Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

We are going to handle this review a little differently. We are still going to go over the basic points, like hardware and software, but we’re going to take this more in the vein of a consumer using the device, rather than a reviewer just reviewing a piece of hardware and software. This is the first Android 4.0 phone out there, and so we think that it should be seen as something other than just a device. People are making a big point that the Nexus lineage of devices is meant for the developer, rather specifically for the consumer — so does the Galaxy Nexus break that trend, or does it follow suit perfectly? Find out in the review below.

Hardware

We’ll start with the basics, and that’s right when you pull the phone out of the box. In true Samsung fashion, the Galaxy Nexus is a plastic monster. It features that 4.65-inch display, and it’s more than apparent that it’s a big display, even before you turn it on. However, due to Samsung’s choice in plastics, the Galaxy Nexus doesn’t necessarily feel frail or weak, or fake. It doesn’t feel like a toy, more or less. It feels good in the hand, even if you don’t have the world’s biggest hands. It feels sturdy, and there is no denying that the Galaxy Nexus is a nice piece of hardware to look at. Without any physical buttons on the front, and a lack of them anywhere else on the phone as well, you’re really not distracted with pesky icons or anything like that. It’s just a nice, slightly curved display that is quite attractive.

And then there’s the big, beautiful display. Measuring in at 4.65-inches it’s certainly one of the biggest phones out there, but Samsung managed to still make it comfortable. Yes it is big, but it is still manageable, and not just because you have to, either. It just works. When you turn on the phone and you watch as the boot image begins, all the way to using the device, you’ll notice how sharp and crisp the images are. While the display is a Super AMOLED HD display, it doesn’t have that “Plus” word on the end, which means that the Galaxy Nexus uses a PenTile display. People were worried about this, but we are here to tell you that it isn’t a big deal at all. We can’t see any pixelation at all, and everything is so sharp and clear. Colors pop, just as you’d expect from a Super AMOLED display. While the HTC Rezound’s screen may beat it out by default, you cannot fault the Galaxy Nexus on its display technology or effectiveness.

Inside you’ll find 1GB of RAM, and a 1.2GHz dual-core processor. On the back of the device you’ll find a 5MP camera which is capable of recording 1080p HD video, along with taking panorama shots (this is an Ice Cream Sandwich feature, and not exclusive to the device). The Galaxy Nexus also features no shutter lag, so the moment you touch the screen to take a picture, it snaps a photo. We will cover more on that soon.

As for the buttons that do exist on the device, there are three, technically. The power/sleep/wake button is on the right side of the device, while the volume rocker (up/down) is on the left. Interestingly enough, the Galaxy Nexus’ button placement just seems perfect. The power button is almost exactly where the thumb seems to naturally rest while you’re holding the phone. The same goes for the volume rocker as well. There isn’t much reaching around here, despite the size of the phone. The buttons are just right there, ready to be activated.

From our consumer perspective, the hardware speaks volumes. While the specifications may not be the best of the best, they are still more than fine to get the attention of someone looking to get a high-end device. We love the look and feel of the Samsung Galaxy S II, but the Galaxy Nexus beats it out in just about every category in our eyes. We love to just hold the Galaxy Nexus, because it feels that good. And turning on the phone to look at the beautiful display? Completely worth it.

Software

So if the hardware isn’t something you’re necessarily waiting in line to get (and we don’t blame you, since there are more impressive phones out there, after all), the software is. There’s just no other way to put it. Android 4.0 is a complete redesign of Android on a smartphone, and it is a long time coming. Yes, there are plenty of cues from Android 3.x Honeycomb, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Everything that was good about Android’s tablet operating system is right here on the phone, and the way that Google has optimized it to work on the smartphone, specifically the Galaxy Nexus, is amazing. This is something that will rejuvenate your love for Android and in a big way, especially if you’ve been eagerly anticipating a huge overhaul of the operating system.

We are going to keep this as brief as possible, because the truth is there is just so much to go on here with the software, that we could write about it forever. And while we could go on and on about how great it is, we’ll just narrow it down to two categories:

The Good

Frankly, the majority of Android 4.0 could fit into this category. Ice Cream Sandwich is a breath of fresh air for Android on a smartphone. From the new way that Folders are represented (we do wish that apps were listed in alphabetical order within the app for some reason, but that’s probably just us), to the new application drawer. Navigating through Android 4.0 without any hardware buttons is actually pretty smooth, even if navigating within certain applications is a bit tough. Getting from one application to another using the multitasking menu is simple and fun, and being able to swipe away an app from that particular menu is quite rewarding.

