Review: Samsung/Google Galaxy Nexus 4G LTE on Verizon

Posted on Dec 20 2011 - 9:32am by Mike Wewerka

When I got my review unit of the Galaxy Nexus on Friday [12.16.11], I was just as excited as the millions of other people who’ve been drooling with anticipation for this phone. The idea of a phone with a 720p HD display, that is 4.65″, runs a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, has 4G LTE and a brand new version of Android, 4.0 aka Ice Cream Sandwich, has all the makings of a monster phone with gorgeous visuals and lightening speeds.

Galaxy Nexus Front 1 Review: Samsung/Google Galaxy Nexus 4G LTE on Verizon

But how does all this come together when in the hands of a casual consumer? I’ve decided to forego the typical review format that every tech website follows when review phones. I did this mainly for two reasons, one, there are a lot of sites that are going to be reviewing this devices and if they all follow the same pattern, nothing is going to be different. And two, I wanted to get real people’s opinions mixed with my own. I wanted to be able to show it to people, but also sit with them and try to explain things to see if it makes it easier to use.

**I’m throwing caution to the wind here, mainly to you Android fans, please keep this in mind, that most of you who read TechHog and similar sites are in a different category, a more “hardcore” category. I know many of you will love this device simply because it’s Android, it’s new and it’s not Apple. But my review of this device is not to merely inform you, as most of you have either already read a review or have read up on this device for the past few months. Instead this review is for ALL consumers who want to shop around for a new smartphone and want the truth about a device when compared to the other heavy hitters.

Also, if you want tech specs, they are at the end of this page, feel free to skip down there if that is what you are looking for, otherwise, enjoy the review!

Let’s get going!

Let’s start with the display:
Perhaps the single most talked about feature on the Galaxy Nexus has been its display. Before the continued delays, the Galaxy Nexus was supposed to be the first phone with a 720p HD display, unfortunately, it was beaten to the market by HTC’s own Rezound, which is also on Verizon. I have had the chance to mess around with the Rezound and I will say that the Nexus’ screen was the winner hands down, it was clearer and had much better black levels. But the colors on the Nexus were a bit over saturated, which is due to the Super AMOLED technology. It has great black levels, but the on screen white, is actually slightly yellowed. If you are looking at a Galaxy Nexus by it self, you may not notice, but I held it up to the iPhone 4S both on the same webpage (which had a mostly white background) and you can clearly see the yellow tint in the Nexus’ screen whereas the iPhone 4S was bright white. To be fair though, the Nexus’ black is much darker and truer than the iPhone’s.

Galaxy Nexus homescreen Review: Samsung/Google Galaxy Nexus 4G LTE on Verizon

I decided to test the device’s screen with two different females, one who’s an iPhone 4 user and one who uses a DROID Incredible 2. I chose females for this test simply because men are not the only ones who buy smartphones and I wanted a “real” honest response from an average consumer. Here is what they had to say:

iPhone 4 owner:
“It’s a really pretty screen, it’s bright, but almost to bright. I like the clarity but the colors hurt my eyes, for some reason I feel like I can’t focus on it. I don’t think I could use this all day long. It’s also a little to big for my taste.”

DROID Incredible 2 owner:
“Wow, this is just to big…I like my DROID’s screen size. Unlike most girls I don’t carry my phone in my purse because it can get scratched in there, so I carry it in my pocket. This thing would never fit in my pocket. [After using Facebook] I don’t like that I can’t reach the whole phone with my thumb. I’m not exactly sure what size my DROID’s screen is [I told her it was 4-inches] oh, okay, well I think this [holding her Droid up] is the perfect size, at least for me.

Having spent the last 5 days with the Galaxy Nexus, I will say this… I too wish the screen was smaller. Hold the cries of “blasphemy” Android fans… because I’m about to rip Apple here too. The Galaxy Nexus has done two things for me, it makes me wish that its screen was smaller, BUT it also makes me wish the iPhone’s screen was larger. I think the DROID Incredible 2 owner was right, 4-inches really is the “sweet spot” for phones. A lot of us use our phones with one hand, unless we turn it sideways to type faster, but for most apps, vertical is the standard and with the Galaxy Nexus, unless you have a really long thumb, you WILL have difficulties.

