Sprint Galaxy Nexus

Welcome to Part 3 of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus story -- the one where the latest Google reference phone makes its way to Sprint, ready to put the upcoming LTE network to the test. Sprint was kind enough to loan us a review unit for a while, and I get to walk everyone through things this time. Luckily, we've got a couple excellent reviews of the Galaxy Nexus as it debuted for other networks in other places, so we can take this time to deviate from the standard path a bit, and focus on how the phone we all know and (mostly) love performs -- something that rarely gets covered in-depth in a "regular" review. Hit the break, and I'll walk you through how the Galaxy Nexus on Sprint worked out for me with a week's hard use.

Before we start, it's probably a good idea to remind ourselves of the features of the newest Nexus. You'll want to read Alex's excellent review of the GNex from when it first arrived, where you can get a close look at the hardware and software of the device. You'll learn what there is to learn about the new OS, as well as the way it's all put together. And the great (maybe even the greatest) thing about it all? The Sprint version is exactly the same.

G Nexus

The only difference most people will ever see between the unlocked international version, the version Google sells through their new device store and the one you'll find on the shelf at Sprint is the back cover. Of course there are differences in the radios to use Sprint's network, but for all intents and purposes the phones are exactly the same. None of this controversy about carrier apps we saw with the Verizon version, no holding back to a different point release from it's GSM cousins, and none of the drama that was attached to either. If you don't know (or don't care) about things like CDMA or GSM, you'll find you have the same phone as folks using the unlocked version do. 

There is no bloatware. There are no carrier customizations. It is pure Google, and unadulterated Ice Cream Sandwich.

This is all old-hat for Sprint, which carried the previous Nexus phone, the Samsung Nexus S. Will updates take a little longer? Maybe. Will software versions be different? Certainly. Should that matter? Nope. This phone will get the newest features as soon as they are made available for it, and will get the same software treatment the other versions do. I'll go on record saying Sprint will get it done faster than Verizon, as they have had more practice working with the OEM and Google to update a Nexus phone. 

Having said that -- for the small subset who wants to roll-their-own software for the Nexus, there is a difference. Licensing agreements make the CDMA (that's Sprint and Verizon) versions unsupported in the Android Open Source Project. Blame Samsung, blame Qualcomm, blame whoever -- that's just the way it is. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't really understand what this means. The software that is Android will run on any device. Supported devices get a special set of files and instructions so the software can be built without any editing. Unsupported devices, like the Sprint Nexus phones, don't get this. That means the folks building ROMs have to take five minutes (I timed it) and do it themselves. After all the fussing, fighting, and baseless profanity about the whole situation, the fact remains that every hack or customization built for one version gets built for the others. Call it what you want to call it, but Google -- and us here Android Central -- call it a Nexus.

Enough semantics -- how does this Nexus perform?

What's going on (and under the hood)

Installed AppsInstalled Apps

Installed AppsInstalled Apps

Installed Apps

I've been using the phone hard -- like i would (and do) with my own Nexus. I've signed into my Google accounts, loaded up my essential apps, and set things up to keep me connected the way I like to be connected. This is my baseline, and phones that can't do this and get me through the day without worrying about finding a cord just won't cut it. I've tossed in a couple extras I use to test things, and I think this mix is a good way to make a smartphone smart. In other words -- every time I switch phones for personal use, this is what I do to it. Glance through the installed applications above. Besides games and streaming video (the Transformer prime has spoiled me for both), everything basic is covered. Yours would be different, but likely very similar. 

SyncingSyncing

SyncingSyncing

I also use two Google accounts. As you can see, I sync everything on my personal account, while my Smartphone Experts account is used mostly for mail and the calendar. This never changes, and I never turn off syncing. I need my connected phone to be connected. Again -- my phone has to be able to do this, or it just won't work for me.

Does it work for me?

Web browsing

Short version -- yes. Like any phone, I can crush the battery with marathon web browsing sessions, but using the apps you see above, each time they need to be used, the Galaxy Nexus on Sprint does a fine job getting me through the day.  Working here at Android Central, we probably end up checking mail and messages a good bit more than the average person. Lord knows Phil is always bugging us with something throughout the day via e-mail, and part of doing what we do is using social networks. If our phones go more than 10 minutes without a new message coming in, we check them to make sure something isn't wrong. Through the week, when we're sitting in front of a computer, we don't work the phones as hard. But on the weekends, or any time we step away from the captain's chair in our respective offices, our Android phones are our lifeline. The Galaxy Nexus on Sprint makes for a just fine lifeline.

