You could say that the Galaxy Nexus is the most anticipated Android device of 2011. It’s what Android enthusiasts were hoping the Nexus S to be when dual core technology started cropping up in mid-2010. The Galaxy Nexus was already out towards the end of 2011 in the West, but here in Asia, we are only getting a glimpse of this device now.
As an Android Enthusiast, I have high expectations of the Galaxy Nexus. After all, it is a Pure Google device that’s considered by many to run bleeding edge Android OS. It is Android at its best. However, after spending 5 days with the Galaxy Nexus, it seems to me that either Android hasn’t exactly arrived, or I’ve had too high an expectation on the Nexus. The Galaxy Nexus experience left me wanting and at times – frustrated.
If you’ve haven’t read my previous article on hardware acceleration, you wouldn’t have a clue where I’m coming from, but if you have, then I’m sure you’ll agree with some of the points I’ve mentioned below. Perhaps I have been sold the idea that Ice Cream Sandwich has taken the Android OS to match the UI smoothness of iOS. Frankly, it hasn’t, but it’s close. Very close.
“Don’t get me wrong.”
I love ICS, and I definitely love Android, but there are some parts of ICS which I felt that Google could have done better. Even stranger, was my experience using Touchwiz 3.0 and HTC Sense 3.0 made the experience of the Android 4.0 Pure Google interface disappointing in certain areas. I definitely loved the look of ICS, but not the way certain things worked. If only I could have Touchwiz/HTC Sense functions with an ICS look.
There are tonnes of Galaxy Nexus reviews online, and you certainly do not need me to regurgitate what they have said. So, I’m just gonna cut all the sugar coated words and put the Galaxy Nexus under the knife. This is one review without bias.
A Form That Is Tried And Tested
Unlike the International version of the Galaxy S2, the Galaxy Nexus feels sturdier in the hands. It looked like the marriage between HTC’s aluminium unibody and Samsung’s plastic surgery. The thought of your phone breaking when it hits the floor dissipates from the mind and I am sure this is one phone that can handle a drop test without breaking. It fits in the pocket nicely and there are no concerns about inferior built quality. This does not feel ‘cheap’, unlike previous Samsung Phones – which is a good thing.
The power button and volume rocker feels too soft. It lacks a ‘clicky’ feel which makes me wonder if they could have made it harder like the power button on an iPhone. There are several incidences where I’ve taken the Nexus out of my pocket to realise that the screen was already turned on. Harder buttons would have prevented this.
The curved display is wonderful. When placed faced down, the screen never touches the table, and this prevents scratches on your display. The 3.5mm jack is located on the bottom of the phone and this is slightly awkward for me.
The position of the camera right in the middle of the phone’s back will mean more unnecessary scratches on the camera lens. A simple phone case should solve this though. The battery cover is similar to that on the Galaxy S2. I thought it would have been a nice touch if this was Kevlar coated instead as it didn’t provided enough grip as I thought it would. Still any sensible person will likely get a case to solve this.
The position of the speaker is horrible and contributes to the soft ringtone volume of the phone (especially when the phone is placed with the speakers facing down on a table). I’ve tested this against other Android devices and the ringtone volume is perhaps about 50% the volume of other devices. This makes missed calls and missed messages a norm with this phone.
Pure Google UI Is Smoother… But…
I love the Android 4.0 purplish Tron-like look. It’s futuristic, and modern, but not without some areas of disappointment. Android 4.0 boasts hardware acceleration – which means the on screen components are generated by the GPU and is unlike previous Android versions which draws the components from the Processor. This ultimately means less processor hogging – and ultimately smoother graphics and superior battery life.
The transition between homescreens is without a doubt, the smoothest I’ve seen on an Android device. However, I did notice minute lags when opening the app drawer and while scrolling through the widget drawer. To the untrained eye, this may not be problem, but this frankly means that hardware acceleration did not resolve all the laggy problems Android faced. Ultimately, this may mean that Android lovers will have to live with such ‘minute’ lags for as long as Android exists.
Android 4.0 is Google’s attempt at simplicity. However, I felt that Google made a design flaw with the OS. They should have kept the Menu button, instead of the back button. Currently, the back button minimises the current app to the background. I honestly preferred this to be a menu button instead. The home button should have done what the back button is currently doing.
Application sharing is one of the strong points of Android. With a normal Android phone, pressing the menu button (while you’re in a browser or photo gallery) launches the sharing functions and this lets you share your content on Facebook or Twitter. With Android 4.0, sharing gets a little bit tricky. For example, in the Browser, the sharing function is located in the settings – which unfortunately, is located on the top right of the screen. So much for one handed web browsing…
Also, this ‘settings’ button (the one that looks like 3 little bullets lined up like a colon) isn’t executed right. Occasionally, this button is on the top, and at other times, it appears on the bottom. The lack of consistency where this button is placed makes it hard to navigate – especially when the menu button has been given the boot. I find this frustrating whenever I attempted to access the settings and sharing functions.
