Review: Samsung Galaxy Nexus / Android 4.0

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the flagship phone for Android right now, being the only device shipping with 4.0 on-board. Hardware Screen The device features one of the largest...

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the flagship phone for Android right now, being the only device shipping with 4.0 on-board.

Hardware

Screen
The device features one of the largest screen sizes we’ve seen on a smartphone, supporting a Super AMOLED 4.65” display running a massive 1280×720 resolution. This screen is clearly made for content consumption, ideal for watching movies on a plane or train. There is one problem with a screen size that large, it takes a lot of battery to power it.

While the phone sounds huge in size, when you get it in your hand, its actually surprisingly manageable. This is likely due to it’s weight, only a measly 135 grams. The whole device is thin as well, with only the slightest tapering out at the bottom its dimensions are 67.94mm wide, 135.5mm tall,  and 8.94mm thick (or thin).

Cameras
The rear camera is 5 megapixel with an LED flash, pretty standard right now. The Galaxy Nexus does also have with continuous auto focus, making it great for shooting objects that are varying distance from your shooting position. Despite being able to fire off photos with almost no shutter lag, you will still need to keep the phone still as blurry photos are still very possible.

The camera can also record 1080p video, which looks gorgeous, particularly when played back on the 4.65” HD display. Naturally with smaller optics, you want good lighting and a stable hand to get the best out of it.

The front facing camera is a 1.3 megapixel standard camera, nothing ground breaking there. It would be great to see some innovation here, its a feature that’s moved from optional, to a requirement, so lets get some more quality up front. Then the photos might actually be useable for more than a postage stamp sized profile photo.

Storage
There’s only one size available, it’s 16GB and isn’t expandable. For most people this won’t be an issue, but enthusiasts with a large number of apps or media collection, this may create a problem.

Performance
Supporting a 1.2Ghz dual-core processor and 1GB RAM, it’s unlikely you’ll come across a phone with higher specs. Paired with Android 4.0, the speed of the device is impressive, although competitors achieve similar speeds with lower specs. The power really comes when delivering intensive 3D games at 1280×720 while running background processes. 

NFC
Also known as Android Beam, near field communication is in the Galaxy Nexus, but there’s not really anyone to test it with. Sharing files, applications will become easier, but will needs a wide proliferation of devices to support this before it is feasible. Some early adopters may have MasterCard PayPass or Visa Paywave setup, but right now, it’s early. There’s always a chicken and egg argument when it comes to new technology like this, so for the negligible cost of including an NFC chip and writing software around it, it’s a welcome inclusion for the future.

Networks
With pretty standard HSPA+/3G/EDGE/GPRS support, the Galaxy Nexus unfortunately can’t take advantage of Telstra’s shiny new high-speed 4G network. There’s also no support for Telstra’s HD voice calling, missing the critical WB-AMR (Wideband Adaptive Multi-Rate) support. The Galaxy Nexus does support Telstra’s HD voice calling, one of the few devices that do.

More info at – http://www.google.com.au/nexus/#/tech-specs

Gallery

Samsung Galaxy Nexus Gallery on Flickr

Software

Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) has been long awaited by Android fans since it was shown off by Google back in October. There’s no carrier or manufacturer skin here, the Galaxy Nexus ships with a pure Google experience. To be honest, there’s really no need for any of them to customise it, Android 4.0 is a solid release. Let’s take a look at what’s new.

Folders
Applications can now be sorted into folders, this works much the same as iOS. Folders can also be docked to one of four positions on the favourites tray. With only 5 home screens available in the default ICS rom, folders will help you load up with a decent catalogue of apps.

Built-in apps
The device ships with a folder of Google apps, these include Maps, Gmail, Calendar, Google+, Music, Market, Talk, YouTube, Navigation and Messenger. This demonstrates the strength of the Google properties, with coverage of almost all core features. Despite these being included out of the box, there is always room for third party apps to innovate and improve on the default offering.