Is there as much battery life left at night as there would be on my GSM version? No, but there's enough to set it on the nightstand and plug it in until morning. The only real difference would be those very few times when i need to get two days out of the battery. The way the different cellular technologies work, I couldn't do that with the Sprint version. Knowing that in advance, I would just find somewhere to plug it in. Set realistic expectations and you'll be just fine.

Our newfangled battery testing procedure

Battery

Battery  Battery

There's an easy way to compare the battery draw that is going on with our phones, and that's as simple as taking a screenshot and enjoying some music. Pick your favorite playlist (I can't recommend some classic Jackson 5 enough), copy it to your device, and play it for 60 minutes. Check the battery before, and after. Don't stream it -- that throws another variable in the mix (the network), just play it locally on the stock music player that comes with your phone. 

With 60 minutes of MJ and his brothers playing loudly (and Jerry singing just as loudly and slightly off-key) the Galaxy Nexus loses 9 percent of its battery charge. That's with all the stuff from above going on, and checking the phone every time it needs to be checked, but not doing anything like surfing the web or playing Temple Run. 

This is how I'm going to "benchmark" battery life from now on when evaluating phones. Since this is the first go 'round, there isn't a lot of data to compare it to. Try the same test on the phone you're using now. Compare it to what you see above. This is pretty much the same (as expected) as the GSM version, and means you'd be able to play about 11 hours worth of music while still getting all your messages before your phone needs plugged in. I can't test how you will run the battery down, that depends on a couple other factors -- like what you're doing with it and your network (which we'll look at next), but I can test how it works here, for me. And look for us to refine this a bit -- it's a first draft.

The Now Network

Signal

Because of patents and licensing (see my AOSP rant above) with CDMA technology, Samsung has a pretty bad reputation when it comes to signal on Sprint and Verizon. A different company, who will remain nameless (it's Motorola), has better radio performance on CDMA carriers. Why this happens, or who is to blame, we have no idea. In the age of FRAND licensing, I would think every player has an equal chance, but I'm no legal eagle. The fact is, we don't really care who is to blame, we just know there are issues sometimes, and we wish it were different. If we could change it, you bet your sweet patooty we would. But I digress.

See that screen above? Anyone with a Samsung phone on the Sprint network is probably familiar with it (well, the Gingerbread version of it anyway -- burn!). It's where you check to see your time without a signal, which is the huge, unavoidable, giant battery suck that just kills some people. I had an Epic 4G here for a while. I never saw it below 10 percent, and it was usually upwards of 30-percent -- and that's a problem that was easily reflected in the phone's battery life. On the Galaxy Nexus though, I've had nary a problem. In the basement, on the porch, napping in my easy chair, it doesn't seem to matter. The radio on the unit I have here works really well. If it didn't, my battery life would reflect it and I would bitch about it. Will yours work this well? Maybe -- it's the first thing you'll need to check during your 14-day, worry-free guarantee period. If you're not sure how to look at it, or how to interpret it, sing out in the forums. As mentioned, a whole lot of people who love Samsung phones and use Sprint are really familiar with the whole situation.

Speedtest  Speedtest

Not everything s quite so rosy on Sprint's network though. We all understand it's not as fast as it used to be, or as it should be. That's something Sprint is addressing. But the Galaxy Nexus just can't seem to be consistent on Sprint. While neither of these Speedtests are what i would call fast, there's a huge difference between the first and second, even though they were done in succession, without moving out of my chair. It's not a one-off either. The reason I checked it in the first place is because I noticed wildly fluctuating signal strength while downloading my apps from the Google Play store. Whether this is a network issue, or an issue with the Galaxy Nexus in general, or just my unit is hard to tell. Like the time without signal issue, some people experience it and others don't. It's something you will have to check for yourself. If it does affect you, be prepared for things like this to happen.

Hangout  Hangout

Network streaming requires a steady, and preferably fast, network. Without it, you'll have buffering issues and things like Google+ Hangouts will not like it very much. Having said that, even with the relatively slow network speeds things like Hangouts (which are a giant bandwidth suck) and streaming Google Music work just fine after the initial buffering is done. Use the hell out of that unlimited plan while it's still offered!

