Samsung Galaxy Nexus Smartphone Review

Android fans have been eagerly waiting for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus because it is the first device on the market powered by Android 4.0. Otherwise known as Ice Cream Sandwich, this new version of Android merges the tablet (Honeycomb) and smartphone (Gingerbread) versions of Google’s popular OS into one version that will be used across both types of devices. I was lucky enough to get my hands on this phone for a few days, so let’s take a look at one of Verizon’s latest Android smartphone.

Note: Click the images in this review to see a larger view.

Before I begin, I will mention that I do not live in or very close to an area with 4G LTE coverage. I was only able to test the phone with a 3G connection.

Hardware Specs

OS: Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich
CPU: 1.2GHz Dual-Core Processor
Memory Internal: 32GB
Carrier: Verizon
Network: CDMA/PCS/1xEVDO Rev. A: 800/1900 MHz,LTE: 700 MHz
Data Speed: LTE, EVDO Rev. A
Display: HD Super AMOLED™ 4.65” contoured display, 1280×720 pixels
Rear-facing Camera: 5.0 MP
Front-facing Camera: 1.3 MP
Bluetooth
WiFi
Battery: Lithium Ion, 1850mAh
Battery Standby 150 hours (6.25 days), Talk Time (hours) Up to 12 hours
Dimensions: 5.33” x 2.67” x 0.37” inches
Weight: 5.1 ounces

As you can see from the image above, the Nexus is a big boy when you compare it to an iPhone 4S. Although it is a large device, it doesn’t feel or look out of place when used as a phone.

The Nexus has a gorgeous 1280×720 resolution display that is bright and crisp. It has vivid colors but isn’t cartoonish like other Samsung Android phones that we’ve seen in the past. The 4.65 inch display takes up almost the entire front surface of the phone. A strip at the bottom of the display is devoted to 3 (and sometimes 4) touch sensitive buttons. From Left to Right, the buttons are Back, Home and Task Switcher. When appropriate, a 4th button will appear on the Right that has three small vertical square blocks. This is the Menu button.

While the phone is in idle with the display turned off, there is a status LED that will slowly pulse when there’s a new email, text message or you’ve missed a call.

Above the display is the front facing camera.

The back of the Nexus has the camera lens and LED flash. It’s a little disappointing that Samsung opted to use a 5mp camera instead of an 8mp camera which seems to be the norm these days. That said, the camera captures decent pics and is crazy fast with no shutter lag whatsoever.

The back of the phone has a thin piece of flexible plastic that is easily removed to reveal the battery compartment and 4G LTE SIM card slot. In my short time with this phone, I found battery life to typical in that I would need to charge the phone once a day with light to normal use. It’s tough for me to offer concrete data about battery life since I’ve only been using this phone in an area with 3G and absolutely no 4G coverage. In my experience with other smartphones, I would say that the Nexus used power slightly quicker than HTC Rezound that I tested last.

You’ll notice that the Nexus does not have a microSD card slot. That’s a bit of a bummer, but the phone does have 32GB of storage, which makes the lack of a flash card slot less painful.

If you look closely at the side of the Nexus, you’ll see that the display is slightly curved. Samsung claims that this will make the phone more comfortable against your cheek when you’re on a call. Hmmm… I don’t know about you, but I’ve never noticed my flat phones as being uncomfortable against my face. :)

The Left side of the phone has the volume rocker button which has good tactile feedback and sticks up high enough that your thumb tip can easily find it when you’re on a phone call.

On the opposite side you’ll find the Power button and electrical contacts for an optional dock.

On the bottom edge is a micro USB connector for charging and connecting to your computer. You’ll also find the microphone and headphone jack.

I had a rude awakening when I plugged the Nexus into my iMac to transfer some files and found that the phone does not support the USB mass storage feature that I’ve been accustomed to using with every Android phone that I’ve owned over the years. At first I thought it was Android 4.0’s fault because it uses the MTP (Media Transfer Protocol) file transfer standard which is plug and play compatible with Windows machines, but not OS X machines.

In order to transfer files to and from the Nexus with my iMac, I had to install a special file manager app. Bleh! After a bit of research, I came to learn that it’s not exactly Android 4.0’s fault. Other 4.0 devices will support USB mass storage. The reason that the Galaxy Nexus does not support USB mass storage is because it does not include a microSD slot. As long as an Android 4.0 device has a removable flash card, it will support USB mass storage.

