Looking at the operating system first Android 4.0 is a huge leap forward from 2.x and noticeably better than the tablet optimised Honeycomb. Almost immediately we noticed differences in overall performance with 4.0 giving us more fluid, quicker and slicker use, particularly when browsing.
There is also noticeable improvement in multitasking and a massive improvement in typing accuracy over 2.x running of the Samsung Galaxy S2 although that is partially down to the larger screen. Also included in the OS is Android Beam. This is a near-field communication (NFC) feature that allows the rapid short-range exchange of web bookmarks, contact info, directions, YouTube videos and other data with other Android 4.0 users, enhancing the overall phone experience.
The OS also has Books which syncs with Google eBooks, Google+, and a good range of nicely animated new interfaces. However our personal favourite feature that comes with the Nexus is face unlock. This feature allows us to set up the phone security so that the front camera will recognise us and unlock the handset! Google has a built in warning that appears before we complete the process that it is less secure than a pattern, PIN or password but other than those who have a kleptomaniac twin it is a worthwhile feature.
Users of older versions of Android should find their way around the handset easily with nice touches such as recent apps making multitasking quicker than older phones and overall 4.0 feels like a chunky, responsive operating system. It has a stability, continuity and ease of use that wasn’t always present in earlier version.
Moving to the hardware the first thing that struck us was that the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is a big phone, nearly rivalling the Titan in the size stakes (though not quite at Galaxy Note level). This focus on screen size gives us an indication that the handset is intended for viewing media or perhaps as a Google enhanced Internet browsing tool. While it is large, the Nexus is still very slim, and fits snugly in the hand. The textured back panel doing an excellent job at increasing the traction in our hand.
In terms of overall build quality the Galaxy Nexus is entirely plastic and like the Galaxy S2 it has the extremely flimsy clip-on back panel which does feel somewhat lacking compared to the likes of HTCs Sensation range or the Nokia Lumia. That said it does offer ease of access which will be useful for those who like to carry a spare battery for extended trips. We found the handset would get though a full day of moderate use which is pretty standard for today’s high end devices, especially those with larger screens.
Elsewhere the physical buttons, though few in number, are very well positioned and we experienced no accidental pressing when watching media. They are also both optimally positioned for thumb or index finger depending on right or left handedness.
Upon starting up the phone the quality of display is apparent, the 1280×720 AMOLED screen offering deep vibrant colours and sharp detail and it is a stand out feature of the handset. Disappointingly the camera is only 5MP in a time when other phones are into double digits. Image quality is still acceptable for daily use though and it has near instantaneous shutter speeds with no delay between pressing the capture button, the photo being taken, and then the software returning to ready. Additionally the camera can now be accessed from the lock screen, just like HTC’s Sense 3.x.
Helping us take better pictures the camera app features a number of changeable settings. We are able to alter white balance, exposure, scene mode, and image quality. The camera also has a dedicated panorama button though a steady hand and some time are needed for the best results. Here are a couple of images to illustrate the quality of still pictures.
We would have expected the Galaxy Nexus to capture fantastic 720p video, but sadly they just didn’t live up to our expectation. The files looked washed out, and moving between light and dark caused image quality issues, as did fast movement. Upon viewing the options in our video app it is clear that this wasn’t a focus for Samsung as it only has a few options. We can change white balance and quality, set a timer or add a live background or funny face to what we are filming.
Back to the positives the dual-core processor and 1GB of memory mean the Nexus always feels sharp and responsive. A noticeable improvement is web page rendering, which has been given a major boost as has switching between open apps when compared to older handsets.