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Samsung's New Device Brings a Galaxy of Features

Text and Photos By: Jason Stern

01-09-2012

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Let's start with what's new.  Namely, the Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.0.2 (a.k.a.: Ice Cream Sandwich).  In a scene repeated at Verizon stores around the country, many of us replaced our aging OG Droids with this piece of tech nirvana.

By this point, you've read all the reviews and perhaps picked one up, so not much is a surprise here.  Yes, it is large, but it is so easy to get used to (especially being lighter than the Droid) that I forgot I had it on me more than once.

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The Good:

-720 x 1280 resolution is amazing.  If you can find a shiny screen protector, do it.  The curved screen allows you to put the phone face-down and without scratching it.  While I recommend it for peace of mind, the matte protector sold by Verizon blurs the screen's superb resolution.

-Hardware Speed.  This thing is very responsive.  So much so that fellow DigThatBoxer Jim Arden was impressed (that is saying alot).  I'm coming from a phone that could take 30 seconds to respond at times...if it didn't reboot, so this alone was worth the price of admission for me.

-(relatively untouched) Ice Cream Sandwich.  The improvements to the OS are well done, so the experienced android user will be completely at home.  The side-swipe Apps/Widgets menus take a little getting used to, as does the Settings ellipses.  The soft Back and Home buttons are where I expect them to be when compared to the Droid. I could write an article on the OS alone, but in short you won't be disappointed.

-1.3 MP front-facing camera is impressive, although everyone who's tried the phone wishes there was a camera that made them look better.

-Face unlock.  Sure, it's unnecessary.  Still, it works (most of the time) and gives ICS some bragging rights. Cool, even if it isn’t “Siri” cool.

-Web browsing.  Fast processor, LTE, ICS improvements and the 720p screen make this a true win. I was able to bring up MSNBC.com in portrait orientation and still read...EVERYTHING!  Bonus points to the browser for having a "Request Desktop Site" option in the menu for quick switching away from the nightmare of most mobile formatted sites.

-Flash support.  Yes...sorta.  Flash is available in the Market and it works.  Just don't expect it to be updated...ever.  HTML5 is the future, like it or not.

-Download speeds.  Wow.  Just...wow!  In my limited testing, LTE (4G) download speeds were over 6 times faster than CDMA (3G) and slightly faster than Time Warner Cable's Roadrunner service.  Uploads were unreal, with 4G topping 3G by over 8.5 times; 4G uploads were almost 10 times that allowed by Roadrunner.  That said, don't ditch your landline!  Moderate Netflix and Gaming use WILL cause you to hit Verizon's caps and give you a nasty surprise in the mail, so don't cut the cord just yet (maybe in 5 years).

-32Gb internal memory.  Hooray!  No more moving applications back and forth from the SD card every time an update is released.  Sure, people are complaining about not having an SD slot.  For me, this will last me 2 years.  By 2013 I may be complaining, but I'm all good today.

-Google Wallet.  Just joking.  Or am I?  Apparently, this is available for the Galaxy Nexus...just not through official channels (wink wink wink).  I haven't tested this yet, but for the daring, the UNROOTED owner can get more info HERE.

The Bad:

-Facebook contacts don't integrate with the People (Contacts) app.  For that, you'll need an app like FriendCaster.  I was quite disappointed by this, as my Droid merged Facebook contacts since day 1.  Rumor is ICS 4.0.3 may resolve this issue.

-Battery life is poor.  LTE gets all the blame, but according to my phone, the screen is the primary offender.  Lower your brightness and you could eek out an extra hour or so.  Even better...get the extra battery with charger stand!

-Weak speakers both external and earpiece.  Hopefully a software update will allow the volume to be increased.

-Verizon Accessories.  The windshield dock doesn't use the phone's side charging pins (like the European units do). Also, there is no car dock mode, so you'll have to bring up navigation from the standard menus. The Verizon screen protectors detract from the screen's high resolution.  The battery charger's Y-cable only supplies power to phone and charger simultaneously, so you can't share data via USB if you use it.

-Incompatible apps.  GTAIII took a while to fix, but now works.  Handcent SMS is buggy.  OnStar RemoteLink has formatting problems.  These are the types of issues early adopters will have to cope with.   However, with ICS updates pending for all recent phones this will become less of a problem moving forward.  After all, GTAIII was fixed.

-5.0 megapixel camera.  My Motorola Droid came with a 5.0 megapixel camera 2 years ago.  Sure this one is MUCH faster and takes better pictures in all situations, but I wish Samsung could have applied those improvements to an 8MP camera.

-Size. Your friends with iPhones will laugh at how big the Galaxy Nexus is.  But when you're watching movies in 720p, they'll be begging for a peek.  It still fits comfortably in a pocket, so this is a non-issue to me.

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In Conclusion:

In short, I feel the plusses far outweigh the minuses.  The "not quite bleeding edge" hardware is balanced by being the first ICS device and, most likely, the first device to receive updates to the Android OS.  The overall user experience is top-notch.  RIM, Apple and Microsoft take notice...you've been bested for the moment.

On a scale of 1-10, I give it a 9.5.  The front and rear cameras' qualities cancel each other out, leaving my only real nitpick to be battery life.

Extra: The Gaming Experience:

As for gaming features, it has a promising future as a portable gaming console, although it has a few shortcomings.  I didn't like that the ICS soft buttons at the right can be hit accidently, sending you to the phone's home screen.  Also, I really miss the feedback that physical controls provide, whether playing on a mobile console, with a controller or using keyboard and mouse.  The touchscreen controls are cool as hell, but they also force you to look at your hand placement as much as the action on screen.  Unfortunately, this level of gaming is also a great way to drain the battery, so make sure you have a charged spare handy.  The Galaxy Nexus certainly opens the door to much more sophisticated gaming on mobile platforms, but when rated only as a true gaming device I can only give it 8 out of 10.  Although at this point I wouldn't rate ANY gaming phone higher.