Watching movies on the device is a very cool experience, due to the large screen size, true blacks and popping colors. With the options of loading your own movies on the device or streaming films and TV shows from apps like Netflix, you’re never without entertainment. And while the experience of watching of stuff on the Nexus is amazing, you need to ask yourselves, how often do you watch movies and TV shows on your phone? Most people, according to survey’s text message, check email, play games/apps, with video watching very low on the list.

usage graph Review: Samsung/Google Galaxy Nexus 4G LTE on Verizon

So while it’s great to watch movies on, it really isn’t something most people are going utilize. On top of that, it will drain your battery very quickly (more on the battery in a bit). Another issue I had with the screen is that because so few apps are built for the high resolution, text and icons appear very large, Hanging with Friends for example, the letter blocks are massive, while the picture below may not show it, the video does a better job.

hwf gnex screenshot Review: Samsung/Google Galaxy Nexus 4G LTE on Verizonnetflix gnex screenshot Review: Samsung/Google Galaxy Nexus 4G LTE on Verizon

Granted, that’s a fixable issue that can be done via an update, but it means developers have to rework their apps, so it may take a while before most apps are updated.

What about the phones construction:
Is it steel and glass like an iPhone? No. Is it Aluminum like some of HTC’s phones? No. Instead, much like the Nexus S (also by Samsung), the Galaxy Nexus is made of plastic. Aside from one other issue (we’ll get to it) this is one of my biggest complaints. This is suppose to be Google’s “it” phone, the phone on which Android is judged and developed on… and yet its made with cheap flimsy plastic. With the Nexus S, the device was shorter and thicker, so it didn’t feel as flimsy. With the Galaxy Nexus, the device is longer and thinner, yet made of the same (if not cheaper) plastic. Having a Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, I’m familiar with Samsung’s plastic battery door and while I know it’s sturdier than it looks, it still doesn’t make the device “feel” any more sturdy. When you hold the phone in your hand, screen side up, it looks gorgeous, it’s sleek and glossy and free of any buttons, in fact the only thing you notice is the 1.3mp front facing camera on the top right. The back of the device is a different story, it looks cheap, it feels cheap and while I know it was done to avoid finger prints and make the phone less “slippery,” the hatch pattern is just not pleasing to the eye. The backing could have been more fun or just designed better, take for example the Galaxy Nexus “Special Edition” given to Google employees, it has a much cooler back door. Not to mention, it’s a pain in the ass to put the back door on, see the video (second one).

Galaxy Nexus wo battery door Review: Samsung/Google Galaxy Nexus 4G LTE on Verizon

For the next hands on consumer test, I gave the phone (and an iPhone 4S) to a 69-year old man. Who surprisingly had an HTC EVO 4G from Sprint.

HTC EVO 4G owner:
[Nexus in hand first] It feels okay, a little on the light side, it sure is big. It feels too smooth or polished. I mean I feel like I could drop this thing at any second. My phone’s got some type of rubbery feel to it. I like that. I mean it sure looks nice though.

Me: Would you buy this phone?

Consumer: For myself, no, while I think its a nice looking phone, it just feels even bigger than the phone I have, which to me is already to big. But I do like how mine feels, this one here [Nexus] just feels like a toy.

Me: What about this one [handed him an iPhone 4S]?

Consumer: Wow, that feels really nice in the hand, it’s heavier than those two [pointing to his phone and the Nexus], but it feels really good. Is that glass on the back too? [to which I said yes] Wow, that’s nice. I don’t feel like I would drop this one as much, mainly cause I can get my hands all the way around it. But I’m sure that glass would break pretty good if I did, wouldn’t it? [he chuckled].

