Verizon Galaxy Nexus: Hands-on impressions

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

We've watched, we've waited, we've salivated. Today, Verizon's Galaxy Nexus is finally available in America.

Verizon Galaxy Nexus

Like many of you, I marched out to a local retail store to pick up my own Verizon Galaxy Nexus early this morning (well, if by "early this morning," you mean around 11 a.m.). I had spent quite a bit of time with the international HSPA+ version of the device and knew this would be my next personal phone, but this is the first chance I've had to actually get the Verizon LTE model in my sweaty hands.

For all intents and purposes, the LTE edition and the HSPA+ edition are practically the same device -- so I'm not going to spend much time rehashing the basic ground. For my in-depth impressions of the phone and its new Ice Cream Sandwich OS, click over to my full Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0 reviews; pretty much everything I say there applies equally to the Verizon version of the device.

There are a few noteworthy differences, though, between the Verizon Galaxy Nexus and the international model I reviewed. Namely:

1. Verizon's Galaxy Nexus is slightly thicker and heavier than the HSPA+ version.

Verizon Galaxy Nexus Side

The differences aren't huge -- we're talking about 0.02 in. thicker and 0.5 oz. heavier -- but they're definitely noticeable. Don't get me wrong: Verizon's Galaxy Nexus is still a sleek and attractive phone. It's just slightly less sleek than its non-LTE sibling.

The reason is that Verizon's version of the Galaxy Nexus sports a bigger battery than the HSPA+ model; it packs an 1850 mAh battery compared to the HSPA+ phone's 1750 mAh battery. The change is presumably to offset the additional power used by the LTE radio. As a result, the phone picked up a bit of extra thickness and weight.

[Galaxy Nexus battery life: 5 tips for boosting your phone's stamina]

2. Verizon's Galaxy Nexus has Verizon branding instead of Google branding on the back.

Verizon Galaxy Nexus Back

The back plate of Verizon's Galaxy Nexus has a Verizon 4G logo in place of the Google logo that's on the international model. Big deal? Not really. But it's a difference.

Don't read too much into it, though. Google has confirmed that the Verizon Galaxy Nexus will remain a stock Android device and, like all other Nexus phones, will receive quick and regular upgrades directly from Android headquarters.

As I reported last week, the Verizon Galaxy Nexus will not support Google Wallet -- but then again, neither will any other Galaxy Nexus phone as of now. Currently, the only phone with official Wallet support is the Nexus S on Sprint.

3. Verizon's Galaxy Nexus has a couple of carrier-added apps installed.

Annoying, I know -- but thankfully, it's pretty minimal. Verizon has added two apps onto its Nexus: My Verizon Mobile, a tool for keeping tabs on your Verizon account, and VZ Backup Assistant, a program that helps you transfer contacts and other data from old phones. The former is actually something most Verizon customers will probably want; the latter, not so much.

My biggest gripe with Verizon's app additions is that the carrier has designated both programs as system apps, which means you can't uninstall them without hacking your phone. As far as I'm concerned, this qualifies them as bloatware.

But principles aside, there's a ray of sunshine in this slightly darkened tunnel: Ice Cream Sandwich allows you to disable any preinstalled app, so getting Verizon's stuff out of sight and out of mind is quite easy to do.

Verizon Galaxy Nexus: Everything Else

Aside from those three points and the obvious addition of 4G LTE connectivity -- which is delightfully fast on this device, by the way -- Verizon's Galaxy Nexus is a Galaxy Nexus, just like the international model. As I said in my full Galaxy Nexus review:

I test a lot of Android phones, and I'm not exaggerating when I say the Galaxy Nexus delivers the fastest and most reliable performance I've encountered. The phone's processing power deserves some of the credit, but I suspect a good portion also belongs to the improvements made in Ice Cream Sandwich and the tight-knit hardware-software integration that comes along with Google's involvement on the development level. That's always been a benefit of the Nexus line of devices, and the Galaxy Nexus is no exception. 

All right -- so how 'bout pricing on this bad boy? The Galaxy Nexus is available via Verizon Wireless and Best Buy (online or in stores) for $299.99 with a new two-year contract. RadioShack has the new Nexus available for $239.99 for upgrading customers, or $189.99 for new Verizon Wireless customers. (Best Buy will also match that price if you ask, by the way, so long as a RadioShack in your area has the phone in stock.) I can tell you that based on my own experiences and some casual spot checks, many stores around the country seem to be selling out fast, so you may want to call ahead if you're going to head out to a physical location.

You can find some good deals online, too, though many e-retailers seem to have already reached backordered states as well. Amazon Wireless has the Verizon Galaxy Nexus available for $249.99 for upgrades and $149.99 for new customers;

Android Power Twitter is selling the phone for $249.99 for upgrades and $229.99 for new customers (you can also get an additional $75 off by using coupon code $75VZN); and WireFly is offering the phone for $239.99 for upgrades and $189.99 for new customers.

For much more analysis of the Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0, check out my previous coverage:

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Article copyright 2011 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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