It's hard to talk about the Verizon Samsung Galaxy Nexus without talking about the relative mess that was its road to launch. The Galaxy Nexus was announced (after a brief delay) in Hong Kong on Oct. 18. At the time, no carriers were announced. Verizon finally made it official on Oct. 21, saying the first phone with Android 4.0 "will be available later this year." And that's all we got, until Dec. 15, when it finally and unceremoniously went on sale.
Never mind that we told way back on July 25 that Verizon would get it. But we digress.
And you know what? Now that the phone's out, none of this matters. Old news.
And never mind that for all intents and purposes, we've already thoroughly reviewed the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, thanks to Alex Dobie's stellar look at the unlocked GSM version that's been available in Europe for some time and for importing to the States. While the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is new to those of us in the United States, and new in the sense that it's a 4G device with a bit of hand-holding from Verizon in the software department, we're hardly looking at an all new phone from the GSM model.
So here's where we stand: Read on for our complete Verizon Galaxy Nexus review. I haven't yet really weighed in on my thoughts about the Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich. So I'm going to forgo some of the usual spec talk (again, read Alex's GSM Galaxy Nexus review if you haven't already) and concentrate more on the Verizon Galaxy Nexus differences, and my thoughts on Android 4.0 and how it all fits together.
And with that, we present our Verizon Galaxy Nexus review.
It's a Nexus, so it's got the full weight and attention of Google behind it. I'll get upgrades before other devices. The screen is gorgeous, as is Ice Cream Sandwich.
The camera is woefully disappointing. The speakerphone is all but unusable on phone calls. There are some Ice Cream Sandwich UI hiccups.
If you have to have the latest and greatest version of Android, this is the phone to get. If you have to have a phone that's easily hackable, this is the phone to get. If you want the best overall hardware? Might want to look elsewhere.
Inside this review
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Like the GSM Galaxy Nexus, the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is a big sucker, thanks to that 4.65-inch display. It's a tall phone at 5.33 inches. It's a wide phone at 2.67 inches. But it's still relatively thin at 0.37 inches. Yeah, it's a hair thicker than its GSM counterpart -- all of two-tenths of an inch thicker. Or if you're into the metric thing, it's all of .53 mm thicker. A half a milimeter.
But guess what -- we're also used to CDMA phones being slightly thicker than their GSM counterparts. That's not new. Heck, that's been the case since before Android existed.
Can you tell the difference if you're holding both phones next to each other? Sure. If you're lucky enough to have held the GSM Galaxy Nexus, yes, you'll notice it's a tad thicker. But considering that it's still thinner than Verizon's HTC Rezound or Droid Bionic, chances are you're not going to complain.
The question everyone has is "Is the Galaxy Nexus too big?" Know what? It might well be. I've got small hands, and I've had to relearn how I use phones a little bit. Some of that's because of the sheer size of the Galaxy Nexus, and some of that is because of the way Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich has moved things around.
One thing that's a bit more evident because of the Galaxy Nexus' size is the curve in its display. It's still subtle, but it's more apparent with the additional real estate.
A quick word on the display: 720 pixels wide is the way to go, folks. Notice how nobody's been screaming about PenTile this or PenTile that? (Or if they have, they're just wrong.) Doesn't matter. Any problem I've had with PenTile in the past is just that -- in the past. Pixillation is no problem here.
Let's talk about the bottom of the Galaxy Nexus for a second. It's got the 3.5mm headphone jack, microUSB port and a pinhole mic. It's also fatter than the rest of the device. With the headphone jack down there, you're going to have to stick it in your pocket head-first to use wired headphones. I usually have my phones in my pocket ass-up anyway, so I'm used to it. You might have to adjust. Shouldn't take long.
As for the buttons on the sides of the Galaxy Nexus -- they fall exactly where I like them. The volume rocker's easy to hit with the thumb on my left hand, or the index finger on my right. Reverse that for the power button. That's standard Samsung fare, though.
Onto the back of the Galaxy Nexus. This is where you'll notice that slight extra thickness. But a tiny bit of junk in the trunk never hurt anyone, right? And it's a good thing, since the bottom of the Galaxy Nexus has that hump. It's actually a nice way for getting it right-side up just by feel.
I've heard plenty of people express concern over the thinness of the battery cover on the GSM Galaxy Nexus, and it hasn't really changed in Verizon's version. Yes, it's very thin when removed from the phone. But it's also very durable. If you've ever used a Samsung Infuse, it feels and fits exactly the same way. Once it's on the phone, it's on the phone. I'm not worried about it in the slightest.
