Samsung Galaxy Nexus Aussie Review: Cutting Through The Hype

This is the phone that Android users (including myself) have been smugly namedropping into conversations. Even iPhone fanboys have been holding their breath for this one. We were drip-fed conflicting specs leaks, images, teaser videos and speculation for months, so it's no wonder that we all started believing that the newest flagship Google phone was gonna be a gamechanger before it even became official. So does the Samsung Galaxy Nexus live up to the hype now it is fully on sale in Australia? Yes and no.

Prior to this week, your only option to get a Galaxy Nexus was to buy grey-imported stock from online retailers MobiCity and Kogan. Our 16GB review unit was supplied by MobiCity. All three local carriers have now announced pricing, and you can see all the details in Lifehacker's Planhacker listing. The locally released model includes built-in NFC, but isn't as yet available in an LTE variant. We also won't be getting the Samsung Music Hub experience in Australia, since this "is a Google experience", but Samsung is exploring how to make the service available via the Android market.

Despite those restrictions, excitement over the Galaxy Nexus here in Australia is probably more hyped-up here than it is anywhere else. The high-end smartphone market is much tighter here since we don't get a lot of phones that are released in the US market, like the HTC Rezound. So the only real competitors that the Galaxy Nexus has here right now are the Motorola RAZR, the HTC Sensation XL/XE and the iPhone 4S.

Hardware

Most of the hype over the Galaxy Nexus comes down to Ice Cream Sandwich, which we'll talk about in a minute, but Samsung absolutely deserves all the praise it's getting for making a stunning phone with great build quality (unlike the cheap plastic feel of the Samsung Galaxy S II) and form factor (and it's all Samsung, thanks very much Apple). The contoured display isn't as pronounced as Google's teaser video led you to believe. In fact, it's hardly noticeable at all, which is both a relief and a disappointment. I was kinda looking forward to rocking a futuristic-looking phone that looked like it was made to follow the shape of my head and the natural curve of my hand, but then it probably wouldn't have fit into the back pocket of my jeans. That's where I usually carry my phone, and having the (relatively fat) butt of the phone dig into my own butt as I walked would be unacceptable.

The Galaxy Nexus isn't just a pretty face — inside its slim body is a 1.2GHz dual-core TI OMAP processor with 1GB of RAM. While some may complain that it's inferior to the Exynos processor inside the Galaxy S II, you're not going to notice the difference in the real world. The Galaxy Nexus is quick to boot up, power down, open applications, browse the web, run games and everything else. It multitasks beautifully.

Samsung's Super AMOLED displays are popular and have a solid reputation, but what you may not know about the one on the Galaxy Nexus is that it's PenTile, which means that the screen tries to squeeze more pixels from the same number of dots to achieve a higher resolution and better battery life. You may not see the difference, but if you've ever used a phone like the Motorola Atrix, which also has a PenTile display, you'll know what I'm talking about. It feels like there's a dark translucent screen underneath the one you touch. The automatic brightness level is adequate but often feels too low when you're outdoors. Having said that, I see it more as a fair trade-off than a fault. The blacks are really black, everything is sharp and beautiful, and you get a bit more juice between charges. Sadly, the Galaxy Nexus doesn't come with the scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass that we thought became standard a long time ago.

When I first heard that the Galaxy Nexus wouldn't have any hardware buttons, I was really sceptical. No smartphone that I know of has pulled off the no-button thing. Lots of iPhone users hate having to double-click the one physical button Apple gave them and envy the four-button layout on Android phones. The minimalist look of the Galaxy Nexus is really attractive, but why try to fix something that's not broken? The Galaxy Nexus could have had even more screen real estate if it didn't have to sacrifice a portion of it to the new back/home/recent apps soft buttons layout in Ice Cream Sandwich.

Speaking of buttons, the Galaxy Nexus tries to make it easier to lock your phone with one hand by placing the power button on the right-hand side. But it doesn't quite work like that. When I use one hand to push the power button to lock the phone's screen, I accidentally end up pressing the volume button most of the time. Avoiding this problem requires more concentration that it should.

What makes the Galaxy Nexus feel so polished is in the little details. The textured back cover, the slight curve of the body and the multicoloured LED light on the front chin put this phone closer to the design ethos Apple is famous for. Notably, there is no SD card slot, but 16GB or 32GB internal memory will suffice for most people's needs.

