search bar at the top of the home screen. In Android 4.0, you will now find just three soft keys, Back, Home, and the new App Switcher key. The App Switcher key is on the bottom right of the screen and when pressed Android 4.0 will pause, dim the active screen to show all of your most recently accessed apps and frozen screenshots of the last screen you were at. Simply swipe up and down to scroll through your recent apps, and touch the app you want to switch to that app instantly. I actually found this much better than the iPhone, as getting the iPhone to register my double tap of the home button can be hit and miss. I find myself many of times taking multiple attempts to get my iPhone to recognize that I want to bring up the app switcher menu rather than return to my home screen simply because I didn’t “double click” the home button fast enough.
Another great feature is the added functionality to the notifications menu. Any iOS user can hopefully admit that Apple followed Android’s lead when it comes to notifications in iOS 5, and the world is a better place for notifications for it. However, in Android 4.0, the added functionality to clear individual notification with gestures rather than tapping clear buttons is awesome. Simply swipe the notification you want to clear to the right and instant just that singular notification is cleared.
Much of Android 4.0′s improvements to me were “under the hood”, besides the major few I’ve mentioned above and a couple others. Android 4.0 is just overall a much more stable and quicker OS than ever before. I never had a single app crash on me once when using the Galaxy Nexus, something I get happen more often now than ever on my iPhone. The biggest difference any seasoned Android user will notice is how much smoother and more responsive everything is. Load times are minimal, and button presses are recognized and processed immediately in most cases. The best part is the improved power consumption. I’ve never used an Android device that lasted as long on a single charge as the Galaxy Nexus. Typically Android users tell me they always have a spare charger lying around because they blow through their battery before their work day is over. Not with the Galaxy Nexus. I was able to use it at work, streaming Rdio music over 4G for 4 hours of the day, while having all notifications and emails going, and still was able to make it to bedtime before needing a charge.
4G … It’s All About How Many G’s You Have
We’ve heard a lot about 4G lately, whether it be Verizon’s continued expansion of LTE, or AT&T’s lack thereof. Let me say this once, 4G is a killer feature that if you can get it, do not hesitate to jump on board. It was hard going back to my “4G” iPhone 4S on AT&T after using the Galaxy Nexus on LTE. Web pages loaded almost instantly, and email attachments were downloaded before I could even open the email. Where I saw the biggest difference was with streaming audio. I’ve become accustomed to seeing “buffering” when listening to Rdio over my “4G” HSPA AT&T network, something I had to get used to not having to deal with with LTE. Verizon’s LTE network literally was able to get my entire song downloaded within a second or two, and it was wonderful! On various speed tests I did, I found that the Galaxy Nexus clocked typically in the 10 Mbps download range, although once I clocked it in at over 25 Mbps. I recall lamenting to myself on many occasions, “this is faster than most people’s home braodband!”
Google really hit it out of the park with the Galaxy Nexus. Right now besides maybe the Droid Razr Maxx which still lacks Android 4.0, there really isn’t a better choice for Verizon customers. Plus, Nexus owners get future updates first, so if you’re already dreaming up what Google will do with Android 5.0 “Jellybean”, getting a Galaxy Nexus will be your fastest ticket to getting it. Plus I really liked there was no carrier bloatware beyond the Verizon Account App. The phone felt like it was how Google wanted us to see Android 4.0, not what the carriers or manufacturers want you to see. Perhaps its the iPhone user in me, but I would much rather have it this way and skip on the carrier bloatware that you’ll never use anyway.
Verizon’s 4G LTE network also really impressed me, and while the Galaxy Nexus isn’t the only phone that runs on Verizon’s 4G network, it is the only that runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich with 4G LTE. The hardware has got all of the latest and greatest technology under the hood, we just wish the build quality was a little better. For such substantial improvement in Android, its a shame the phone doesn’t feel as substantial in your hands.
I’ve been carrying an iPhone now for 4 years, and have used many Android phones in the past. However, all of them have always fell a little short for me, even if not by much. This time around its different though. For the first time, I will be truly sad to have to send this phone back to Verizon for our next review unit.
Simply put, the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is the first Android phone I’ve ever used that has me second guessing my iPhone.
Mind Of The Geek’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Check out all of our Galaxy Nexus images below: