The Galaxy Nexus is Google's third flagship phone, and it's the best Nexus yet -- with a gorgeous display and beautiful, cutting-edge software. If you want the best Android experience, it's the phone to get.
The design is smaller than the Galaxy S3, but larger than the iPhone. It's neither unwieldy, nor petite -- like Goldilocks said, it's just right. If you like minimalist design, you'll like the smooth, slightly curved layout. The only aesthetic stumble comes with the dimpled battery cover, which makes it easier to grip. I understand it's functional, but I thought it mars the otherwise smooth good looks.
The 4.7-inch screen goes toe-to-toe with Apple's Retina display. Compared to the iPhone, you get more than an inch of extra real estate. And the 1,280-by-720 resolution is really sharp. When I watch movies and TV shows, it much preferred the clarity and contrast on the Nexus to the iPhone. It's that good. Details are sharp and colors are vivid and true-to-life. The Super AMOLED technology produces some of the blackest blacks I've seen, for a fantastic multimedia viewing experience.
If you look at the specs, you'll notice that Samsung uses a PenTile layout. PenTile has a bad reputation, because it generally produces fuzzy images due to the pixel arrangement, but rest assured, you won't even notice. The high-resolution largely negates that issue.
I have to admit, the 5-megapixel camera is a bit if a let-down. Now, don't get me wrong, it's one of the best 5-megapixel cameras I've seen. But frankly, I expected a top-notch 8-megapixel lens like other high-caliber rivals. But despite the middle-of-the-road single LED, I took photos packed with clear details and vivid color. They weren't as good as the iPhone 4S photos, but still, they were surprisingly sharp for 5-megapixels.
Now, I like a dedicated camera key, and I was a bit disappointed that I had to use the screen to control everything, but it's not a big issue. I did love the Panorama function, though -- it's a fun touch that lets you capture beautiful scenes, but when I printed them out, the resolution didn't look as good as on the screen. You won't have advanced filters and settings either, so expect to boot up Photoshop to tweak photos.
If you prefer to shoot video, you'll love the Nexus. The 1080p clips I recorded were fantastic -- as sharp and colorful as photos. For instance, the continued auto-focus kept my shots looking steady. In addition, you'll have a lot of useful and fun effects to choose from. If you want to play a trick on a friend, use green screen mode to transport yourself into a tropical climate, and then tell them you're on vacation. They'll need to be insanely gullible for that to work, but you'll have fun playing around with the feature. I did.
The 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, meanwhile, is nothing out of the ordinary. It's functional for video chats if you decide to join Google+ hangouts, but more on that later.
The beefy hardware matches up with heavyweights like the HTC Rezound and Motorola Droid Razr. That alone makes it worth a look, but the real highlight is that it is the first phone to run on Android 4.0, dubbed Ice Cream Sandwich.
ICS is the biggest update to the Android platform yet, and you get a vanilla version of the operating system. That doesn't sound like much, but it is. Other handset makers all try to add their own interfaces, which don't bring much and slow down the performance. Frankly, the purest form of Android is the best, in terms of both looks and speed. And the Galaxy Nexus is the first and only device to run that platform until the spring. Why? Other companies are frantically working on their custom interfaces to bog down their phones.
Regardless, ICS streamlines the Android experience. I really like the blue-and-grey color scheme -- it gives a more advanced vibe. And the revamped widget and notification system is much more convenient too. In addition, Google created a face detection system to unlock the phone, but it's more about novelty than real security.
The home screen offers a better way of creating and organizing folders. You also have a dedicated button to call up all running apps and kill them with a swipe of a finger. Instead of interface buttons on the phone itself, they're integrated into the software, so you can go forward and back by pressing the screen. You can also shut down apps by sliding the screen sideways, which is great for preserving battery life.
The text input and spellcheck is more accurate and voice control is more robust. The speech-to-text system, for example, now works with real-time feedback, so you'll know sooner if there's been a mistake in the transcription. The voice recognition isn't as advanced as Siri, but it's a step up from older versions of Android. The improved Gmail app makes it easy to keep up-to-date with e-mail, and you can even read your messages when you're offline. ICS syncs with Google's accounts from the get-go, so it's easy to setup contacts at the start.
Basically, all these little tweaks add up to one big improvement -- and why the Nexus is a big leap forward. The hardware is enough to make it one of the best devices, but ICS really puts it over the top and makes it the easy choice for Android fans.
One warning: the Nexus doesn't have expandable memory, so you're stuck with 16-gigabytes. That's unfortunate because the screen is wonderful to watch movies. But you can offload some files to the cloud.
If you're itching to try ICS, the Nexus is worth picking up. But don't think it's flawless: the camera is lackluster and you'll run out of memory sooner than you'd expect. But as long as you're fine with the downsides, the advantages make this one of the best devices on the market. You'll be happy with it -- I was. ♦
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