Well its been about 3 months since the announcement of the first Nexus device for The Big Red and we all took the bait. Most of us selling our HTC Thunderbolts like hotcakes, going up on eBay and Swappa faster than people can comment about the Nexus S photo used in another review on this site.
Anyway! So here we are. Verizon finally released The Samsung Galaxy Nexus last Thursday and I’ve finally had enough time with it to give an honest review. Not a butthurt rant about how the phone is “not a nexus”. So without further interruption, here is my take on the Galaxy Nexus from Google (and Verizon :P).
Upon first taking the device out of the box the first thing that jumps at you is the 4.65 inch Super Amoled HD Pentile display packing in a 1280 x 720 resolution. No physical keys can be seen, giving the front facing of the device a very clean and glossy look. The phone is thin and light (4.8oz) and the curved glass at the bottom of the display if nothing else adds a classy little “Look at me I’m curved!” effect. The volume rockers on the left and power button on the right I’m still getting used to. Being right handed gives me the benefit of being able to quickly wake my device with my thumb. For all you left handers out there, you might find this a tad annoying. Especially if you’re coming from a device where the power button was always at the top. The back of the device has a simple “flap” that comes off that reveals the battery/SIM housing. I for one am not a fan of how flimsy this is. It feels nice while its on the device. Its got a nice contour to it that makes it a little nicer to grip. But its literally a thin piece of plastic that can be bent and twisted in any way you can think of. It makes me hesitant to ever want to remove it for the fear of cracking it or snapping a clip. While very flexible (and by all means you’d probably have to really bend the crap out of the thing to break it) it still makes me cringe taking it off and probably always will. Otherwise, the phone feels solid. I’m a case kind of guy. I have big clumsy hands that likes to drop things so I almost deem it a necessity. With the case on the device it feels solid in my hand with only a slight hint of “OK, dont drop it”. That brings me to one last point, the size. If you have small hands I can’t lie, you’re going to have trouble with this device. Are you used to being able to hold the phone and pull down your notification panel with your thumb? Unless you have monster hands thats not going to happen. You almost need two hands to use this device. Depending on how you feel about that, you might want to think twice about having a phone you can’t text and drive with at the same time for the next two years. (I’m kidding, don’t text and drive!)
OS (Android 4.0)
Android 4.0 is, in my opinion the cleanest, fastest, and most intuitive to date. Google nailed the simplistic look of its UI. Its easy on the eyes, and the new font created specifially for Android 4.0 bodes well. Long press on the home screen is now simply wallpapers, moving the widgets to their own tab in the application drawer. I was skeptical about this at first, but realized it was simply because its new. People gawk at change, especially when they long press on the home screen and realize, “Crap, its not there anymore”. Once you get used to the fact that they are in the app drawer its not a big deal. It grows on you. The ICS launcher is the smoothest yet. I pack my homescreens full of widgets and after the cache builds its as smooth as any third party launcher out there. I’ve had this device for 4 days now and I’ve yet to even consider ADW or LauncerPro. Not to mention installing a third party launcher is going to take away much of the functionality (IE Sense). New scrollable and resizeable widgets allow you to configure everything to your liking. Folders are easier than ever. Simply drag and drop icons onto each other to group them together, tap the newly created folder and rename it by clicking on the text at the bottom. Easy enough right? My first negative I have to point out, is the google search bar docked at the top of your homepages. For the people that like a very simple homescreen, having this there all the time without the option to remove (without a mod of some kind) is something I’ve seen a lot of unhappiness about and I agree. Next is the 3 soft keys docked at the bottom instead of the standard physical keys we’ve all grown accustomed to. This is another one of those things that, at first, I did’t care for. I thought, “I’d rather have the extra home screen space and have physical buttons”, and yet again it grew on me. The multitasking softkey to the far right brings up your currently running apps, with a preview of your most recent activity and not just a generic image of the running app. Don’t want it running anymore? Simply flick it left or right to ditch it. The “Home” key in the center is optimal and I’m personally glad they went with the configuration they did, going with the back key to the far left, both doing what they’ve always done as soft keys. One more thing I’ll add to the dislike pile (again without the use of a Mod), which kind of ties into the google search bar docked at the top, is the lack of a search softkey. I understand its a new UI, but I think many people would rather have a search soft key then a dedicated bar docked at the top of your screen that you can’t ditch. Lack of a menu button is slightly disturbing in my mind. Constantly looking around for my settings icon or having to swipe down on the notification panel to get to the settigns shortcut is rather annoying in my opinion, but again, its new. I’ll give it time but I have to say, I dont think this is something thats going to grow on me. Menu > settings just feels right.
The lockscreen in Android 4.0 is all new. A simple ring to slide left to open the camera or slide right to unlock make it simplistic but convenient. What would have been nice is the option to change that camera shortcut to anything we wanted (Messanger, Contacts, Phone) which I would have preferred over camera. The subtle animations coming from the ring on the lockscreen invite you to unlock this phone everytime you wake it up to check the time. Which I often find myself doing only to realize I didn’t need to get into my phone for anything. Well done Google. Probably the best battery killer since the CRT animation was put into effect. Other unlock features include the standard pin and pattern unlocks that we’ve all grown used to and added one other thing. Facial Recognition unlock. This, as I expected, is neat in theory only. The first couple times you use it you kind of giggle and say, “Hey, thats pretty cool!” and by the 3rd or 4th time your like, “Ok how do I change this back”. One more little feature Google recognized is the ability to snap a screenshot right on the phone. Samsung has been utilizing this feature of some of their later devices and it seems to be well liked. By pressing the Volume down + Power button at the same time and holding for approximately 2 seconds, the phone will take a screenshot of whats currently on your screen, complete with a fancy little Polaroid animation.