It's also not as heavy as it looks — at 135g it's lighter than the iPhone 4S despite the much larger screen. Alex described it as a large phone in his first-look video, but if you're coming from a phone like the HTC Sensation XL or the HTC HD7, it won't feel that much larger. The illusion comes from making the 4.65 inches of screen fit a bit longer rather than wider, resulting in a more comfortable grip for users with smaller paws.

My biggest gripe with the Galaxy Nexus is the battery life. It's really not good. The 1750mAh battery just isn't enough for the juice-sucking nature of Ice Cream Sandwich. With moderate-heavy usage, I can squeeze half a day out of it, but even with light-moderate usage, it tells me that I have to connect my charger by dinnertime. Most people won't have any dramas connecting their phone to a USB port for a quick recharge session while working, but having to do that makes me shake my head in disappointment. This is one advantage that the iPhone has over any Android device — Apple makes both the software and the hardware, which means that one is likely to be optimised for the other. Powerful software requires powerful hardware, and the Galaxy Nexus' relatively large 1750mAh battery struggles to make it through a day. But strangely, despite this glaring setback, I'm more attached to this phone than any other phone I've ever used. Each day, I'm forced to plug the Galaxy Nexus into the charger before I'm ready, but I roll my eyes and put up with it because the phone is such a delight to use. It's like wearing your hottest pair of stilettos — they hurt your feet every time, but you suck it up and tell yourself that there's no gain without pain.

If you do decide to grey-import your Galaxy Nexus, keep in mind that it'll come with a UK plug. This is a giant pain in the arse for me as I have to share one adaptor with my boyfriend's Canadian-issued MacBook Pro and electric shaver. And I don't feel like buying another one just to review this phone. So if you plan on grey-importing, budget for an extra adaptor. (This won't be an issue if you buy locally.)

Software

The Galaxy Nexus is the first device to be released with Ice Cream Sandwich baked in, and it's come out of the oven looking great. We've already reviewed Ice Cream Sandwich, so I'm not going to get into too much detail here other than to say that my experience with it on the Galaxy Nexus over the last couple of weeks has been all positive. It's much more user-friendly, everything's prettier, and I'm in love with the font. It looks and feels cleaner and fresher... like Android's tidied up its room and opened the windows.

However, there is a bit of a learning curve. There's some assumed knowledge required of the icons that pop up in various apps, and even for seasoned Android users like myself there's a bit of guessing required the first time you use certain apps and settings.

Photo taken with Samsung Galaxy Nexus camera, default settings.

The software features I appreciate the most are definitely the keyboard and the camera app. The keyboard is the first worthy competitor to Swiftkey X that I've seen, with impressively accurate autocorrection. While the camera app could be more intuitive and some features are tucked away, it's delightful in its simplicity, sharing from the gallery interface is a breeze, and the zero-lag shutter is brilliant. I can take a photo and share it within seconds.

Context-specific menus are represented by three square dots in a row, usually positioned at the top right or bottom right of the screen, depending on the app you're using. The Galaxy Nexus also does away with the search button altogether, choosing to place a transparent search bar at the top of each home screen. You can't move or remove this search bar, but I didn't mind so much because it looks so good. There's not a lot of room for customisation on the Galaxy Nexus aside from changing the wallpaper. You need a third-party launcher or ROM to change the look of icons and the dock.

There are a few odd quirks here and there. There's no quick way to see where your battery is sitting at percentage-wise from the home screen. In some third-party apps, pressing the volume button makes a grey square appear where the slider indicating volume normally would. How to answer a phone call is not immediately obvious the first time — you have to hold the phone icon before a green "answer call" phone icon and a red "reject call" phone icon appears to the right and to the left, respectively (like unlocking the phone from the home screen). When you send someone a picture message, that picture keeps popping up in the "type message" after you've sent it. Facebook also keeps force-closing on me, but I suspect that has more to do with Facebook for Android just being a shit app.

