Samsung Galaxy Nexus Review

The Galaxy Nexus is one of those few phones that is truly different from what came before it.
The Galaxy Nexus is one of those few phones that is truly different from what came before it.
The Galaxy Nexus is one of those few phones that is truly different from what came before it.

Highs

  • New Android Ice Cream Sandwich rocks
  • Fast camera shutter speed
  • Clean, buttonless design
  • Feels great to hold
  • 4G LTE, dual-core, and NFC included
  • Screen is big, but manageable

Lows

  • Battery life isn’t great
  • Many apps don't take advantage of swiping
  • Camera gets trigger happy
  • Contacts app still needs improving

We review a lot of phones, tablets, gadgets, and gizmos at Digital Trends, but very few of them are unique. Most of the time, only one or two small features differentiate a new device from all that came before it, if that. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this, but with the number of device makers in the world, it’s reality. When an idea hits, everybody copies it. Still, devices like the Galaxy Nexus are a good reminder of the progress the industry is making. The new Google and Samsung collaboration is the template for the next generation of Android devices, and we like what we’re seeing.

Design and feel

The Galaxy Nexus looks a lot like a Galaxy S II, but it’s a bit more ergonomic than its AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint predecessors. It has more curves and fits the hand better, despite having a larger screen than almost any smartphone before it (4.65 inches). The rounded ends of the Galaxy Nexus freshen up the square look of the S II, and Samsung has integrated Google’s slightly curved screen design, which makes the new design conform to your face as you hold it, ever so slightly.

samsung-galaxy-nexus-review-home-buttons

Aiding this rounded design is a complete lack of any navigation buttons. On every Android phone before it, there has always been physical or haptic buttons for back, home, menu, and search, but since the new version of Android has onscreen navigation, it no longer requires these. The Galaxy Nexus may have fewer physical buttons than any device before it. The phone has an almost completely black front, which has an elegance to it. The only disturbances to this are a somewhat visible hole for a front-facing camera, and a small earpiece up top. The notification light is no longer green anymore. It’s now larger and resides on the bottom of the phone, centered beneath the screen, glowing white (and possibly other colors) when you miss a call, text, or email. 

Like all Samsung phones this year, the Galaxy Nexus does have a plastic frame, which is a little unfortunate, but it doesn’t ruin the phone’s premium feeling too much. As with the Sprint Galaxy S II, the camera is rounded and centered at the top of the back, and the battery and SIM are protected by a snap-off plastic backing that has some texture to it, which makes the phone easier to keep a hold of (that’s the theory, anyway). A single Verizon and Samsung logo also adorn the rear, and the bottom has a bit of a hump where the antenna resides as well as a rear speaker grill. Thanks to the rounded nature of the phone, this antenna protrusion isn’t as horribly noticeable as on devices like the Droid Razr.

samsung-galaxy-nexus-review-side-screen

Button placement was made with careful consideration to the size of the phone, which is nice. Unlike the Galaxy S II models, the power and volume buttons are well placed on the right and left side of the phone, respectively. They are both located a quarter to a third of the way down the phone, but this design works well due to the somewhat odd way we must hold a phone of this size. The placement makes the size more manageable.

samsung-galaxy-nexus-review-camera-lens-rear  samsung-galaxy-nexus-review-side  samsung-galaxy-nexus-review-side-android  samsung-galaxy-nexus-review-bottom

Finally, there is sadly no microSD card slot on the phone, but the headphone jack and micro USB charge port are both on the bottom. We haven’t seen an audio jack on the bottom of a phone in some time, but it makes sense. We tend to drop our phone in our pocket the way we want to pick it up, which means dropping it upside down. Having a headphone jack on the bottom makes a lot of sense. It’s difficult to say if Samsung and Google actually realize this, or simply had no other practical place to put it.

Specs and Screen

Google’s new phone doesn’t have the absolute highest specs out there, but it’s pretty close to the top rung. The Galaxy Nexus runs on a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, has 32GB of internal storage, and operates with 1GB of RAM. (That’s what the official specs say, at least. We can only account for about 768MB of RAM.) The cameras aren’t overly impressive from a numbers point of view either. The rear camera is 5 megapixels and the front is a 1.3-megapixel.

More impressive than the raw specs are some of the small bonus features Google and Samsung have included. Many of these (accelerometer, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, gyroscope, and digital compass) are fairly standard on high-end phones, but there are some other cool features like a near-field communications chip (NFC) and barometer are pretty cool. We don’t know when we’ll actually use them, especially since Verizon has banned Google Wallet, but if you’re a tech geek, you know it’s better to have a feature than not. If you have any friends with a Galaxy Nexus, you can use the NFC technology to transfer documents, web pages, games, and other content by having the backs of the two phones do a moon landing and touch. Finally, the Nexus also has a wireless charging spot on its side that would allow it to plug into a dock and charge without actually having to plug in. Hopefully such a dock will be released in the future.

samsung-galaxy-nexus-review-hands-on

The screen of the Galaxy Nexus is also causing a commotion. While the HTC Rezound was the first phone released to feature a full 720p resolution (1280 x 720 pixels), the Galaxy Nexus is the first screen to utilize that real estate for good. Google’s new interface is built around the HD resolution and it shows. The Nexus also one-ups HTC’s screen a bit, since it features a Super AMOLED instead of LCD display. The difference here is that Super AMOLED can display much deeper blacks (the screen actually turns off when black is present) than LCD. This saves battery life and looks better. Since Android 4.0 uses a lot more black, Super AMOLED is our choice.

We’ve seen some complaints about the PenTile screen technology and issues with solid colors, but we haven’t yet encountered anything that drives us crazy. Compared to many of Motorola’s pre-Razr devices this year, the screen is simply stunning. Overall, it seems on par with some of the better screens on the market and has no obvious flaws.

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