For three years in a row now, Google has released a flagship Nexus-branded phone in collaboration with another OEM to show off the best of Android. These releases happen to correspond to the unveiling of a new version of Android. These devices often represent the state-of-the-art in terms of smartphone technology, and, characteristically, they have no third-party interface, but rather use the stock Android interface. Both the Nexus One and the Nexus S were fantastic Android devices that are still getting software updates by the development community today. Will the new Samsung Galaxy Nexus, with its buttonless design and high resolution 720p display, live up to the Nexus name? Read our full review to find out!
The Galaxy Nexus comes with headphones, a wall charger, and a USB cable.
The Galaxy Nexus ships with Android 4.0.1 has a 1.2GHz TI OMAP 4460 CPU with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of onboard storage (with no microSD slot). The front camera can take photos at 1.3MP and video at 720p, while the rear camera is a 5MP shooter with a flash, and can record full 1080p video. The display is 4.65″ at 1280×720 resolution (making for a DPI of 315), and is of the Super AMOLED HD variety (with an inferior pentile sub-pixel configuration versus Samsungs RGB-based Super AMOLED “Plus” displays). The phone is uniquely pentaband UMTS (850/900/1700/1900/2100) allowing it to work on AT&T or T-Mobile in the US. You also get WiFi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, aGPS, digital compass, a barometer (to assist with GPS accuracy), and NFC. The phone is 135grams, and just 8.84mm in depth. Powering everything is a 1750mAh battery.
Like the Nexus S, the Galaxy Nexus has a curved glass display. This not only adds visual appeal, but it helps to make for a more comfortable calling experience when the phone is pressed against your face. The buttonless design lends to a very uncluttered-looking phone.
On the bottom of the screen you’ll find a multi-colored LED that blinks when you have a new message. You cannot specify which color you want to display for various notifications. In our usage, Google Voice would blink green, while new emails would be a combination of colors. We’re not really sure exactly how the phone chooses a color for different notification types.
Next to the speaker grill we have the 1.3MP front-facing camera, plus the proximity and light sensor.
On the left side of the device we have the volume rocker. From here you can also see how thin the phone looks thanks to a beveled edge.
And on the right side we have the power/standby button, plus three connection dots used for docking accessories that are not yet available.
Deviating a bit from what we’re used to with other Samsung devices, the 3.5mm headphone jack is placed on the bottom (and not the top) alongside the microUSB connector.
As found on most recent Samsung devices, the back cover is made from a thin textured plastic. Back here we can also see the not-so-loud speaker on the bottom, and the 5MP camera with flash up top.
Taking off the back battery cover we reveal the 1750mAh battery and SIM card slot. As mentioned above, the Galaxy Nexus can be used with a wide variety of GSM networks thanks to its pentaband specification.
SUPER AMOLED HD DISPLAY
The 1280×720 resolution of the Galaxy Nexus’s display is a pretty big deal. It comes withing spitting-distance of the iPhone 4/4S’s 326PPI screen, but misses it by about 10PPI. This means that you get to see a lot more on the screen at once. It also means that photos and video are super crisp and clear, and viewing websites is as desktop-like as you can get on any smartphone of today.
One issue of note is the pentile sub-pixel configuration of the Galaxy Nexus, which shows itself when you look closely at text. Pentile displays share subpixels, versus RGB displays where each pixel has its own set of subpixels.
ICE CREAM SANDWICH
The Galaxy Nexus is the first Android device to ship with v4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). There are many new features of ICS, all of which can be found on the Android website. We’ll outline the most noteworthy below.
Android ICS has its own font called Roboto. The Roboto font is especially designed to look great on the new crop of HD 720p displays. Beyond the font, the entire Android ICS interface has been revamped to look at lot like Android 3.0 Honeycomb: neon blue, white, and black colors are used often; the app drawer now shares space with widgets; the lock screen is refreshed; the settings are consolidated and catagorized; widgets are resizable, and you can now make new folders more easily on the homescreen by dragging one icon to another; there’s a new multi-task UI that operates much like it did in Honeycomb with live previews of open apps; the notification shade has translucency and allows you to individually dismiss notifications, and much more. Overall, ICS feels more cohesive and refined than any previous version of Android. It’s also more customizable than ever, which might scare away those that don’t want to tinker.
