Samsung Galaxy Nexus $199

17th Sep 2012 | 13:19

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

We've updated our Galaxy Nexus review to reflect the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

The update to Jelly Bean refreshes the Samsung Galaxy Nexus making it exciting again, while price drops ensure it's still a viable option. It's a great handset, but at around the same price the Galaxy S2 is still the better buy.

Like:

Jelly Bean makes things smoother; Stunning screen; Keyboard and internet fantastic; Future-proofed with NFC;

Dislike:

Only five homescreens; Other UI's offer better social networking; No microSD slot or FM Radio; Battery life disappointing;

Introduction

  • We've updated our Samsung Galaxy Nexus review to reflect the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update which has now been rolled out to the handset.

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus was the world's first phone to run Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich and now just under a year later it's the first phone to run Android 4.1: Jelly Bean. It's an upgrade that keeps it as relevant as ever and we've updated our review to reflect the changes.

There are some gadgets in geek-world that are announced and we just could not wait to touch. The Nokia N95, the original iPhone, the T-Mobile G1 and Palm's first Pre.

The Galaxy Nexus fitted firmly in that category back when we first reviewed it and in many ways, coming back to it now, it still does.

The big selling point here is not so much the handset – it's what powers the Galaxy Nexus. With Android 4.0 Google redrew its Android OS in probably the biggest overhaul since it launched and the Galaxy Nexus was the flagship device for that OS.

Despite the fact that many handsets are still stuck with Android 2.3: Gingerbread, Google hasn't stood still and the result of their hard work is Android 4.1.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

It's an evolution rather than a revolution, an attempt to refine what the company did with Android 4.0. But it's no less exciting for it and once again the Galaxy Nexus is Google's standard bearer, bringing smartphone users their first taste of the new OS.

On top of that, the specs include a fantastic Super AMOLED HD screen, dual-core 1.2GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, 5MP camera and NFC support, to name a few.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

The Nexus itself is fairly big, with dimensions of 135.5 x 67.9 x 8.9mm, though it's actually slightly smaller than Samsung's flagship handset, the Samsung Galaxy S3.

Although it's slightly smaller it's also a little bit heavier at 135g compared to the latter's 133g. It doesn't feel enormous, really it's at the upper end of what we'd consider to be an ideal size for most users, but you can tell you are not using an iPhone 4S.

The front is probably as minimalist as you can get. It's all black and being built from the ground up as an Android 4.0 handset there are no buttons in sight.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

In fact, all you have on the front is the screen, front facing camera and the brightness sensor, plus a cheeky little light beneath the screen that you don't even know exists until you get an email and it begins to pulsate.

The sides are fairly unremarkable with power/standby on the right along with three charging pins (for a dock accessory), volume on the left, nothing up top and the bottom housing the charge/sync socket and headphone jack.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

The whole handset has a curved shape much like that on the Samsung Galaxy S3 but it's not too severe.

The rear takes its design cues from the Samsung Galaxy S2 with a snap on cover that feels slightly coarse to give a good grip. It has both Google and Samsung branding on it.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

You won't find an SD slot on the outside, or indeed, the inside. Ridiculously, this – the flagship Google handset which is so set up as a media device – has been crippled by having NO expandable memory. Words fail us. And they may fail you when you realise that 16GB internal storage is your lot.

But the screen, when lit up, looks fantastic. It's 4.65-inches with a resolution of 720 x 1280, giving it a pixel density of 316ppi. It really is super sharp. We would have expected nothing less with Samsung's mobile displays among the best out there, but it's cracking for internet and video.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

There is no doubt about it – this is a premium handset and is up there with the iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S3 in terms of marketing position.

If you want one, there's good news: the price has dropped to just £21.50 per month on contract and £295 SIM free.

Interface

When the Samsung Galaxy Nexus launched with Android 4.0 it was one of the slickest phones around. With Android 4.1 it just got even better. Time moves fast in the smartphone world but the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is still leaving most phones to play catch-up.

The biggest change (and the first thing you'll notice coming from most other handsets), isn't one of the new features or options, but just how smooth it all feels.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Previously, despite in some cases being a lot more powerful on paper, Android handsets just didn't feel as slick and responsive to use as an iPhone. Even without comparing them to Apple's devices it was often noticeable that things just wouldn't happen quite as fast as you'd like. Homescreens would stick, scrolling would cause judder, boot up times would be long and web pages would lag.

For Samsung Galaxy Nexus owners that's all a thing of the past. Thanks to a host of under-the-hood changes collectively known as "Project Butter", Jelly Bean (and by extension the Galaxy Nexus), is just as smooth and slick as iOS, removing one of the major complaints people have about Android.

It boots faster, scrolling and multi-tasking are handled effortlessly, web pages load quickly, there's not a hint of slow down and it all just feels incredibly responsive.

Lockscreen

At first glance the lockscreen looks much the same as it did before the update to Android 4.1. You can slide the lock icon left to launch the camera or right to unlock the phone, but now you can also slide upwards to launch a new feature called 'Google Now'.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

This brings up a Google search box and below it a series of tiles. These tiles serve a variety of functions- one tells you the weather at your current location, another has details of nearby public transport, there's one for upcoming calendar events, one for traffic updates and more.

What makes it more than just a series of widgets though is that it only shows you tiles when it thinks you need them. For example it only shows calendar events if they're happening soon. If you've got a meeting or other location you need to head to in your calendar then it will also show public transport or travel information to get you there.

It gets smarter as you use it more, becoming able to more accurately predict what information will be useful to you and when, though you can also go into the settings and customize the situations under which you want a tile to appear. For example you can tell it to display train information whenever you're close to a station.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

It's a great idea, a bit like Siri but without having to even ask it to do things most of the time, as it just predicts what you want. It also avoids the potential embarrassment of talking to your phone (or having your phone talk back).

What it does is done reasonably well, but it doesn't do enough. There are only a handful of different tiles for it right now and some of them won't be much use to a lot of people. If Google keep developing this then a year or two down the line it could be something really special. Right now it's a neat feature, but far from essential.

Oddly, Google Now breaks totally from the dark, moody colour scheme of Android and is instead bright, colourful and cheerful. It looks good, but it's a bit of a jarring change.

Homescreen

Embracing Android 4.0 (and now 4.1) wholeheartedly, there are no buttons on the front of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Zilch. Nada.

Three soft keys are provided within the OS at the bottom of the screen: back, home and multitasking. The beauty here is that when they're not needed, the OS disposes of them and gives you more screen space to enjoy your pleasures.

Icons have been refreshed and look sharper and clearer too... overall, along with the general slickness, it's a much more polished experience to take on the gloss of Windows Phone and iOS.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

The Galaxy Nexus ships with several new live wallpapers and all look very futuristic. You can see that the whole design here is more Honeycomb than Gingerbread. It's dark and moody but also very aesthetically pleasing.

Homescreens are limited to five and without replacing the stock Android launcher with one from Google Play there is no option to extend this. We'd have hoped for at least seven which is now the standard across Android. We also found we missed the options shortcut button.

On previous Android iterations, you would long press the homescreen and be given shortcuts to actions like changing wallpapers, adding widgets and adding shortcuts.

Now long pressing a homescreen only gives the option to change the wallpaper, while everything else requires delving into the settings or applications menu and going the long way round which feels like a backwards step. Also, the ability to pinch in to show an overview of all homescreens appears to have been taken away.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Speaking of settings, you now access that section through the notifications bar which, thankfully, Google has kept. It's been heavily redesigned though. It is now semi-transparent and the date, day and time are displayed prominently in the top left corner.

Notifications are bigger, with emails displaying the first couple of sentences so you can preview them before opening, while pictures of your friends are displayed when they message you. There's a call back button next to missed calls, speeding up the process of returning the call, and calendar events can be acted on from the notifications screen, for example alarms can be snoozed.

With all these extra features you might imagine that the screen could get quite clogged up, but a simple swipe will get rid of any unwanted notifications, while swiping up across a notification with two fingers will collapse it down to a single row. It's also now possible through the application settings screen to tell specific apps not to send notifications.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

This all serves to make the notifications screen a lot more useful and we can't wait till this is rolled out on more devices.

Swiping up over the home button from any screen will launch Google Now, giving you immediate access to what might one day be a powerful feature, but which for now, for most people, is only mildly useful.

Multitasking is easily taken care of with the on-screen shortcut key. It brings up a list of cards for you to swipe through with page impressions of each app. To close one, it's a simple matter of swiping it to the side. It's yet another feature that helps give Android the slickness and intuitiveness of iOS without losing its flexibility.

App Drawer and Widgets

The app drawer looks similar to what we had before with a grid system offering four columns and five rows, and it's accessed from an icon in the centre of the dock at the bottom of your homescreen.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Users coming from Android 2.3 or below will find a few changes though. You no longer scroll down through your apps but across and then get your apps shooting at you from behind in an odd animation, which feels a little in your face.

There are tabs within the app drawer – Apps, Widgets and Google Play. The Google Play tab simply launches Google Play. The Widgets tab is a godsend for Android users – allowing you to preview all of your widgets here and then just select which you want to install on your homescreen.

