Samsung Galaxy Nexus Preview

Introduction and Design

The advent of the third Nexus handset has been one of the most anticipated events in the mobile universe this year. Why so? Because these Nexus phones represent important milestones for the Android operating system. Produced in tight partnership between Google and a major phone manufacturer, each Nexus arrives to the scene along with an important update to the OS, introducing lots of new features and goodies for consumers and developers. While the first device in the series, the Google Nexus One, was manufactured by HTC, the production of the following model, the Nexus S, was taken over by the largest Android phone manufacturer in the world today – Samsung. The South Koreans have obviously managed to establish some pretty good relations with Google, as they have kept the privilege to work on this year's model as well – the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

So, what does the Galaxy Nexus bring to the table in order to excite cell phone fanatics? The answer seems pretty obvious – it brings the latest iteration of the Android operating system – Ice Cream Sandwich. And this is not your usual update like Gingerbread or Froyo. Ice Cream Sandwich is a much more ambitious project, aiming to completely redesign the Android platform in and out. We now have a prototype unit of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, so let's explore this amazing package and see where its ups and downs might be hiding.


The Nexus smartphones are special, not only because they come with a brand new version of Android, but also because they offer something which other, more “typical” Android handsets lack in most cases – they actually look good. The Nexus One was one of the most considered Android devices from design standpoint, while the Nexus S came with that attractive curved glass on top of its display. Now, with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, we again witness this curved design, as well as some other little treats. For example, the back cover uses the so-called Hyper Skin finish, which provides a better grip, and an overall nice feel to the touch. However, the phone's body is still entirely made of plastic, which translates to a relatively light weight, but also to a somewhat standard feel, which fails to captivate or wow the user. There's nothing premium with the build quality and construction of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and this is our biggest disappointment with its design.

You can compare the Samsung Galaxy Nexus with many other phones using our Size Visualization Tool.

Yes, there's still this curved glass, but we don't consider it as being something beneficial in any way. The curve is actually very slight, so we really see no difference between this and a completely flat glass. Otherwise, the display below it is quite impressive. The Galaxy Nexus sports an enormous 4.65” screen with an HD resolution of 720x1280 pixels. And even with a screen this big, we're happy to report that the pixel density is 316 ppi, which means that all kinds of fine details and small text that appear on this display remain clearly visible. The Galaxy Nexus sports an HD Super AMOLED screen, which uses an RGBG PenTile matrix for pixel arrangement. This actually shouldn't trouble anyone, as we don't find the overall image quality to be inferior compared to what you see on standard RGB matrix-based displays. More on this can be read in our dedicated article. Naturally, having an AMOLED screen, the Galaxy Nexus offers those characteristic high contrast levels and very saturated colors that kind of bring images to life.

For the first time in an Android handset, you won't find any buttons below the screen. That's because the Galaxy Nexus has been designed to run Ice Cream Sandwich, which now features on-screen keys for navigation in Android, just like in Honeycomb tablets. As a result, the front side of the device is completely clean and looks very cool. Around the device we find a standard microUSB charging port, 3.5mm headset jack, volume rocker and a power key. Interestingly, there is also a three-dot connector on the handset's right side, which will be used for docking the device with some kind of a docking station. On the back side is what many would consider the Galaxy Nexus's downfall – a 5MP camera, instead of something more contemporary like an 8MP one. While we would have really liked it more if it had an 8MP shooter, we'd still be satisfied if the Galaxy Nexus manages to produce some good-looking results.

Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is a well-made device, but it lacks personality. The neutral color scheme and the basic materials in use don't help as well. Finally, if you're not the type of user that would want their smartphone to have a premium feel, the design of the Galaxy Nexus should fit the bill.

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Samsung Galaxy Nexus 360-degrees View:

Interface and Functionality:

Being the very first handset to run Ice Cream Sandwich, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus represents a true milestone for the Android operating system. Ice Cream Sandwich was one of the most-anticipated Android iterations ever, since it finally bridges the phone and tablet experience. What this means is that both Android phones and tablets will run Ice Cream Sandwich (and the versions after it), and not two separate platforms, like it was until now with Gingerbread and Honeycomb.

The case with ICS is that it's built on top of Honeycomb and not Gingerbread. Because of this, ICS brings a brand new experience to Android phone users, equal to a complete redesign of the platform. Unfortunately, our prototype unit has a very early build of ICS installed, and it's not even optimized properly, so we can't draw any general conclusions about the platform yet. However, we do get to explore its main functionality with its interface and most core apps.