SAMSUNG GALAXY NEXUS • OS: Android 4.0.1 Ice Cream Sandwich • Screen: 4.65-inch 1280×720 Super AMOLED HD • Processor: 1.2GHz dual-core TI OMAP • RAM: 1GB • Storage: 16GB/32GB • Camera: 5MP/1080p HD back, 1.3MP front • Dimensions: 135.5mm x 67.9mm x 8.9mm • Weight: 135g • Battery: 1750mAh • Price: $769 from MobiCity, $789 from Kogan; Pricing Now Also Available From Telstra, Optus and Vodafone — see Planhacker.

Should I Buy It?

As an Android fangirl, I will always be its biggest supporter and harshest critic. Despite some grievances, I still like the Galaxy Nexus so much that I would actually buy it for myself once I give this one back to MobiCity, even though the battery life sucks. (I recently got given a DROIDAX portable charger to review, so that essentially mitigates the issue by giving me a spare battery on-the-go.) The magic of this phone really comes from Ice Cream Sandwich, so if that's all you're after, there's no harm in waiting to see if it becomes available for your device.

You've got a few ways to get it. MobiCity is offering the 16GB model for $789 + delivery, including a 24-month warranty. Kogan is also offering the 16GB model for $799 + delivery, including a 12-month extendable warranty. If you don't want to grey-import it from either of these retailers and don't mind a 24-month contract, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone all offer it.


Comments

    What's the difference between "gorilla glass" and "fortified glass"? I assumed they were the same thing, so I was planning to go without a screen protector...

      Brand name, mostly. Gorilla Glass is Corning's product. It's very good, but that doesn't mean "fortified glass" is automatically worse.

        So, it's probably still safe to go without a screen protector?

          Never any guarantees, but if you're reasonably careful I think it'd be fine.

          Certainly much better than the old days of soft, plastic screens that could get scuffed by careless contact with harsh denim :-/

        Indeed! Gorrilla glass is extremely over-hyped anyway. My Dell Streak (one of the first devices with gorilla glass) got scratches in the same way, or maybe easier than the good ol' plastic screens. In many ways its worse, the glass doesn't crack, it shatters. I dropped my streak from a short distance onto the ground and the entire thing shattered...

        This is not to say Gorilla glass isn't better than normal glass, but its definitely nowhere near indestructible. I was extremely dissapointed with my experience of it.

          my galaxy s for 2 years without a screen protector has like 2 very small scratches in sunlight. i used to rub it against a brick to test

            My SGS has scratches all over it from being taken by my kids and dragged face donw on tiles...

            Gorilla Glass my ARSE! (hehe it rhymes)

    Killer Device!

    Am thinking of getting one, but have a question that someone might know the answer to.
    I am planning on getting it on a contract, but I don't want to get a phone with the usual carrier software that comes with it (Telstra, Optus, Vodafone preinstalled stuff).
    Is it possible to get a vanilla unlocked handset on a contract without buying it outright?

      im not sure you will have to see what the carriers offer. but you can disable apps in ICS so they dont show in your app draw and are never active.

        Maybe you could try rooting or flashing the phone? I'm not sure if CyanogenMod is out yet for this phone or ICS but it's always nice to have a clean slate without carrier crapware!

          My thoughts exactly, would just be nice to be able to get the phone clean by default rather than having to flash it.

            In a lot of ways, I don't really see why you'd buy a Nexus if you're not planning on unlocking the bootloader, rooting it and flashing a custom ROM (though arguably I don't know why anyone wouldn't do it to any Android device, it just makes good better). With root privelages, you can just entirely remove the system apps/bloatware you don't want.

            For the record, CyanogenMod 9 is still in Alpha (I'm running it on my Nexus S), and is still likely to be a couple of months away from even a release candidate being announced. Though there aren't any shortage of custom ROMs beginning to come about on the XDA forums.

              There isn't a lot bloatware on this phone at all (unless you consider Google's apps bloatware). I've had a N1 and now the GN and haven't felt the need to root either one. ICS is just awesome as it is.

      Google `s nexus devices doesn't have any carrier extras. That's the specialty and a great advantage.

        True of previous Nexuses (Nexii?) - not true of the Galaxy Nexus. Theres already been models come about in America with carrier bloatware installed, I don't see any reason why Aussie carriers can't/won't do the same thing.