It saves so much time compared to the old way where you'd have to plonk each individually on the screen just to see what it looked like. Widgets can be resized on your homescreen, though this is only applicable to certain ones – unlike some third party launchers which allow you to resize anywidget.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

When placing a widget other icons and widgets will move around it to clear space, and supported widgets will even automatically re-size themselves if there isn't enough space for them. It really makes the once clunky placement of widgets enormously easy and other than allowing all widgets to be re-sized we can't think of a way to improve it.

You can also create folders of apps in categories in the same way iOS users can although it's not as efficient. There doesn't seem to be a way to do it within the app drawer because holding down on an app icon just brings it to the homescreen ready for a shortcut (as Android always has done.)

On previous handsets (e.g. the Samsung Galaxy S2), users could hit the options button to bring up an edit menu and create folders that way but of course, that option button has bitten the digital dust.

The upshot of it is that you can create folders but only on the home screens and not within the app drawer. Once you've mastered that skill, then creating folders is as easy as pie - but it can take a little getting used to.

Contacts and calling

Contacts

Like the rest of the UI, Contacts was rewritten for Android 4.0 when the Samsung Galaxy Nexus launched and it's seemingly been left alone for the latest update to Android 4.1.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

No matter, we're still massive fans of the Ice Cream Sandwich look. The older one was looking really dated and the black colour scheme was hardly imaginative. The new People app is light (white and blue) and feels so much more elegant.

Names are presented in alphabetical order with photos on the right hand side. Up top, shortcuts let you navigate to favourites and groups whilst down below you can search or add contacts with just one tap. It's all very straightforward.

One of the things we love about it is that each contact card, when opened, now has a fairly large picture in it. And when you actually phone them, the Galaxy Nexus gives you (almost) full screen caller photos.

However, the phone also places a band across the top with their details which means that some of your contacts may appear to have their heads chopped off.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Contacts themselves are synchronised with Google in the cloud as they always have been and there is ample room for any information or field you'd care to chuck in its direction. They're accessed through the phone book or dedicated People shortcuts that you can easily place on the homescreens.

Getting into the contacts app is as simple as tapping the contacts button which is, by default, placed on the dock at the bottom of the homescreens.

Unfortunately, Google has missed a trick here as it doesn't seem to have been too keen on implementing a proper social networking solution.

We hoped to find some kind of automatic Facebook integration, for example, but none was forthcoming other than Google Talk. This is an area HTC has got spot on with its Sense handsets and others could benefit learning from.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Yes, we know this is a vanilla phone and the Galaxy Nexus is "pure Google" – we get that. But it would be nice if "pure Google" supported social networking integration.

Call history is brought up by going into the phone app – again, provided on the dock at the bottom of the screen. It's pretty much what you'd expect and displays outgoing and incoming calls in a nice list with pictures.

There is a tab here to bring your favourites up too and when you click on it, you'll definitely know about it.

That's because it displays them by large thumbnails – and we mean large (four to a screen.) Looks great if your pictures are high-res but low resolution images can end up looking pretty terrible.

Calling

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Making calls is a real pleasure. The phone-pad looks amazing in electric blue and really fits well with the Jelly Bean colour scheme.

Call quality is top notch too. There's no option to turn any noise-reduction settings on or off but frankly, they're not needed anyway as our signal quality was flawless as was the quality on both our end and other callers'.

One neat UI element is that when you get a call, you now have a button that you drag onto the relevant option: so you drag it on to answer, text or ignore the caller. Nice touch.

The speakerphone is also incredibly loud and clear. In fact, you don't even need it on. We found that with the volume turned up, we could hear voices pretty clearly blaring through the earpiece from a good distance.

When in the phone app, you can search for numbers by tapping the magnifying glass at the bottom. We expected to see some kind of smart dialling which was notable by its absence when we started tapping out numbers on the phone-pad, but it's not a big deal since there are so many other options in Android to get to your person of choice, as we've detailed above.

Messaging

As an Android device, messaging really is one of the Galaxy Nexus' fortes and this is handled with aplomb.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Firstly, texting has been redesigned to fit in with the whole look of Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean. It's fairly basic. White background, black headers, but it does the job well. It's very much separate from the other messaging forms – there is no BlackBerry-style unified inbox here.

The real change you'll notice if you're coming from Android 2.3: Gingerbread or below is with Gmail. The old app was fairly good – supporting labels and deep search. But with ICS came a new look Gmail experience (it even got a spruced up icon) and we love it.

