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Samsung Galaxy Nexus Review
Finally! We had the pleasure of reviewing, what many consider the 'holy grail' of all Android phones; the one; the only - Galaxy Nexus. Just like the Nexus One and the Nexus S, if you want the purest Android experience, then this is the phone to get. Not only that, it is the first phone to get any new update from Google. Speaking of which, the Galaxy Nexus is the first phone to come with Google's brand-swanky-new OS, Android 4.0 or Ice Cream Sandwich as it's fondly known, out of the box. With all the hype surrounding this phone, we could wait no longer for Samsung to officially bring this phone over to us, so we went and got it for ourselves. So, is it everything that we hoped it would be? Does it live up to the hype? Let's find out.
On video: Galaxy Nexus + ICS
Design and Build
Unlike the previous Google phones, Samsung has decided to lend its Galaxy branding to the new comer. Thankfully, that's all they've lent to this phone. One thing's for sure, Samsung know how to make a sexy phone, as they've done a splendid job with the design, like the way they did with the Nexus S. Mercifully, the entire phone does not have a candy gloss coating, so fingerprints aren't much of a problem. Although the Galaxy Nexus comes with a curved 4.6-inch screen, it doesn't feel overly massive in your hand. It's still a bit of a stretch, if you're typing and need to pull down the notification bar, but there is nothing you won't get used to. It's fairly slim at 8.9mm in depth and light as well at 135g. The sides are smooth, however, and don't offer much grip, so it's easy for the phone to slip out of your hands, while using it, so you need to be careful, because it's not like you have any warranty to fall back on at the moment.
Since Android 4.0 has done away with capacitive shortcut buttons, all you get is a sweeping sheet of glass from top to bottom, which looks absolutely sublime. Samsung has used their 1280 x 720 pixel resolution Super AMOLED screen, which falls just shy of the retina display, in terms of pixel density at 316ppi. However, the screen is actually a step back from the S II, since if you've read carefully, they've used a regular Super AMOLED screen and not the Super AMOLED 'Plus' used on the SII.
The Plus variant is a full RGB display giving you more accurate colours, especially whites, whereas the older AMOLED screens used the PenTile system, which shared each other's sub-pixels. In reality, the difference is only noticeable when you compare them, by placing them side-by-side. Perhaps, Samsung is reserving the better screens for their S III. The front facing camera is 1.3MP and capable of 720p video as well. A good front camera is essential for the Face Unlock feature to work well. The screen also comes with an Oleophobic coating, which does work to an extent.
Similar bulge at the bottom, like the S and S II
The volume rocker sits on the left, while the power/sleep button is on the right. You’ll also find three golden pins on the side, which is used with a dock or some accessory. The microUSB charging/data port is placed underneath besides the 3.5mm headphone jack. You remove the back cover by peeling it off from the top, which feels very thin and delicate. Snapping it back into place will require a little effort, as not all the notches latch into place in one go. Overall, we really liked the design and the build of the phone, even though it's mostly plastic.
Now for the good stuff, sweet delicious Ice Cream Sandwich! The phone came with 4.0.1, which wasn't too stable and apps kept intermittently crashing, bringing back nightmares of our first encounter with Honeycomb. After a fair bit of cursing, we found an update was available, which upgraded it to 4.0.2 (still not the latest which is 4.0.3). After this, everything was fine, no random app crashed and the phone was smooth. If you're coming from Gingerbread, then it will take some time getting used to, as ICS is quite different.
Slick, streamlined and fresh
There's quite a bit to cover here, so we'll leave the details for another article. Since there are no capacitive buttons, you get a fixed row of buttons at the bottom for back, home and recently opened apps. This is borrowed straight from Honeycomb, with the 'options' icon appearing at the bottom. This has been replaced by a 'three dot' notification which can appear either at the top, side or bottom depending on the app. This can get really annoying since the options menu is never in one place and keeps changing. We do miss the simplicity of separate capacitive buttons.
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The Galaxy Nexus is powered by a TI OMAP 4460 dual-core processor running at 1.2GHz. These consist of two ARM Cortex A-9 cores and a PowerVR SGX540 GPU. The interface is super slick and fluid, since everything is hardware accelerated now, however, we still faced minor hiccups with Live Wallpapers, which seem to bog the phone down a bit. There is a very noticeable lag in the homescreen and menus. In our benchmarks, AnTuTu returned a score of 5953, while Linpack produced a Single Thread score of 42.4 and multi-thread score of 74. You get a choice between 16GB and 32GB of onboard storage, but sadly there's no expandable memory (just like the Nexus S).
Multiple GTalk sign-ins FTW!
ICS also comes with a new font type called 'Roboto', which works well with the new look. Most the stock apps now have a gray background, instead of white (GTalk, Gmail, Calendar, etc) and on low brightness, there's a very prominent purple tinge that creeps in. This goes away when the brightness is higher or if you use your phone outdoors. This issue has been reported by many users already and we feel this is more of a hardware issue than software. Some models of the Galaxy Note also suffers from this and is instantly noticeable on a gray background. Since the Note is still using Gingerbread, the only other common link is the HD Super AMOLED screen. We hope Samsung address this issue quickly, as it's really distracting, not to mention annoying. We also felt the brightness levels were tiny bit too low indoors, if you leave the task up to the ambient light senor.
