Nexus is a smartphone family signed by Google, while the OEM manufacturer is variable – for Nexus One, it was HTC, and for the next one, Nexus S, Google picked Samsung; the latest member of the family, Galaxy Nexus, is signed by Samsung yet again. As is customary, Nexus-family devices contain no custom UIs, such as TouchWiz or Sense, and the entire environment is kept just as Google originally envisaged it. Alongside the high degree of user customizability, Nexus devices are very popular with advanced users because they’re routinely the first ones to receive new software updates. From the hardware point of view, bar the curved display surface, Nexus S is almost identical to Galaxy S, but Galaxy Nexus is supposed to do away with this tradition and bring some tangible improvements. The fact that it ships with the latest version of Android OS (4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich) and that it’s the first phone to do so is certainly a nod in the right direction.
From the outside, the latest model strongly emphasises its pedigree, by both its curved display (a Nexus-exclusive trait) and its innovative design. Although the display size is quite a bit larger than on Samsung’s Galaxy S II, its physical dimensions are hardly increased at all, which looks and feels great. One of the reasons is that this phone doesn’t have any hardware keys at all, as they’re integrated into the UI, thereby reducing the display frame. The only two actual buttons on this phone are located on the sides: the volume button on the left and the power button on the right. The battery cover is well perforated and enables a very tight grip. Also visible on the back are the camera and its belonging LED flash higher up, as well as the grid hiding the speaker of average loudness. Under the cover, there’s the battery (with a capacity lower than what we’d expected) and the SIM card slot, albeit without the microSD slot, the omission of which we can’t really explain. Above the display, there are the handset speaker grid, front camera and ambient light sensor. An interesting feat is that charging/connection ports are present on the side, but with no add-on of this kind available on the market at the moment. The microUSB port, used for charging, data transfer and image display via the MHL HDMI adapter, is located on the bottom, as well as the standard 3.5 mm headphone connector. Although no metal parts are involved, the phone radiates quality and reliability. The grip is very comfortable, and its asymmetrical design makes it easy to estimate whether you’ve gripped it well or not, even in reduced visibility conditions. Its weight is well-balanced, so although it doesn’t fall into the feather-light category, the ranks of Galaxy S and S II, there are no disturbances or strain during longer use and hold “sessions”.
Although the phone’s design is easily recognisable, the display is the bit that’s going to attract attention of a common passer-by. Of course, there’s the size of the display itself, which is large, but the most important feature is its resolution. Simply enough, HD Ready resolution looks amazing and impressive in every way on a display of this size. Owing to the Super AMOLED technology, contrast is stunning, and the sheer number of pixels makes most of the flaws related to this technology plain invisible. Colours are bright, but automatic brightness regulation should’ve been better optimised. The display has a fingerprint-reduction coating, so don’t be afraid of a “greasy” phone with this model. The popular Gorilla glass, otherwise extremely resistant to scratches and damage, hasn’t been included here, since it doesn’t currently support curved displays, the life’s blood of Nexus devices. However, we can’t really consider this a drawback, as the implemented protection is more than adequate for shock resistance and crystal clear, which helps greatly with tiny letters, making them crisp and perfectly readable. A display of this size can naturally accommodate much more content than usual, which makes switching scarcer and usage more comfortable. At the moment, there are still many applications that haven’t been properly optimised for this resolution, but software jumps in in these cases and stretches their interface accordingly. This process is unnoticeable to the user, and works great most of the time, but strange shifts occur in the interface every once in a while.
Although this smartphone is manufactured by Samsung, neither the CPU nor the graphics card is theirs, which comes across as surprising, as they stand very strong with their own products on the market. As expected, the CPU is a dual-core one, works at a high frequency and copes with all challenges easily, whether in the real-world segment or synthetics, scoring top or close to so in all tests. The graphics card was very advanced at the time it was presented, but that was about two years ago, which is a lot of time in this world. Add to this the increased display resolution, and you may get worrisome that the graphics card is going to be the bottleneck of this device. Luckily, our fears have proven to be unjustified, since PowerVR’s increased clock and software optimisations make it comparable with the newer members of the party. Of course, several newer-generation GPUs have significantly better performance, but if you’re not buying this phone to use it as a portable gaming console, you’ll be more than satisfied by its performance. The sufficient amount of RAM ensures everything will work smoothly even in a stronger multitasking environment, and that the high-resolution display will be properly utilised. The Galaxy Nexus we received for testing had 16 GB of internal memory, and there’s also the version with twice as much storage space on certain markets. As we’ve already stated, there’s no microSD card slot on the phone, so you may potentially end up with a powerful phone for gaming, HD-ready entertainment and music playback with insufficient room to store all this data.