    Just a couple of things to note: Mobicity's price is now $769, Kogan is $789. Also in regards to storage, there has been no mention of if/when the 32gb version will be available. It's a phantom product at the moment, which sucks because it's the only thing that's holding me back from buying one. My music library is over 30gb, and maybe if we had google music streaming here it wouldn't be so much of an issue, but as it stands, 16gb is just not enough for me.

      You need to store all your music on your phone, at the same time? One of the things I miss now that I'm using a WP7.5 handset is the ability for Winamp to auto-fill my phone with music I'd not listened to recently, or just a random selection of albums from my collection (~70GB, FWIW). But, each to his/her own I suppose :--D

      We can get google music, even if it is a little dodgy lol. This worked for me and I have never stepped foot into the US :)

      http://www.engadget.com/2011/11/19/how-to-use-google-music-from-anywhere-yes-outside-of-the-unit/

        Yeah I want all my music with me because I have a hugely varied taste and I always change my mind - so I like to have all my music accessible. Each to their own, but I get a bit frustrated if I get a song stuck in my head and can't listen to it there and then

          IMHO - despite having a similarly size music collection (~30GB), I've found my most played tracks to only require about 8-12GB in storage space. I hear ya about having a song stuck in my head and wanting to play it - which is where Google Music comes in. I wouldn't rely on the cloud for streaming and playing is a primary source of music, but it does come in handy when you want a song that didn't quite make the cut to stick on your phone.

          Don't know how often this happens to you or what data plan you use, but there's always YouTube fo get that pesky song out of your head.

    "This is one advantage that the iPhone has over any Android device — Apple makes both the software and the hardware, which means that one is likely to be optimised for the other."

    The Nexus devices have the same advantage...

      Yes, but Android isn't custom-made for the Nexus line. With the iPhone, they can customise the entire OS for that one specific device.

        iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S

        I could FOUR devices, not one.
        Do I need to get you a calculator?

          Do I need to get you a dictionary? haha sorry I couldn't resist.

            It would seem I need one of those.

            hahaha. couldnt help my self but die of laughter!!

          You can get iOS 5 on the 3G now?

          My wife installed it on her 3GS, and now complains about how sluggish it got.

          It is customised to individual iphones because there is different ipsw update files for each type of iphone...

      ... I should probably ellaborate before I get flamed.

      Android 4.0 was developed with the Nexus' hardware in mind. Moto and Sony both put up statements saying it'd be a few months before they launch any 4.0 devices because of the difference in CPU types, since 4.0 was developed with whatever the Nexus is using.

        This is of course true, but it was also designed to be capable of running on a much wider variety of devices than iOS, which does entail some trade-offs.

        I think of it as consoles vs PCs. You can get better-than-expected performance out of software built for a (relatively) fixed platform, but it can soon hold you back, being fixed & all. For top performance, quality, flexibility, customisation etc, you can't beat a modern PC.

        + iphone 2g....

          hmmm... in reply to drew...

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted

      I think you have the word "terrorist" confused with the phrase "fucking idiot". You're a fucking idiot, not a terrorist. Hope that helps.

    "unlike the cheap plastic feel of the Samsung Galaxy S II"

    really? It doesn't feel cheap and plasticy to me.. The nexus must be a really solid build to invoke a comment like that.

    "This is one advantage that the iPhone has over any Android device — Apple makes both the software and the hardware, which means that one is likely to be optimised for the other. "

    I'm sorry... what? Are you forgetting all the battery woes that were directly related to iOS 5??

    "to answer a phone call is not immediately obvious the first time — you have to hold the phone icon before a green “answer call” phone icon and a red “reject call” phone icon appears to the right and to the left, respectively (like unlocking the phone from the home screen). "

    Yer.. this is the same as the SGSII.. you have to swipe the green icon to answer, or swipe the red icon to reject it. It's a bit weird and can be annoying sometimes. I like that, on the SGSII, you can swipe left (for SMS) or right (for calls) on the contacts screen.. not sure if that is the same on the nexus.

    "There’s no quick way to see where your battery is sitting at percentage-wise from the home screen"

    Yup.. same on teh SGSII.. I found that odd too. You can see the percentage from the lock screen or deep within the settings menus but not on the home screen without a 3rd party widget.. weird.