Phone calls

I left Sprint about a year or so ago, the very day another carrier offered 3G service in my little town. I've missed CDMA calling. Like my old EVO 4G, the Hero before it, or the long string of BlackBerry devices left in my wake, calls sound beautiful. None of that tin-can in a submarine effect you'll run into with a GSM phone (even the GSM version of the Galaxy Nexus), and none of the weird echo delay you find with T-Mobile's Wifi calling feature. It's as close to a land-line as you'll ever find. While I don't think I could hear a pin drop, if Candace Bergen called me she would sound good. If you spend a lot of your day on the phone, you'll like the way the Galaxy Nexus does it.

Other radios (does the GPS suck?)

GPS

The GPS is fine. It locks quickly, navigates flawlessly, re-routes without a hitch, and works well everywhere I expect it to work well. As long as I keep myself out of the mountains (where there's not much cell signal to begin with) The Galaxy Nexus will tell me where I am within a handful of feet. Quit worrying about the GPS on every Samsung phone. 

Nexus Wifi  One S wifi

Wifi is a different story. See those pictures? The one on the left is the Galaxy Nexus, the one on the right is the HTC One S. Both are laying on the same table in my living room, about 20 feet from my Wifi router. The GNex gets a much lower strength signal, and won't even see the neighbor's Wifi. It's an issue with the GSM version as well, and what it means is that you'll not get the full speed connection from your router. You'll still get a good enough connection as long as you don't stray too far away from the wireless AP, but it's definitely weaker. You'll have to decide how this affects your usage, but to me there isn't really an issue. 30 M/sec versus 54 M/sec is what it translates into, and either is driving data faster than the phone can process it.

The Now Later Network

LTE

Here's another big issue, at least for me -- Sprint releasing the phone without a network for it to run on. I'm done with "coming soon" promises from carriers and device makers. I'm only concerned with the here and now. The only real issues I have with the Sprint Galaxy Nexus revolve around slow and spotty data speeds. This will change when Sprint LTE goes live, at least for a handful of people. Network and battery issues will change spots, and we fully expect to see a million ZOMG MY BATTERY DIES SOOOO FAST threads in the forums. It would have been nice to test it ourselves, so we know how to address them. When LTE does go live, I live fairly close to Baltimore, and I'll have to give this one another look. In a fine hotel. On the company dime. A very fine hotel.

So should I buy this thing?

That's the meat of the issue, Isn't it? It's why we write these things, and why you read them. I'll say the same thing I said when the GSM and Verizon versions came out -- to me, the only phone that will be better than the Nexus is the next Nexus. I like bleeding edge (who are we kidding, we're beta testers for Google) software, I like open, I like to tinker when I have time. Does this sound like you? If so, do it, and never look back. Read through everything above. Take the 14 days Sprint gives you, and use it wisely. If you don't hit the snags that some are seeing (and I've no doubt they are real, troubleshooting is hard) then you're golden.

If it doesn't sound like you, and there's no shame in that, stay away. Get an EVO 4G LTE, or the next big thing that comes along. You'll find it's more polished, does more out of the box, and is more friendly without user setup than any Nexus ever will be. 

 

Reader comments

Sprint Galaxy Nexus review

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Agreed. And as a Sprint Gnex owner, I can confirm the erratic and poor speed test results. Battery life on a day of decent use (couple hours of music, web surfing for a couple hours, constant sync of two google accounts, 1 exchange and a yahoo account) I get between 10-13 hours. If the screen is on more--almost constantly, my life is 6'ish hours.

"This is all old-hat for Sprint, which carried the previous Nexus phone, the Samsung Nexus S. Will updates take a little longer? Maybe. Will software versions be different? Certainly. Should that matter? Nope. This phone will get the newest features as soon as they are made available for it, and will get the same software treatment the other versions do. I'll go on record saying Sprint will get it done faster than Verizon, as they have had more practice working with the OEM and Google to update a Nexus phone."

I really dont see how this makes any sense. Did we not see how long it took for the Sprint Nexus S to get ICS in comparison to the GSM version?? That statement just seems to be covered in a naive coating...

I think it makes perfect sense. He said the non-CDMA versions will obviously receive updates because they don't have to deal with the license issues of CDMA. It's one less middle-man to deal with. Obviously it took longer for the Sprint Nexus S to receive an update because of this exact issue.

This is a common misconception. All 3G technologies are based on CDMA PERIOD. The GSM (2G tech) providers use W-CDMA for their 3G. W-CDMA is based on CDMA and Qualcomm gets a piece of the action since they developed CDMA.