Me: Based solely on the feel and design of the phones, which would you prefer?

Consumer: I think I’d pick the Apple one, mainly cause it feels good in the hand and I can hold it easier. They didn’t have that when I bought my phone.

Me: What would you say if I told you the Nexus here was $299.99 and the Apple one is only $199?

Consumer: I’d say give me the Apple one.

As you can see, from a very average, consumer, who’s not a “techie” but just wants a phone…the Nexus lost out to the iPhone. Keep in mind, I didn’t ask him any questions regarding the operating system, my questioning was based strictly on aesthetics and feel.

After we rapped up, he still couldn’t believe that the Nexus cost a hundred dollars more. I did explain to him that the iPhone starts at $199.99 for 16GB of storage and the Nexus start at $299.99 with 32GB of storage. He just shook his head and said “there ain’t no way that Apple phone should cost less with that type of construction.”

With a new Nexus, comes a new version of Android… 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
So is the new Android OS “all that?” That depends on who you ask, Apple fans will say its not, Android fans will claim it’s the next best thing to meeting God himself. So which is it? As usual, it’s somewhere down the middle, luckily, so is my love for both Android and Apple, so I decide to do this part on my own. Upon booting up the Nexus for the time, I was excited to see what’s new. Since I own an ASUS Transformer and a Galaxy S II, I’m already familiar with both Honeycomb and Gingerbread, which when mashed together, make up Ice Cream Sandwich. When I first looked at the device, fully booted up, I was impressed, it looked very polished and seemed very fast, swiping from panel to panel, applications seemed to pop right up and the animations looked fluid. I took some time and set up my Google account on the phone so I could access most of my stuff like calendars and email. My first issue arrived when viewing an email from my father, this was an email composed entirely in text. I know that Gmail in the past has a problem displaying emails that have been forwarded over and over. Sometimes it would display words as a single letter in a column all the way down. So I was curious to see if this problem had been fixed with Ice Cream Sandwich. Sadly, It hasn’t, but that’s not the problem. The problem came when I turned the device from portrait to landscape, the speed at which the Nexus changed rotation was awful. Let me say that again, it was AWFUL. I immediately picked up my iPhone 4S, opened the same email on it (in the Gmail app, the one that’s a glorified web app, not even a true native app) and it out performed the Nexus by almost 2 secs each time, back and forth. I was completely shocked. This Nexus is running a dual-core 1.2GHz processor and is being beating by an iPhone 4S which is an under clocked  dual-core 800MHz A5 processor, when it comes to opening a simple text only email. (See video example for proof)

I thought that this must be an anomaly, but I experienced slowdown in both Twitter and Facebook when scrolling up and down, both can been seen in the video above. The scrolling stutters and feels like it is dragging, which is completely obvious. Considering these are three of the most common activities people do on a smartphone, that does not bode well for the Nexus.

All is not bad though, in the browser tests, the Nexus was about on par with the iPhone 4S, in some cases actually tying it. It played YouTube videos quickly and downloading and installing apps, via the Android Market, was also very fluid and fast.

Some of the new features like Face Unlock, despite not working in the unveiling of the Galaxy Nexus, worked quiet well, but depending on the light you’re in, it could take a while or will present you with an option to put in a pin or pattern because it failed. While this is a cool feature and helps make the device feel futuristic, it also takes longer than just sliding your finger across the screen or doing a pattern from the get-go.

One feature I would have really liked to spend some time with was the Android Beam, since I don’t have another device with Ice Cream Sandwich and NFC, I wasn’t able to test it out. The demonstration for it looks great and I would have really enjoyed being able to show it off to you.

