Samsung Galaxy Nexus review
Google’s new flagship smartphone, made by Samsung, is the first to run Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s also the first Android device to offer a premium experience.
Android now powers the majority of smartphones sold, but the approach is nothing like Apple. Google does not promote itself as the purveyor of perfect devices. Indeed, until recently Google’s chief mobile engineer, Andy Rubin, was still describing the platform as one ‘for early adopters’.
Increasingly, however, Google realizes it must offer the smooth experience that makes devices such as the BlackBerry and the iPhone feel so consistent and coherent. It’s this sense that inspires the devotion of users, which Google is seeking inspire with its new flagship handset, the Galaxy Nexus.
The first thing that strikes you is Its huge, 4.65-inch high definition display. Soon after the 1.2GHz dual-core processor proves it has plenty of oomph – thankfully, a slightly improved battery life just about lasts a busy day.
Manufactured by Samsung, the device builds on the success of the Nexus One, made by HTC, and Samsung’s follow-up, the Nexus S.
All of these devices were used by Google to debut new versions of Android and to drive manufacturers to make the hardware it thinks its operating system deserves. With this latest version, codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich, the search giant is finally getting there.
For a long time, Android has been amore capable than other mobile operating systems – it was the first to add shareable Wifi, for instance, and its email client is easier to search than the iPhone’s. But the devices have never felt effortless. If you wanted to configure a lot of features you could, but for an average user it was easy to own an Android handset and not get much out of it.
The explosive growth of the operating system has, in honesty, been built on relatively low prices rather than a high quality experience. The Galaxy Nexus attempts to address this in its details – for example a new font is used across the device, which brings a classy new feel.
The buttons along the bottom are no longer physical – they change depending on how the phone is being held and what it’s doing. The interface is consistent with Android tablets, so you can get to recently-used apps more easily. Although there are fewer Android than iOS apps, it’s not hard to find anything you might need on Android, and gaming is improving in leaps and bounds.
The Galaxy Nexus also includes improved spellchecking for its touchscreen keyboard, a browser that lets you save web pages to read offline and an improved calendar and camera.
More eye-catching gimmicks include face unlock, which lets you look at your phone rather than enter a code to unlock it. Unfortunately, this feature spent most of its time telling me it couldn’t ‘find my face’, but when it works it’s useful. ‘Android Beam’ lets you send files from one phone to another, just as apps such as Bump have for some time.
These tweaks makes the Galaxy Nexus iterative rather than revolutionary, but in a first for an Android device it feels like a premium experience.
There are bugs, however, as some apps are not optimised for Ice Cream Sandwich. As analyst Adam Leach, from Ovum, points out, “as ever with Android it will require manufacturers to deliver customized versions to drive shipments. Launch of the ‘vanilla’ product allows the software to get tested in the market”.
So when Motorola, Samsung, Sony and others get their hands on this software, more compelling devices will emerge rapidly. Only then will Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich be a mainstream challenger. For now, the Galaxy Nexus is another Android device for early adopters, but is nonetheless excellent and exciting in terms of the possibilities it could unleash.
Even so, the mobile market place is now more competitive than ever – Google faces a resurgent Microsoft and Nokia for the first time, and Apple remains formidable even if BlackBerry does not. Both Android app developers and the search giant will need to innovate at an even faster rate to stay ahead of the pack.