Smartphones investigate

Why I love the Galaxy Nexus but can't recommend it

Android 4.0 impressed the heck out of me, but it wasn't quite enough to overcome the flaws of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Learn why.

Photo credit: Jason Hiner | TechRepublic

I consider the Samsung Galaxy Nexus the best Android device that I've ever put my hands on. Even so, I can't recommend that you buy one, and I'll explain why.

First let's quickly talk about what the Galaxy Nexus is and what it's trying to accomplish.

The "Nexus" brand is Google's reference design for smartphones (and the name itself is a nod to the powerful androids in Philip K. Dick's sci-fi novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). With the Nexus phones, Google selects a hardware partner and then collaborates on the hardware design and the hardware-software integration to produce a device that gives phone makers an idea of Google's latest vision for Android smartphones.

For the third straight year, Google has debuted a Nexus around the turn of the year to provide inspiration for phone builders in the year ahead. The original Nexus, the Nexus One designed in partnership with HTC, set a high standard. At the time, it clearly lept ahead of the the iPhone 3GS in a number of ways (better display, great widgets, slimmer form factor). Last year's Nexus S, designed in partnership with Samsung, wasn't as much of a breakthrough since the Android ecosystem was really percolating at that point, but it was the first device to include an NFC chip.

Google chose to hook up with Samsung again to build this year's Nexus device, the Galaxy Nexus. While this one is more innovative than last year's bland Nexus S, it still isn't the ground-breaker that the original Nexus One was. The Galaxy Nexus features an uninspired design and unremarkable hardware, with one big exception -- the gorgeous 4.65-inch Super AMOLED display with 1280x720 resolution.

The other big factor that the Galaxy Nexus has going for it is that it's the first phone to Android 4.0, "Ice Cream Sandwich." Like previous Nexus phones, it runs the stock version of Android without any of the additional animations, widgets, and UI modifications that the phone makers add to Android. (That's a plus since most of the additions are actually subtractions.)

Frankly, I was dazzled by Android 4.0. It smoothes out many of Android's rough edges and makes the device more pleasant, self-evident, and less complicated to use. There are still times when Google seems to think that flashy animations -- rather than imminent usability -- make a good UI, but Ice Cream Sandwich is absolutely a big step forward. I consider it the biggest step forward since the leap from Android 1.0 to 2.0, when the platform first came of age with the release the original Motorola Droid.

Here's the best thing I can say about Android 4.0: It makes it really tough to go back and pick up an Android 2.3 device and not feel constrained and disappointed by the user experience.

That said, here's my quick summary of my likes and dislikes with the Galaxy Nexus and my final verdict:

What I like

  • The display is big, beautiful, and far better than anything out there other than the iPhone Retina Display
  • Android 4.0 is a quantum leap forward
  • Verizon's LTE 4G speeds (I got 30Mbps down and 15Mbps up) paired with a 1.2GHz dual core processor make the Galaxy Nexus incredibly responsive
  • I always prefer the stock version of Android to the skins that the phone makers add

What I don't like

  • The battery struggles to get through a full day; it maxes out at 15-20 hours (see screenshot below); but if you really need 24 hours of battery life then don't get an Android device and especially don't get one with LTE; get an iPhone or a BlackBerry
  • The hardware design is surprisingly uninspired for a high-end device with so much oomph under the hood
  • The plastic backplate is slippery (I dropped the device twice) and it makes the phone feel cheap
  • The camera is mediocre and limited to 5 megapixels (although Android 4.0 dramatically improves shutter lag)

Final verdict

As much as I love the amazing 1280x800 display and Android 4.0, I can't recommend the Galaxy Nexus. At $299 (with a contract), it just makes too many important compromises. Its hardware design looks like something you'd expect from a $99 phone or a free phone. Its plastic back is cheap and slippery, and demands a case, even though its curved contour design and large rump on the bottom won't make it easy to fit into a case.

Ice Cream Sandwich is what really sets the Galaxy Nexus apart from other Android devices. When the Motorola Droid Razr gets ICS in the near future (as Motorola has promised), it will have virtually all the benefits of the Galaxy Nexus with a much better hardware design, better battery life, and a better camera. The Droid Razr doesn't have the amazing display that the Galaxy Nexus does, but it still has a very good display and most people won't won't notice the difference. The Samsung Galaxy S II will be getting Android 4.0 in Q1 2012. I'd even recommend that hardware design over the Galaxy Nexus, which is a step backwards in smartphone design for Samsung.