The 5-megapixel camera's still centered in the back of the phone. No change there. (And more on the camera in a bit.)
What's under the hood
Not a whole lot going on here that's not on the GSM Galaxy Nexus. Same 1.2 GHz dual-core processor. Same 1GB of RAM. Verizon's got 32GB of on-board storage (the GSM model has a 16GB base), which is good, because there's no removable storage card.
One thing that has changed here on the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is the battery. Things have shifted quite a bit, meaning you can't use a GSM Galaxy Nexus battery in the LTE version. It just won't work. Verizon has also opted for an 1850 mAh battery, about a 5 percent increase over the 1750 mAh battery in the GSM Galaxy Nexus. That's not a huge increase, but we'll take whatever we can get.
We'd recommend springing for the Verizon Galaxy Nexus "extended" battery. It bumps you up to 2100 mAh -- not a whole lot -- and its slightly bulbous shape actually makes the phone feel better in the hand.
The battery still houses the NFC antenna, though. That hasn't changed. Keep that in mind when you're buying third-party batteries. No NFC antenna, no NFC.
LTE on the Verizon Galaxy Nexus
Of course, the biggest difference (and the reason for a lot of the little differences) is that Verizon's Galaxy Nexus has a 4G LTE radio. And you've no doubt by now heard a great gnashing of teeth over this. Poor signal strength. Disappointing battery life.
Welcome to LTE, folks. If it's your first time in the neighborhood, have a look around.
From Day 1 of Verizon's LTE network, a few things have been true: Connections can be shaky. The hand-off from 3G to 4G and back again can be slower than you're used to. And using LTE data -- and undoubtedly trying to maintain a stable connection -- can suck a battery dry by lunchtime.
That's gotten a little better over the months, and it's better still on the Verizon Galaxy Nexus. It also varies greatly depending on how (and how much) you're using the phone. Here's a real-world comparison for you: Leave the HTC ThunderBolt and the Verizon Galaxy Nexus unplugged at night. In the morning, the latter will still be usable, while the former is an uncharged brick. In fact, we're quite happy with the Verizon Galaxy Nexus' standby time. In actual usage, it's also better than the early LTE devices.
One thing that hasn't changed is the speed of Verizon's LTE network. If you've got a good, strong connect, it's fast. That's not going to matter a whole lot on many apps, but it's great for downloading pictures, or browsing full websites. Or, even better is for using your Galaxy Nexus as a mobile hotspot. You'll have to pay Verizon and extra $20 a month for that privilege, but it works, and it supports up to 10 devices simultaneously.
About all that 'bug' talk ...
Here's our take on the whole signal bug thing: Verizon's already said that it's going to adjust the way signal strength is reported to be more in line with its other devices. That means you'll probably see better 4G connections than you are now. If this helps you sleep better at night? Great. We'd rather see 4G over 3G. If anything, it just feels faster.
The fact is that in a lot of daily use -- e-mails, games, Twitter, Facebook, reading, whatever -- you might well not notice. Pure downloading for things like websites and files should be noticable. We're real curious to see the difference in speed test results -- if there are any -- after the update.
We're less concerned about the number of bars we get than we are having a good solid 4G connection that stays connected. That's paramount, for us.
The short version: If it bothers you, Verizon's going to make you feel better. If you're not having any issues, then move along.
Welcome to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. We have no reservations in saying that ICS is the best looking version of Android yet. That's helped along a bit by the Galaxy Nexus' gorgeous screen, but most of the credit needs to go to Google here.
We've already crawled all over Ice Cream Sandwich in Alex Dobie's GSM Galaxy Nexus review. So instead of rehashing all the features, I'm going to pick and choose some of my favorite to break down.
This is one of the most used features in ICS, for the obvious reason. And it's nicely redesigned, with the time and date prominent. I love that you can pull down the notification bar from the lock screen to get to new e-mails or whatever even faster. (If you use a security lock, you'll still have to jump through that hoop.)
You unlock the phone by sliding the lock to the right. Or, you can go directly to the camera app by sliding left.
HTC still has this beat in its Sense lockscreen though, which has four quick-launch options -- and is customizable. At the very least, Google should give you the option to reverse things and make slide left the unlock; it can be tough on your thumb if you hold the phone in your left hand.
