There's absolutely no doubt that the Galaxy Nexus is a big phone. Sure, it's not Galaxy Note large
, but it's a smidgen taller (and narrower) than the HTC Titan
. As such it dwarfs its predecessor, the Nexus S. While this could be an issue for some folks, we didn't have any trouble fitting the handset in our pockets. Despite its size, the Galaxy Nexus manages to be quite thin (8.94mm / 0.35in) and light (135g / 4.76oz). As a result, it feels wonderful in hand. Design-wise, the Galaxy Nexus looks like what we imagine would happen if we stacked a Nexus S and a Galaxy S II and flattened them with a rolling pin. Last year's shiny black lacquer gives way to a satiny gunmetal gray finish that manages to be at once more refined and more understated. Build quality is typical Samsung -- the plastic construction is durable but looks and feels cheap for such a flagship device.
The Galaxy Nexus looks like what we imagine would happen if we stacked a Nexus S and a Galaxy S II and flattened them with a rolling pin.
In front, the Galaxy Nexus is almost identical to the Nexus S, with a sheet of "reinforced" curved glass hiding sensors and a 1.3 megapixel front-facing camera to the right of the earpiece. Notably absent are the familiar capacitive buttons, which have been replaced with three softkeys in Ice Cream Sandwich. There's also a notification light just below the display, something we'd like to see on all phones. The back blends the curves from the Nexus S with a textured battery cover and oval camera pod reminiscent of the Epic 4G Touch
. While the battery door uses the same snap-on design as most Galaxy S II variants, we found it harder to snap shut. The camera pod is home to a five megapixel autofocus shooter and single LED flash. A microphone is cleverly hidden in the seam of the battery cover, above and to the right of the camera pod, and the speaker is located on the signature chin at the bottom of the device. Google and Samsung's logos are stenciled on the battery door.
All the controls and ports follow the exact same layout as on the Nexus S. You'll find the headphone jack, micro-USB connector and main microphone along the bottom edge of the handset, the volume rocker on the left side, the power / lock key up along the right side and nothing on the top edge. There's a series of three gold contacts below the power / lock button, presumably for an optional charging dock -- something that Nexus One owners will be familiar with. Under the battery cover, this unlocked HSPA+ version is home to a 1,750mAh NFC-enabled battery and a standard SIM slot nestled to the right of the camera pod. Sadly, there's no removable storage on the Galaxy Nexus.
With its clean and rather plain design, the Galaxy Nexus doesn't exactly stand out in a crowd (except, perhaps, for its size), but this all changes the instant you see the screen. The 4.65-inch HD Super AMOLED display (1280 x 720 pixels) is simply beyond par. Gorgeous doesn't even begin to describe this screen -- try amazing, jaw-dropping, mind-boggling. As we mentioned in our first impressions
, fonts are crisp, colors are vibrant, blacks are deep and viewing angles are exceptional. Yes, the panel is similar to that of the Galaxy Note, which means it's PenTile, and yes, the HTC Rezound
features a beautiful 4.3-inch 720p TFT display with a proper RGB matrix, but the writing's on the wall: Super AMOLED is brilliant, and it's only getting better.
Considering most Galaxy S II variants are powered by Samsung's in-house Exynos SoC, with some models using Qualcomm's Snapdragon S3 and NVIDIA's Tegra 2, we were surprised to discover that the Galaxy Nexus eschew all of these in favor of TI's OMAP 4460, a dual-core 1.2GHz Cortex A9 CPU with a PowerVR SGX540 GPU, paired here with 1GB of RAM. Our unlocked HSPA+ review unit boasts 16GB of built-in storage (the LTE version comes with 32GB). Unfortunately -- and unlike Gingerbread -- Ice Cream Sandwich only supports USB Mass Storage on removable media, leaving MTP and PTP as the only options to transfer content to / from the phone via USB.
