It's the Galaxy Nexus. It has LTE. It's the phone we've been waiting (and waiting) for. Sure, some of our more globe-trotting members of the staff were suitably sated by the HSPA+ version that shipped a few weeks ago, but the rest of us domestic types simply need more bandwidth. Or, at least, we like to think that we do, and this $300 (on-contract) Verizon release certainly has that in spades.
However, there's something missing: Google Wallet. That company's attempt at reinventing commerce isn't here and, while nobody's saying for sure, it surely has something to do with Verizon not wanting to kneecap the Isis payment service it has invested in. That leaves us wondering: with restrictions on what apps can be installed, and some rather prominent carrier branding on the back, is this really a Nexus device at all? And, more importantly, is it a good phone? Those answers and more wait for you below.%Gallery-142006%
If we had to guess, we'd say the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is a compulsive eater -- you know, if it feels sad or guilty it just can't help but eat. Surely it's a bit down on itself for making all you gadget lovers wait, gnawing its way through a couple-dozen crullers as it suffered through delay after delay after delay. We're only speculating, of course, but the phone has definitely put on some weight since the HSPA+ version was released.
This LTE release is 9.47mm (.37 inches) thick and hits the scales at 150g. That's 15g heavier than the 135g HSPA+ version and a half-millimeter thicker than its 8.94mm predecessor. A half a mill may not sound like much, and it isn't, but that's not to say it isn't noticeable. The weight is more of a concern, extra heft seeming to imbalance the phone somewhat. The HSPA+ version feels like it has much more of its mass situated at the bottom, so it rests nicely in the hand. The LTE version, annoyingly, is just a bit more top-heavy.
That said, these are all incredibly subtle distinctions that don't make for an LTE phone that's too heavy but, if you had your choice, the HSPA+ version is definitely the one you'd want to hold in your hand or toss in your pocket.
Some of that extra weight comes from the healthy 1,850mAh battery nestled in the back beneath a typically flimsy plastic cover, just the sort that we've seen on plenty of other superphones from Samsung. That's a slight boost from the 1,750mAh model in the HSPA+ phone, but the difference in size and weight between the two cells is so minor that the extra girth and heft are definitely coming thanks to the boosted internals here. This is most noticeable at the top, where phone is visibly thicker.
Also under that battery cover lies a micro SIM card, smaller and in a different location than the HSPA+ SIM, which is up next to the camera assembly. Look closely and you'll see the screws, connectors and other details are all very differently positioned between these two devices, leaving us wondering just how similar they are internally. We're very much looking forward to iFixit's prying eyes and tools to tell us.
Interestingly, the differences are enough to make the near-identical looking backplates non-interchangeable. So, if you were hoping to pick up an HSPA+ cover to get rid of the Verizon branding, you're out of luck. And yes, we'll say that again: there's Verizon branding on this thing. That's the first strike against this being a true "Nexus" device. The second is the loss of Google Wallet, which we'll cover in a bit.
Despite the lack of Wallet there is still NFC here, as is the 1.2GHz dual-core processor paired with 1GB of RAM. Our phone is offering 32GB of built-in storage, but still there's no USB mass storage mode, meaning you'll still be relying on MTP or PTP for file transfers -- not the end of the world, but certainly an inconvenience.
To transfer files you'll be connecting over the micro-USB port built into the bottom, which is situated next to the 3.5mm headphone jack. The power button is on the upper-right side, volume rocker on the left, and not much of anything is up on the top. There is no dedicated micro-HDMI output, but the micro-USB port supports MHL, so that's almost as good. Also, we're fans of the three-color LED situated in the bezel below the display. It fades in and out gently and looks a good bit classier than your average blinking email notifier.
And of course we can't end the hardware discussion without discussing that superb 4.65-inch 1280 x 720 Super AMOLED display. Yes, there's been a lot talk about the RGBG pentile layout here and how that results in poor color reproduction, lower effective resolution and male pattern baldness. Those things may be true, but you'll be too busy staring at it to care. It's bright, it's beautiful, the viewing angles are as close to 180 degrees as you can get.
And then there's the resolution. If you have the eyesight to match the 316ppi pixel density you will love being able to browse desktop versions of websites without having to scroll all over the place. We loaded up Distro and were able to read full magazine pages without trouble -- a task some tablets struggle with. It's simply a great display, and the subtle curve given to the glass adds an extra touch of class.
Performance and battery life
This device may not have the highest clock speed in the world but it is definitely a strong performer. It's still hard to know how much of the responsiveness of the device comes from its Ice Cream Sandwich build and how much of that is thanks to the silicon its running on, but that's a debate we can sort out later. Right now all that matters is that this thing is fast. Really fast.
Apps load quickly, webpages render in a snap, scrolling and pinch-zooming are butter smooth. Through and through, this is a fast phone. Even the installation of apps seems to happen far more quickly than on other devices. It's a revelation, and you won't want to put it down.
