The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is a smart phone sporting the very latest version of Google’s Android operating system – Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich.
The handset packs in some amazing features, such as a 720×1280-pixel resolution 4.65-inch screen, a 1080p video camera and a 1.2GHz dual-core processor.
Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Nexus?
If you’ve already owned the Nexus One or Nexus S, chances are you already know the answer to that question. The allure of getting the latest flavour of pure Android is temptation enough for many dedicated fans to purchase this year’s Nexus device.
Make no mistake; the Galaxy Nexus is a seriously impressive handset. It trumps the Nexus S in every conceivable manner. That 4.65-inch Super AMOLED screen has to be seen to be believed. It offers a 720p HD resolution with unbeatable viewing angles.
The buttons at the bottom of the screen aren’t actually buttons — they’re part of the display, and vanish when it switches off.
We’re blown away by the speed and slickness of the new Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. Android has a reputation for being a little slow and buggy, but Android 4.0 finally seems to have put those spectres to bed. Actions such as sending an email or posting a photo to Twitter take seconds to achieve.
Arguably the biggest talking point of the Galaxy Nexus is the software it comes pre-loaded with. Ice Cream Sandwich is Google’s codename for Android 4.0 – the latest and greatest edition of the company’s mobile operating system.
Intended to unify the tablet and mobile versions of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich contains many enhancements that will be familiar to those of you that have used Android 3.0 on devices like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Motorola Xoom.
You can now see what widgets look like before using them. It’s possible to scroll through widgets as well, just like on Android Honeycomb.
The most glaring change in Android 4.0 is the dedicated buttons. For starters, there aren’t any. Instead, an area at the bottom of the screen is reserved for your interface commands. Rather than being capacitive symbols, they only appear when the screen is in use.
The second big change is what these commands actually do. In the past, Android phones have usually sported four inputs: Home, Back, Menu and Search. Now only Home and Back remain. The latter two options have been removed in favour of a single multi-tasking command.
This is another feature borrowed from Android 3.0. It brings up a scrolling menu showing the applications you currently have running. Each one has a thumbnail image showing its current state and you can switch between apps with a quick tap. Killing an app is just as easy — you merely have to swipe to the right to remove it from the multi-tasking view.
Because the Menu button has been retired, Android 4.0 has a context-sensitive additional menu command that appears when required. So if you’re in an app that has features which can only be accessed via the old-fashioned Menu button, a row of three dots will appear on the right-hand side of the interface.
This particular feature of Ice Cream Sandwich was given plenty of column inches when Google announced it not so long ago. Instead of using an unlock pattern or password, you can use your mug to gain access to your device.
The process is painless to enable, and merely requires you to point the front-facing camera in your general direction for a few seconds. As a backup, you have to enable a second-stage unlock — such as a pattern — just in case you’re not recognised.
Sadly, that happens all too often. Even the slightest change in your facial expression seems to be enough to flummox the Face Unlock software. If you wear glasses for parts of the day, it also struggles.
Rather more worrying is the fact that anyone with a photo of your face can easily get past the security. We tested this by snapping a mug-shot on another phone and then pointing the phone’s screen at the Galaxy Nexus — amazingly, it worked first time.
Face Unlock is an impressive trick to show off to your mates. When it works it’s a real time-saver, but we honestly doubt you’d want to rely on it to properly secure your handset from prying eyes.
Remember the first time you witnessed the iPhone 4’s retina display? Brace yourself for an even more jaw-dropping experience with the Galaxy Nexus.
With an HD resolution of 720×1,280 pixels and a pixel density of 316ppi, this is effortlessly one of the best screens we’ve ever seen on a mobile phone.
It’s not just the number of pixels that impresses — after all, the iPhone 4S squeezes more pixels into an inch at 330ppi — the Galaxy Nexus uses Samsung’s world-beating Super AMOLED technology to give an unparalleled picture quality. Colours are bold and bright, while viewing angles are fantastic. You’ll also notice that dark areas are especially convincing, because AMOLED screens actually turn off pixels to represent black.
The only negative thing you could possibly say about the Galaxy Nexus’ screen is that it doesn’t use the Super AMOLED Plus tech seen in the Samsung Galaxy S2. Instead, PenTile tech is used. This gives the display a dot-like effect when viewed very closely.