With a new OS, we also get a new music and video player. Unfortunately, the video and audio codec support hasn't changed, since Gingerbread or Honeycomb. The music player, however has undergone a major overhaul and is a lot more streamlined and cleverer than before. Songs are sorted the regular way, but now you need only swipe the screen from right to left to switch between them. The stock player now comes with a graphic equaliser and bass boost options. These really help in boosting the audio quality by a lot. With a good pair of in-ear phones, the music quality is very good. Holding the phone horizontally will enable the 'cover flow' like effect for the albums. There's no lockscreen widget, but you can access the player without unlocking the screen as the notification bar can be accessed directly.
A very nice music player
The video player is a bit of a mixed bag. Besides being extremely basic, it refused to play many of the SD MP4 files, we normally use to test phones with. Strangely, it played 1080p MP4 files just fine. What's even more puzzling was that even Moboplayer had little issues playing back these files. Clearly an update is needed for apps to work well with ICS. Overall, media performance is not the best, yet, but hopefully, it gets better.
The Galaxy Nexus supports quad-band GSM as well as 4G speeds (LTE). The latter doesn't really concern us at the moment, but it's nice to know that it's there. We have Wi-Fi 'n' with dual-band support. It also has a NFC chip, which will let you connect to NFC devices by simply tapping it or even exchange information between two NFC capable Android phones using Android Beam. You also get a whole bunch of sensors like gyro, proximity, compass and barometer. There's no HDMI-out, but you do get TV-out via MHL (through microUSB) or AV-out (through 3.5mm jack).
Stock browser has some neat tricks
The Galaxy Nexus only has MTP (Media Transfer Protocol) when you connect it to a PC, as there's no mass storage mode. However, other devices that will launch with ICS should offer that option. The new browser is pretty slick and now gets Google Labs add-ons as well. You can now open up to 16 tabs, including an incognito window. The browser is quick and cut/copy/paste has been tweaked a bit as well. The Quick Control feature is pretty neat. What it does is remove all the controls from the screen and if you need it, you simply hold your thumb from the left or right and you get a little semi carousel, which let you open the options, switch tabs or create a new tab. Along with the usual fleet of Google apps, Picasa has also been integrated.
The new stock keyboard works wonderfully and the predictive text is very accurate. If you type a word that's not in the dictionary, you get a prompt to save it, so the next time it'll suggest that word to you when you're typing.
Voice-to-text works well
There's also a voice-to-text feature that works pretty well provided you select the right country. The Voice Action feature let's you perform tasks by speaking a keyword followed by the command. For instance, if I want to play a song, I'll say "listen to" followed by the name or artist. It works, but not every time and for some reason, we just couldn't get it to add a recipient to the mail, we wanted to send. It would get the subject and body of the mail just fine, but it refused to fill the "To" box.
Other apps include an organiser, image and video editor, Google+, Voice memo and that's about it.
The camera may just be a 5MP shooter, but the sensor used is very good and is easily able to capture plenty or detail in the subject along with accurate colours. The new interface is completely revamped and you have three options; for camera, video and panorama. You get touch-to-focus as standard and there's almost no lag from the time you snap the picture and it is saved. The flash is plenty powerful for low-light areas and can easily illuminate an object a couple or feet away, not too shabby for a single LED.
New camera interface is fun and functional
We were very impressed with the panorama mode, which does a very good job of stitching the pictures almost perfectly. As you sweep your hand across, the phone will warn you, if you are moving too fast, while a little bar at the bottom fills up as you move. Saving the final image takes some time, but the end result as you can see is pretty darn impressive.
Good macro shots
Panorama mode works exteremly well
Video recording goes all the way to 1080p, but what's changed is the new Silly Faces effect, which let's you morph your subjects face while shooting. There's also set that adds a different background for your subject like space, sunset, etc., but that didn't seem to work too well when we tried. For a stock interface, it's definitely a lot better than Gingerbread or Honeycomb, so it's a good upgrade.
The Galaxy Nexus is fitted with a chunky 1750mAh battery, but that wasn't really enough for it to break any records. In our video drain test, the phone lasted about 5hrs and 50min, which is just about average. The problem could be with ICS, since it's still quite fresh from the oven or the hardware, because the upper portion of the phone warms up very quickly even with a simple SD video, which shouldn't happen. We didn't get to try the loop tests, since we didn't have that much time, but we'll surely update it once we get the chance. Going by this number, we'd say you should get about a day's worth of heavy usage, tops.
After spending some quality time with the phone, we have to admit that it didn’t really blow us away, as we had hoped it would. It’s a very good phone, yes, but it left us asking for more. ICS is a definite plus point here, as it’s a very stable (after the update), fast as a stabbed rat and simply gorgeous to look at. Right from the new font, the animations to the new colour style, everything about it gives it a fresh and appealing feel. The phone itself is designed and built very well, thanks to Samsung. The Galaxy Nexus will be officially coming home, sometime in March, but if you’re impatient, then you can snag one of these beauties from the gray market for Rs.35,000. Remember though, you won’t get any warranty with this, so if something should go wrong, you’ve had it.
Currently, one of the best Android phones in the market
Even when Samsung officially launch it, we hope it’s under 30K, since other then ICS, it doesn’t really have any groundbreaking feature that isn’t already in the market. And with most of the existing high-end phones all set to get an ICS update, it won’t make any sense buying this phone. Overall, we recommend you hold out a bit longer with your purchase, since MWC is right around the corner. Then, at least you’ll know, if there are any phones worth waiting for before you take the plunge.