Phone cameras are getting better and better all the time, slowly encroaching on the territory of “tourist” standalone cameras. Galaxy Nexus is no exception, as it has a solid camera and the accompanying flash for night time. Although its resolution isn’t among the highest, image quality is exceptionally good even in low-light conditions. Image is sharp and clear, with natural colours and a great level of detail, with only occasional and hardly noticeable noise. There’s also the Panorama option, which works very nicely and enables the user to create wide shots, with the graphics display aiding the process. The ICS update has also changed the Camera application, so image is no longer captured upon the press of the button, but upon its release instead, thereby eliminating the “shaking hand” effect. Video recording is decent, and the second microphone located on the back did wonders for capturing ambient sounds. For a phone like this, good and high-quality audio playback is essential too. The external speaker is average at best, lacking a bit in volume and frequency range. However, the headphone output is magnificent, with top-quality playback – coupled with a good set of earphones, it works wonders. Of course, enjoying the sound while watching a film in HD is another important, and in Galaxy Nexus’ case, strong, point.
Besides its hardware base, the new Nexus owes much of its likeability to the latest Android version – Ice Cream Sandwich. The changes are large and deep, sufficiently so to deserve their own separate detailed article. In short, we’re impressed by the latest Android revision, but also the way it works on Galaxy Nexus. Experienced Android users may take some time to get accustomed to the new features, but ultimately, they have to succumb to the phone’s ease of use. Alongside the significant changes in the OS “under-the-hood”, the UI has been additionally tweaked and optimised, bringing everything to its place. Hardware keys are a thing of the past; they’ve been incorporated into the software and everything is done directly on the display now. The bottom of the smartphone’s “face” contains an excellent LED that serves to indicate all sorts of notifications, such as incoming mail, SMS or a missed call. The UI is uniform, with a pleasant design and greatly reliant on horizontal scrolling, which will be virtually irreplaceable in some apps.
All standard Google features have been improved, some more, some less, and the increased efficiency and a more minimalistic design will be much appreciated by many a Google fan. Although the number of apps with full support for ICS isn’t all that great at the moment, new versions are appearing on an everyday basis, especially with ICS arriving onto older phones in full swing. On the other hand, the majority of non-ICS-optimised apps will work quite correctly, bar the visual alignment with the new UI. As far as usability goes, Galaxy Nexus deserves nothing but the highest grades, as it does all smartphone tasks without even breaking a sweat. Its high resolution and display size make all activities more pleasant and comfortable. This goes for games, video playback, surfing, reading – simply anything. All this comes at a price, so don’t expect your battery to last more than a day under normal, mixed-use conditions, and if you’re accustomed to surfing a lot, it drops to much, much less.
Galaxy Nexus is an expensive device that doesn’t bring as many advancements in the hardware department (at least not as much as we’d expected), and packs some flaws as well. Its weak battery and lack of memory extension options certainly don’t do it any favours. However, on the whole, this smartphone is a well-rounded product in every conceivable way, made to fit the user’s needs from the get-go, as reflected in the ICS version of its operating system. Its production quality, weight, design, response time and many other, less striking attributes leave very little place for doubt – this is the best Android-based device currently in production. Although Galaxy Nexus was originally intended to serve as a development platform for Android programmers, it has evolved into a phenomenal phone that’s bound to get under the skin of even the most hardcore sceptics, which is enough to earn it our highest award.
|CPU||dual-core 1.2 GHz TI OMAP 4460|
|Memory||1GB RAM, 16GB internal storage|
|Battery||Li-Ion 1,750 mAh|
|Display||4.65", 720x1280 pix, capacitive Super AMOLED, Oleophobic coating|
|Connectivity||microUSB, Bluetooth, WiFi, HSDPA, GPS, USB to HDMI|
|Cameras||main: 5 Mpix with auto-focus and LED flash, frontal: 1,3 Mpix|
|Operating System||Android OS 4.0.1|
|Size||135.5 x 67.9 x 8.9 mm|