Composing an email is as simple as hitting the new email shortcut and very straightforward. You can also do this via a particular contact's address book entry if that suits better.

Options are all laid out at the bottom of the screen now in the inbox view to save going through menus and when within emails, the whole look of it just seems so much more elegant.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

You swipe left and right to move between messages and there is a multitude of settings for you to customise the experience to your heart's content.

HTML emails are still displayed well although we do wish Google would sort out this issue regarding fitting them on the screen properly.

Whereas Apple gives you a full screen overview of an HTML email allowing you to zoom in like a web-page, Android just fills the screen and you have to pan around to read.

You can't tap or pinch to zoom out. It's a real annoyance. We wish Google could have fixed this with Android 4.1, but we'll just have to wait for the next version and hope it gets some attention there.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

This problem is also present in the secondary email application that Google has provided on the Galaxy Nexus for non-Gmail users. It's a client designed for everything from POP3 to IMAP to Exchange and can be set to receive push emails where supported, poll every few minutes or be set for a manual connection.

Aside from the icon and the obvious dedicated benefits like labels etc., the client is the same as the Gmail one. It looks the same and options etc tend to be in the same place.

The beauty of Android is that you can add further messaging options within seconds via the Android Market. There's everything from MSN to Yahoo to ICQ, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Ping. The list goes on and on. The Galaxy Nexus can be as sociable (or antisocial) as you wish it to be.

We were impressed with the keyboard when we first reviewed the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. It's an updated version of the Gingerbread keyboard which we initially weren't thatenamoured with.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

However, although keys felt a little small for our large fingers, the way the predictive text worked, it was actually eerily accurate. Since being updated to Android 4.1 the keyboard has got even better.

It becomes more accurate over time, learning what words you use a lot and guessing what word you want to type next (albeit with mixed results) before you even tap the first letter.

We expected typing messages to take far longer than was actually the case. There's also a really satisfying haptic feedback when you tap keys - not too strong, not too faint but just right – which we liked.

If you don't like the keyboard though, you can download a third party alternative – there are lots available on Google Play that work in a number of ways.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Or you can go for the voice dictation option. We weren't that impressed with this initially but since the update to Jelly Bean it's got a whole lot more accurate.

One nice touch is that you can dictate whole messages. Say a sentence and it will type it out for you and then listen for another, so you don't have to constantly tap the microphone.

It even works without a data connection and it looks nice too – the design of the app is spot on. To be honest we'd generally prefer to type our messages as it still wasn't 100% accurate, but this is now a perfectly workable alternative.

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus handily features a blinking notification light below the screen, which alerts you to new text messages, missed calls and emails. It's really useful and though some other phones have this feature, bafflingly the majority don't.

Internet

The upgrade to Android 4.1 brings a big change to internet use on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and it's not a good one. What we're referring to is Flash, or rather its absence.

When the Samsung Galaxy Nexus launched with Android 4.0 there wasn't any Flash support either, but it wasn't long before the Flash Player app was updated to be compatible.

This time it's gone for good. Adobe have announced that they're ceasing mobile development of Flash Player and any device running Android 4.1 or above will be incompatible.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

It's not the end of the world, Apple users have got on just fine without it. But much of the internet still uses it, so it is notable for its absence, particularly if you're coming from a device that does have Flash support.

Having said that, Flash aside, the browsing experience on the Galaxy Nexus is what you would expect. It's brilliant. Pages load incredibly fast over Wi-Fi and very fast over HSDPA.

We navigated to the TechRadar site and it took just three seconds to give us a full overview of the desktop version of the page. It was five seconds before the loading bar disappeared but the last two seconds didn't stop us from exploring or moving on.

Loading a mobile version of the site took less than two seconds. Doing the same test over 3G added roughly an extra two seconds, which is still pretty impressive.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

We'd somewhat expected Chrome to become the default browser with the update to Android 4.1. After all, it's out of Beta now and is the default browser on the Jelly Bean rocking Google Nexus 7, but for whatever reason the Samsung Galaxy Nexus has stuck with the standard Android browser.

Pages are initially displayed full screen zoomed out and you can even choose a default zoom level from the menu to personalise this. Tap to zoom works well as does pinching to enlarge or shrink pages. Text reflows well on sites that our other Samsung, the Galaxy S2, failed to alter.

You can also save pages for offline viewing later which negates the need for the likes of Instapaper or Read-It-Later.

What Android appears to do here is store a large picture of the page you have saved because when we then put our Galaxy Nexus into offline mode and tried to click on links to see what it would say, we realised that links were no longer links but just text and touching it doesn't allow you to click on it, or even highlight it for copying and pasting.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Bookmarks are displayed through a tab at the top and can be added easily. You can also view several open windows, which are displayed in a card-style – the same as the one we get in the multi-tasking menu.

