Samsung Galaxy Nexus Review
Being the very first handset to run Android Ice Cream Sandwich, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus represents a true milestone for the Android operating system. Ice Cream Sandwich is 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 has been until now with Android Gingerbread and Android 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.
First of all, if you have used a Honeycomb tablet, you'll feel right at home with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Most of the UI elements are preserved, and pretty much the whole interface follows the same logic. If you haven't had the chance to work with Honeycomb yet, there'll be a slight learning curve, but very slight indeed - we promise! After all, this is still Android.
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., right from your homescreen, 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”, customizable approach like in Android or a more streamlined one like in the iPhone. A new element in ICS is that you can create application folders by simply dragging an app shortcut and placing it over another one, just like in iOS. The styling of the new folders is also quite appealing.
No buttons design:
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 more than enough room for the important stuff. But don't think there's so much of a benefit associated with this all-screen thing, at least for now. It looks cool and is useful for some apps like the video player, where the on-screen buttons disappear to allow the app full use of the display. Unfortunately, not many apps take advantage of this feature right now, as you may imagine. If developers decide to optimize their apps for this feature in the future however, we do see some pretty sweet possibilities.
The notification dropdown is now transparent; and overall, notifications have been improves with the addition of the 'swipe away' gesture to remove unwanted items. They are also accessible from the lock screen. The Settings app has also been enhanced to have a more organized feel, though there are still some unintuitive elements like the way you get into the screen which was previously called “WiFi Settings” (the one where you get to pick a Wi-Fi network).
As a whole, Google has made terrific progress with the beautified interface and stramlined functionality of the Ice Cream Sandwich platform. Using an Android phone has never looked or felt better. On top of this, the handset treats us to a spectacular performance. It just flies no matter if you're swiping through homescreen, scrolling long lists, webpages, or opening and closing heavy applications. The occasions where we noticed a slight slowdown (like when switching to landscape QWERTY) were so few, that we'd go as far as to say that the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is one of the fastest smartphones out there today. This is probably due to the ICS software being well-optimized to work with the TI OMAP 4460 processor that's inside the Nexus. The processor itself sports two cores, clocked at 1.2GHz, so you can rest assured that you'll be able to take advantage of the potential performance boost that comes with applications and games, optimized for dual-core CPUs.
The highlights 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.
Overall, Google is moving to a simplistic interface, just as the one it launched on its web services. A good example of this are the new messaging and email applications, which are very easy and pleasant to use. Google has also improved some other aspects like auto-completion of recipients, as well as auto-correction, among other enhancements.
on-screen QWERTY keyboard has been vastly improved. The portrait option is very comfortable to use with one hand only, despite the phone's not so compact dimensions. To make things even better, the landscape QWERTY is one of the very best that we've ever used. It's keys are very nicely sized and spaced from each other, thanks to the 4.65” screen, while the haptic feedback is doing wonders to improve the overall experience of typing.
Setting up and operating with email (and Gmail) is a trouble-free process. While straightforward in their nature, the Email and Gmail apps are still equipped with lots of options to let you customize and refine your mail usage. Strangely, you can pinch-to-zoom in the Email app for a better view of the content of an email, but you can't do that in Gmail, which can make viewing of certain messages (some picture-rich newsletters, for example) a bit cumbersome.
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, which can be really helpful when you have set lots of appointments.