If your current device is dead or dying and you have to get a new smartphone this month and you absolutely want the best Android device that you can get your hands on, then get the Galaxy Nexus. Otherwise, wait until the Droid Razr or the Samsung Galaxy S II get Android 4.0 in the coming months, or wait until you see the amazing round of new Android 4.0 devices that are going to be announced next month at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show.

Photo credit: Jason Hiner | TechRepublic

View the full photo gallery of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

29 comments
abdielt03
abdielt03

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pokeycd
pokeycd

I have a MyTouch 4G that started getting bad battery life and I noticed a similarity. In your screenshots, it shows "Android OS" taking 19% of the usage. Users of the MT4G found that it was taking upwards of 50% sometimes. It should be less than 10% in most cases. The fix was this: after charging is complete, disconnect the cable, and reboot. I used to only make it to 3pm before running for a charger. Now i can go into the evening. I'm not sure the Galaxy Nexus is facing the same problem or not. But maybe someone who has one can try the fix and then check their battery stats and report back. If this is the problem, and the fix works for the new Nexus, then Android needs some patches. It's not acceptable for the device to run the battery down before the day is over. Could it be LTE? I know signal strength can play a big part in battery life.

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

First of all, I fail to see what Retina has that is better than a 1280x800 display. The brightness? Even iPhone fanboys are disappointed with it. 2nd of all, are you sure an iPhone lasts 24 hours on constant "mobile data". I'd agree the "cheap" feel that any Samsung products gives but being at that weight and fall survival compared to iPhone (youtube "iPhone vs SGSII drop test") I'd simply dismiss the "cheap" feel. You can compare Galaxy Nexus with Motorola Droid Razr in the "cheap" vs "expensive" feel though. And I think you missed out the point that Google's Nexus phones are meant to be developer's reference phone for testing and development purposes. Not to show off around about how you can afford a high end/tech phone. I'd rather have SGSII installed with an AOSP Android but my HTC Desire is still serving me superbly well.

aiellenon
aiellenon

I agree with enough comments that I changed my mind about this phone. I was extremely pissed off that it was only on Verizon, I almost left Sprint to go get one, but I have decided to wait for CES and whatever the other show that occurs out of the USA in March has to offer.

tkejlboom
tkejlboom

Maybe I'm a stereotypical engineer, but it's more important to me that it BE high quality, slim, and lightweight than FEEL... expensive? I like that it's not tacky and shiny. The only people that seem to still think chrome is cool are wangstas with expensive rims and rednecks. I very much like the back cover, and I don't find it slippery at all. I'm weird though. I wear my five fingers everywhere because I think it's more important to feel good and not destroy my knees than to look like an douche. I find the display exceedingly crisp. The PenTile only shows through on exceedingly bright monochromatic backgrounds, which ironically enough, describes the Google ereader software. Also, Zeitgeist doesn't work in the Android browser. I thought that was funny.

murraymelissak
murraymelissak

The display is nice, but not as crisp as the rezound or iPhone due to the pentile display. You'd also expect that an editor in chief writing a review for a tech site would know that the resolution is 1280x720, not 1280x800 as stated. I disagree with the complaint that, because the battery only lasts 15-20 hours, the iPhone would be better. Also, people need to sleep, so not sure why that's a big issue. About the only points I do agree with is that Verizon's LTE network is fast, that 4.0 is great and that the camera is average at best.

MLongfellow
MLongfellow

It's a rhetorical question, of course you do. Seriously though, do you ever bother reading over what you write or are you doing all these from your phone and just hoping we don't notice? I'd enumerate the problems in the article, but we have all just seen them, no need to waste our time with them again.

maharawj
maharawj

I really don't understand why phone companies are not going for 3500 Mah Batteries and more. There are 6000Mah batteries out there. Atleast they could make it "optional". It would solve battery problems. Giving even the nexus upto 4 times the battery life

dbc_techrepublic
dbc_techrepublic

Am I the only one who thinks that an INDICATOR on the front is a huge deal? It is not even mentioned in any of the articles and reviews. I *must* have a phone that I can see from across the room has email without having to go pick it up, unlock it and look at the icon. My Palm Treo had it. Blackberry's have it. My lowly Acer Liquid E has it. (Nexus still blew it by putting it on the face/bottom rather than a top edge you can see from a pocket).