The notification bar
Nicely refined. You can swipe to dismiss a notification, or kill them all at once. Also note the new settings shortcut at the top.
The on-screen buttons
I'm still not completely sold on these. They're easy enough to use, and in some applications they disappear, giving you (and the developer) more screen real estate. It's nice having the multitasking button there instead of holding down the home button, we suppose, but the actual act of drawing the list of apps that you can switch to is painfully slow. That needs to be addressed.
Another niggle: I'm not sure trading in the menu button and instead integrating it into apps was the right move. Here's why ...
Google's UI inconsistency
Starting with Android 3.0 Honeycomb, Google started to get rid of the menu button and move that functionality into the app itself. In Ice Cream Sandwich, the menu button is now seen as a little three-dot indicator somewhere in the app. And that's part of the problem.
In some applications, the button is in the bottom right-hand corner of the app. In others, it's in the top right-hand corner. And we're not just talking about Google's apps versus third-party apps that haven't been updated to conform to the new standards. This sort of consistency is prevalent in Google's own apps. Here's an example. In Gmail, it might be at the top (where it's supposed to be), or it might be at the bottom. Depends on what you're doing. If the keyboard's open in Gmail, the menu button is up top. If the keyboard's closed, it's back at the bottom.
This makes our brain hurt.
The death of the search button, and new search bar
Hey, look. Google went and got rid of the search button, too, and instead it's added a search bar at the top of the home screens. It's made up for this within applications (its own apps, anyway), by adding on-screen search buttons. We're a little on the fence with this one. From within the ICS home screens, it makes perfect sense. But we still miss our dedicated button. Apps will have to make sure they have search soft buttons.
Thank you, sweet baby bugdroid. A proper customizable dock. OK, so Google seems to have cribbed form any number of the great third-party launchers here. And that's fine, so long as we can swap out the apps in the dock at will.
The new app drawer - welcome, widgets!
We're mostly sold on this. You've got your apps, listed in alphabetical order. (No option to customize the order like some phones give you.) The dock scrolls horizontally -- again, we'd prefer a vertical option. And notice the tabs up top. You've got "Apps" for apps, and "Widgets for widgets."
In fact, that's one of the bigger changes in Ice Cream Sandwich that's taken some getting used to. No longer do you press and hold on the home screen to add a widget. You have to go to the app (and widget) drawer. You can get to the widgets by scrolling through all the apps (keep going), or just hit the tab.
Also notice the icon for the Android Market. That's a nice, easy way to hop on over to get more apps.
We're also digging the way you place apps on the home screen. Continued from the way it's done in Honeycomb, you press and hold the widget in the drawer, then get to drop it exactly where you want on the home screen. No more guessing, or hoping there's room.
Proper home screen folders
This has totally changed the way I use my home screens. Not that folders are new, but they're finally done right on Android. (And, yes, they're done very much like on iOS.)
To make a folder, just drop one app onto another on the home screen. Done. That's it. You can name your folders, too, if you want. Just open a folder, tap where it says "unnamed folder," and type a new name.
I've gone from needing three home screens to only really using one. It's magical.
There's not a whole lot there that we didn't say in our first Galaxy Nexus review. The camera's pretty disappointing, especially if you're coming from any other recent Samsung device. Sure, the "zero-lag" shutter is awesome. And it's nice to have panoramic photos in an AOSP build of Android, and the time-lapse feature is fun, if you're into gimmicks. But the camera app still isn't as good as Samsung's or Motorola's. And the image quality, well, just make sure you're in some decent light and that nobody's moving.
The short version is Google would do well to license whatever it is Samsung's been using for the past year, or that HTC has finally started to get into. It took HTC forever to realize the importance of having an above-average camera on a smartphone. While trade-offs always have to be made, that's one we don't want to see skipped on a Nexus phone.
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It's a Galaxy Nexus. With LTE. That's really the long and short of it. We actually prefer the ever so slight extra thickness of Verizon's version, and the "extended" battery is a no-brainer, and makes the phone feel even better.
It's tempting to ding the phone for Verizon's occasionally wonky LTE, and maybe we should. It's an integral part of this phone. On the other hand, there's a GSM Galaxy Nexus, and a Sprint version is on the way, too. So if spotty LTE is a deal-breaker, you've got options. But Verizon does need to get that sorted out, soonest.
Otherwise, we're more than happy with the Verizon Galaxy Nexus. The camera remains a bit disappointing, but we knew that going into this review.