The reason for this is that Super AMOLED Plus isn’t currently capable of achieving the HD resolution required for the Galaxy Nexus’ screen.
Processing power and internal storage
When the Nexus S launched with a single-core 1GHz processor back in December 2010, there were wails of discontent from some sectors of Android fandom. The next wave of dual-core handsets was on the horizon, so going with a 1GHz CPU — the same as the one seen in the previous Nexus model — understandably ticked a few people off.
There’s a 1.2GHz dual-core processor in the Galaxy Nexus, which is roughly the same power as the one inside the Samsung Galaxy S2 — a phone which is now six months old. With the Galaxy S3 rumoured to be shipping with a 1.8GHz dual-core processor in 2012, one might have hoped that the leading Google device would be more trail-blazing. However, in all honestly, this chip is more than capable.
The Galaxy Nexus purrs along nicely. We didn’t witness any of Android’s usual stuttering during our test period. Scrolling between home screens is smooth and app performance is swift. In general it feels like the entire OS has a particularly large rocket shoved up its backside. If you’re used to a single-core Android device, then the Galaxy Nexus will feel positively turbo-charged.
Like its predecessor, the Galaxy Nexus doesn’t have a microSD card slot. That means the internal flash storage — 16GB on the unit we tested — is your lot. A 32GB version is also in production but it looks as if the UK and Europe may not be getting it.
On the upside, all of that 16GB is available as app storage space because the phone shares your internal storage between media and apps. This is another feature that has been carried over from Android Honeycomb. It’s a big step in the right direction — Google lovers will recall that the Nexus S was also blessed with 16GB of memory yet only 1GB of apps were permitted.
The phone’s 16GB of storage is shared between apps and media. The trademark pull-down notification bar remains but it now looks a little different.
It’s also worth pointing out that USB mass storage mode has been removed from the Galaxy Nexus. This doesn’t present much of an issue if you’re using a Windows PC, but if you’re a Mac user then you’ll need to install additional software to access files on your phone using a USB cable.
Camera and video recording
On paper, the Galaxy Nexus’ camera seems like a disappointment. It has the same megapixel count as the cameras seen on the previous two Nexus devices. However, before your start massing the angry mob and polishing your pitchfork, you should know that this is a much-improved snapper.
Proof that megapixel counts are almost irrelevant when you have a good sensor, the camera on the Galaxy Nexus produces hugely encouraging results. Some shots can look a little washed-out, but most of the time the sensor does a decent job of capturing colour and brightness — although not quite to the extent of the Exmor R cameras seen on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S and Xperia Ray.
It’s also one of the fastest cameras we’ve seen on a mobile. It allows you to take multiple shots with almost no delay between them. This proves to be incredibly useful if you’re trying to capture a magical moment — such as a baby’s first steps or a relative tripping down some stairs — and need several snaps to ensure you get the photo you want.
The Galaxy Nexus is possibly the biggest Android launch of the year, offering impressive hardware and a brand-new operating system. If you’re making the purchase for Android 4.0, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
Google’s changes — which are cosmetic as well as functional — are commendable, and we have no hesitation whatsoever in declaring this the most intuitive and user-friendly iteration of the OS yet.
From a technical standpoint, the Galaxy Nexus also impresses. That 720p HD screen is a masterpiece. It makes browsing the web and watching videos an utter joy. Because it utilises Samsung’s brilliant Super AMOLED tech, it provides the most striking picture quality you’ll ever witness on a phone.
The design of the Galaxy Nexus is less enticing though. The plastic casing doesn’t exude the impression of luxury that we crave from a phone of this stature. The power and volume buttons feel like they’re about to break at any moment.
Of course, when you’re talking about a phone with a 4.65-inch screen, there’s also the question of whether or not you want a device of this size in your pocket. We noticed that the Galaxy Nexus’ dimensions caused it to peek out of the top of our pocket on several occasions, which could potentially lead to unwanted mobile loss.
While the Galaxy Nexus doesn’t quite smash the ball out of the park, it remains a fine showcase of what the next generation of Android is capable of. As many Fandroids will tell you, that’s exactly what the Nexus line of phones is for.