tonyshaft
tonyshaft

Jason i agree with you on this one. Dont get me wrong i love en use some of the samsungs products but deeply in me i was hoping Google was going to roll with HTC on this Nexus. but boy i was wrong and upset ! was eagerly waiting for this one and once i got hold of it in my hands , my heart didnt skip a beat like i deed with the HTC first flagship of Nexus...

kumaran.pec
kumaran.pec

The GPS lock takes no time at all. It is so sweet that it does it so fast. I used to have other GPS applications installed and have to go through some manual steps to get a proper GPS fix in Gingerbread. Even then it used to take a lot of time. But in ICS, it takes no time at all. Combine it with the Navigation app from Google, moving around will be so much easy with voice assistance.

ferdi
ferdi

What is a "Heck"?

kumaran.pec
kumaran.pec

I have ICS running on my Nexus S. The phone looks completely different to me now. It is also slightly different than the one in the photo in this post. It is the best upgrade and the UI is so smooth and sleek. I love it. The Applications also looks better in ICS. The main advantage for business users will be the option to encrypt the device. I am not sure how strong the encryption is. The one problem I have found as of now is that I am unable to add my facebook account. This seems to be reported by many other people. This is not a killer feature for me, but may be for others.

charlesnburns
charlesnburns

After the egregiously broken Galaxy S I've lived with for two years, I will as a rule never t ouch a phone from a company that would release something like that and not issue a global recall.

mark763
mark763

Hey Jason you didn't mention anything in your article about htc rezound, you don't think that's a contender for someone that needs a phone right now and can't wait until the next round of smartphones are released

Hazydave
Hazydave

... didn't see the need for both the Nexus and the SII... so they chose the Nexus. And given the plethora of high-end smartphones at Version now (Galaxy Nexus, Droid RAZR, Droid Bionic, soon Droid 4, iPhone 4S, HTC Rezound, etc) I'm surprised they just didn't go for it and offer a version of the Galaxy SII as well. It can't be that big a deal to stock a few more phone models. Then again, my local Verizon store was down to stocking only three models of "dumb" phone.. every other model on display was a smartphone. And this a full, large store, not a kiosk. SIIs have either the Samsung Exynos SOC at 1.2GHz or, like T-Mobile, a Qualcomm SOC. This is based on the 1.5GHz "Scorpion" core, not the ARM Cortex A9 used in most of today's designs. The Scorpion is very similar to the Cortex A8, with some improvements, and of course, the faster clock speed (all A8 designs faster than about 600MHz are at least partially customized, but Qualcomm's pretty much building independent designs, under license). The A9 is about 25% faster than the A8. Scorpion is a little faster than an A8 on integer code, and way faster on floating point, thanks to a fully pipelined FPU. However, it only does limited out-of-order execution, versus the A9's full out-of-order implementation, so it's not as fast per core on integer code. On the other hand, it implements a 128-bit-wide FPU versus the A9's fully pipelined 64-bit FPU implementation, so it may edge out the A9 on some floating point operations (NEON instructions, which can use the 128-bit bus... unfortunately, Android doesn't yet enable NEON). In short, they're probably clocking to 1.5GHz to match the 1.2GHz performance of the A9-based SOCs (OMAP, Exynos) on integer code. Some of the SIIs, the Skyrocket for example, use the Qualcomm chip simply because Samsung's Exynos doesn't have 4G support yet... not sure about HSPA+. The Adreno 220 or the MALI400 are in the SII designes, GPU-wise. Each is a more modern design than the PowerVR GX540 in the Nexus... but they're also running at much lower clock rates. Clock for clock, either would soundly beat the GX540, but at 384MHz vs. 200MHz or less, it's a pretty close race; I think the MALI400 probably comes out ahead. Unless you factor in the iPhone, which is the only smartphone to date with a dual-core GPU, even though any of these others will toast it on CPU performance. On full screen stuff, I suspect all the Galaxy II win, simply because the Nexus has 2.4x as many pixels. So many phones are using the OMAP4 because it's the first ARM SOC to support dual memory buses... like most PCs (well, the Intel i7 desktops have a triple memory bus). It's also driving low power DDR3 memory, versus the slower DDR2 still used on many design. The OMAP4460 in the Nexus runs up to 1.5GHz; like Apple on the iPhone 4/4S, Google's downclocking it a bit to improve battery life. The SII will have the same basic power issues; both SOCs are implemented in 45nm CMOS. Most benchmarks to date are run on browsers, and the Nexus is kicking butt on these compared to the other Android phones. But that's more a browser tweak than pure CPU power (you want both)... running Firefox or Opera, you'll also beat the stock Gingerbread browser. Good news is that a number of the new devices outperform the iPhone 4/4S out of the box... that suggests Google is getting their brower performance together, if not best on a phone yet. The Nexus camera... so-so. It's better in low-light than I'd expect, and blows away the camera in my old O.G. Droid. But it's still a cellphone camera. So is the highly touted iPhone 4S camera... looking at these in small renderings on-screen, they look great. At full-screen on my 24" monitor, there's no mistaking an iPhone phone for one taken with a real camera. I usually have a real pocket camera with me anyway... these days its an Olympus PEN E-PM1. However, PC World's recent evaluation puts the SII camera as the best in any current cellphone... even beating the iPhone 4S.

