One of the biggest, sexiest features of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus when it first came out was the debut of Android 4.0 (also called “Ice Cream Sandwich”) with new features and a slightly revamped interface, putting the Nexus ahead of the times compared to all the smartphones still running Android 2.3. Well, six months later, we find out that most phones are still running Android 2.3 — in fact, about 93% of Android devices. Although more and more phones are now coming out with upgrades, they’ve been neither fast nor universal, making the Galaxy Nexus still far ahead of the curve.
And being a “Nexus” device, any future OS updates for it will be handled straight from Google, guaranteeing that it’ll always have the newest Android platform. Likewise, the “Nexus” status means that the phone doesn’t come pre-loaded with a ton of carrier applications, or any kind of customizations to the user-interface. You’ll not find one iota of the “bloatware” notoriously found on virtually every carrier-subsidized phone, leaving only a pure Android experience.
Backing up its screen and snazzy new Android version, the Galaxy Nexus sports a dual-core 1.2 GHz processor, the same speed seen in several other current high-end phones. But when subjected to Quadrant Standard benchmarks, the GN comes out with a rather dubious average score of 2070. Compare that to the 2700 scored by the Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX, and it doesn’t look so great. At least most, and probably all, of that change is no doubt thanks to the screen; the GN is pushing a lot more pixels than the RAZR MAXX, soaking up more processor power in the simple tasks of drawing things. Should it bother you? Probably not, unless one of your planned uses is playing back HD movies. High-bitrate full HD video will pose a problem for the GN.
One additional feature that is being pushed hard with the Sprint Galaxy Nexus is called Google Wallet. The idea is that the Nexus can store the vital details of all your credit cards, prepaid gift cards, store reward cards, etc. Then when you go to make a transaction, the Nexus can interact with a store scanner via Near Field Communication, or NFC. Just wave the phone at it, and it’ll automatically handle the entire transaction. I’ll be writing a full article about this soon that will cover Google Wallet’s strengths and weaknesses in more detail. But in the meantime I’ll summarize that it’s an interesting feature, but not necessarily one to go wild over just yet.
The Galaxy Nexus has the rather dubious distinction of being one of Sprint’s first LTE-capable smartphones — dubious primarily because Sprint doesn’t actually have any LTE yet to use it on. The first LTE markets are scheduled to go live sometime this summer, but even then, only in a few cities. Sprint has said they have plans to roll out LTE coverage over 120 million people by the end of this year, and 250 million people by the time 2014 comes around. In the meantime though, you’ll be running on purely 3G speeds. There is the minor benefit that not running 4G will give you better battery life than you’d otherwise have, but I’d imagine that’s not much of a selling point.
Fortunately when you need better than 3G speeds, the Galaxy Nexus has a nice solid Wi-Fi implementation. Besides the usual companions of Bluetooth and GPS, the Nexus also features Near Field Communication, or NFC. As I mentioned earlier, NFC is a way of transmitting short bits of data, being pushed by Google and some others as a replacement to credit cards. Although it’s useful for more than that, NFC is still pretty rare in the U.S.
Pretty much the one major downside of a completely “clean” Android experience with no apps loaded by the carrier or manufacturer is that it also means the Galaxy Nexus doesn’t come with any kind of Office suite. If you want to be able to view and edit Office docs on the Nexus, you’re going to have to supply your own app. The Nexus only comes with the minimal Android productivity type apps like email, browser, contacts, calendar, et al.
Although Google hasn’t done an Office suite yet, entertainment fares better even on a “naked” Android device. Among the included apps are Google Music, Google Books, and Google Movies, all tied in to Google’s own online services. It gives you a nice robust set of options, particularly if you don’t mind Google’s pricing structure for content.
The camera on the Galaxy Nexus is only rated at 5 megapixels, an oddity in a “high end” device, but as we should all know by now, resolution isn’t the defining quality of camera quality. So where does the Nexus’ camera really fall? Into the “pretty typical” range. It suffers from the same weakness in less than ideal light that most mobile cameras do, but it compensates for that with a nice strong LED flash. The result isn’t as good as its results in good light, or even cloud-cast outdoor light, but it’s plenty good enough. On top of that the GN offers a much faster shutter speed, making it easier to catch the exact moment you want in an action shot. Not to mention its just less time-consuming to work with.
The one real advantage of Sprint not having a 4G network yet is that running on 3G only, the Galaxy Nexus will get a much longer charge out of its battery. LTE eats power for breakfast, and where you could expect to get a day, maybe a day and a half on LTE, you could pull the GN out for 1.5 to two days on a charge with only 3G, depending on how conditions like signal and how heavily you use the data connection.