The multitasking button is a big welcome in an app saturated world. However, at times I wished it to be as simple as TouchWiz or HTC Sense where I could just kill all the apps running in the background with one simple touch. The fact that the back button pushes apps to the background seems to make it necessary for a ‘one touch, kill all apps’ feature within the multitasking page, instead of killing apps one by one, which proves to be a pain, when you have 10-15 apps running at the same time. Although Android 4.0 proves to be running competently with that many apps in the background, it would be nice to have something that tidies up the system quickly.
A Camera That’s Excellent For Macro
The Auto Focus function on the Galaxy Nexus is acceptable. I find the ability to go really closed-up on macro shots to be an even greater deal. On a usual Android phone, macro shots usually allows you to be around 15-20cm away from the photo subject, but the Galaxy Nexus allows you to come up to around 7-9cm away from the photo subject; allowing really nice and tight close-ups unavailable on other devices.
Photography on the Galaxy Nexus turns out to be more ‘mellow’ – with less contrast between darker and brighter areas. Shots from the Nexus are comparable with other Android devices, though the macro capabilities really make the Nexus camera shine.
Display, Browser, Calls
The Super Amoled screen on the Galaxy Nexus works well with the revamped ICS look. Battery life is great on the Galaxy Nexus as well, not to mention proper data management tracking capabilities built straight in the OS.
Calls are on par with other Android phone, although I find that the speaker/speakerphone to be a bit lower in volume. I guess the position of the speaker grill might be a problem. The browser is smooth and the auto sync with your Chrome browser makes saving bookmarks a lovable experience. Although the browser is smooth, it’s very mechanical. When scrolling, it does scroll smooth, but it comes to a screeching halt – unlike the browser on the SGS2 which flows smoothly until it slows and comes to a stop.
UI Graphics Are Good, Gaming Graphics Not So
The Galaxy Nexus comes with a PowerVR SGX 540 graphics processor – which performs very well on the homescreens even in the presence of a live wallpaper. The minute lag in the app drawer and widget drawer is there, but is invisible to the untrained eye.
When subjected to intensive 3D graphics and gaming, the PowerVR SGX 540 didn’t really perform as expected. I personally use Wind-Up Knight as my own benchmark for intensive 3D gaming, and on the higher levels of the game, the Nexus wasn’t smooth. I am not sure if the team at Robot Invader incorporated the right drivers, (it could be a texture problem) but the GPU could not keep up with the game. It made me wonder if this could be another area where GPU fragmentation could happen.
Third party applications are also not as smooth as I hoped them to be. Facebook for Android was one of the apps that had minute lags that disrupted the smooth ICS experience. It’s not a big deal, but it’s a pebble in the shoe that has to be dealt with.
There are many things I love about the Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0. The new user interface is a joy to behold, apart from several quirks here and there. It’s polished, and is what Android is meant to be – fast, smooth and friendly. However, I can’t help but feel that unlike WebOS and iOS, Android 4.0 is still going through growing pains. It’s certainly one of the best devices out there, although I felt that it’s still living under the enormous shadow of the SGS2. Pure Google has been an eye opener, and strangely, it renewed my love for TouchWiz and HTC Sense. Although gimmicky, manufacturer UI does not seem to be a bad thing right now, provided it increases the functionality of Android, instead of hogging ram resources.
The Galaxy Nexus is brilliant for any newcomers to Android, but as a person who has handled close to 10 Android devices – it left me wanting. If you can live without TouchWiz and Sense, and some of the quirks I’ve highlighted in this article, this device is for you.
For me, I felt that the Galaxy Nexus (surprisingly) wasn’t my cup of tea. As I thought more about what kind of Android 4.0 device would appeal to me better, I felt it was something akin to ICS look and feel + TouchWiz functionality. Now, if only Samsung can keep me on the bleeding Android edge, on non-Nexus devices, I will be a happy man. Based on the recent UI look and feel guide released by Google, this might be possible soon.
Hands on Galaxy Nexus Review Photo Gallery
HSPA+ 21Mbps/HSUPA 5.76Mbps 850/900/1700/1900/2100
1.2 GHz Dual Core Processor
4.65” 1280X720 HD Super AMOLED
5 MP AF with LED Flash
Recording 1080p Full HD Video@30fps
3.5mm Ear Jack
Android Market™, Gmail™, Google Earth™, YouTube™, Movie Studio
Google Maps™ 5.0 with 3D maps and turn-by-turn navigation
Syncing with Google Calendar™, Google+ app
Bluetooth® technology v 3.0
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n
Accelerometer, Compass, Gyro, Light, Proximity, Barometer
1GB(RAM) + 16GB Internal memory
135.5 x 67.94 x 8.94mm, 135g
Standard battery, Li-on 1,750 mAh