Google's at it again. The Android manufacturer has partnered with Samsung to release the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the newest flagship device in the "Nexus" product line. Packing a 1.2 GHz dual-core TI OMAP CPU, it offers a 4.65-inch Super AMOLED HD 720p display, 5-megapixel camera with 1080p video recording, and perhaps most importantly, Android 4.0 - known to the tech-savvy by its codename, Ice Cream Sandwich.
My Galaxy Nexus came in on Friday, and as you would expect, I was eager to tear the box open and see the changes in Android 4.0. Could this be the ultimate Android phone? After spending a weekend with it, I'm pleased with some features, and underwhelmed with others:
- Besides the curved build, the Galaxy Nexus offers the same build quality as recent Samsung Android devices - that is, pretty plasticky, with the telltale hump at the bottom of the phone. If you prefer a lot of glass and metal, this isn't your phone (check out the HTC Amaze 4G if this applies to you). Materials aside, it seems like a durable device that will handle a drop or two, though I'm not going to throw it down on the ground to test it. Because it cost $800.
- The 1.2 GHz TI OMAP processor performs pretty well, though I've noticed a few instances in the short time I've had with it where the device would hang up briefly. It happens at random, but I see it mostly when I go to close out running apps and move the phone between portrait and landscape orientation.
- Galaxy Nexus' 4.65-inch Super AMOLED HD 720p display works wonders, and though it has PenTile technology, it's not noticeable in comparison to other devices like the DROID BIONIC and DROID RAZR. For the most part, the display looks great, but as my friend Chris Ziegler at The Verge pointed out, the auto-brightness settings are way too erratic, resulting in the display often being way too dark or entirely too bright at the wrong time. I also had to turn it off because it was driving me crazy.
- The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the first device to ship with Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich. It's a ground-up revision of the Android platform, and it looks very polished. I notice a number of improvements immediately upon turning it on - the fonts are much more refined and smoothed, transitions are present, and core applications like Contacts and Messaging have undergone dramatic transformations for the better. The web browsing experience is much-improved as well. Out of all of the improvements, I'm most impressed with the subtle things; like how emails and text messages are worded in the notifications bar, the new color scheme, the revised dialer, and the Contacts menu. It's as if Android grew up a bit.
- Looking at it through my consumer eye, though, I see Android 4.0 as a step back from Gingerbread solely in the usability department. Things like merging apps and widgets together into one menu serves to confuse the average customer, and the on-screen buttons may take some getting used to. It's too soon to tell what manufacturer UIs like HTC's Sense and Samsung's TouchWiz will do to improve upon the mainstream usability, but in its present form, it's very complex.
- I love the notification light at the bottom of the display. It pulsates just below the on-screen buttons with the Nexus blue/green/red/yellow color scheme. A very cool touch, Samsung!
- Call quality has been a shining feature on the Nexus. In all of my test calls, I was told that no background noise could be heard (go noise cancellation!), and that my voice was very clear and easy to understand. The earpiece is nice and loud on my end also, though I would have liked to have seen a better speakerphone. Even at full volume, it's very hard to use in a crowded room.
- The HSPA+ (GSM) version of the Galaxy Nexus packs a 1,750 mAh battery, and while I'm still running official battery numbers, I've been disappointed. Obviously, use varies depending on the person, but with what I consider to be "moderate use" (calling, text messaging, browsing the web, checking Twitter, and downloading apps), I can snag roughly nine hours of use before the phone powers down. Being a Samsung device, it takes a bit longer to charge, so if you're like me and rely on those quick 20 minute charges between meetings and such, you'll want to carry a spare battery.
The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is nice, but it's not overwhelmingly awesome like I expected it to be. Overall, it performs well and Ice Cream Sandwich offers some nice features, but I'm surprised that it's missing some key elements that are already present in other high-end Android phones on the market. Packing a flagship device with a 5-megapixel camera is a poor choice in an 8-megapixel world, particularly when it comes to consumer perception (I can hear the "my phone has an 8-megapixel camera, and yours has a 5-megapixel one! Hoohah!" conversations now). And assuming Google had a direct hand in the specifications process, why didn't they allow Samsung to use an Exynos processor - a processor that's received rave reviews from Android's developer/reviewer/nerd/everyone-that-likes-the-idea-of-stock-Android base - instead of the TI OMAP chip?
In today's crazy mobile world, it seems like two demographics are constantly at play: the nerd, hard-core, hacker, die-hard Android user; and the mainstream consumer that wants a smartphone, but wants the experience to be easy and consistent. After working with the Galaxy Nexus for a few days, I'm concerned that the Galaxy Nexus may have alienated both groups. The specification choices for Google's flagship device - TI OMAP processor and a less-than-adequate camera, for example - may turn off prospective die-hard Android buyers, and the stock Ice Cream Sandwich experience may push beginner and intermediate users over to something easier to use, like the Motorola DROID RAZR or Samsung Galaxy S II.
I like Ice Cream Sandwich. It's a much more polished, clean version of Android that's still geeky. And that's cool, because I'm a nerd and I like those things. But it's not cool for my aunt who just wants a happenin' new telephone to text her girlfriends, check the weather, and browse the Internet for new recipes. Call it foolish or say they should spend the time to learn a new OS, but that's the mainstream consumer base - the majority of people that buy cell phones on a daily basis. I'm hoping that the manufacturer UIs will do their job to make the experience easier (and I'm fairly confident that they will), but until then, I'd recommend the Galaxy Nexus to a very specific person. If you love Android (particularly of a stock flavor), love to root and tinker with your phone, and like being on the forefront of software updates, this is the ultimate device for you. For the mainstream consumer, I'd recommend a different Galaxy.