In hand, the Galaxy Nexus is comfortable to hold due to the rounded sides. Although the phone is light weight, it is solid and easily passes my patent pending gadgeteer squeeze test with no flexing, creaking or cracking. It’s a big phone though, so it’s not really pocket friendly.

Performance wise, this phone is very snappy. That shouldn’t come as a surprise since one of the best things about the Nexus is that it hasn’t been “polluted” with a lot of carrier bloatware and interface special sauce like HTC’s Sense and Motorola Blur.

Let’s take a look at a few of the new features that Android 4.0 offers.

The default lock screen isn’t too different, but you do have the option to use the front facing camera and your own face to unlock the phone. It’s kind of fun to play with and worked well for me. It falls back to a pattern matching unlock screen if the stored face isn’t recognized.

The app view scrolls left to right instead of up and down. In the image above you can see all the stock apps.

Here is the 2nd page of apps minus the Tiny Tower and Where’s My Water games that I installed. There are only two apps that have been added by Verizon and if you don’t want to see them you can actually disable them. Disabling does NOT uninstall them though, it just removes them from the app view. But, I was happy to see that Android 4.0 offers easier app removal now. Instead of having to go into the settings/applications area to uninstall an app, you can just tap and hold the icon for the uninstall option.

Also added to the app view are your available widgets. You can scroll through them just like you can your apps.

There is also a button in the top right corner for quick access to the App Market.

Here we see the dialer interface.

Your favorites dialing screen reminds me of the Windows 7 phone interface.

I didn’t have any issues using the Galaxy Nexus to make and receive calls. I’ve read that it can have problems with 3G connectivity, but I didn’t find that to be the case during the time I’ve been using the phone. In my area, 3G coverage is very good, so I rarely experience problems with dropped calls and the Nexus was no different in that regard. Call audio was clear and volume was very good even when I made calls from my basement with only 1 bar signal strength.

Browsing the web on the Nexus is a joy. My iPhone feels pretty cramped after using the Nexus! The browser feels pretty snappy too… even under 3G.

Another cool feature that I haven’t been able to test because I don’t know anyone else with a Nexus is the new Beam feature.  It will let you easily share contacts, websites, apps, maps, directions and YouTube videos with other people close by. The phone has NFC (near field communication) and when held near another NFC enabled Android 4.0 phone you can touch to beam and share. It kind of reminds me of the good old days when you could beam contacts and even apps back and forth to Palm OS devices.

All in all, I like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus quite a bit. If I were in the market for an Android phone right now, it would be the one I would probably buy even though it lacks a microSD card and I would have to deal with the annoying lack of the USB mass storage feature. Except for those 2 things, I love the huge display, snappy performance and quick camera. It’s definitely the phone to have right now due to the latest version of the OS and pure Android goodness.

 

Product Information

Price:$299.99 with 2yr contract, $649.99 without contract
Manufacturer:Samsung
Retailer:Verizon Wireless
Pros:
  • No bloatware
Cons:
  • Does not support USB mass storage mode
  • Macs require a file manager app to browse files via USB
  • No microSD card
Posted in: Android related, Reviews

{ 15 comments… add one }

  • Matt Penning January 13, 2012, 11:42 am

    Compared to your iPhone?

    I’m wishing that all carriers had the Nexus version of the Android phone. Consolidating the fraction OS version problems, along with the unique Nexus “Official Google” phone not being available on more than one carrier with each generation, are two of the reasons I bought my wife the iPhone 4S on Sprint this year.

  • Julie January 13, 2012, 11:48 am

    @Matt are you asking me to make a comparison between the iPhone and the Nexus? I’m still in the iPhone camp for 2 reasons.
    1. I still prefer iOS apps to Android apps.
    2. I still love the iPhone’s camera and all the camera apps.
    3. All the available accessories for the iPhone.

    Reason’s why I often day dream about switching to Android:
    1. Widgets on the home screen.
    2. Open OS.

  • Matt Penning January 13, 2012, 11:58 am

    @Julie That camera on the iPhone is gorgeous.

    I have a low end LG Optimus S on Sprint, bought for $0 when my Palm Pre died (*sniff* – love that system, hated the hardware, but loved the slider keyboard. I miss a hard keyboard, but the iPhone’s got a great native screen keyboard).