First of all, if you have used a Honeycomb tablet, you'll feel right at home with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, although it's not so much of an Android experience compared to other phones on this OS as well. As always, your homescreen is divided into multiple pages, on which you can place widgets, app shortcuts and so on. The beauty in this is that you can get instant access to various features of your handset like email, weather, etc., whereas on a device with a more static homescreen, like the iPhone, you have to launch a separate application in order to get to such information. Both approaches have their pros and cons though, and the one in Android isn't flawless by any means. More stuff on your homescreen means a more complicated environment and higher demand for system resources, but overall, it basically comes down to personal preference whether you'd prefer a more “open” approach like in Android or a more streamlined one like in the iPhone.

An interesting aspect of the ICS software is that, similarly to Honeycomb, the navigational keys “Back”, “Home” and “Multitasking” are part of the interface, and not separate touch-sensitive keys. So, these buttons do take a certain part from your screen real estate, but the Galaxy Nexus has enough of this with its 4.65” display, so there's still enough room for the important stuff. But of course, don't think there's so much of a benefit associated with this all-screen thing. Indeed, it looks cool, but that's pretty much the extent of it.

The notification dropdown has remained, but overall, notifications have improved, as now they can be swiped away one at a time. They are also accessible from the lock screen.

The higlights of the new UI start with the brand new People app. This replaces the Contacts app and is a much cleaner, visual solution to showing your contacts. “Visual” because the person’s image occupies a much larger space, and “cleaner” because it gets rid of all boxes and many delimiters, leaving some nice blank spaces between fields, so you don’t feel in a clutter. Contact images borrow a magazine-style UI in Google’s words, but the Windows Phone community cried foul that ICS is borrowing Metro UI elements. The Phone app has also been redesigned allowing you to call contacts with a single tap.

The Calendar has been swipe-enabled, so you can now use gestures in the Calendar. Here, though, by swiping you switch between days, weeks and months. You can also pinch-to-zoom for a more detailed view of your agenda.

Overall, Google is moving to a simplistic interface, just as the one it launched on its web services. An example of that are the new messaging and email applications. Now, they are even better as Google has also improved auto-completion of recipients, among other enhancements. However, we can't comment on the usability of the on-screen QWERTY keyboards, as our prototype unit didn't function as it should.

Second comes an overhauled Browser. We could argue that the average user would spend as much if not more time in the smartphone browser rather than calling, and that's why the change here is of paramount importance The browser now includes a “Save for offline reading” option and redesigned tab switcher looking much like the vertical multitasking list. In addition, the user can also “request” to see the desktop version of a site, without having to scroll to the bottom of the page in search for a special link. We couldn't get Flash Player to work on our prototype, but from what we saw, the web browsing experience on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus promises to be pretty smooth in terms of navigation. Furthermore, the ultra-high HD resolution makes reading of text very comfortable, as even very smallish letters are legible, similarly to the Retina Display on the Apple iPhone 4S.

Google promised to strip shutter lag off the Camera app, and indeed we found the Samsung Galaxy Nexus to be extremely speedy with its camera operation. In addition, there’s a new panorama mode baked right in the application allowing you to take panoramic shots with a single motion. Live Effects are added to the video capture, so you can fool around with the Silly Face effect or change your background to a custom image.

Here are a few test samples taken with our prototype Samsung Galaxy Nexus for you to check out, but don't consider them as being indicative of the quality that will be presented by a final, retail unit. It might be pretty close, but we can't be sure.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus Sample Video:

Samsung Galaxy Nexus Indoor Sample Video:


As we said, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is an attractive handset. That's not only because it looks good, although a bit more neutral than what we'd like, but also because it comes with the newest Android OS – Ice Cream Sandwich - preloaded. Indeed, the Galaxy Nexus marks the advent of a whole new experience for Android-powered phones, and we're greatly excited about that. Not only does it come with a complete redesign (for the better), but it also promises to make life easier for developers, eventually leading to a higher-quality app ecosystem.

As a smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is a pretty strong performer. It features up-to-date specs, although nothing really groundbreaking. Yes, the camera is only 5MP, but if it does turn out to be capable of producing quality shots, we can live with that. At the end of the day, the Galaxy Nexus will be able to offer you a beautiful HD Super AMOLED screen, presumably fast performance due to a 1.2GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4460 processor, and a much-improved Android experience, all included within a relatively thin, curved and, unfortunately, plastic and uninspired body.

To draw our final conclusion about the Galaxy Nexus though, we'll have to wait until we get to play with a final product, which will happen sometime in November, when, however, the Motorola DROID RAZR will also set its heavy foot on the stage, challenging the Galaxy Nexus for the crown of the ultimate Android phone. As it seems, the Nexus will have the early advantage, due to the fact that it will come directly with ICS, while the DROID RAZR will rely on customized Gingerbread, but it will only be a matter of time before Moto's offering gets its ICS boost as well, and then... it will get interesting.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus Video Preview:

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