Samsung Galaxy Nexus: Pure Google, pure delight

From its gorgeous HD display to its screamingly fast speeds, Samsung's Galaxy Nexus shows off just how good an Android phone can be.

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In terms of connectivity, the Galaxy Nexus features Bluetooth 3.0 and Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n. It also supports Near Field Communication, or NFC, which enables you to swap information with another compatible device simply by touching the two phones together. The Nexus has all the other standard stuff as well, including an accelerometer, barometer, compass, gyroscope, light sensor and proximity sensor.

I had no problems with the call quality on the Galaxy Nexus (though it's worth noting that the unit I tested was connected to T-Mobile, not Verizon). I could hear people loud and clear, with no static, and callers on the other end reported hearing my voice clearly and without any type of distortion. I experienced no dropped calls.

Under the hood

Samsung's Galaxy Nexus runs a TI OMAP4460 1.2GHz dual-core processor along with a full gigabyte of RAM.

Translated into real-world terms, the phone is ridiculously fast: Swiping between home screens is snappy as can be, with no stuttering or delays. Apps load instantly when their icons are touched, system animations and transitions execute flawlessly and even resource-intensive programs like graphical games deliver peak performance with nary a blip or hesitation. Web browsing is satisfyingly speedy, too, whether you have one tab open or 10 (yes, I tried), and even heavy-duty system-wide multitasking can't manage to slow this thing down.

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.

The HSPA+ version of the Galaxy Nexus uses a 1750 mAh battery. I found the battery life to be decent enough, though perhaps not the best I've seen. After a day of heavy usage, the phone was pushing dangerously close to empty. With more moderate to normal usage, I had no trouble making it through a single day on one charge, though there were times when the battery seemed to drain curiously fast. (According to the Android battery usage graph, the screen was almost always the primary culprit, even when its brightness was set at a consistent and very low level.)

According to Google, the LTE version of the phone that'll be available through Verizon will use a larger battery -- 1850 mAh -- presumably to offset the additional power utilized by the LTE radio. As such, its stamina may vary somewhat from the model I tested.

The Galaxy Nexus will be available with either 16GB or 32GB of internal storage (the unit I tested was a 16GB model). In what may be the device's most glaring weakness, the Nexus does not have an SD card slot -- meaning you can't add on any external storage.


Samsung's Galaxy Nexus has a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera with autofocus, LED flash and 1080p high-definition video recording capabilities. This is somewhat surprising; the standard for high-end smartphones has moved to 8 megapixels, and most recent high-end smartphones (such as the Samsung Galaxy S II, the HTC Rezound and the Motorola Droid Razr) are at that level. But while photo enthusiasts may quibble over the quality of its images, I found the Galaxy Nexus's photos to be quite good for casual everyday use.

Ice Cream Sandwich enables the camera to use what Google calls "zero shutter lag," which means you can snap photo after photo with literally no delay. The software provides a bevy of other handy camera-related options, too, including in-phone image editing, image filters and effects, live video effects and a simple-to-use panoramic photo-capturing tool (more on that in my full ICS review).

I'll put it this way: If you're looking to take professional-quality photographs for a magazine-caliber shoot, you're probably going to want to carry a dedicated digital camera. But if you're a typical user who wants to be able to snap quick, good-looking photos on the go, the Galaxy Nexus should easily handle the task.

For video chat (and maybe the occasional vanity pic), the Galaxy Nexus has a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera.

The bottom line

Google's Nexus line is meant to set the bar for what an Android phone should be, and the new Galaxy Nexus does not disappoint. The Galaxy Nexus is sleek and attractive, with a thin, light body and a beautiful HD display. It's screamingly fast, too, delivering what may be the best overall performance of any mobile device available.

To be clear, the phone isn't without its drawbacks: The rear casing is made of plastic and feels a bit flimsy when removed, the camera's specs aren't as high as they could be, and you're left without the ability to expand the phone's storage by way of an external SD card.

Still, the Galaxy Nexus's positives far outweigh its limitations, and this is without question the Android phone to beat. If I were recommending a phone to a personal friend today, the Galaxy Nexus would be it.

JR Raphael is a Computerworld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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