Just before SXSW, I bought myself the latest Android phone (and the first to run Google’s new Android Ice Cream Sandwich): the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. So, after using it for a week and a half, here are some of my reactions, but to make a long story short: this phone is amazing
- The screen is gorgeous – I had always heard that Samsung’s Super AMOLED screens delivered particularly vivid colors — beats the LCD that I had on my old DROID2 without any question.
- I will stop making fun of big screens – my previous phone, Motorola’s DROID 2, had a 3.7” screen (more or less the same as the iPhone 4). The Galaxy Nexus? A massive 4.65”! I’ll have to admit: it took a little while getting used to it — and don’t get me wrong, there are still moments when I curse my small hands 🙂 — but the difference in terms of extra screen space, ease of typing, etc is amazing. At SXSW, there was a moment when I had to use my colleague’s iPhone to enter information into a form (because his email client wasn’t working so he couldn’t send me the link). What had once been normal to me felt like the most cramped little device possible. I now begin to understand why my girlfriend wants the Samsung Galaxy Note’s massive 5.3” screen
- LTE is blazing. I follow wireless news so I had always logically understood the numbers behind Verizon’s LTE – it was one reason I was always irked that AT&T and T-Mobile called their HSPA+ and other non-LTE/WiMax technologies “4G”. But, having never used an LTE device, I didn’t really understand the speed until I had used the LTE on my Galaxy Nexus. The speed is incredible. Its as fast, if not faster than WiFi (depending on connection strength) – how do I know this? I could point you to a speedtest screencap, but a use case is more illustrative: when the DSL died out in my house, it was my Galaxy Nexus to the rescue as we waited on AT&T (ironic considering I’m on the Verizon network!) to swing by and fix the connection.
- LTE is blazing part 2: There are two downsides to LTE which are worth mentioning.
- The first is that it burns up your battery extremely quickly and has a tendency to make your phone extremely hot. On both my DROID 2 and iPhone, it would take prolonged usage of the 3G network before that type of “burn” would kick in.
- The second is that for whatever reason (I can’t tell if its the modem/RF in my phone or if its the Verizon network or if Verizon is just trying to throttle me 🙁 or some combination), my connection stability has not been great. I get kicked off the LTE network randomly, whereas 3G-only mode (CDMA) has given me much better network stability
- While I miss the physical keyboard of the DROID2, the combination of the larger screen, faster phone, and combination of Swiftkey and intuitive in-text-field spell-checker makes it work. The larger screen means its easier to hit the right keys at the right time. The faster phone means no more weird latency between keypresses and actual registering of those presses. SwiftKey provides remarkably good autocorrect which is also predictive of next words, and the new in-text-field spell-checker means the words that I misspelled or have obvious grammatical errors on get underlined in the textfield directly, letting me choose between a number of alternatives for the best correction.
- One thing that took a while for me to get used to was the weird positioning of the notification light. Whereas before, the notification light was, as with the Motorola Xoom, in the upper-right corner of the device – the notification light for the Galaxy Nexus is at the bottom of the phone – which is a little strange in my opinion…
- Significantly improved performance. That significant UI slickness gap I mentioned in my last post comparing the iPhone 4 to the DROID 2? Basically gone. I don’t know if its the new operating system, the new chip, or some combination – but I no longer have iOS envy when it comes to performance.
- But, the Galaxy Nexus doesn’t have the greatest camera. While the software interface for the camera has been revamped (and significantly improved in my opinion) and the zero-shutter picture taking is a nice touch, 5MP and the color performance of the camera just aren’t much to write home about. Thankfully, I’m such a terrible photographer, I don’t think it really matters what camera I have 🙂 so this is kind of a wash for me.
- Ice Cream Sandwich keeps much of what I love about Android (refer to this prior post) and adds to it. I’ve had Ice Cream Sandwich on my Motorola Xoom (Android tablet) for some time as well – but it felt more incremental over the Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system that it replaced than the dramatic change over Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system that was on my DROID2 and on most Android phones today.
- Better notifications: two major changes from the previous version of Android – the first is that individual notifications can be dismissed with a cool swipe gesture which just works wonderfully. The second is that the settings tool can now be easily accessed from the pulldown notification menu.
- Resizable and dynamic widgets: With the exception of the occasional buggy implementation of the email widget (which, for whatever reason, stops reflecting the status of my corporate inbox), being able to scroll through my email and calendar or play music without going into the apps themselves or to rapidly turn on/off different wireless features without going into the settings or to create shortcuts to turn-by-turn navigation to specific addresses is amazing.
- New turn-by-turn navigation has a much more natural sounding voice.
- The New Chrome for Android browser, while lacking in Flash and the ability to enforce a desktop user-agent (to get the desktop version of a webpage), is not only extremely slick, it brings quick Google sign-in capabilities (saving me a ton of keystrokes when it comes to Google apps or other services which require Google login), instant synchronization with all Chrome browsers across all devices, and a number of awesome gestures to manage tabs. To be fair, I think Safari on iOS still shows a performance advantage in terms of avoiding artifacts (especially while scrolling while the page is loading), but the much improved tab management and the synchronization make it a far better browser, in my opinion, than anything else out there.
- New multitasking makes it easy to see all the apps that are open, a quick screenshot (so you know what’s going on in those apps), and the simple swipe-to-close gesture that the new notifications menu has.
- The new contacts app (now called People) and calendar app are significantly improved. Being able to pinch-zoom in the calendar app to shift the viewing frame is very cool and extremely helpful when switching between weekends/days where I have few and long meetings versus weekdays where I have many and short meetings.
- Battery life is still something that needs to improve. Full context: at SXSW, everybody was charging their phones by the late afternoon: it didn’t matter if you were using Android, iOS, or Windows – everybody was charging up on spare power outlets or on the FedEx guys walking around with phone-charging jackets (no joke!) that you could plug into. But, with that said, there’s no doubt in my mind that the iPhone still wins hands down in a battery life race. I don’t know if this is primarily because of the larger screen & LTE connection on the Galaxy Nexus or if there are some runaway background processes/fundamental operating system limitations that are happening, but if I were Google or some of the Android phone makers, I would focus on tackling probably the last real but still very important advantage that the iPhone has.
Net-net, I think this device is pretty awesome. Sure, the battery life is not where I want it to be, and the camera, weird positioning of the notification light, and lack of physical keyboard are things I take fault at. But, the combination of having Ice Cream Sandwich, great screen, and LTE connectivity make me agree with the Verge’s review of the product: “The Galaxy Nexus is the best Android phone ever made… it could be the best smartphone ever produced … Since day one, I’ve been waiting for an Android device that lived up to the promise of such a powerful OS. I think I can stop waiting now.”