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Review: Galaxy Nexus is top Android phone, but you’ll need big hands

Dec 20, 2011 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Samsung's Galaxy Nexus is now the “king fish” of Android communicators in screen size, speed, and operating system functionality, according to this eWEEK review. But, its 4.65-inch screen makes the $300 device a challenge to hold by those whose hands are average-sized or smaller, the author adds.

Having spent the last several days using Verizon Wireless' Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone as my primary handset, I can honestly say it's the fastest phone I've ever had the pleasure of using.

The Galaxy Nexus, which Verizon began selling Dec. 15 for $300 on contract — you can get one from Amazon Wireless for $190 if you hurry — pairs the gorgeous new Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" operating system with a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and 23GB of flash storage.

Galaxy Nexus

Marry these facets with Verizon's blazing-fast 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) network and you're bound for great things. Indeed, I conducted several Ookla processing tests here in Fairfield County, CT and saw download speeds from 12 to 15.4Mbps. Uploads ranged from 6Mbps up to an incredible 10.1Mbps.

I flitted from the redesigned Gmail app, to YouTube and Facebook and Twitter for Android with ease. Netflix spooled up faster than it ever has for me on either an Android smartphone or Honeycomb tablet.

I also downloaded apps from the Android Market faster than I ever have in my life. Netflix took four to five seconds to download, while landed on the Nexus in three seconds flat. So very, very fast.

And yet, as much as it pains me to say — I'm a speed fiend — I'm just not sure yet if the Galaxy Nexus is my all-time, favorite smartphone. I've gone on record in past Android handset reviews proclaiming my dislike for smartphone displays larger than 4.3-inches, which is about as much as my average hands can handle and grip with ease and comfort.

While the Nexus' HD Super AMOLED display (1280 by 720 pixels) gorgeously renders both darks and lights indoors and outdoors, the screen is 4.65 inches. That's huge, too large for a smartphone in my opinion, but if you have large hands, it will probably fit great in your palm.

Samsung — no stranger to large smartphone screens as the maker of the 4.52-inch Galaxy S II models AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile currently sell — tries to balance the larger screen size by elongating the phone.

While the 4.52-inch screen model S IIs were 5.1 inches long, the Nexus is 5.3 inches. Fortunately, it weighs only 5.1 ounces so it's not unwieldy on balance. (Check out the full specifications in our earlier coverage.)

However, the phone felt a little large in my hand when I held it up to my ear to talk. The voice and call quality, by the way, worked well. I experienced no static, echo or dropped calls worth grousing over. ICS' redesigned dialer is a sweet, simplistic touch utility, providing spacious buttons for tapping numbers.

The Nexus sports a nice, textured gray-backed grip and is contoured to make it easier to hold. Overall, it's a fine piece of hardware, but it's the software that really shines here.

ICS shines, and the camera's great

ICS is essentially the Android "Honeycomb" tablet-tailored OS scaled down for the smartphone form factor. Fire up the phone and you immediately see the little, nimble software navigation buttons, including a back button, home button and a multi-tasking button that, when tapped, served up the application tray. This consolidates the apps a user has used on the phone in a scrolling stream — it's a very nice feature, borrowed from Honeycomb.

Go to the app launcher and you see options for widgets, which are essentially the same types of customizable widgets users may remember from Honeycomb. Users can pin widgets for Google Books, bookmarks, an analog clock, contacts and Google Calendar on any of the phone's five homescreens.

Samsung's Galaxy Nexus, showing Google+ integration

Users may access Gmail, YouTube, Google Search, Google Maps, Maps Navigation, Google Books, Google Music, Google+, Google+ Messenger, Google Talk, Android Market, and Google Calendar all from a Google Mobile widget. This makes the Nexus a Google Mobile apps users' dream.

Google also created a nice People app that lets users access their phone's contacts from like Facebook, Twitter, as well as Gmail and other social networks. People app includes high-resolution profile photos, and lets users check their friends' status updates.

In general, ICS is a marked improvement in efficiency and multi-tasking over the Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" build I've been testing on Android phones for the last several months.

I found the five megapixel camera, which would normally be modest with so many eight megapixel shooters gracing the other premium Android phones, to be more than adequate. When Google advertises zero shutter lag, it means it.

I'm so used to the lagging load time and shutter of my Motorola Droid X at this point that I've become a pro at timing pictures right simply by accounting for a 10 second load and lag time. You don't get that with the Nexus.

The only time you wait is when you take a picture in "panorama mode," which takes several seconds to scan and save a photo to the phone. Video recorded in 1080p, pretty much standard for premium phones.

Face Unlock, the facial detection software Google flaunted as a new front for Android smartphones, worked as well as advertised. I simply took a picture of my face with the 1.3MP front-facing camera. Every time I pushed the on button thereafter, Face Unlock scanned my mug, and let me in — or didn't if I tricked it by making a funny face.

You should also note that if people look similar, and I'm not even talking about just identical twins, it's possible to fool Face Unlock, so if security is a top priority for your Nexus, you should use other unlocking features, such as a pattern or PIN.

The Nexus' 1850 mAh battery is the best I've tested yet on a 4G LTE phone from Verizon, lasting pretty much a full day even with some video watching, though I didn't watch more than 30 minutes of Netflix straight. (I just didn't have the time.)

Regret: I did not get to test Android Beam, the near field communications (NFC) content sharing app because, well, I simply don't have another NFC-enabled device with which to tap it against to share Web pages, apps, YouTube clips and other content.


Overall, for those users who love speed and powerful app processing in a smartphone, paired with a monster-big screen that's great for gaming and consuming a lot of YouTube, Netflix and other video, the phone is well worth the $300 price tag (and a no-brainer if you can get the Amazon deal).

But if you don't feel you need ICS yet and prefer a smaller, more modest smartphone go ahead and swim downstream; the Galaxy Nexus is now the king fish of Android communicators, in screen size, price and OS functionality.

Clint Boulton is a writer for eWEEK.

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