This oomph comes from a TI OMAP 4460 processor and PowerVR SGX540 GPU, helped along by 1GB of RAM. This is the same configuration as the HSPA+ version but, curiously, benchmark scores here came up notably lower in both Quadrant and Sunspider. Not by a huge amount, mind, and we tend to not put a lot of weight behind such synthetic numbers, but it is a somewhat curious result that we verified on two Verizon phones. Other benchmarks were generally within spitting distance.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Samsung Galaxy Nexus HSPA+
Samsung Galaxy Note
Linpack Single-thread (MFLOPS)
Linpack Multi-thread (MFLOPS)
Nenamark 1 (fps)
Nenamark 2 (fps)
Would not run
Would not run
SunSpider 9.1 (ms)
And then there's the battery life. It's well known that LTE can put a real hurting on phone longevity and that appears to be the case here as well, our Nexus struggling to hold on to a charge in day-to-day use with all antennas firing. We've as of yet had very limited time with the thing, but in our 24 hours of intensive testing we had to reach for the charger multiple times. Using Google Navigation with LTE enabled? The battery drained so fast our in-car charger couldn't keep up, leaving us unsure of which exit to take off the 101.
However, disable the LTE in favor of just CDMA and the story is very different. In our standard run-down test, a looped video with the display locked at 50 percent brightness and the phone connected via CDMA (LTE disabled), the phone managed six hours and 15 minutes. That's a full hour longer than the HSPA+ model, surely thanks in most part to that bigger battery. So, if you can refrain from drinking from that sweet, sweet fountain of 4G, this is actually a respectably long-lived phone.
Open up the spigot, though, and you'll see some great speeds. Data rates are predictably well into double-digits, but consistently slower than other LTE devices we had hanging around. Your performance will vary based on your region but average downloads hovered around 14Mbps, with uploads around 10. We saw peak speeds higher, up to around 18Mbps down, but a Droid Charge at the same location was pulling down 25 - 30Mbps. That is, needless to say, a significant difference.
The big story here is Ice Cream Sandwich, the 4.0 release of Google's Android that's designed to unify the tablet and smartphone experience while also creating world peace and curing the common cold. It doesn't quite succeed on all-fronts, but it is a significant step up over Honeycomb both in terms of responsiveness and sheer visual appeal. We won't re-hash our entire thoughts on the OS here, as they've been comprehensively expressed in our full Ice Cream Sandwich review, so suffice to say ICS is quite good. It won't do much to convert the Android haters, but it will make the lovers very, very happy.
What will surely make them upset, however, is the lack of Google Wallet. It's safe to say that the company's mobile payment solution has yet to take the retail world by storm, but it certainly has the potential to do so. The thought of being stuck sitting on the sidelines while the platform develops is troubling to say the least, and so we would respectfully ask that Verizon end its "commercial discussions" and enable the damned app already.
While Nexus phones tend to have advanced hardware and designs, ultimately its their unbridled access to the most recent flavors of Android that makes them most appealing to many buyers. This software restriction leaves us wondering whether this otherworldly Nexus will be similarly supported down the road.
It was, at least, first to receive Android 4.02, an update pushed the morning of release. Such a patch being delivered on the very day something ships is usually a good sign that things were coming down to the wire, as they most certainly were on this version of the Galaxy Nexus. But, all appears to be rock solid now, as we never encountered any stability issues.
The camera module here is identical to that found in the HSPA+ version, which we found to be a bit less than exemplary. That's not to say bad -- it's a perfectly average performer, but that's still a disappointment compared to the otherwise top-shelf optics found in some of Samsung's other cameras. Why didn't Samsung put a top-shelf eight megapixel unit in here? It's a frustrating mystery and more than a little disappointing.
Low-light images are noisy while bright ones are often soft. The 1080p24 video suffers similar faults but does at least offer continuous autofocus. And, for those who like taking a lot of stills, the zero shutter lag on the Nexus is a nice touch. Just tap-tap-tap on the screen and the camera rarely fails to keep up. It is even faster than Apple's iPhone 4S and a perfectly good way to fill up that 32GB of internal storage.%Gallery-140186%
We already knew more-or-less what we were getting with the Verizon rendition of the Galaxy Nexus, and ultimately it delivers. Yes, battery life predictably takes a hit compared to the HSPA+ when you enable LTE, and it's safe to say this version of the phone has a bit more to love than the earlier release, but neither of those are deal-breakers. This, like the other version, is a great phone. At $300 with a two-year contract ($650 without) it is not cheap, but if you must have the best, it's well worth it.
Oh, and does it truly deserve to wear the Nexus name? No, not quite, but we're not going to let ourselves get too worked up about that.
Myriam Joire and Zach Honig contributed to this review