Galaxy Nexus AppTray Review: Samsung/Google Galaxy Nexus 4G LTE on Verizon

In the end, after playing with it for five days, I began to feel like this version of Android was merely a clever skin or band-aid on top of Gingerbread. It has all the look and polish of Honeycomb, but still has all its weaknesses. One of the biggest issues with Android is the complexity for average users. Whereas people like me (and most of you), who love tech and can figure it all out, others like Sally the Soccer Mom and Timmy the T-Ball Coach, would find themselves getting frustrated trying to accomplish the most simply of tasks. The best analogy I’ve heard or read about navigating Android was like comparing it to an onion. You know what you want is in there somewhere, but you keep having to pull back layer after layer to find it. This hasn’t changed. I keep feeling like the “real” update to Android has yet to come and this was merely a trick to get us to think it was “brand” new, instead of HTC putting Sense on Gingerbread, it was Google themselves putting a glossy new skin on top and calling it Android 4.0.

Last years camera on this year’s phone:
Oh, Google, why oh why, did you let Samsung stick a 5-megapixel camera in the Galaxy Nexus? I can’t quite figure out why Google let this happen, with the Nexus S having a 5-megapixel camera, which people complained about a year ago, why would they go and keep the same megapixel size? Sure we know that “megapixels” isn’t everything, Apple proved that with the iPhone 4′s camera last year. But even they upgraded to an 8-megapixel camera this year and set the bar once again. I hate to sound like a broken record, but this is suppose to be the device on which developers bench Android. With just about every other device launching with an 8mp camera, and rumors of 10 and 13mp camera coming next year, this just seems silly.

Galaxy Nexus closeup Review: Samsung/Google Galaxy Nexus 4G LTE on Verizon

To be honest the camera feels like software, rather than quality hardware. It has that a great zero shutter lag feature, but what good is that when the pictures are blurry and grainy? I was able to snap off a bunch of pictures very quickly, but none of them were good enough for me to want to keep them. Once again, I was left wanting more from the Nexus, I use my camera in my phone A LOT and with the 8mp camera in my Galaxy S II, I guess I’m just spoiled, but with Samsung making both devices, why wasn’t the 8mp camera from the GSII used in the Nexus? Someone dropped the ball here.

Battery Life, sigh, that beauty of screen doesn’t help…
Positives and Negatives, one for the other. That gorgeous, display delivers an amazing user experience, movies look great and apps that are optimized for it, look crisp and clean. But, when you have a display that big, putting out color that brilliant, there’s bound to be some negatives. In the Nexus’ case, that comes in the form of poor battery life. When you couple the screen together with Verizon’s 4G LTE network, we’re talking very short battery life. On all my phones, I leave my display on 3/4 full brightness, all the time, with auto-brightness off, I hate that feature. When a phone advertises a “big, bright screen” I want to see it the way that they advertise it. I’m not turning it down to save battery, that’s their (the OEM’s) job to fix and figure out. I used the Galaxy Nexus as I would any phone on an average day, checking email (constantly), web searching, tweeting, Facebook updates, a few pictures, some foursquare check-ins, and some time playing apps and the occasional moments of picking it up to just look at it (you know you do to), and I got around 6-7 hours of batter life before I got a warning. That is not even a full days worth of work. Luckily, I had an extra wall charger and car charger. You are going to need these and it probably wouldn’t hurt to have an extra battery for those times when you aren’t near a charger.

I’m not a big fan of the idea that I have to carry around an extra battery just to use my phone. I did this for a while with my EVO 4G before I just said screw it and just found myself charging it every chance I got. I know some of you may say, well you’re getting 4G and a great display and so it’s worth it. Is it? While the DROID RAZR may not have a 720p display, it does have a 4.3″ display, is ultra-thin (7.1mm) and also uses Verizon’s 4G LTE and yet manages to obtain a respectable battery life.

Call quality and data speed
The Galaxy Nexus is the first Nexus to appear on Verizon and while the Nexus S may have had 4G on Sprint’s WiMax network, it fails in comparison to Verizon’s 4G LTE. This could be the Nexus’ shinning and redeeming moment, as the speeds on LTE have been staggering. In the Baltimore area, I was averaging about 16 -17mbps, which just blew me away, seeing how I average about 5-7mbps on Sprint’s network with my Galaxy S II.

