In a world saturated with high-end dual-core phones, including but not limited to: the Motorola Atrix 4G, LG G2X, Motorola Droid X2, etc. bundled with any number of radios and gadgets, the internals to the Galaxy Nexus are quite pedestrian for a high-end phone. Dual-core, 1+ghz CPU? Check. 1GB RAM? Check. 16-32GB internal storage? Check. Bullet points - nothing more. Hell, the GPU is the same PowerVR SGX540 as 2010's Galaxy S and Nexus S phones, and is actually a step behind some recent phones, notably the Mali 400 in the Samsung Galaxy SII and the PowerVR SGX543MP2 in Apple's iPhone 4S. So clearly pretty pedestrian.
What is notable? First, the inclusion of NFC, although this was also on last year's Galaxy Nexus. Second, the inclusion of a barometer, which supposedly helps with GPS. Third — and this is big — a pentaband GSM radio that handles the frequencies of almost all major worldwide carriers, notably AT&T and T-Mobile in the US. One SKU, all GSM carriers.
Although, quite honestly, the most interesting hardware on the device is the screen — a 720p 4.65" Super AMOLED display. Sure, the Rezound beat it to the punch of ~300dpi, but only by a couple weeks. This is, frankly, an amazing screen. I was slightly worried that it would be too big for me. On the contrary, not only does it fit easily in my pocket, the large screen has honestly changed my usage habits. I read on the device a lot more. Long-form reading, too. So far, I've read a good chunk of a book on game theory, the first third of Xenophon's Apology (an alternate record of Socrates' trial that I'm contrasting with Plato's account), and lots of articles on the web that on my Captivate, I would have otherwise tagged for later reading due to their size. The sharpness of the screen helps to this end as well — it's nearly as easy on the eyes for text as the iPhone 4/4S screen. 99% of the time, the fact that it's an RGBG Pentile matrix doesn't bother me in the least — large fields of solid gray look a bit off, however. All-in-all, it's a gorgeous screen.
As far as the industrial design goes... it's pretty nice. It doesn't hold up to the recent high-end designs by Apple or Nokia, but it looks and feels high-end. I love that the front face is just a solid slab of black, unadorned with any carrier or manufacturer logos. Overall, the design is a clear iteration on Samsung's Nexus S from one year ago — the slightly curved screen and overall shape are similar. The Nexus S, however, had a very cheap, plasticky-feeling glossy back cover that just ruined the otherwise great presentation. The textured back of the Galaxy Nexus, by contrast, looks and feels a bit more rugged. It doesn't have the same solid feel as phones made by Apple, HTC, or Nokia, but it's moving in the right direction. If I had one major criticism of the feel of the device is that it feels lighter than it looks like it aught to. In fact, because of it's thinness and lightness, I can't feel it in my pocket, and it's slipped out a few times. I purchased a case for it just to make it feel thicker.
The camera is okay. Better than any camera I'd had on a phone before. It's really, really fast. The speed isn't something I knew I cared about, but after getting it, I've caught a lot more quick, casual pictures of my daughter, and that's something I constantly failed at with my Captivate and my Canon point-and-shoot. The quality is decidedly passable, assuming a fair bit of light. There's really not much else to say; photography isn't my thing. If the camera is really important, this probably isn't the phone for you.
But honestly, other than the screen, there's not much too interesting about the hardware. The real story here is Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). First of all: wow — what a huge change! Most of the complaints I had about Android are gone.
With respect to performance, there's almost no perceivable performance difference between ICS and iOS 5... with a couple of exceptions. The biggest case of slowness is apps that are built for older versions of Android and don't have hardware accelerated drawing enabled. This is a big one, and in normal apps, there's pretty much no excuse for this. In most cases, it requires a line added to an XML file, and then a recompile. But the fact of the matter is, plenty of high-profile apps that at the time of this writing don't do this (I'm looking at you, official Twitter client!) So for a while, we're going to run into this. The second case of slowness is games that are GPU-limited — 1280x720 means a lot of pixels to fill, and the decidedly last-gen GPU isn't always up to the task in some games, particularly compared to the monster GPU in the iPhone 4S. Finally, there's occasionally slowdowns with heavy use of multitasking. Android doesn't put any limits to simultaneous background processes and the like, and I've particularly noticed it when I'm downloading multiple files, which I'm assuming is I/O bound, since the flash memory on this class of devices is quite slow.
|Figure 1: new soft navigation buttons. From |
left to right: back, home, and task switcher
|Figure 2: new build of Google Reader with |
Action Bar at the top. The vertical ellipsis at
the top-right is the "Action Overflow" button
|Figure 3: Action bar for Gmail app|
with the "up" button in the upper-left
The launcher bundled with ICS is much improved over previous ones. Google clearly took several cues from popular third-party launchers like Launcher Pro and ADW, as well as the stock Honeycomb launcher. It's really, really good. One complaint I have is that I prefer the vertically scrolling app drawer of older launchers to the side-to-side paging app drawer of the ICS launcher. That being said, I'm still using it — it's that good.
|Figure 4: Stock launcher in ICS.|
The battery life is much improved over Gingerbread, at least in the unadulterated Google flavor of ICS. The battery life is really acceptable — I typically have 30-40% left at the end of the day if I stay in Jersey, about 10-20% if I spent all day in NYC.
The new font, Roboto, is a big step up from Droid Sans. It's a lot like Helvetica, and a little like Din. It's overall a nicer, more elegant font. At smaller sizes it's more readable than Helvetica, and a lot of that has to do with the more "open" glyphs, particularly lowercase "e". We'll have to see how it translates to lower DPI devices.
There's lots of other little things... face unlock is neat, but I don't use it for more than showing off what my phone can do. Android Beam is cool... if I'm hanging with one of two others I know with a Galaxy Nexus (why didn't every manufacturer build NFC into their phone?) I haven't yet tried Google Wallet, as there's no support yet. Being able to drill-down and tightly analyze your data usage, and restrict individual apps to never use background data and the like is, frankly, great, but not something the majority of users will use. The keyboard is improved. Cut and paste is finally done right and implemented consistently. And, frankly, the new design of the OS is mostly clean and cohesive, and actually feels like a design, which you really couldn't see in earlier versions.
However, according to Google's design goals, particularly that of simplicity, I think they failed. Because of the menu debacle and the confusing "up" button, honestly they've added complexity. I absolutely love ICS because of the power it gives me. For a non-technical user, my recommendation would still be the iPhone 4S over this phone, unless they make heavy use of Google's apps and ecosystem, or are on T-Mobile. For a serious power user who relies on his phone for work and information, it's hard to beat this phone. And though it has a few warts, I do feel, finally, that Google is really going in the right direction. Hiring Matias Duarte away from HP was one of the best decisions they've made. As nice as Ice Cream Sandwich is, I'm really, really looking forward to Jelly Bean.