Elfman42
Elfman42

Maybe it's my age, maybe it's the fact that when I'm not earing a living with technology, I don't spend a lot of time with it. Hardware and software are changing at such a pace, and always have, that the best thing to do is jump on board with whatever you like or feel you need; if it works now it should work for a while. Upgrading merely for the sake of keeping pace is a unique form of insanity. ICS is certainly a meaningful step forward in what is a fiercely competitive marketplace, but even at $300, I'd rather buy a kayak and fishing gear for that kind of dough.

ITOdeed
ITOdeed

Interesting observations. I think I'll wait until next year to upgrade.

Barmace
Barmace

With the Samsung Galaxy SII just flooding the market. I don't see a place for the Nexus. the SII comes faster 1.5 processor (in some phones) better quality camera and most of all the capbility to put in a microSD card. I think when ICS comes to most phones Nexus will be the clear loser in this race.

dcolbert
dcolbert

"I wear my five fingers everywhere because I think it's more important to feel good and not destroy my knees than to NOT look like a douche." I fixed that for you. Sorry - Five-fingers shoes are kinda douchey. Maybe... eco-douche? I mean - wear them if you like them... I'm not judging. But they're not something I could ever leave the house wearing without feeling totally conspicuous and ridiculous.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Jason generally has to do a lot of travel - and that may mean rushing from place to place with little sleep, boarding a plane to catch your next flight from New York to San Francisco then back again through layovers in O'hare or Atlanta or Denver.... That kind of travel, you need devices with ENDURANCE - because you might not get much downtime near an outlet between flight-hopping. This is even more of a problem for international travelers - but in any case - it is a real challenge for heavy road-warriors and it is WHY there are charging stations and why people go looking for spare outlets in airports that don't have charging stations. If you're one of those kind of people - then yeah, a phone, tablet, laptop that can go 24 hours or more in standby with decent use is on your radar.

jred
jred

Size and cost. Personally I like a phone with some heft to it, so the additional thickness wouldn't be an issue for me. Cost...

darrylhadfield
darrylhadfield

Works great, even from an angle, even in full-light conditions.

jonrosen
jonrosen

I can't stand the phone companies' crap for trying to force the social media crap on to me. myspace app, facebook app, etc.. if I want them (which I don't).. I'd get them. I don't, and I'd rather not have more crapware filling up my phone.

dcolbert
dcolbert

The Five-Finger-Wearing contingent on Tech Republic obviously disagrees with me on my perspective on Five-Finger footwear. Really? I mean... I'm a Teva kinda guy, and I've been told those are pretentiously ugly outdoor shoes - and Five-finger footwear is too much for ME... Maybe we should take this discussion to "Geek-end"?

tkejlboom
tkejlboom

Seriously. What phone did you get? Nexus does not come with facebook. I'm not even sure if it comes with google+.

kumaran.pec
kumaran.pec

That is true in many cases. I would be getting off FB after sometime in the near future. Its a pass time now and in the future I will not have time for that. But for people still using FB a lot to keep up with what is happening around them, it would make a lot of difference. And this would have given a very good integration for the People app, which Google has introduced as part of ICS.

kumaran.pec
kumaran.pec

I did not buy the new Galaxy Nexus. I do not think I have the need for it now. I am not sure even if anyone else does unless they have broken their current phone. I am running ICS on my Nexus S. I did a manual update of my phone. This is the Google phone before the Galaxy Nexus. I do not mean that the OS comes in-built with FB. I meant the FB application. But as soon as you login to the FB application, it will immediately add that account to the Account settings in the OS. I think it did come with Google+ though, I could be wrong, but I do not want to go back and re-install things to prove this. I will leave it to someone else. The thing is you cannot add a FB account manually into the account settings in the OS even if you want.