From a consumer’s perspective, the learning curve to get accustomed to the Android 4.0 operating system is going to be quite obvious. And that’s only maximized if you’re coming from a different platform. Android 4.0 is like Android 2.3, but at the same time it isn’t. Finding the Menu option, for instance, may be a bit daunting at first, simply due to the fact that there isn’t a hardware Menu key anymore. But, there’s a learning curve for any mobile OS out there, and that’s just the way things go. In the end, Android 4.0 is actually fun to use and navigate, and we think we can safely say that that hasn’t happened in a smartphone in quite some time.

The Bad

But not everything is peachy-keen in this particular neck of the woods. Fortunately for the software that comes into this section, it isn’t all because of the software. Unfortunately the 1.2GHz processor under the hood doesn’t really seem to be able to keep up with the whole party, and that makes the software slow down quite a bit. Unlike other phones, though, where lag seems to be a persistent and perplexing issue, that’s not the case with the Galaxy Nexus. We wouldn’t necessarily call it lag in the majority of areas we see the phone get hung up, but instead we like to think of it at as stammers. You can see in moments where the graphical overlay is trying to catch up with what you’re trying to do, and the transition effects seem to make it more pronounced. Things “phasing” in and out seem to be more noticeable in random points of the day, but the lag is never, ever always there. The phone does hang up from time to time, but we’d never say it was a deal breaker.

While we did mention that navigating and using Android 4.0 is fun, we can see where some people will get frustrated right off the bat. It comes in the sense that applications aren’t all developed for Android 4.0 yet, and so the Menu option isn’t always in the same spot. Sometimes it’s on the top of the screen, and sometimes it’s on the bottom. And sometimes it’s part of the three-row on-screen keys. Trying to find the Menu option isn’t all that hard, and it certainly isn’t impossible by any means, but it can certainly get frustrating when it keeps switching locations on the phone’s display. We count this up to being part of the learning curve, and we imagine that in due time all the applications out there will focus on using the same location for the Menu key, but that will only happen in due time.

Camera

This is a point of contention for us. We absolutely love the fact that the Galaxy Nexus has no shutter lag. Taking photos is quick, and taking multiple photos is super simple. Just touch the screen and BAM, you’ve got a photo. So if you want to take a bunch of photos back-to-back, you can do that. Unfortunately you better hope that the lighting is perfect, or you might not be too happy with the photos you get. To be perfectly honest the phone’s camera isn’t all that bad, and it isn’t terrible. There are worse cameras out there, and coupled with the Galaxy Nexus’ camera software, it’s actually an enjoyable experience. But, the quality isn’t all that fantastic, and when we put it up against the likes of other high-end smartphones, there usually wasn’t much competition.

For the consumer? It probably won’t be that big of a deal. You may want to test it out in the store before you make the decision to replace it as your point-and-shoot camera, if that’s your intention at all. If it isn’t, and you just want a camera on your phone that takes respectable shots, then you won’t be disappointed at all. The flash is quick and bright, and again, we can’t stress enough how great no shutter lag is. It just makes taking photos, especially quick impromptu photos, all that much better.

Wrap-up

Like we said earlier, there is a lot to cover with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The fact that Android 4.0 is the first of its kind, and it’s a complete revamp of the way we use Android on a smartphone (officially), is a story in and of itself. But, you’ve heard all those stories, and you’re probably eagerly waiting getting a hold of one of your own here in the States as we write this. We can tell you, without a shadow of a doubt in our minds, that if you are waiting for the Galaxy Nexus, you will not be disappointed when you finally get it. Whether that’s the CDMA LTE version “supposedly” coming soon, or waiting and hoping that another carrier in the States gets their own shot at it, the wait will be worth it.

Not everything with the Galaxy Nexus may be perfect, but nothing ever is on a smartphone. And while we believe that the hang ups on the software side of things is the biggest negative in the Galaxy Nexus’ laundry list of review items, it’s not something that we’d say should stop you from buying the phone. Is it the best Android phone out there on the market right now? Yes, yes it is. Should we expect to see some remarkably better, and more powerful phones featuring the best Android operating system to date in the near future? Of course. But for right now, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is perfectly capable (and worthy) of holding its own in the limelight of the Android Army.

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