But is this the result of the Nexus or Verizon? Obviously it is Verizon’s network, but browsing the net on the Nexus on that big screen with fast speeds is an experience all in itself. Since browsing the web is a big part of what consumers do on smartphones, I can say that if you have 4G LTE coverage in your area, you’ll LOVE browsing the net on the Galaxy Nexus.

As for call quality, I know there have been reports of some issues, but this is an area that I have not experienced. Each of my calls were clear as day and with no interruptions. I used the Galaxy Nexus inside my house, upstairs, mid-level and even in the basement with no issues, no dropped calls or static. Outside, was pretty much present the same results. I drove around Saturday shopping for Christmas was on the phone pretty much all day, aside from a quickly depleting battery, all my calls were great with no loss in connection.

Galaxy Nexus back from above Review: Samsung/Google Galaxy Nexus 4G LTE on Verizon

How do I sum this up?
With all these little gripes, you may think I’m going to rip the Galaxy Nexus up, but that’s quite the opposite. The phone is very respectable, but I find it to be my job to point out issues that I found and present them in a way where I can give consumers an honest opinion, followed up by some facts (video proof).

Is the Nexus the best phone out there? No, it’s not. With the Nexus being the “standard” by which Android “should” be judged it’s only fitting to face it off against the iPhone, Android’s arch nemesis. Without letting “opinions” get involved, let’s look at the comparison…

While the GNex has a bigger screen, (size is a choice thing) the iPhone still has a higher pixel count per inch. The iPhone has a much better build quality and while most of the comparisons of their processors were pretty close, the iPhone still came out on top. The Nexus also fell flat in the camera department as well, with the iPhone 4S’s camera stealing the show. Call quality on both devices have been nearly identical, but the Nexus does have the edge with Verizon’s 4G LTE. When it comes to software, iOS vs Android, which one you’ll like better is a personal preference, so I can really judge that, as you’ll have to make up your own mind. I will say that in comparisons, the iPhone does feel more fluid and for most consumers, it’s easier to use and is more intuitive. While on the other hand, Android does offer more customization options and freedom to slide-load apps.

From my count, that’s four wins for the iPhone versus one for the Nexus. That being said, if you are an Android fan, most of these issues are nothing new for you and you’ll probably have no complaints, other than just a lower-res camera compared to many other Android phones. I know people have wanted this device for a while and because it is a NEXUS, they just want it to be good. So some will buy it just because, even though they know its short-comings, they can say they have it.

The Nexus, like every other Android device will suffer from over saturation of other Android devices. While the Nexus is the must have device this month, January will introduce brand new devices with with faster processors, bigger cameras, better displays and even Ice Cream Sandwich (the Nexus’s only exclusive feature). If you are ready for an upgrade right now, and want the latest Android device, I would venture to bet you’ll be happy with the Nexus, as long as the big size, camera and battery life don’t bother you. When compared to other Android phones, it holds its own, but again, if you buy it now, you may be kicking yourself when you see what’s right around the corner. At least you’ll have the comfort of knowing when Google updates Android, you’ll be among the first to get it.

Galaxy Nexus live wallpaper Review: Samsung/Google Galaxy Nexus 4G LTE on Verizon

TECHHOG SCORE:

8 / 10

Pros:
720p Display
Ice Cream Sandwich, latest version of Android
4G LTE
Android Beam

Cons:
Poor Camera Quality
Buggy OS and sometimes slow
Flimsy build quality
Poor battery life

Tech Specs:
4.65″ HD(1280 x 720) Super AMOLED Contour Display (curved glass)
Storage: 32GB, Memory: 1GB RAM
5MP continuous auto focus (with Zero shutter lag) Video recording in 1080p, LED Flash
1.3MP Front
Battery: 1850mAh
OS: Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0)
CPU: 1.2 GHZ dual core processor
NFC
Accelerometer
Gyro
Compass
Proximity/Light
Barometer
67.94 X 135.5 X 9.47 (LTE)