Yes, I’m a liar. After ranting about Verizon’s poor handling of the Galaxy Nexus announcement I was bitter and, well, extremely bitter. But now that the phone is out in stores, me ditching Sprint in the process to get it on the Big Red carrier, even the most vile and grim of hearts will melt once you start using it. It may not win on a few fronts in the spec wars, but this is, end-to-end, the best Android phone money can buy. You may have read other reviews about the international version of this phone, but this is the first – and last- review you’ll need on the Verizon version. Let me explain just why.
The biggest surprise, coming from an Epic 4G (which is basically a generation and a half old compared to this hardware), was simply how thin the phone was. Oh yes, the Droid RAZR is super slender, but I honestly have no need for a phone of those dimensions. With a 4.65″ screen (which I’ll get to in a bit), the phone was a bit like holding a Pop-Tart in my hand. This isn’t anything new: the original Galaxy S phones as well as the Droid X line were also pretty thin with large-ish displays as well. The problem is that even with large-ish hands, reaching the top of the display – where the action bar resides for new apps – pretty much allowed the entire phone to slide out of the bottom of my grip. My pinky has gotten quite a work out holding along the bottom of the device. I wasn’t sure how much I’d like larger displays, but I believe the Galaxy Nexus’ is pretty much the peak.
If you’ve been looking to move over from iPhone, you’ll instantly notice how cheap the phone feels, but that’s really not much different than most any other Android phone. The construction is mostly plastic, which lends to its super light weight, and you genuinely don’t believe you’re holding such a complex piece of hardware feeling the way it does. The back panel is slightly rubberized, allowing for a great grip.
That back panel actually peels back to reveal the removable battery and the Micro-SIM card for LTE access. I’d read about this before and the ladies that set me up with the phone warned me about it. If you’ve never used this or a Galaxy S II before, you pull on a tab and the flexible plastic bends as it unsnaps. Others have said that it feels like it’s going to break if you put too much effort into it, but I found it was just fine. Without getting into too much boring detail about it, the battery life is what you would expect: you’re charging it every night still. Bring a charge cable with you if you plan on using it a bit.
The headphone jack and Micro USB connection are actually along the bottom of the phone, which makes perfect sense, but I understand how it could be confusing to newcomers. The Zune HD got a ton of flack for having a bottom-mounted headphone jack when its predecessors were top-mounted. The reality is this helps out a lot in the pocket situation: you simply pull your phone out and you’re not only greeted by the LED notification (which resides right below the software button portion of the screen), but also the properly adjusted screen. There’s no adjustment or extra five inches of headphone cord required to access your phone, it’s right there.
I’ve only had a little bit of time to mess with the much-touted “4G” ultra-fast LTE access, but living in an area that Verizon codes as the deepest red on their coverage map, I wasn’t terribly impressed. Downloads came down at about 1.5Mbps with about 200k uploads. I imagine if you’re an urban area you’re probably better off, but here in Coloradan suburbia, there wasn’t much to brag about. This was a big reason to get excited about the Verizon version of the phone and maybe time and location will provide better speeds, but I can’t say it’s a selling point unless you’re a power user dying for the incremental increase in speeds.
The dedicated shutter button of previous Galaxy S phones is, disappointingly, replaced with the NFC contacts of a solution that may never arrive. Verizon is at war with Google over Wallet, so don’t expect to purchase anything at retail or your local c-store until the two partners involved decide to talk nicely in the same room. If carriers must provide some fundamental level of stupid to what would otherwise be a fantastic product, this is it. Verizon, get your head out of your butt.
The display is the highlight of the entire slab. Running at 720p means the Galaxy Nexus is close to Apple’s Retina Display, but I doubt you could ever spot the difference. Also, the screen is nearly 1.2″ bigger than the iPhone 4S’ to boot, so you’re getting a lot more real estate for graphics, software keyboards, browsing, everything. Whether you’re playing Angry Birds, reading e-mails, or watching video, you feel like mobile phones have reached a peak on screen size before going into tablet range. The colors might be over-saturated because of the richness that sAMOLED displays allow, but if you’re not picky on color values, it reminds you that this is a premium product. This is something I’ve been in love with since Samsung decided to double down on Android with the Galaxy S and it’s very difficult to imagine going back to an LCD again. There are plenty of people, particularly in the technoblogosphere, that are going to whine endlessly about the Pentile arrangement of the pixels, but the density is so great that the only thing that will cross your mind is how fantastic the screen looks. (If you’re unfamiliar with Pentile arrangement, don’t worry. Seriously.)