The browser is fantastic and aside from the lack of Flash, we had no complaints. However, we appreciate that Android's browser is not necessarily to everybody's taste and if this is the case, you can easily download a third party one from the Market.

There are dozens available with Google's Chrome browser being an obvious choice and the likes of Dolphin HD and Firefox being very credible alternatives.

Whichever browser you choose the great screen quality really helps here, making even zoomed out text impressively crisp, clear and readable.

Camera

If there is one element of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus bound to divide opinion, it's the camera, which clocks in at 5MP.

It's not the most adventurous of phone camera specs considering the iPhone 4, which launched almost 18 months before this, came with that. Indeed, the Samsung Galaxy S2 beat the Samsung Galaxy Nexus to market by a good few months, and that rocks an 8MP camera.

In the time since the Samsung Galaxy Nexus launched its camera has become even more dated, with 8MP snappers becoming the standard on the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the iPhone 4S. Not to mention the slightly ludicrous 41MP Nokia 808 PureView.

Yes, we read the comments on the reviews and we know that readers often berate us for mentioning megapixels and point out that there is so much more to a camera than that and yes, we agree.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Light levels, lens and so on all contribute. But the fact of the matter is that whatever the Nexus has, it's not brilliant.

Don't get us wrong - if you take a photo in bright daylight and stand still it comes out fine. But in low light or snapping a moving subject, you'll be disappointed.

The camera on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus takes photos unbelievably quickly. You tap the capture button on screen and before you can remove your finger, the photo is taken and saved. It really is that fast.

But that comes at a price: focusing. We get the impression that the camera is constantly refocusing to avoid having to do it solely when you take the picture, but it means that photos can come out blurred, particularly with landscapes, fast movement and busy environments. Luckily, you can tap to focus to redeem this.

The actual camera comes with very few options - yes, you can change the scene mode to one of a handful of variants.

You can also change the white balance and exposure as well as turning the flash on and off, but in terms of settings that's all there is. They're easy to change at least, with only a couple of taps needed to do anything.

There is also an inbuilt panoramic mode that we really enjoyed using - but don't do it in a hurry. Even when you've finished, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus has to stitch the photos together. And our unit took almost 20 seconds to do this.

There's a 1.3MP front facing camera too, which is used for Face Unlock, self shots and Skype/webcam.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Video

Video on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is captured in glorious 1080p Full HD and looks fantastic on that screen. It's not amazing when transferred back to a computer, but it's not so bad that you'll want to throw the handset under a bus.

For some reason, Samsung has seen fit to include more customisation options within the phone's video player than the actual camera. In here, there are scene modes, time-lapse options and some rather strange effects that look like they've been created after one too many jugs of Scotch.

We're not exaggerating. We're talking making your background look like you're in space or framed by a sunset. Or at least, that's the plan. But it just looks like a bit of a mess.

It's not all bad news though - for example, going from darkness to bright light is handled exceptionally well. And sound quality is reproduced well on top of that.

For a point and shoot or casual video-maker, this is a passable effort. But if you're one of those people hoping to replace your Flip HD or digital camera with your smartphone's camera, you'll be sorely disappointed in this.

Footage taken in bright daylight is clear, and sound is well reproduced. The video camera seems capable of following quick moving subjects with little effort.

You can shoot video with the light on or off. Shooting with it off in dimly lit conditions is a bit hit or miss, but going from darkness into bright light is handled very well indeed.

The option to make your background look like you're in space is either psychedelic or psychotic. We can't work out which. We'd have been much happier if Samsung and Google had spent more time working together to create a better camera app than messing around with pointless tweaks like this.

More usefully, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus comes with a 'Movie Studio' app, which lets you edit clips together, add a title and add various effects such as sepia or negative to clips you've already shot. It's pretty basic stuff, but a lot more welcome and useful than the silly effects built into the camera.

Media

The size of the Galaxy Nexus, the quality of its screen and its weight make this an ideal PMP and we really enjoyed using it as such.

It's a real shame however, that you are stuck with a finite amount of storage as it makes you really selective about what music and videos you load on in case you run out of space.

Music

The music player was redesigned for Ice Cream Sandwich. The icon was changed and it's now called 'Play Music'. When you're in, it's very similar to what you've used before as the changes are mainly cosmetic.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

In fact it hasn't been changed at all for Android 4.1: Jelly Bean, so if you're coming from an ICS equipped device there's nothing new to see here. The most adventurous thing you can do with it is play around with the equaliser settings, bass boost and 3D effect.