Camera and Gallery
The new camera app has built in effects and editing, plus there is panorama mode. The gallery has also been updated with a new beautiful borderless display of your photos.
Most stock applications have been redone in ICS. The browser has an improved tab management system and takes better advantage of the entire display; the contacts app features larger, borderless photo caller ID; the calender has been updated to feature a cleaner interface; the email app is completly redone with easier access to functions you use often, and so on.
As you spend more and more time with ICS, you’ll find a lot of new goodies. For example, you can “swipe away” tabs in the browser to close them; you can turn off the lockscreen completely or choose one that features facial recognition; you can precisely track your data usage and determine which apps are using the most data; and you can use Android Beam with other NFC devices to share content just by bumping your phone with theirs.
The Galaxy Nexus is the first Android to have no hardware buttons. While this lends to a cleaner, less-cluttered facade, the benefits really stop there. In fact, the buttons use up about 84×720 pixels of the display, so you’re not actually getting the full 1280×720 resolution when using your apps. It’s a futuristic touch, but we’re pretty neutral on the buttonless concept and wouldn’t mind if the Galaxy Nexus just had regular hardware buttons…it even has space for them!
The Galaxy Nexus uses Texas Instruments’ OMAP 4460 1.2GHz dual-core CPU. In daily use, the Galaxy Nexus feels plenty fast, though not as fast as the Galaxy S II. The benchmarks tell this story. Below you’ll find benchmark scores for the Galaxy Nexus, plus the scores for the Galaxy S II in parentheses.
Quadrant: 1708 (3152)
Smartbench 2011: Productivity 3746 (3679), Games 2286 (2343)
LinPack Pro: 45.63 MFLOP, 1.84 Seconds (47.85 MFLOP, 1.75 Seconds)
The Galaxy Nexus can take photos at 5MP. As you can see above, the camera under-performs: the original resolution shots are noisy with poor contrast and dull colors. Click on any of the images above to see their full size.
Android 4.0 has a neat panaroma mode that makes it easy to take scenic shots. The stitching, in some places, is not accurate. Click on the above image to see the full size.
And here’s a look at how the Galaxy Nexus performs with 1080p video capture.
CALL QUALITY/NETWORK SPEED
We tested the Galaxy Nexus on both T-Mobile and AT&T. On both networks, call quality was fantastic with no dropped calls. The Nexus is an HSPA+ 21mbps device, meaning that in perfect conditions it should be able to get a bit over 10mbps down over a strong HSPA+ network. In the Philadelphia area, we clocked speeds of about 4mbps down and 1.3mbps up on AT&T. Our results with T-Mobile were much higher with one run bringing in 10.5mbps down and 1.6mbps up.
Battery life on the Galaxy Nexus is a bit below average. With heavy use, expect to not make it through an entire day. With moderate use, you’ll make it through one day. With light use, you’ll go about two days before needing to plug in.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
The Galaxy Nexus is coming to Verizon with LTE and will sell for around $299. Right now you can get a GSM Galaxy Nexus to work on AT&T and T-Mobile from retailers such as Clove for £429 or around $670.
+ Android 4.0 is fast, polished, and innovative
+ 720p display is gorgeous
+ Great performance
+ Buttonless, thin design is svelte and sexy
+ Penta-band GSM with HSPA+ will work with most networks
– Display uses pentile display matrix
– Battery life is below average
– Lacks expandable storage
– Camera is below average and only captures 5MP shots
The Galaxy Nexus is the best smartphone on the market right now. But right around the corner we’ll see a device that is likely to fix every shortcoming of the Galaxy Nexus (battery life, poor camera, pentile display): the Galaxy S III. While no details of this phone have been confirmed, it’s pretty clear we’ll get a device that has a similar look and feel to the Galaxy Nexus, but with Samsung’s next-generation Exynos CPU (which will either be a 2.0GHz dual-core, or some kind of quad-core), a better camera, improved battery life, and most likely the debut of the Super AMOLED “Plus” HD display.
If you’re in the smartphone market and want the best, get the Galaxy Nexus. But if you can wait until the spring, keep an eye out for the Galaxy S III.
We rate the Samsung Galaxy Nexus a 4/5.
Joe Levi contributed to this article