Ice Cream Sandwiched between the flavors of last month and next month
IN THE TRADITION of the Nexus S, which was the first Android Gingerbread phone, Samsung has constructed an elegantly simple, yet powerful, phone to show off the stock version of Google's latest OS, Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). Android function buttons are now onscreen only; the bottom bezel holds just a white notification LED. A complete rundown of ICS would require its own article, but this full Android redesign merges tablets and phones into one OS with many improvements. For example, the more detailed Settings are available from the Notifications menu, you can swipe items out of the Recent Apps menu, and an unlock screen swipe to the left takes you straight to the camera, which, like many of the stock apps, is also greatly improved.
The 5MP camera certainly falls behind the times in specsmanship, where 8MP is soon to be replaced by 12MP as the standard for top camera phones. Yet it works fast and has tap-to-focus, a super‑bright flash, and an elegant software interface that lets you easily share/upload photos to any of the compatible apps on the phone right from the photo playback screen.
A slightly contoured display and stark detailing give the first Android 4 phone a minimalist, chic look.
With the same processor and price, the Motorola Droid Razr offers stiff competition to the Galaxy Nexus—both 4G LTE phones on Verizon. The Galaxy Nexus is slightly thicker and longer than the Razr, but it manages to pack a larger display (4.65 inches compared to 4.3) into a frame that's not as wide as the Razr. The curvy Galaxy Nexus also feels more comfortable to hold than the boxy Razr.
We love the size and 1280x720 resolution of the Galaxy Nexus's HD Super AMOLED display, but compared to the very saturated colors and high contrast of the Razr screen (also an AMOLED), the Galaxy Nexus looks a bit muted and washed out. That makes it somewhat irritating for long periods of reading, and not as beautiful for photos and videos.
Besides ICS, perhaps the greatest attraction of the Galaxy Nexus is its lightning-quick operation. The dual-core 1.2GHz CPU in combination with ICS simply screams. Sceen swipes, menu pull-downs, page scrolls, app launches, and other functions fly by as fast as you could want. Although it has the same CPU/RAM as the Droid Razr, the Galaxy Nexus bested the Razr in most benchmarks, perhaps because of the untampered-with OS. Besides two small Verizon apps you can disable in Applications Settings, ICS comes pretty much bone stock, giving performance nuts a clean experience.
The Galaxy Nexus scored a data-speed win over the Razr, as well. Although both run on Verizon's 4G LTE network, in side-by-side tests, the Galaxy Nexus averaged 11-18 percent faster in data download and upload speeds.
Of course, so much 4G use sucks a battery dry. The Galaxy Nexus's replaceable 1850 mAh battery lasted a full 24 hours of light use but only 8-12 hours when we ratcheted up the calling, texting, browsing, video streaming, etc. New battery settings in ICS break down the percentage of battery use by function/software, so you can tweak your settings. (Hint: Lower display brightness for the greatest savings.)
There's no doubt that the Galaxy Nexus is a deserving marquee phone for ICS. However, it does feel as if Samsung/Google intentionally held back some high-end hardware for the privilege of accessing ICS early. Lack of connections and memory card expansion (although the 32GB storage is nice), as well as 2010 camera hardware specs suggest as much. At least we get NFC technology inside, although Verizon hasn't enabled Google Wallet yet. As much as we can recommend the Galaxy Nexus, the upcoming quad-core Galaxy S III will more likely be the Android phone to beat this year.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Large HD display; screaming‑fast performance; non-skinned Ice Cream Sandwich OS; NFC equipped.
No microSD slot; no HDMI‑out; Google Wallet not yet equipped; last-generation camera hardware; low display contrast.
Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0.2
1.2GHz-dual core TI OMAP4460
4.65-inch, 1280x720, HD Super AMOLED
32GB storage; 1GB system RAM
1.3MP webcam front; 5MP rear w/LED flash and autofocus