By Adam Z. Lein | February 1, 2012 12:36 PM
While you may have already seen our extensive review of the GSM version of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, we’ve also got one that uses Verizon’s high-speed LTE 4G network. There aren’t a huge amount of differences, but we thought it would be good to give you a different perspective on Google’s latest flagship device and also their latest Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. The Nexus-brand devices are what Google decides exactly what goes into them and how they behave. There aren’t any third-party UI enhancements or apps. It’s all Google, all the time. Another advantage in getting this type of Google-approved Android phone is that Nexus devices usually get software updates ahead of everyone else. Is the Galaxy Nexus really the best smartphone around these days? 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 32GB 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 Super AMOLED HD display is 4.65″ at 1280×720 resolution (making for a DPI of 315). 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 1850mAh battery which is a bit larger than the GSM version’s battery in order to accommodate the power hungry high-speed LTE 4G support.
One of the unique new things about the Galaxy Nexus is its lack of buttons on the front. There aren’t any. Android’s previously required hardware buttons have been replaced with on-screen buttons. The screen’s glass has a very subtle curve to it on the lower end. It’s hardly noticeable at all, unlike the very prominent curve of the Dell Venue Pro. Of course you’ve also go the usual speaker at the top, some hidden sensors, and a front-facing camera for video calls.
The Galaxy Nexus’ screen is very high resolution at full 720p HD with high pixel density. Everything looks very smooth: text is crisp, and images are vibrant. Below the screen there’s a multi-colored LED that blinks when you have a new message.
On the top of the device, unlike many Samsung devices, there are no ports anymore. It’s just a smooth surface.
On the left side of the device we have the volume rocker. You can also see the subtle curve to the screen a bit better from this angle.
And on the right side we have the power/standby button, plus three connection dots used for docking accessories that are not yet available.
The 3.5mm headphone jack is placed on the bottom alongside the microUSB connector and microphone. The microUSB port also allows for HD video out if you have an adapter.
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 1850mAh battery and SIM card slot.
Since we’ve already shown you most of what’s new in the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android that ships with the GSM version of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, this video is going to show you a couple things that Verizon has added and then we’ll go through some of the things that I personally really like, as well as a few things that might be confusing or frustrating for some people.
I really like the on-screen back, home, and recent tasks buttons that have replaced Android’s usual hardware navigation buttons. It’s reminiscent of the old Windows Mobile which was completely usable using only the touch screen (though Windows Mobile devices always included application shortcut and hardware navigation buttons to aid in tactile feedback during “no-eyes” usage). Unfortunately, Google didn’t put a whole lot of thought into this new user interface design since there are still instances where the navigation buttons just don’t do anything. Then there’s the menu button. Many of the bundled apps now include a vertical ellipses icon that represents the menu. Sometimes this menu button appears in the lower right corner next to the recent applications button, and I think that’s a great place for it. However, many times the menu button will relocate to completely different and inconsistent locations depending on which app you’re in (leaving the lower right corner spot empty). This oversight makes Android Ice Cream Sandwich feel like there isn’t really a cohesive design plan for the user interface. We hope that third party app developers adopt the new menu-button-on-top paradigm for the sake of consistency.
I didn’t have much luck with 3rd party apps either. The main one that I would want to use on a smartphone is the Facebook app, and it seems that Google has decided to block the Facebook app from integrating with the contacts app (just like on the Nexus S). There isn’t even any message explaining this to the user. It just doesn’t work. Facebook events don’t integrate with the calendar either. Then there’s the issue where if I would forget to manually quit Facebook, the phone’s battery will die in about four hours. There wasn’t any warning about this rapid battery eating either, so if you’ve got a Galaxy Nexus, be sure to keep a frequent eye on the task manager and battery usage graphs because you’ll really need to babysit these in order to get the most battery life out of the device.
Disabling Facebook integration may be one of Google’s ways of pushing their new Google Plus social network. The Google Plus integration works nicely. You’ll find status updates for contacts in the contacts app, but you won’t be able to browse contact photo libraries from there nor from the Gallery app. You’ll have to open the Google+ app and then go to the photos section to see photos from your Google+ friends. So it’s really not as integrated as Facebook is to Windows Phone, for example.
One very nice new feature in Ice Cream Sandwich is the Movie Studio video editor. It’s similar to other mobile device video editors like the one that comes with the Nokia N8 and Apple’s iMovie which you can buy for the iPhone on the App Store. You’ve got all the basic functions like combining different video clips, adding titles, transitions, and a few simple effects. Android’s Movie Studio works quite well, but often times you’ll have to wait for a command to be applied and the progress bar is very small and difficult to even notice.
The browser has been redesigned to offer thumbnail images of each open “tab” containing a different web page. You can now see more than one thumbnail at a time and easily switch between them. Navigating a web page and zoom/panning through out it is plenty fast, though you’ll often see a bit of faded re-rendering.
Many of the built-in Android apps have been redesigned and in most cases they’ll have a more ambiguous user interface. You’ll notice the icons along the bottom and how unclear their functions might be especially to a new user. The only thing my mom would understand in the above screenshot is the word “Maps” and “New Jersey”. Microsoft originally implemented this same type of interface with their mobile device operating system of the 20th century back about 13 years ago. The advantages to icon-style commands is that you can fit more in a command bar, however the disadvantage is that users are required to learn an often-foreign icon-based language in order to understand the buttons. Many people don’t want to take the time to do that and end up simply frustrated with the complexity of the interface. That’s why this design failed in mobile devices from the last decade and it’s also why most modern UI designs have some clues written in the user’s native language to help them understand the commands. Of course, if you enjoy learning new languages or have already invested in memorizing icon meanings, then this isn’t really a big deal, though it could certainly be frustrating to some users and definitely contributes to a higher learning curve.
