Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
The Galaxy Nexus is not the best smartphone you can buy.Phew! That felt good to get that off my chest.
I’m not saying that because I’ve been an iPhone user since 2007, or because the Galaxy Nexus is a dud.
I’m saying that to clear up any misconceptions you may have since I’ve been gushing about the Galaxy Nexus since the first day Google sent me one to review.
That’s not to say it’s an awful phone. In fact, I really do love it. I haven’t even used my iPhone in more than two weeks. It’s just sitting on my dresser, gathering dust as I give the Galaxy Nexus the attention it deserves.
But the Galaxy Nexus still isn’t quite on par with the iPhone. It’s close. I mean really, really close. But there are still a few make-or-break nuances between the two devices that make me choose the iPhone over the Galaxy Nexus.
However, based on my experience over the last two weeks, I have a strong feeling that I won’t be saying the same thing next year unless Apple really manages to wow me with whatever the next iPhone is. As I enter my fifth year as an iPhone user, I’m getting bored. Apple has only made incremental changes to iOS over the years; it still looks and acts a lot like it did in 2007. Meanwhile, Android’s improvements seem to add more radical advances with each new version. Ice Cream Sandwich is the biggest leap forward yet.
Keep reading for my full review on the Galaxy Nexus. To be clear, I tested both models: the unlocked GSM version and Verizon’s slightly modified LTE version. The latter is the model available in the U.S. for $300 on contract. Generally speaking, the two phones are exactly the same, but I’ll be sure to note the key differences when applicable.
Click here to see the full gallery of Galaxy Nexus photos >
Look, Feel, And Design
Despite what many other reviewers have said about the Galaxy Nexus’ size, I don’t think it’s too big. The screen may be a whopping 4.65 inches, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. The bezel is so thin that Samsung was able to pack more screen over less area. The phone is definitely taller than most other Android phones out there, but it doesn’t feel much fatter.
The large screen also makes typing a whole lot easier and more accurate than it is on the iPhone. With my iPhone, I usually have to switch to landscape mode to give myself more surface area to type on. That’s not the case with the Galaxy Nexus. Keeping it in portrait mode is just fine.
The Galaxy Nexus features the same curved glass design that we saw in last year’s Nexus S. It’s not the most elegant or functional form, but it’s still refreshing to see Samsung try something new instead of cranking out clone after clone of the same squarish phone in different screen sizes and processor speeds, while slapping a fancy new name on it.
Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
I know I complain about this with almost every Samsung phone I review, but I really hate that the Galaxy Nexus is covered in plastic. Just like the Galaxy S II, the Galaxy Nexus has the same flimsy back cover that snaps on and off with these tiny little tabs. I’m glad Samsung gives you the option to remove the battery and swap out the SIM card, but it shouldn’t sacrifice build quality for that. Plus, aside from the excellent screen, the rest of the body is encased in plastic. It makes the entire phone feel cheap and not the premium gadget you’d expect to get when you shell out a whopping $300. (Or $750 if you buy the unlocked model.)
There is a slight difference in look and feel between the two Galaxy Nexus models out there. The unlocked GSM model, which can run on T-Mobile or AT&T if you insert your SIM card, is noticeably thinner and lighter than the Verizon model. Since most people in the U.S. will be buying the Verizon version of the Galaxy Nexus, this is important. As a 4G LTE device, Samsung had to include a bigger battery and more room to contain the larger, power hungry parts it needs. (More on battery life later.) The result is a hefty phone. While heavier than the GSM model, the extra weight on the Verizon Galaxy Nexus does make it feel like it’s more durable. But it still doesn’t accomplish that perfect balance of thinness and build quality that the iPhone has.
Ice Cream Sandwich
I said most of what needs to be said about Ice Cream Sandwich in my full review of the OS the other day. Still, it’s arguably the most important feature of the Galaxy Nexus, so it’s worth going over again.
As I hinted above, Google has been unleashing loads of improvements on Android with each major new release. Ice Cream Sandwich is the best yet. It’s almost a completely reimagined OS from what we saw last year with version 2.3 Gingerbread. This time around, Google married the best parts of Honeycomb for tablets with Gingerbread to bring you the perfect hybrid OS that scales nicely to just about any screen size.
Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
I love that Android now eliminates the need for physical function buttons on phones. Instead, everything can be controlled from the virtual home, back, and multitasking keys that sit in the black taskbar at the bottom of the screen. Those buttons only appear when needed, so if you’re watching a video, taking a photo, or playing a full screen game, they won’t be in your way.
I also enjoyed Google’s new and updated apps for Ice Cream Sandwich such as Gmail, Calendar, and People. Of those, the People app is probably my new favourite. It pulls in all your contacts’ information from various social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ and integrates their photos and status updates in one place. Unfortunately, there’s no way to link Facebook to the People app, a likely byproduct of the controversy between Google and Facebook over their contact sharing policies.
Speaking of integration, ICS does an amazing job at working with all your favourite services. Unlike iOS, which only has direct Twitter integration, you’ll have no problem sharing stuff on everything from Dropbox to Evernote. Just download the app, sign in, and Android does the rest.
Still, after all these years, the biggest drawback to Android, its lack of quality apps, is the one thing that really weighs the OS down. Google is still having a tough time getting developers to make the best apps for Android in addition to iOS, so you’re going to have to wait to have all the fun iPhone owners are having. And even when developers do bring their apps to Android, they tend to look a lot uglier than their iOS counterparts. It’s getting better, and even Eric Schmidt claims developers will start paying more attention to Android next year. But right now, Android’s app ecosystem doesn’t even compare to Apple’s.
