Samsung's Galaxy Nexus Is A Nail In The iPhone's Coffin
By Larissa Mac | Friday | 13/04/2012
We test Samsung's Galaxy Nexus and its ground-breaking Ice Cream Sandwich OS to see if it can deliver a smartphone experience to match-or beat-Apples.
|In the mobile market, Nexus is synonymous with pure. It is the unadulterated version of Android exactly as Google intended it to be. Compared to other versions of the open source software, it is free from carrier baggage and manufacturer add-ons, allowing it to deliver a fast and seamless user experience. |
Of the two Nexus' before it, the Galaxy Nexus is the most anticipated. In fact, it's arguably the most anticipated Android mobile phone ever, since it features market-leading specs and the most innovated version of the operating system yet.
Is Bigger Better?
Size is a defining factor of the Galaxy Nexus. It stands 135mm tall, just under 68mm wide and 8.9mm thick. Its proportions are huge, but somehow it makes its size work in its favour.
Dominating its fa?ade is the most exquisite screen to grace a phone. It stretches 4.65 inches and offers a 720 x 1280 resolution, which is the same resolution you'll find on a high definition TV. Besides orchestrating sublime viewing experiences, the Galaxy Nexus promotes a 316~ pixel density, proving adept to the faintest of touch gestures.
There are no buttons to be found on the front, nor any showmanship. Looks-wise, it's an understated phone until you turn the screen on.
Apart from a volume button (on its left) and the power/unlock button (on its right), most of the design elements are showcased on its back.
Coloured in dark grey the back contours to naturally fit in the palm of your hand. At the top is a camera and LED flash, which contrasts with the textured back cover.
At the base is a subtle bulge which houses the loudspeaker and an Aux (3.5mm) port.
Unlike the similarly tall Motorola Razr, which is characterised by stiff and sharp corners, the Nexus doesn't feel awkward to hold: if anything it feels like an extension of your hand (I pen that full knowing the experience might vary for people shorter than 6 foot).
The 16 million colour AMOLED screen isn't the only piece of kit that'll cause you to salivate. Inside its monolithic build is a dual core 1.2GHz processer, 1GB of RAM and internal memory starting from 16GB. The internals might follow the same recipe as Samsung's Galaxy SII, Motorola's Razr and HTC's Sensation, but it's the software that gives the Nexus its tantalising flavour.
When Apple's iPad hit it big, Google and its loyal manufacturers realised they want a stake in the tablet market. It looked at its phone OS (Gingerbread), and after one abysmal attempt (Samsung's P1000) the company realised it needed an operating system specific to a tablet. They then created Honeycomb.
With the Google's mobile OS at hand and a new tablet OS, the company's efforts were shared between the two, stunting innovation and fragmenting support. Google quickly realised it needed one unified operating system that would work seamlessly on a phone and on a tablet. Users could pick up either device and naturally know how to use it. That operating system is Ice Cream Sandwich, and the Nexus is the very first handset to use it.
From the ground up, the software has been re-dressed with different colours and themes. The look is consistent, filtering through every facet, from applications like YouTube, to the gallery and typeface.
You can see its previous lineage. The detail and interconnectivity advocated by Gingerbread is there, along with the customisable widgets and five pane home screens, which are all familiar treats that have benefited from an upgrade in design and function.
ICS has also looked to Honeycomb for inspiration, thankfully capitalising on its extraordinary task manager. It features live tiles of running apps which can be closed simply by swiping them off the screen. The holographic style first modelled by Honeycomb has also found its way into ICS, along with gallery thumbnail previews that appear when viewing an image.
Despite being inspired by its previous OS incarnations, Google has included a couple of new features. Ice Cream Sandwich will see people unlock their mobile by smiling at their phone with the addition of a feature called Face Unlock. Intelligent facial recognition software recognises the phone-owner's face and unlocks the handset, providing for a third alternative to PIN numbers and motion codes.
The second treat is one everyday application and makes use of the Near Field Communications (NFC) technology built into the phone. By simply tapping two Android beam enabled devices together, the opened web page, contact or application will be rapidly transferred to the other phone.
Finally, there are more developer options accessible in ICS than any previous Android incarnation. In addition to a variety of touch intuitive tools are an ever-present display of CPU usage, the ability to force GPU rendering and various animation scales. If you have the capable skill-set, ICS is a versatile developer playground.
The camera on the back comes off as disappointing at first, with 5 and not the common-day 8 megapixels. But truth be told, if there was an area were compromise could be tolerated, here it is. 5MP is enough for the majority of people who rely on phone cameras, delivering a high resolution image that can be showcased on a TV screen. The only kind of user it'll leave longing for more is the odd person who needs to print a full resolution photo.
Google claim the camera benefits from "zero shutter lag", and although I wouldn't say lag is non-existent, it does rapidly capture photos, especially when considering it tailors the settings to accommodate all kinds of lighting conditions. Between its rapid nature and the recently included panoramic shooting mode, the camera earns its place in what is a flagship phone.
The camera interface is lined with a reel of sharing options, including social networks, email accounts and messaging. Although it fails to outperform Sony's Arc and Samsung's own Galaxy SII with its image quality, the superior interface, rapid speed and panorama mode gives it a leg up.
There's no need for wishful thinking with its video capabilities as it captures everyday buffoonery with its Full HD 1080p lens, allowing users to zoom while recording and even capture time lapse videos. Colour reproduction is even better when recording videos and its attention to sound is impressive.
Organised, refined and detailed, the gallery is exceptional. Unlike older versions of Android, the thumbnails represent the full image in an interface that takes advantage of the available screen real estate. With images greater than 5MP, there are small glimpses of the scrolling track, but not nearly bad enough to dampen what is otherwise a faultless experience.
High end Gingerbread phones produced a sound browsing experience. The same fluidity is found on the Nexus, with the addition of live tile tabs. It can handle 16 webpages open at any one time, enjoys the benefits of being compatible with Adobe's Flash Player and is incredibly versatile thanks to its dynamic screen. The tablet sensibilities used to make ICS shine through the Nexus when using the browser as it inherits the same effortless texture.
The music player is another area that has undergone vast refinements, from the way music is organised to its welcomed webcentric persona. Organisation is aided by the touch-inviting interface, flipping through 'recent' tracks to artists, albums, songs, playlists and genres. The transitions are elegant, and even though the phone's internal memory is nearing capacity, it shows no signs of strain.
The player itself is a divine marriage between a simple to use interface and the custom detail longed by audiophiles. An on board equaliser features many pre-set profiles, and although different frequencies can be manually controlled, the everyday English that once labelled 'bass' from 'treble' would've made it more accessible to the masses.
The on board loudspeaker is great for messages and ringtone notifications, but when it comes to mp3 playback, it could benefit from a little more volume. It's not below par, but for watching flicks its best you pop in headphones as the audio picks up its game, producing sound worthy of its illustrious screen and cultivating a properly immersive experience.
This is a fantastic phone, but it's not because the Nexus is faultless. Rather, it just brings so much to the table that the few concessions you do need to make seem insignificant by comparison. The software is incredible and the hardware is just as amazing.
If the Nexus had to be summed up in a single word, it would be 'complete.'
Apr/May 2011 issue
reviews the hot new iPhone attach device, the Zeppelin Air. And we look at what's going on in the tablet space...