The camera is probably the biggest letdown here. If you’re a casual photographer, you won’t notice, but a great sensor isn’t included, which is similar to the original Galaxy S, rather than the S II’s follow-up. As a result, you’re going to see plenty of grain in low light and let’s be fair, anything beyond 5MP on a phone is overkill, I don’t care who Panasonic is fooling with their 12MP cameras. The trade-off here is the shutter-free lag. You hit the button, you have a picture in a fraction of a second, similar to a DSLR. Just keep tapping that screen and the pictures fly out. There are some cool real-time effects when it comes to video, including Big Eyes and Big Mouth, which are mere novelties, but hey they’re fun. (NOTE: the pictures below do not include the crazy-cool text tag that indicates they were taken on a Galaxy Nexus.)
There’s not a whole lot to go over that Brandon didn’t cover in his Ice Cream Sandwich review for the Nexus S, but there are a few tweaks here and there, not to mention the native implementation that set it apart from other Android devices. While the guts of the Galaxy Nexus aren’t as hearty as, say, the Droid RAZR or the HTC Rezound, which are also destined to receive ICS, the reality is this:
This is the closest to a stock version of ICS as you will ever get from a carrier.
This is a Nexus phone, and despite Verizon’s “ownership”, there’s really no bloatware on here to speak of. The twin applications that Verizon added to the phone can be easily removed without rooting and there’s no other deviations to speak of. The build on this phone is so raw that, like Gingerbread on the Nexus S, it won’t even let you add a Facebook account for contact/syncing purposes (I recommend Friendcaster to get around this. And no, they didn’t pay us for the recommendation, it was simply the easiest fix.) I can’t say I understand the inclusion of software icons instead of hardware or capacitive buttons along the bottom of the screen, but would it have hurt if we could move ’em around a little? Like other, previous Samsung phones, I’m used to the Back button being toward the right, rather than the left, necessitating me to stretch over the slate to retreat through my program or internet’s history. It’s not a big deal, but it wouldn’t have hurt if you’re gonna set it up that way.
The phone, like many Android devices, has a measurable amount of lag or stuttering when shifting between menus and options from time to time. While this is the slickest Android phone on the market, it’s still inevitable that there will be a menu that simply chops up as you scroll through it. If you’re a regular Android user, it’s par for the course. The browser is a fantastic experience on the Galaxy Nexus. It’s not quite as slick as the iPhone 4/S, but it’s the closest that Android has come to easy pinch/zooming and scrolling without much stuttering. Once sites were loaded, I was gliding through them. It’s honestly strange to use the mobile version of a site on a 4.65″ display when full websites are looking natively-sized on the screen. If you have Google Chrome tied to a Google account, be prepared to receive all of the bookmarks from your home browser which is fantastic, but it won’t quite align with many of the mobile sites you’ll experience, so be prepared to double up on some of your bookmarks
On top of the software keys being software-based, ICS removes the fourth ‘List’ button. Mercifully, you get it back in the form of an ‘ellipses’ key that will feel familiar to Windows Phone users. Android is flexible in regards to older applications and while the Action bar has replaced the additional functionality that various programs require, the ellipses key will take care of the rest, thank God.
If you’re a power user looking for a new Android phone, you’re doing yourself an injustice by not going with the Galaxy Nexus. Yes, other phones will get ICS, but who knows what terrible format they’ll arrive in. HTC will imbue ICS with Sense and Motorola will work many nights to incorporate their unnamed-yet-named Motoblur ident to their ICS ROM. The reality is you’re not going to get this close to a standard ICS build without ROM’ing out your phone than the Galaxy Nexus, so why not take advantage of Google’s best and brightest on the hardware that was obviously designed for it? Drop everything you have and get a Galaxy Nexus as soon as possible. It’s the golden standard by which Android phones will be measured… until the next Nexus phone arrives.