The latter two require headphones to be plugged in and although they do make some difference, don't be expecting something like Beats Audio on the HTC Sensation XE.

There is also a basic music widget that allows you to control playback and when the screen is locked you can easily access music controls to change the song in a similar fashion to iOS. Very handy when driving. You can also access music controls from the notifications screen.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

We're also fans of the way it handles searches. For example, holding your finger down on the song title as it plays allows you to search the Google Play store for related songs and applications.

It's a competent music player and does exactly what you'd expect. We had no issues with the major obvious file types, such as MP3, WAV or AAC. But it's hardly adventurous. Thankfully, there are many free and paid for alternatives out there that do a much, much better job so we'd encourage you to explore.

Unfortunately, there is no FM radio bundled on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. You can always download the excellent TuneIn Radio app but it would have been nice to have an old fashioned radio to save eating into the data allowance.

There's also no sign of the Shazam-alike 'Sound Search' widget which shipped with the Google Nexus 7.

Video

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Watching movies is a more than pleasant affair on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. It is a basic player in that when you start playing one of your flicks, there aren't dozens of options that you can wade through, tweaking this and tweaking that.

There is literally play and pause and that's it (apart from a scrubber at the bottom so you can move ahead or back to a chosen point.) Playing audio over the included speaker is OK in a moderately quiet room but you'll need headphones should you want to watch videos anywhere remotely noisy.

Luckily, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is fairly easy to hold and your hands aren't likely to get tired unless you're really scrawny. Because of its shape though, it's not the kind of phone that will prop up and stay up so if you're watching a movie on a train, for example, you'll either have to hold it for the duration or come up with some elaborate way of making a stand for it to stay upright in.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

All the major file types are supported apart from Apple's .mov format where videos would transfer but then just not show up on the phone at all.

And the experience is mesmeric - the sharpness and the improved contrast ratios over LCD are there for all to see, even on low-grade video, and we were massively impressed with the mixture of resolution and screen size. This is next generation stuff right here.

One of the big plusses here is that if you get bored of your own videos and you don't fancy YouTube (by the way, a YouTube app IS present on the Galaxy Nexus), then you can download more from Google.

Google have started offering rentals of movies via Google Play and this functionality is hardwired into the 'Play Movies' app. Recent releases are there and reasonably priced. For a relatively new service, it's actually very well stocked. You can also share your own videos over email, Bluetooth and more from the same app.

Photos

Photos are accessed via the Gallery (both the ones you've taken on the Galaxy Nexus and your Picasa albums) and are laid out in neat thumbnails. You can edit them within the app itself and do basic stuff like cropping and rotating.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Of course, there are also apps like Photoshop and PicSayPro which do the same tasks and more and are available via the Android Market.

It's very easy to access and manage photos as you're taking them too. Swiping across the screen from the camera app will show you the last photo you took and you can then keep swiping to scroll through the rest of your photos. A two finger swipe up or down will zoom out a little, showing you an overview of multiple photos, while swiping up or down over any of these will delete them.

For streaming, DLNA is supported although you wouldn't know it since there is no obvious app included to show it off. The hardware is there but you have to download third party software from the Market to fully realise this.

Battery life and connectivity

Battery life

Samsung has done the honourable thing and kitted the Galaxy Nexus out with a decent battery. Yes, it sounds like we're being flippant, but considering how it's locked down the amount of storage, we wouldn't have been massively surprised to see a teeny, smurf-sized power pack in there.

1,750mAh actually sounds quite a lot - and it is a decent effort. Though it's a lot smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S3's at 2,100mAh, it's bigger than the Samsung Galaxy S2's, at 1,650mAh, and considering how we find that to be reasonable, we expected good things from the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

Unfortunately, we were left a bit disappointed here. Although the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus are roughly the same size, the screen on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is bigger.

Not much, but enough to make a difference when it comes to eeking out the juice. Unfortunately, the display appears to always be the biggest drainer, and it is here.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

The upshot is that if you don't use the Samsung Galaxy Nexus that much, then you'll be happy with the battery. We noticed about a 3% drain per hour when the phone was in standby, and that was with background sync running.

But as soon as you bring up that display, prepare to see battery go down up to 10% in 30 minutes - maybe more with the processor whirring away if you're using an app that needs a lot of power.

Using our standard battery test of a 90 minute video with full screen brightness and everything set to push notifications, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus went from full battery when we started to 68% by the end. If you're watching videos on the way to work and have a particularly long journey, you'll be screaming blue murder by lunchtime.