Multi-tasking
With capacitive hardware buttons gone, all operations are now done with software buttons. One of the buttons you quickly become familiar with is the app switching or multi-tasking button. The right-most button of the three displays a really beautiful list of previously run applications. Depending on the app, some of these may be still running, or alternatively paused until your switch back to it. By comparison to both iOS and WP7, this app switcher is the best in the industry right now.

Face unlock
One of the showcase features when ICS was detailed, Face unlock is a gimmick. The biggest problem here is the time taken for the phone to do the analysis and then unlock. The reality is that entering a pin code or swipe gesture is faster. With a task that will be done multiple times per day, fast always wins.

Updates
As a platform, Android 4.0 was supposed to solve the long-running, heavily criticised fragmentation issue, however it seems the issue still remains. The Telstra review unit is still running 4.0.1, despite 4.0.3 being available from Google. It may only contain some additional API changes and bug fixes, but I want the latest release, without delay from carriers.

Panorama stitching
There is a lot of solutions for on-device panorama creation, well thanks for playing, but Google has it under control now. To create a panorama, it’s a simple as firing up the camera app, switch to panorama mode and film left to right, just as if you were shooting video. After a bit of processing, you’ll have your nice landscape panorama. While occasional stitching errors can occur, this is a decent implementation. Like any other photos or videos shot with the phone, your panorama can be shared to your favourite social network right from the app.

Nexus Pano

Issues

HD app support
With all the extra pixels to play with, you’d expect to see a lot more content fitting on the display. The problem is that most apps are simply scaled up, meaning that you’ll still only see the same number of tweets, Facebook posts or news items. Naturally apps created by Google do support the HD resolution, so the browser, mail and others look fantastic. Over time, some application developers will update their apps to take advantage of the larger screen, but this will take time.

Battery life
Powering a 4.65” display doesn’t come cheap, add to that the power drain of running multiple apps and you start to get an idea of what the battery life is like on the Galaxy Nexus. The short answer is, you’ll struggle to get through a day. The problem exists in most smart phones these days, the more we can do with these pocket computers, the more we use them, the more battery we burn through.

The good news here is that the battery is replaceable, just peel off that flimsy plastic back and insert an extended battery (not included).

Browser
While the techAU website displays fine on most browsers (including older Android browsers) the Android 4.0 browser has a strange issue where the content text in posts was only half the width of the available space. This is by no means an extensive test of websites, but is interesting that it would render a page differently than any other browser, mobile or desktop.

Screen rotation lag
When rotating the device, particularly in the camera / photo apps the delay in response is severe. A pretty basic function, something you’ll likely do multiple times a day, can take a number of seconds to respond. With a dual-core processor, this just shouldn’t happen, there’s really no excuse for it.

Low Audio levels
It seems the speaker in the Galaxy Nexus could have done with some extra dbs. From the music player to incoming calls, the phone on maximum volume isn’t very loud.

Pricing

The Galaxy Nexus I reviewed was from Telstra, which offers the phone from $69pm month +handset repayment on a two year plan. With a phone that begs to be used for media creation and consumption, having good network performance is important. Try uploading a 1080p video on anything else and you’ll want to cry. One thing I was impressed with, was the speed at which multiple applications would download and install simultaneously.

Galaxy Nexus Price plans from Telstra

 

Phones

Overall

The Galaxy Nexus is the best Android phone available today. If you’re in the market for an Android phone, this should be your first option. Take a look at the issues section, if none of these really concern you then your set, get the Galaxy Nexus. There is no perfect device, but the Galaxy Nexus is by far the best Android device I’ve used. If your needs dictate that you need something smaller, then wait, Android 4.0 should now be a requirement for your Android purchase.

The Galaxy Nexus stacks up well against competitors and I’d be happy to carry one in my pocket. As for Android, before version 4.0 it was hard for me to recommend Android, but with this release, all the important pieces to a smartphone ecosystem are in place and finally with some design consistency.

More information at http://www.google.com.au/nexus/#/index or buy it from Telstra.

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MobileReviewsSamsungTelstra

This post is authored by techAU staffers. Used rarely and sparingly when the source decided to keep their identity secret, or a guest author who isn't seeking credit.
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