Overall, ICS is Google’s best OS to date. And while it still falls short of iOS, you’re not going to have trouble doing what you need to. If you want to know more, be sure to read my full review of Ice Cream Sandwich.
Now, back to the hardware. One of the biggest selling points of the Galaxy Nexus was its screen. Like all of Samsung’s screens, the one on the Galaxy Nexus’ screen is bright and clear. Even better, it one-ups the iPhone with its ability to play 720p HD video. It’s kind of a pain to get your own videos onto the Galaxy Nexus (more on that later), so I mostly tested HD video playback on streaming sites. It looks damn good.
But the HD playback is the screen’s only redeeming quality. When placed side by side with the iPhone’s Retina Display, the Galaxy Nexus’ screen looks downright grainy in comparison. I’m not sure if this is a design aesthetic with Ice Cream Sandwich, but everything on the Galaxy Nexus has this weird textured look to it, almost as if each screen was printed out on a piece of paper. I suspect this is a feature of the hardware, as the screen captures I took using the phone didn’t have that grainy look to it.
Don’t get me wrong, the screen isn’t awful. The graininess I mentioned is hardly a dealbreaker. Most of you probably won’t even notice. Plus watching videos on such a large screen is a delight.
Under the hood, the Verizon Galaxy Nexus ships with 32 GB of storage, which along with Verizon’s LTE helps account for that $300 price tag. I wish Samsung would’ve offered a 16 GB model at a cheaper price, but I guess it’s tough to complain about a ton of storage and an incredible 4G network. If you get the unlocked GSM model, you’ll be able to get one with 16 GB of storage if you want.
The Galaxy Nexus has 1 GB of RAM plus a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor. That’s more than enough power to get you by for gaming, video, browsing, you name it. I had no problem when it came to speed performance in these areas, so go wild.
When it comes to battery life, I can see why Apple and even RIM are waiting to start shipping phones with LTE. The GSM model of the Galaxy Nexus has decent battery life; I was able to get through most days of normal use on one charge. However, Verizon’s LTE model is a whole other story. The battery drains so fast, you’ll find yourself reaching for the charger or a spare battery at least once per day. I was travelling this week and spent four hours on an aeroplane with my Galaxy Nexus completely off. I still had to recharge about two hours after I landed. Awful. You’re going to be completely up a creek if you don’t buy an extra battery for your Galaxy Nexus or keep a charger in your desk at work.
Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
Although it’s a total power suck, Verizon’s LTE network is still the best 4G network I’ve used. So far I’ve tested it in NYC, Houston, and Austin, and got similar results in all locations. Speeds tend to hover around 10 Mbps for downloads and 1.5 Mbps for uploads. That’s pretty damn good, even by cable modem standards. Naturally, speeds will vary depending on location and how crowded the network is, but you won’t be disappointed overall.
Another drawback is the extremely low sound from the Galaxy Nexus’ speaker. Even at maximum volume, it’s barely audible. It doesn’t help that the speaker is located on the back, so it gets even more muffled when the phone is lying flat on a table. I’ve already missed several phone calls and even an alarm because I couldn’t hear the phone. Not good.
One of my favourite additions to the hardware is the indicator light located at the very bottom of the phone. It’s completely invisible when not on, but can display three different colours depending on what kind of notification you have. For example, emails and texts blink white and notifications from Seesmic (a Twitter app) blink blue. It makes it easy to tell at a glance what you have waiting for you on your phone. I’m sure BlackBerry converts will love this feature.
The camera is good too. It’s a bit underpowered at just 5 MP, compared to the 8 MP cameras you’ll get in several other top-tier phones, but it still shoots excellent 1080p HD video. Whether or not it’s better than the iPhone 4S’s video camera is still up for debate (I favour the iPhone’s), but you’re hardly going to be disappointed. It’s beautiful:
Finally, I’m not a fan that Google decided to turn off the traditional USB storage mode on the Galaxy Nexus. One of my favourite things about many Android devices is that you can just plug them into your computer via the USB port and drag and drop whatever files you want to your phone. It’s not so easy with the Galaxy Nexus. Windows users can plug and play as described above, but Mac users will have to download a special file transfer app.
If you don’t, there’s no real easy way to get music and movies on your device. The Android Market’s media store doesn’t have a great selection of content. You’re free to upload as many as 20,000 songs, then download them back to your Galaxy Nexus, but that can take hours if you want to upload all your music. Trust me, I’ve tried it.
- Ice Cream Sandwich is the best version of Android yet.
- LTE speeds on Verizon are amazing.
- Display is amazing for watching HD video and makes typing a lot easier.
- Horrible battery life on the Verizon model.
- Android ecosystem still misses out on the latest and greatest apps.
- Screen can appear a bit grainy sometimes.
Should You Buy It?
It’s damn near impossible for me not to recommend the Galaxy Nexus. Do I think you should buy it over the iPhone if you’re having trouble deciding between the two? No. But many of you are probably looking at the Galaxy Nexus for what it does that the iPhone can’t do, and that’s very important. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of preference.
Simply put, the Galaxy Nexus is the best phone from Google yet. If you can deal with a few of the gripes like sketchy battery life and poor app selection, you’re going to love it.
I sure do.
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