      I've held a samsung galaxy S2 and played around with it, and it does feel cheap and plasticky. HOWEVER, that is only a matter of preference and opinion as I have an HTC Desire Z and it is quite heavy and 'solid' feeling. I think we're just not used to having such light phones and worry that they will 'break' somehow

      The Nexus also has a retina display.. not sure why this wasn't mentioned in the review. The PenTile tech was mentioned but not that the display resolution and size put it in the retina display quality range.

        "Retina display" is merely Apple's marketing term; no need to use it to describe other high-density displays.

          While it may have been a term coined by Apple, the theory is still that the human eye can not see more than about 300 pixels per inch (PPI), leading to the term 'retina display' on any display screen where the PPI is 300 or more... whether it is an Apple device or not.

          With the various comparisons that are usually made to various competing handsets, it is weird that this aspect wasn't mentioned.. that is, that it is within the retina display quality range.

      ICS isn't really a point of difference since it will appear on other devices soon after anyway. So when I look at this phone I look at the hardware.
      Afterall you can customise your Android experience almost infinitily (thats the whole point isn't it?). Don't like the way you have to answer phone calls? Then just change it... it' annoys me when reviewers comment on basic features or layouts of home screens when they can be easily changed. Its like complaining a car looks bad in pink.... just get the same thing in a different color.

      So to me, all I see is the following:
      No significant upgrade in processor
      higher rez screen - but some of that taken up by buttons.
      Pentile display.... personally not a fan
      Half the storage space of GS2 - I know 16gb sound like a lot but once you take a few photos and a few 1080p videos, combined with some music, apps (esspecially nav ones with large maps) and movies, that storage space disappears quite quickly
      slightly larger battery - this is a plus once the ICS bugs are ironed out (probably by custom ROMS)
      NFC is a pricy gimic since there are very limited uses (if any) in Aust atm. Maybe in 2 years time my next phone will need it but I dont see the point right now
      Worse Camera (yes i know megapixles arn't everything but still, why cut corners?)

      bottom line: Software asside, its worse than the GS2, costs more and includes things like NFC you wont use daily. Telcos are pretty much giving away GS2s atm. Much smarter purchase imo.

        oh and the notication LED is a nice bonus. Alot of people complained about the lack of an LED on the Galaxy range of phones

        that whole the human eye "can't see more than 300 ppi" is also just another apple marketing ploy. if iphone 4's display was 365 ppi, most people would right now believe that 350 was the highest you could go without detecting pixels

        300 ppi is only a meaningful threshold if you also specify the viewing distance. You can easily see the iPhone 4's pixels if you look closer (like 6 inches), while a 100 dpi monitor has no visible pixels from 2 metres back. 280-320 ppi is a good density for 12-18 inches viewing distance (assuming 20/20 vision), while tablets can get away with 220-280 ppi since they're usually held further away.

        "Retina display" is a pure marketing term, and not a well-defined level of quality.

          @randy, and @Namarrgon,

          300 DPI is a measure used primarily in printing for a number of years now of what the human eye can see. It was a kind of benchmark of what was an acceptable resolution in the early days of digital imaging vs. traditional methods.

          ie: if you could digitally create and print at 300 DPI then it was about as good as film.

          As a defacto benchmark it holds up pretty well.

          As always, I'm happy to be shown wrong and learn new stuff :)

      The Samsung Galaxy S II doesn't have the 'premium feel' of the iPhone 4/4S. I totally agree with the 'plasiticky' comment. In my opinion the Galaxy Nexus certainly feels 'more higher quality' than the Samsung Galaxy S II but it still doesn't have the 'premium feel' of the iPhone without feeling cheap.

      The green battery icon at the top of the screen on the menubar is enough for most people, I guess. Works for me given my only requirement from a battery icon is "do I need to charge you yet?"

      I can see the argument about the GSII being cheap and plasticky. The silicon back cover and the plastic housing definitely give it less solidity than, say, an iPhone. It doesn't bother me as I prefer the lighter weight, but I can understand the argument.