I found the phone dialer redesign to be very well done, however. Once I found the contact listing tab, I noticed some great design. Favorites are shown at the top with very large contact photos which look great, then scrolling down you see the list of your contacts and if one person has more than one phone number, you also see those listed which makes it much easier to call the one you want. I also love how I can actually touch and drag the scrollbar in this view in order to navigate to a specific part of the alphabetical listing. It’s too bad this type of scrollbar is not available anywhere else within the operating system.
There are other parts of this latest version of Android that are still overly complicated or unnecessarily redundant. For example, in the app drawer there are icons for Google Maps, Places, Latitude, and Navigation all of which are basically different sections of the same app. Then there’s Google Earth which is yet another Google Maps app with overlapping yet segregated functions. You’ve also got “Messaging”, “Messenger”, and “Talk” all of which handle similar yet slightly different instant messaging functionality. And if you’ve installed “Google Voice”, be sure to put its icon right next to “Talk” in order to increase confusion. Google still hasn’t been able to integrate all of your email accounts into one place either. There’s still one program for Gmail based email accounts, and another “Email” program for all other types of email accounts. All of this segregation annoyingly makes managing email or following messaging conversations a bit more difficult especially if you’ve used a more integrated approach found in other platforms.
Google also resurrects a long-lost feature that was once available on all smartphones and PDA’s from around the turn of the century many years ago. “Beaming” is back, but it’s using a different type of technology in Ice Cream Sandwich. Infrared and Bluetooth beaming have been replaced by something called Near Field Communications which does the same kind of thing except without the need to do a Bluetooth search for nearby devices or line up infrared ports. Instead, you just hold two devices together and touch the screen to see what type of content you can share. The reason this type of content sharing failed ten years ago is probably because it was such a hassle. Sure, it’s great that you can transfer data wirelessly, but you know you can also email that stuff without handing your phone to some one else or trying to figure out if it’s compatible with the technology. Maybe it will be good for exchanging business cards when you meet new people, but that’s what we said about infrared and Bluetooth, too. Oh, and the Verizon Galaxy Nexus does not include Google Wallet, so you won’t be using NFC to make purchases with this device either out of the box. If you really want it, there is an APK floating around that will make Wallet work.
The Galaxy Nexus includes a below-average 5 megapixel camera on the back, and what’s impressive about the camera is how quickly it can capture pictures. You don’t have to wait for the review image to go away just keep tapping the shutter button to keep taking more pictures! Sometimes the camera takes pictures too quickly to even focus though, so don’t be surprised if some of your photos turn out blurry.
Actually, you might be surprised if your photos turn out in focus. As you can see in the above, the rapid-fire shutter often causes more blur than sharpness. You’ll still have to carefully hold the camera still in order to get something usable. Indoor flash photos tend to over-expose the close-up and centered areas while the light rapidly falls off and underexposes the background.
Ice Cream Sandwich has also added a panorama mode where you’ll try to hold the camera steady and turn it to capture a wide horizontal scene. It works generally well if nothing else is moving, but sometimes you’ll see some seams and artifacts. HTC’s custom camera panorama software works much better when it comes to stitching together photos.
Be sure to check out our Samsung Galaxy Nexus GSM Review for more photo and video quality samples from this device.
CALL QUALITY/NETWORK SPEED
Call quality on Verizon’s LTE 4G network was extremely clear and loud, but you’ll be really impressed with the network connection speeds that we’ve seen. The Nexus will often get download speeds above 10 mbps and I’ve seen it as fast as 17 mbps. That is if you’ve got 4G LTE reception. During our testing the Verizon network often disconnects completely or slows down significantly.
Battery life on the Galaxy Nexus naturally depends on what you do with it and how you manage your applications. If I keep push email on and don’t use the phone for anything other than the built-in applications, the battery can last for a good day and a half to two days. That’s pretty good. Unfortunately things changed very quickly when I installed Facebook and accidentally left the app running one day. After coming back to the phone, it was very hot and the battery had almost completely depleted after only 4 hours. Luckily there’s a very informative battery usage graph, which Android has had in place for several versions now, that shows which processes are taking up the most battery so that you can easily figure out what the culprit is. Not having to worry about manually managing battery life might have been a better feature though.
PURCHASING AND AVAILABILITY
The Galaxy Nexus is available from Verizon Wireless for $299 with a 2 year contract and qualifying rate plan. Without a contract, it’s about $650. You’ll be required to sign up for a data plan which starts at 300MB/month for $20/month (which you could use up in about 20 seconds at LTE speeds), but for most people, the 4GB plan for $30/month will be the best value.
+ Android 4.0 has a new, clean look
+ 720p display looks great
+ No more hardware navigation buttons gives the OS potential for more flexibility
+ Verizon’s LTE 4G network is extremely fast
+ Camera can take photos very quickly
+ 32GB of internal storage
- Verizon’s LTE network isn’t as reliable as 3G, yet
- Battery life can degrade rapidly if you don’t manage your running apps
- Android 4.0′s UI is ambiguous at times
- Camera is below average and only captures 5MP shots
- Device is a bit too large for one-handed usage
In terms of hardware, the Galaxy Nexus is certainly up there on the high end. Everything feels fast except for when you have to wait for an application to load, though it doesn’t feel significantly faster than anything else. If you’re an Android fan and love everything Google does (and never use Facebook), then the Galaxy Nexus is the latest and greatest that you’re sure to want, just as long as you don’t mind having to compromise on battery life and photo quality.
We rate the Verizon Samsung Galaxy Nexus a 4/5.