In terms of radios, you'll find WiFi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 3.0, GPS / AGPS and NFC. Moreover, the Galaxy Nexus is the first Android device with a pentaband 21Mbps HSPA+ radio (that's 2100, 1700 / AWS, 1900, 900, and 850MHz bands), meaning it's compatible with both T-Mobile and AT&T's 3G / "4G" networks in the US. A quadband EDGE radio provides legacy support. Rounding up the spec list is the usual bevy of sensors -- accelerometer, compass, gyroscope, light and proximity -- along with a new kid of the block, known as a barometer. Speaking of sensors, we experienced problems with the auto-brightness setting, which would dim the screen too much in low light, while behaving normally in daylight. Hopefully, this will be fixed in a future software update.
Performance and battery life
The Galaxy Nexus is definitely one of the fastest Android handsets we've ever played with. Everything feels snappy, everything looks fluid -- Ice Cream Sandwich isn't just a new version of Google's mobile OS, it's what happens when Android hits the gym and becomes lean and mean. That being said, the Galaxy Note, with its dual-core 1.4GHz Exynos processor and optimized build of Samsung's TouchWiz 4.0 UI, still wins in terms of perceived speed. Getting the most performance from Android 4.0 requires a few tweaks. Not all the live wallpapers are fully optimized (for example, Phase Beam is, but Water isn't). Developers have to add a single line of code to their apps to take advantage of 2D hardware acceleration -- you're able to enable this as the default for all apps by checking "Force GPU rendering" in the Developer Options.
Ice Cream Sandwich is what happens when Android hits the gym and becomes lean and mean.
Looking at our benchmark results, it's clear the Galaxy Nexus is no slouch. We're not going to read too much into the Quadrant score, since we're not even sure the app works properly in Ice Cream Sandwich, but it's close to what we observed on the HTC Rezound. The results for most of the other tests match those from the Motorola Droid RAZR
(similarly powered by TI's OMAP 4430 chip), except for Neocore, which would crash each time we tried running it. Most impressive is the Sunspider score, which is the lowest we've ever recorded on any phone. In fact, the entire web browser is blazingly fast -- gone is the signature lag that's familiar to anyone who's ever browsed the web on Android.
We didn't experience any issues with network performance. Calls sounded loud and clear on both ends (thanks in part, no doubt, to the dual microphone setup), and data speeds on T-Mobile and AT&T matched our expectations for this type of radio, with results as high as 8Mbps down and 1.7Mbps up. Some European owners have documented erratic volume problems
when connected to 900MHz GSM networks -- something we were unable to reproduce here in the US for lack of compatible bands -- but Google's already promised a fix. Audio quality is fine when listening to music. The Galaxy Nexus is able to drive a variety of headphones and earbuds without trouble, and the speaker is surprisingly decent.
Battery life is excellent. While we only managed to squeeze about five hours and 15 minutes from our battery rundown test (where we play a looped video starting from a full charge), it matches what we saw with the Droid RAZR, which features a similar battery and processor. Note that we switched video players since our usual app misbehaves in Ice Cream Sandwich. The 1,750mAh battery fared significantly better in our battery usage test (where we use the device normally until it shuts down), lasting an impressive 28 hours. Other than watching videos, it's unlikely most people will have to worry about running out of juice with the Galaxy Nexus.
We're just going to come right out and say it. The five megapixel autofocus camera on the Galaxy Nexus is underwhelming, and to be clear, we're not referring to the specs, but to the actual pictures. In the year since the introduction of the Nexus S, we've witnessed significant improvements in camera performance, first with Samsung's Galaxy S II, then with HTC's myTouch 4G Slide
, and more recently, with Apple's iPhone 4S
. Each of these handsets combines an eight megapixel backside-illuminated sensor with a fast wide-angle autofocus lens, and takes wonderful shots. It's not clear why Google passed on using Samsung's flagship camera module, but it's a real shame. While the Galaxy Nexus shooter is extremely fast and introduces plenty of new features, it provides little (if any) improvement in picture quality over the Nexus S.