    I have been running ICS on my galaxy S for a few weeks now and its really is beautiful.
    i have always said if i was going to get another android phone i would get a nexus. if only my plan was up now and not in 6mths time.... FOF

      Call your provider and ask for an upgrade deal. telstra can wipe off 6 months of contract if your re-signing a contract.

      i just re-signed today for a nexus on telstra. still had 9 months left on my iphone 4 contract. as i changed the rate plan to the 79 from the 99 currently on, they wouldnt take 6 months off but did go half in the payout figure of $700.

      deals to be made, the provider wants your business. trust me!

      at least thats the way it should be.

      i really hate contracts, they are just far to easy to sign.

      my bro's with optus, he called today for an early upgrade and he mentioned they werent interested in playing the game. who knows how it works. . .

      But you wont know if you can win unless you play. i feel like i win all the time.
      But really i probably just waste a heap of money without thinking about it.

        Optus were great with me. 14 months into a 2 year contract on the (very) original Samsung Galaxy, they let me re-sign to a Galaxy S2 for only an additional $30 (instead of the $700 they initially wanted).

    no gorrila glass and no microsd... and the sII has a better processor and camera.

    so when is ICS coming to the SII? i would prefer that.

    Is it actually ginormous in real life, or does the person in the photos just have small, carnie like, hands?

      The reviewer is a girl, so small hands aren't an entirely unreasonable assumption to make.

      use http://www.phone-size.com/ adjust screen size to equal your settings, shows exact size of Nexus vs any other phone...

    YAWN no Gorilla glass... It does still use a tempered glass, they might be using Asahi's Dragontrail glass or something similar.

    All the various brands of glass do more or less the same thing, Gorilla glass just has more public exposure. In no way is Gorilla glass vastly superior than the alternatives out there.

    must be your device or inability to use an android phone
    because my unit(australian stock) lasts 5 days doing light tasks like checking the weather, several texts a day.

      5 days on one charge.... I think not. Not even if you leave it locket in your drawer with all networks turned off will you get 5.

        ok i lied, its 5 days on standby, doing 1 text a day, still, that's as good as my iP3G

        lol my x10 in flight mode lasted 9 days in a single charge. it was locked with no screen on. and this i was on stock SE 2.3.3. no custom mods

    I'll be using this phone as an experiment on several family members whose iPhone contracts are about to expire and are sick of me rambling on about why they need to get an Android phone (and me not helping them when their iWalledGarden often breaks).

    Interesting times ahead :P

    Any news when Nexus S will be getting the ICS update? I have the poor man's Galaxy Nexus but extremely pumped that we will be getting the update before anyone else.

    I have the galaxy nexus and love it, ive come from a ip4 then a gs2 now the gn and this is by fare the best for my needs of ibternet and video viewing. Also call quality is really good

      I hope you didn't just write that on your nexus.. the auto-correct options must suck :) hehehe

    I thought the 'sturdy feel argument' was finished, with that drop test.
    iPhone feels sturdy, but it's just made out of glass that shatters into dust when dropped.

    I have a Galaxy nexus, the battery lasts me well almost 1 day. I have wifi and bluetooth enabled.

    Good job

    lol at all the fandroids drooling ... i still can't see this phone being a huge success in oz... but it is a nice looking phone and i am sure it will live up to most of the hype.. shame about the battery life but really most smartphones these days have crappy battery life so thats no big surprise .. personally i think i will wait just a bit longer to se what new phones are released in the new year once ics is really making the rounds....

      If the Verizon drama is anything to go by, the carriers will hide it in a corner somewhere while pushing their own Telstra/Optus branded devices.

    Really? Another grey-import review?

    i just went down to android land in Melb Telstra and they are pumping this phone 3 on display (which i was a little schocked at seeing as they said supper limited supply) and they are handing out ICS's to everyone that come in the store. the screen looks the biz

    The charging thing is a complete non-issue. You can pick up an Australian wall socket USB outlet for charging for $2 pretty much anywhere.

      And Mobicity already provides an adapter AND also a Australian USB wall socket plug with the device.

    About the battery:
    I have had my Galaxy Nexus for a few weeks now and in the beginning/first week I had to charge every half day but now.....I'm pulling all days and ending on about 20%.
    That's after listening to music, internetting and so on.

    I've had this phone for a few weeks now, and think the battery life is the best of any phone I've had. With heavy usage I still have ~20% after 15 hours. It's great.

    The screen is amazing and ICS is a nice change.

    If you are on the fence...just get one and join the cool kids :)

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