Samsung claim you'll get 500 minutes talk time over 3G and 270 hours of 3G standby time. While the standby time is reasonable we're not convinced that you'll get 270 hours with a 3G connection- maybe if you turn all push notifications off, but where's the fun in that?

Our advice is if you work in an office keep a USB cable handy, so at least you can get charging at your desk.

Connectivity

For connections, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is pretty future-proof. Not only are the staples such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, HSPDA (21 Mbps), HSUPA (5.76 Mbps) and GPS all built in, we also have the benefits of DLNA and NFC technology, which also incorporates Android Beam, plus you can set the handset up as a portable Wi-Fi hotspot.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

As we've mentioned already in the Internet section of this review, you can expect blazing fast speeds over Wi-Fi and HSDPA, so internet surfing really is a breeze.

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus also provides you with a data monitor to track how much you get through, which is particularly handy on a data-hungry operating system like Android.

Wi-Fi is quick to set up, and Wi-Fi direct is also supported, so you can bypass the hotspot.

We weren't impressed with the wireless internet signal strength, though. Samsung really needs to sort out the components it uses, since we've noticed that on both the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Samsung Galaxy S2, even when you're practically sitting on the router, it's still not 100%.

Apple iPhones and iPads and BlackBerry smartphones have no issue with our router, but Samsung does, and it irks when we can't use Wi-Fi at the other end of the house like we can with other manufacturers.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

At least you can count on Bluetooth, which works like a trooper and is great for streaming music to compatible headsets and car stereos.

GPS was quicker than lightning to get a lock on, and even indoors away from a window, the chip put a valiant effort in, with Google Maps telling us where we were very quickly indeed.

Samsung has jumped on the NFC bandwagon and put a chip in the Galaxy Nexus to ensure that it is as future-proof as possible.

If you don't know what it's about, NFC enables you to use your phone as a wallet. You tap it against something and the money is taken automatically - a bit like an Oyster card for London transport. The technology has been around for years but it's only now that it's starting to get more coverage and implementation. With Google Wallet now a reality, you can see just how this will all fit together.

NFC also enables the exchange of data with the Android Beam service included. Basically, it means you can put your Galaxy Nexus next to another NFC-enabled phone and transfer things including contacts, photos, videos and songs just by touching. If you've ever heard of the iPhone Bump app, you'll be familiar with the concept.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Connecting the Samsung Galaxy Nexus to a PC is a breeze, it's basically just plug and play; letting you drag and drop things to and from the phone with ease.

Connecting to a Mac is a bit more of a chore. It's no longer a case of dragging and dropping like on older Android handsets. Now, you have to go and download the official Android Connectivity software or your phone just won't register as being connected.

Once it's downloaded, you basically get a glorified file manager, but you have to keep the Galaxy Nexus's screen turned on, otherwise it gets confused and the software stops sending. This is a real pain in the neck, and when transferring larger files like movies, it means you have to sit with the phone and virtually hold its hand.

Why they changed this on ICS, we don't understand. The Mac software also has the unfortunate accolade of being the first programme to crash our computer in at least a year.

Maps and apps

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

If you're expecting a goodie bag full of apps on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, you're in for a shock. Not because Samsung or Google are being tight, but simply because this is a 'Pure Google' handset, and that's why it comes with the bare bones.

Out of the box, it's stuffed full of Google apps that are almost all stuck together in a folder on the home screen. They include all of the usual suspects: Maps, Google Play, Gmail, Calendar, Google+, Play Music, Talk, YouTube, Navigation and Messenger.

Google Books and Currents are also available, but appear to be excluded from this folder. There are also widgets available for most of these, displaying things such as upcoming calendar events and your most recent emails.

Maps

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Maps is the latest version, and supports 3D images of certain cities, which isn't the most useful of features but is definitely up there when it comes to showing off.

It's had a slight refresh from the previous version, and although it looks ever so slightly different with the shortcuts at the bottom of the screen, not much else has changed.

Not that it needed to, since it's one of the best mobile apps out there, bar none. The one new addition is 'My Places', an area in the app that remembers previous places you've searched for, allowing easy access to frequently used maps. You can also favourite locations and save maps for offline viewing, both of which appear in 'My Places' too. It's a good addition that really rounds out the package.

Maps is also tightly integrated with Google Navigation, which is still in BETA. Not that we're complaining, because it's brilliant. If you haven't or don't want to spend the money on a dedicated sat-nav app (of which there are many), then Google Navigation is an excellent free alternative.