This would make more sense. Because there were several devices who got ICS treatment before the NS4G despite it being a Google phone. That statement just seems misleading to me.

Too true. It took four months for the NS4G to receive ICS after the T-Mobile NS. There were more than four different OEM devices that received ICS before the NS4G.

So sure the new Sprint Galaxy nexus will be updated, as almost all of the top model OEM devices receive updates as well. But it will receive them just as the OEM's do, extremely late.

What phones were those? Doesn't sound accurate to me, especially since even up until last month ICS had a minuscule market share.

Well done review. After issues with my Epic 4g I told myself I wouldn't buy a Samsung again unless it was a Nexus. This phone looks great, it'll be interesting once I can see it side by side with the Evo LTE. And unless Sprint decides to raise rates again, I can deal with the speeds, I have been for years now.

If you speak on the phone for over 5 minutes, does the microphone cut out like it does on the Verizon Galaxy Nexus?

@Fahrenheit I was just going to ask the same thing! Sure would be nice if this Nexus could make phone calls without the voice dropping off like the Verizon one does. I still have yet to see a post from AC on this major issue! See all the gory details here: code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=24019

sorry but i just recently bought a Gnex LTE on verizon and not ONCE have i had issues with it.. came rooted and right away threw a custom ROM on it and got rid of the crapware verizon had on it.. its running 4.0.4 .. don't see what the problems are?..
..
when you think of the Galaxy nexus and google,you think Root/ROM/kernal ect ect ..
almost every single person that has a Gnex on verizon im sure has already rooted it..
cuz verizon's casual customer crowd goes strait for the RAZR line as that is what Verizons employees pressure them to buy. :)-

The phone came rooted? And "right away" you "threw" a now ROM on it? How then can you say you've had no issues with it? And it didn't come rooted, unless you picked it up off CL or eBay. People also need to get off the "it's a developers phone" bandwagon. Consumers don't care. They see a big phone with a nice screen and want it.

It's not too much to ask to be able to make calls is it? The phone is unreliable unless you are sitting directly under a VZW tower.

i guess you have a point with it coming rooted.And why would you question that it came rooted?.. yes,i did buy it from online already used (mint though),so it came already Rooted with a custom ROM but i decided to throw my own from XDA on there.
..
there is no "developers phone" bandwagon.. there are phones specific for that already.. the Phone is just pure Open is all and more then half of us know that,that what i was trying to get at.
..you'r right about the general consumer going for the fancy and shiniest phone,and that's why i said they will most likely lean towards the RAZR/DROID line.
..
trust me,coming from at&t's horrid call reception,i can understand someone just wanting to make clear calls.. but in my experience,so far i have never had any real big issues in that area.. a few dropped calls but thats normal on every carrier. :)-

For you, the phone is unreliable for you.

It's been fine for me. I have not had any call quality issues beside the fact that I think the in call volume is too low for my comfort.

My family is 4/4 on VZW Nexus - none are rooted... Side note, it's hard to blame people for going for the RAZR when it's under a hundred bucks. It's a nice phone for the price.

Thank you, thank you for covering the GPS and WiFi radios. In my line of work I use the Google Maps a ton and being on Sprint means relying on Wifi. Wanting all available info before buying a new phone, I wish most reviews included those signal test.(Instead of spending half a review talking about what i can get looking a a spec sheet.)Phil if you read this, do the same with the Evo4gLte review pretty please.

Totally agree and thanks to Jerry for explaining these issues. Great review. The call clarity is (was, for me) really nice.

Completely agree. This review does what I couldn't do playing around with the phone for 5 min in the store. The typical review helps those who preorder decide, but for everyone else that makes a trip to the store before purchase, the usual impressions, spec sheet readoffs, and look at the interface doesn't help much. Thanks for covering the items I can't test like gps, wifi, signals, and more in-depth items I won't discover playing with the device in store. Awesome

I still don't think you can rely on this type of simple analytical test with a simple GPS software tester. I have experienced many times Google Maps simply not being able to find a GPS signal right away. You put in an address and hit Navigate and it will stop just before displaying directions and say "Searching for GPS". I would put it on the dash board facing the sky and even hold it up outside the sunroof.. still searching. After about a minute I give up and start driving and it will usually find the satellites as I am moving after a couple of minutes.

I'm not sure if it's signal related or a bug in ICS. However, a reboot will magically fix it. This leads me to believe it's an ICS or Maps problem.

Therefore, a software program like Jerry used might not uncover real-life, day-to-day issues that crop up with the GPS.