The new Google apps in Android 4.0 are a pleasant upgrade. Google finally did some things right with Gmail. Google Talk’s UI is basically the same except for some asthetics, and Youtube is also basically the same. One thing I’m finding extremely hard to get used to is the “menu” button is now 3 vertical dots generally found in the upper right hand corner of each app (since there is not more set menu button in the softkeys). Navigation has proven difficult to get used to, but I haven’t written that off as “bad” just yet.
I’ve heard quite a bit of disdain over the screen in the past few days regarding screen bleeding, grayish hue, etc. I’ll admit… I see the gray hue when the screen is dim. Something I wouldn’t expect from a Samsung display. But upping the screen brightness from 20 to say, 35-40% makes it bearable. I usually have my brightness at about 40-50% so I never noticed until someone brought it to my attention. It definitely is something that’s disconcerting. Do I think the screen is “terrible”? Absolutely not. The brightness at the levels I use my phone at are great, and had it not been brought to my attention, I’d have never thought twice. I think forming your own opinion about something this important is better than reading what someone else thinks. Everyone’s eyes are different, everyone sees colors just a tad differently. As far as durability goes, I’ve had this for 4 days now going in and out of my pocket and I’ve yet to see the slightest scratch. *Knock on wood* Needless to say I’ll still be buying screen protectors. It won’t stay scratch free forever.
Everyone kind of wondered what Samsung and Google were thinking when they announced that the camera on the Galaxy Nexus would be 5MP. Some have complained that the picture quality isn’t great. Unfortunately I haven’t taken enough pictures to verify this, but the pictures I have taken (All in doors of my kids/Christmas tree, etc in fair to dim lighting) have been on par or better than any of the camera hardware out now that is 8MP or higher. Some of the photos did seem a bit dim, but use the advanced editing options using the color filters and exposure and you can get the shot to pretty much where you want it to be. The shutter lag is next to zero and you can snap mulitple pictures in a matter of seconds. I’m not sure what there is to complain about in this department other than people nitpicking. Remember folks its still a phone camera. The camcorder shoots 1080P video and the time lapse feature is one cool add-on along with some other filming effects to mess around with, and the front facing camera resolution of 1.3 MP makes video chatting a pleasant experience.
The Galaxy Nexus comes with 32GB of built in storage(non removeable). There are some major qualms to the fact that this can’t be mounted for anything other than an MTP transfer (or PTP transfer but how does photo transfer help when you want to copy over an APK?). This (without a custom ROM) is a big drawback and a major flaw that right now can’t be changed without a workaround. Anything you want to transfer to your device thats not media seems to not transfer. Some have said they have been able to transfer just about anything on Windows 7 or a variation of Linux, but Windows XP without Media Player 11 don’t have the same luck. The only other workarounds I’ve found is to zip anything you want to put on your SD and then extract it with Root Explorer (or the file manager of your choosing), or use a bluetooth or Wifi file transfer. There are other workarounds such as SSH, ADB, or CWR mount, but this is hardly something that I’m going to want to deal with on a routine basis and I hope a clever developer finds a way to allow any type of file transfer to internal storage. Is it something I’ll return the device simply because of? Absolutely not. Is it a problem that needs addressed ASAP? Sure is. *If anyone has any additional information on file transfers and or workarounds we’d love to hear from you!*
Nexus or Not?
This will be the last thing I’m going to touch on. Nexus or not? Everyone is going to have a strong opinion on this matter. As many sites have pointed out, if your only definition of a Nexus is that there is no “bloatware” or sideloaded apps from Verizon then your in for a world of disappointment. Verizon managed to sneak in Backup Assistant and My Verizon apps. Am I the only person that this doesn’t bother? Does it make it a custom build from Verizon and not Google? I don’t know. All I know is that within hours of release on Thursday Google had complete stock images available for download. A few days later it had source up for the “yet to be updated” 4.0.3. I for one will be sticking to my guns that this is a true Nexus device. I can unlock my bootloader with a simple command, I can load up custom operating systems, all with the failsafe of recovering my “developer” device with images released by Google not verizon. I’m not sure what else people could ask for in a Nexus. No sideloaded apps from Verizon? Suck it up. Quit nitpicking and enjoy this device made by Samsung and Google. Its the Nexus we’ve all been waiting for from Verizon. If you can’t get past 2 sideloaded apps to enjoy the first Android 4.0 device then your mind is in the wrong place.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Married father of two. My wife would say I’m obsessed with Android. She would be right. Grew up in Erie, PA, I’m a lover of all tech in general. Avid gamer primarily on the PS3. Look for more articles and reviews from myself here at Gizmoninja.com.