It does require a data connection - that's the downside - but its ease of use, flexibility and up-to-date info makes it worth it. We also found that GPS had no problem locking on, either for Maps or Google Navigation.

Apps

Google+ is a new addition to Google handsets, having previously been a manual download from the Android Market. It's no different to the last iteration.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Calendar, however, is different. The excellent Calendar offering has been redesigned, and it looks fantastic.

It's the same principle - multiple calendar support, full integration with the desktop version and so on - but it just looks so much better. It's amazing what a lick of paint can do. Plus, you get a new Calendar widget, and this is one that can be resized.

This being an Android handset, you can download as many apps as you want from Google Play.

It's getting bigger every day, and the quality is always improving. Think of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus as a blank canvas that you can decorate as much or as little as you want here.

And even better news for Sky fans constantly dragged away from their TV: Sky Go is now supported on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. This means access to sport, film and entertainment channels whenever you want.

Hands on gallery

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Official gallery

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Samsung Galaxy Nexus review

Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus was a brave foray into the mobile world with a stonking new OS that delivered in a lot of ways.

Even now, a year on, lots of handsets still aren't running ICS, while the Samsung Galaxy Nexus storms ahead with Android 4.1: Jelly Bean, keeping it as relevant as ever. But Google and Samsung have spent so much time on the software and the look, that in some places, they've taken an eye off attention to detail - mostly on the hardware.

We liked

There's something great about having a 'pure Google' phone. It's got a fantastic screen, a superb new OS and extra elements like Android Beam for sharing photos, contacts or connecting to peripherals.

And as a smartphone or even a mini computer, it's a great size with a nice weight that doesn't feel too cumbersome to carry or use.

Multitasking and improved widget management make this a much improved option for Android fans and we cannot fault call quality which, as always, is the basis of any phone experience.

Rather than ditching it for a new Google phone, Samsung and Google have shown their support for the handset by making it the flagship Jelly Bean phone too. In doing so they've let it rocket even further ahead of the competition, at least in terms of software.

We disliked

But this is a premium handset – and though prices have dropped it's still around £300 sim free. So with that in mind, we are completely dumbfounded to see no option to expand the memory, which ultimately means you don't get the best out of what could be an incredible handset.

We also found an issue with the battery: sure, it's on the large side at 1750mAh, but that big screen and high performance processor saw a much larger battery drain than we'd expected from a flagship device, sometimes leading it to not even last the day.

The complete absence of Flash is a shame too. It's not Google or Samsung's fault- it's a future all phones face, but while it's still a major presence on the web its absence here (and soon on other Android phones) will be mourned.

Plus, for a PMP as well as a phone, we'd have liked to have seen a better camera – this one has very limited options despite taking some excellent snaps.

Verdict

Buying GuideBest Android phone - which should you buy?Best Android phone

We had real high hopes for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and genuinely expected it to take the place of best smartphone on the market when it launched. But it didn't. In the year since its launch it has understandably dropped even further behind.

That's not to say it's not a good handset because it is a fantastic piece of kit. With the launch of Android 4.1: Jelly Bean it has also become relevant again, soaring ahead of rivals in software terms. But if you were to take away Jelly Bean, hardware-wise, you'd not have much to write home about compared to what else is out there, beyond the beautiful screen.

Jelly Bean refines Android and makes it smoother and more responsive than ever before, as smooth even as the iPhone 4S. Right now the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the only phone running it, and in the short term that's a big selling point.

But its hardware, which was always its weak link, is really starting to show its age. A 5MP camera belongs on mid-range phones, not the flagship Google handset, while its dual core processor has been dwarfed by the likes of the quad core Samsung Galaxy S3.

Its screen still holds its own, both in size and pixel density, but it's no longer as stunning as it once was, as competitors displays have become bigger and higher quality than they were when the Samsung Galaxy Nexus launched.

The fact of the matter is that we think it still lags behind the Samsung Galaxy S2, and now especially the S3.

Put it this way, if we were to find one wrapped under the tree on Christmas morning, we wouldn't berate Santa.

But unless you're a massive 'Pure Google' fan, we'd suggest you call St Nick up on Boxing Day, ask if he had the receipt still, point out you'd been exceptionally good this year, then go swap it for a Samsung Galaxy S3 - or wait to see what the rest of the manufacturers manage when their creative bods get cracking with Jelly Bean, or of course, there's always the iPhone 5.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus Galaxy Nexus Android 4.1 Android Ice Cream Sandwich smartphones phonesbuyingguide-en-us phonescarousel-en-gb phonescarousel-en-us
Share this Article
Google+

Apps you might like:

Most Popular

Edition: UK
TopView classic version