"After about a minute I give up and start driving and it will usually find the satellites as I am moving after a couple of minutes.

I'm not sure if it's signal related or a bug in ICS. However, a reboot will magically fix it. This leads me to believe it's an ICS or Maps problem."

It's not a bug or error. This is virtually the same type of behavior of all GPS devices, even dedicated ones (TomTom, Magellan, Garmin, etc). They all take between a few seconds or two minutes to find "good" satellites and get a strong lock.

It is a bug when holding the phone up out the sunroof facing a clear blue sky with no large buildings around and Google Maps still cannot "acquire GPS" .. that's a bug. It shouldn't take several minutes.. or more.. to acquire sucj a lock.

I just did it right now in my office next to my window and it acquired satellites. Yet the Maps app cannot do it on a clear day/night.

I was debating which phone to get. The Galaxy Nexus or the new EVO. I played with the Nexus at the Sprint store and loved it. But the EVO LTE will have the better screen and specs. I'm going to go with the EVO LTE and get the next Nexus towards the end of the year. Yeah I think that will be my plan.

Thorough review, however my experience with this phone was not nearly as good and I returned it after a week. I plan on trying the new EVO when it comes out on Friday.

My two biggest problems were battery life and call quality. Both were terrible and really made the phone unbearable. The battery did improve a bit over the first few days of use but was no where near the rating Samsung posted for the phone. I took it in to a repair center but they found nothing wrong with it. The battery would only get me through half the day with light to moderate use. The call quality was the worst I've experienced with any Smartphone. Scratchy and hollow sounding made calls so poor I frequently had to ask people to repeat what they said and found myself having to speak loudly into the phone to be heard. I'm sure future updates will help some of these issues, however my old EVO 4G I went back to was a welcomed relief as is a superior phone IMO for daily use.

Man, I wish sprint didn't suck so much. Data speeds are so slow and LTE is still awaiting an intro. However, they give me a work discount that verizon will not and the prices are about $40/month cheaper even without the discount for my plan. My money is more important than data speeds though so I'll be buying the Evo on Friday unless I hate it, in which case it's awesome to have a Nexus as a backup.

This is my exact situation. I get a 24% discount for working at a hospital. I would only get around 7% with Verizon. That along with the fact that Sprint is already the cheapest for comparable plans means I cannot justify switching. The data speeds are really bad though on 3G. I live near Minneapolis though so I am hoping LTE isn't too far off. EVO LTE on Friday.

I really appreciate this review from Jerry. Even though I have the Verizon Galaxy Nexus I am curious about how the Sprint version is performing since both are some form of CDMA.

But now lawdy... I am a bit confused. Time without a signal.....Is this the 3G signal, or the calling signal and I guess Sprint does not have 4G LTE yet...right?

I am asking because I just checked my phone and the time without a signal is 30% after 8 hours 24 minutes with 77% battery but I have 4G/3G data turned off and only use Wifi in the house so is Jerry referring to the call signal? I wouldn’t be too surprised if it was though. All of my other Moto phones have not had good calling reception in my house. I think it is the construction of the house/neighborhood and the fact that I am in a downtown residential area. Walk outside one block and I have 4 bars of 4G and good call quality most of the time so I am not too concerned about it, but I guess the review is referring to call signal and not data?

Wifi: I use Wifi all the time in the house(even though most times 4G is faster). I don’t have the wifi signal tester app but in the entire third floor of my house which contains the office with the router I have full bars of Wifi, this decreases to 2 bars when I get to the first floor, (just the opposite with 4G, better reception on the higher floors). I can see all of my neighbors networks(all secure) so I am wondering what might be causing this, the phone, the ICS version?

Thanks again for the great review Jerry. I am looking forward to reading other experiences from Sprint Galaxy Nexus owners.

Really enjoyed the review and enjoying this phone. The wifi for me is a tad weaker than my Epic 4G but it works fine in my wifi areas. Can't wait for LTE speeds as I believe I'm in the 2nd stage of the roll out.

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Not a fan of this phone. Had it for a week before returning it. The battery life out of the box was the worst I've experienced from any Smartphone I have owned. Secondly, the call quality was by far the worst since my last feature phone years ago. People on the other end said I was not clear and the hollow sounding phone made call quality at times hard to hear and had to ask people to repeat themselves. Sprint looked it over and said it was working fine. Don't know if that was the case but it was disappointing enough I did not want to get stuck with it for 24 months and returned it.