Samsung Galaxy Nexus - Mini Review

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the next Android phone to hold the name "Nexus", meaning like its predecessors it was developed in collaboration with Google. The hardware can be considered an evolutionary step, taking many design elements from the very popular Samsung Galaxy S II, with a touch of the Samsung Nexus S thrown in. The real story here is that the Galaxy Nexus is the first phone to come with Google Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich. This is the next major revision of Android and looks to merge Android 2.x (Phone OS) and Android 3.x (Tablet OS), hopefully ending some of the fragmentation that has plagued the platform from day one, as well as taking Android to the next level, competing with Apple's iOS 5.0.

I have now been using the Galaxy Nexus (GSM on O2) for just over three weeks and thought it was time to post a mini review.

What I like:

I have always been a fan of the iPhone 4's 3.7inch IPS Retina Display. The 640×960 resolution and industry leading 326 pixels per inch is simply breathtaking, providing a sharpness and clarity never before seen on a consumer mobile device.

Since the iPhone 4's release in 2010 we have seen hundreds of high specification displays, however in my opinion none of them have offered the same quality as the Retina Display. Until now!

The Galaxy Nexus offers a massive 4.65inch Super AMOLED display with an impressive 720×1280 resolution and 316 pixels per inch. This display is simply incredible! The colours are eye popping and it sounds strange, but I have never seen black look this black on a any other device. It even makes the colours on the iPhone's Retina Display look washed out when compared side by side. I can honestly say this is the first phone that I would happily watch a movie on, without automatically reaching for my iPad or MacBook Pro.

The second great thing about the Galaxy Nexus is the operating system itself. For the first time Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) feels complete, with a beautiful new "TRON like" user interface that is fast, elegant and easy to use. It also comes with a number of new useful features, three that I am am particularly impressed with:

  • A new multi-taking menu that allows you to quickly close applications, without requiring a third party task manager. This has always been a major pain point in previous version of Google Android, as you know a rogue application is killing your performance and battery, but it was difficult to track it down and kill it.
  • For the first time Android 4.0 provides the ability to track cellular data usage as well as set warnings and limits. This is a great feature for anyone with a data usage limit (just about everyone in the UK). I have a 500MB monthly limit and therefore set a warning for 400MB and have data usage automatically stop at 500MB. I hope Apple and Microsoft look to include this feature in future updates.
  • Finally I am loving the Google Music integration, allowing me to access and stream my entire music library anywhere in the world, as well as download any songs for offline usage. This is exactly how I want my music to work and I hope Google don't over complicate the service with future updates.

What I don't like:

So I love the display, but unfortunately the rest of the device feels somewhat underwhelming. The plastic shell, although well built, feels cheap to hold, especially when compared to the perfectly formed glass and metal of the iPhone 4S. If you don't believe me, just pop the back off and ask yourself if you would ever hear that plastic cracking noise on an Apple product. In Samsung's defence, it is clear the Galaxy Nexus was built to a price, with the aim for it to be able to undercut the premium iPhone.

My next pain point is one that I have spoken about before. In my opinion the Android Marketplace is still a mess. Due to the vast number of different Android devices and operating system versions, it is increasingly difficult to find a decent application or know if it will actually work on your device. I had a number of apps fail to run or constantly crash on the Galaxy Nexus, which is a quick way to take the shine off a new device. Now I know this will improve with time, however if history is anything to go by Google will likely have Android 5.0 out before all apps are running seamlessly on Android 4.0. Simply put, this experience is still an embarrassment when compared to the Apple App Store.

Finally, I have a few concerns about the Galaxy Nexus battery performance. I'm not sure if the issue is hardware or software related, but I have been struggling to achieve a full days life. Worse of all, I would not even consider myself a heavy user, with an average day consisting of periodic usage of social networking apps and music. As a comparison, under the same usage conditions I normally achieve at least two days from the iPhone 4S (which is reported to have its own battery issues). Hopefully this situation will improve with future Android software updates.

Conclusion:

Overall the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is without a doubt the best Android phone ever made. In fact, I would argue that it is one of the best phones ever made. It's not perfect (as detailed above), but it's a giant leap forward in user experience for Android devices, offering a great user interface that is fast and simple to use.

Is it better then the iPhone 4S? In my opinion the answer is still no. The best way I can describe it is that with Apple the hardware and software always feel as one, resulting in a seamless experience. By comparison I feel that the hardware and software of Android devices are, at times, detached, with a higher rate of unresponsive touches, lagging and crashes. Although the Galaxy Nexus is the best yet, I still encountered these frustrations.

With that said, I believe the Galaxy Nexus marks a significant milestone in the Android story, with the new operating system moving the platform from good to great and I only expect this trend to continue.