    Your number two reason for the Android – Open OS – is the one reason I still root for the system. I’m about to dive into the world of flash ROMs for Android, and hope that fixes some of the small glitches that bug me with my current device.

    I’m afraid that I’d feel confined by the closed system, albeit one that is vast and refined, and with the best battery life I’ve seen, would I go to the dark side and get an iPhone. The next iteration may change my mind. We shall see.

    Thank you for the review and response. Keep at it. I love The Gadgeteer site. One of my daily perusals.

  • Julie January 13, 2012, 12:12 pm

    @Matt Android gets better and better. I think Apple should be watching their back :)

  • Ted January 13, 2012, 8:40 pm

    I have the iPhone 4s 64 GB and the nexus Samsung plus galaxy i9000 and iPhone 4 the micro SD should be there on the nexus the camera should be 8 mp by me true is a very good phone but iPhone is an easy weapon to use ready for action what ever Samsung do will never reach apple but it is good phone no doubt about that the iPhone more friendly but I notice the typing on the nexus is Farr easy that the other androids big phone thin and cheap plastic at the back quaility ways it could be better sometime after will be ad may.

  • Deslock January 14, 2012, 3:04 am

    Thanks for the review… I always enjoy reading your take on things.

    I’d decided to get a VGN months ago, but it’s been held up for various reasons (I hope to finally have it next week). I’ve played with it a number of times and that mammoth hi-res screen (the main reason I want it) is as stunning as I expected. Pentile is noticeable even at this DPI, but only barely (unlike previous pentile screens -like the Droid RAZR’s, which looks horrible to me).

    ICS still stutters compared to iOS. If Apple had released a 4.5″+ iPhone in a 5 ounce form factor, I probably would’ve stuck with their platform.

  • AK January 16, 2012, 10:50 pm

    Nice review Julie,

    Still i would go for iPhone 4S basically for 2 reasons, One being the quality of Samsung mobiles always looks and feels cheap.
    Second i just love iOS, even if it is not so open as Android, it has its own advantages :)
    Thanks for review though

  • Baa January 17, 2012, 8:24 pm

    SGN is an amazing phone! Made the switch from my DHD as soon as this was released and absolutely love it. I love the massive screen which makes like so much easier when I use it to read books or play my PSX emulator while on the train.

    The fact that the phone performs so well out of the box without the need to custom roms (like my DHD) is even better. With moderate to heavy usage I can easily get 30+ hours out of the battery – as with all android phones just takes time to break them in.

    The ONE problem I have with the phone is the lack of SD card, I don’t really understand why this was not added but really I never used up all my space on my 16gb card in my old phone so I guess it is not too much of an issue.

    My wife is an apple user and is currently up to date with her iphone 4s and ipad 2 and always reassures me that she will never swap to android – however when I find her secretly playing with my phone I start to wonder – I think in this next generation of phones apple is going to have some serious competition. The one thing that apple has always had over android is user friendliness and ICS is certainly starting to make things easier (with all those advanced options still available for those of us who like to tweak things.)

  • Mark January 18, 2012, 12:39 pm

    Bought my galaxy nexus :) launch day dec 18 what sweet treat :) already running 4.0.3 and you think 4.0 was snappy!! Running 2 custom roms and quite happy. And adobe finally got around to updating flash :) No force closes here or random reboots what ppl have been complaining about. Oh BTW my device isn’t even overclocked don’t need it and battery life is awesome!!! Get a day or so on standby and I stream all my music google music… Sent from my pimped out galaxy nexus :)

  • Mark January 18, 2012, 12:40 pm

    One more thing USB OTG works perfectly.

  • florin5000 January 19, 2012, 6:22 am

    Mark let me understand that you can use an usb stick to connect to your nexus ? I have a usb otg cable from the samsung s2 but is not working on nexus.

  • Peter February 2, 2012, 3:22 pm

    I thought one thing you might miss is that using camera will pretty easily make the phone hot.

  • Julie February 2, 2012, 4:21 pm

    @Peter Hmmm, I didn’t notice that. You mean for video or just snap shots.

  • Laurie February 28, 2012, 8:43 am

    I am having trouble inserting the sim card, the slot is too narrow. Am I missing something?

  • David M.Campbell April 11, 2012, 5:25 am

    The samsung galaxy nexus has a sd card it is just internal.someone tell me i am right so i can open up my 16gig phone and change the card to 64 gigs

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