The flagship phone for Ice Cream Sandwich – Android 4.0 – is on our review desk. However, does it live up to the hype what Google and Samsung have produced, or will it fall flat like many Android phones? Plus, is ICS an improvement to the Android ecosystem?
Terence Huynh reviews.
8.5 / 10
Design and screen; ICS is brilliant to run; fast and responsive
Camera shots lower quality; Face Unlock is a gimmick
A brilliant Android phone, with some minor flaws – one of the best out there.
Design & Features
As we may have noticed, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is a slim touchscreen phone – not as slim as the Motorola RAZR, but is pocketable. The phone also features a unique curve, mainly because of the 4.65-inch curved Super AMOLED display. Speaking of the display, the colour reproduction is good and are vibrant (and it should, especially since it is considered the flagship phone for Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich). The phone also features a dual core 1.2GHz processor, 1GB of RAM; and 16GB storage that is not expandable via a microSD card.
As well, you have the standard headphone jack and a microUSB port at the bottom; a volume rocker at the left side; and power button on the right. You also have a camera – 5 megapixel that can record 1080p video – with a LED light at the back; in addition to a front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera.
The body, typical of Samsung’s high-end smartphones, is perfection. It is beautifully designed. However, playing with the phone longer than anticipated, I started comparing it to the other phones I had to review, and the phones I previously reviewed – and it has a problem.
The body feels bland. It’s perfectly designed, but just doesn’t excite me as much – and it’s because of the colour, or lack thereof.
After playing around with the Nokia N9, you do sort of miss the bright and screaming colours of magenta and blue (I did have the Black version to review, but I did also play around with the two colours).The shade of black and/or grey and a mesh pattern at the back of the phone just gets boring when you see it on every single phone.To be fair, it’s not Samsung’s fault. Every single phone manufacturer is guilty of simply sticking to a monochromatic colour scheme.
Being the flagship phone of Android by Google, it does have to add hardware features that developers will be (hopefully) using for their apps. This phone includes Near Field Communication (NFC) and is one of the few phones that supports Mobile High-Defintion Link (MHL) – where you can connect the phone (via microUSB) to your HDTV. It is also sort of a way to reproduce 1080p content since the phone lacks a microHDMI port.
The camera touts “zero shutter lag”, and the claim does stand up. The photo is taken and saved instantly when you press the on-screen button to shoot. However, while it does have continuous auto focus – meaning, it will constantly readjust to make sure the image is mostly clear - you can get a bit of blurriness in the photo. It also comes with a panorama mode, so you can take 360 degree shots at ease.
In all honesty, the photos could have come out better. The camera’s weak spots are in low-light conditions. The flash when doing close-ups over-saturates, and does kind of make a person look like he or she has jaundice. Not a great look.
But the big improvement has to be the interface. It’s clean, simple and the settings are not hidden through menu, after menu. It has been a bit simplified, and stripped down to the basic features of zoom, changing the white balance, turning off or on the flash and changing the quality of the photos. It doesn’t have the weird oddities such as effects – like HTC has done; but who cares about the effects. All of us want simple snapshots.
Ice Cream Sandwich also lets you have quick access to the camera in the lock screen. So now, you’ll never miss a moment.
Ice Cream Sandwich
Now, let’s get straight to the main business – it is currently (at the time of writing) the only smartphone running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich that is available in Australia. Combined with the dual-core processor, it runs smoothly in comparison to the heavily customised versions from manufacturers – I still have bad nightmares from Motorola’s MOTOBLUR.
It pretty much takes Honeycomb and slaps it onto a smartphone. However, ICS ditches all physical buttons on the front of the phone, instead relying on the static buttons on the bottom of the screen – representing back, home and a way to see currently running applications. Also new to ICS is the ability to now close apps in the background, a new data usage manager, screenshot capture and the ability to create folders. Widgets now are in its own tab with the Apps menu, and like Honeycomb, you can now resize them.
But those are considered minor to Google. It is touting two things – Android Beam and Face Unlock. Unfortunately, we couldn’t test Android Beam since we don’t have another phone with us on our review desk that has NFC, but its a new way to share contacts, web pages, YouTube videos, apps, etc without using the cumbersome pairing process of Bluetooth.
Face Unlock, however, isn’t all that great either. The ads somewhat blemish the uselessness of this feature. In fact, Google admits that it is “less secure than a pattern, PIN or password”. So why put it in there? Because simply, iOS and Windows Phone 7 doesn’t have it. To its credit, it managed to unlock my face instantly – after tying to get it to angle correctly in the circle so many times; but it didn’t work in different lighting conditions (it could be because parts of the face were obscured). So, if I was you, I’ll stick with the traditional pattern or PIN.
However, back to ICS – in its purest form, it is brilliant. Perfectly designed (and as a typography nerd, the font Roboto looks really good for the display) and its complexities mostly simplified, it is the best version of Android yet – despite the gimmick known as Face Unlock.
Calling this phone the best Android phone might be a bit over-the-top, but definitely is one of the better smartphones in the market – if you ignore the gimmicks. The camera does let it down a bit, but most of the hardware doesn’t. The processor makes ICS run smoothly; and ICS itself makes me want to convert to an Android fanboy simply because of its design.
But of course, Samsung will create a better version for its Galaxy line, like every other manufacturer – so I’ll be eagerly awaiting what manufacturers will release with ICS at this year’s Mobile World Congress.
EDIT (28 May 2012): We downgraded its score from 9.0 to 8.5, in light with the HTC One X review. The review was written before it was announced, and was on our reviews desk.