Google and Samsung collaborate on their biggest smartphone yet.
Although it has little interest in what manufacturers get up to with its Android operating system, Google does like to produce a smartphone of its own every now and then to show them how it thinks things should be done. The Galaxy Nexus is the third such ‘Googlephone' to go on sale and, at the time of writing at least, is the only smartphone available that runs Android 4 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich' (ICS).
The Galaxy Nexus is made by Samsung and although it has the same plasticky build as that manufacturer's Galaxy S II, it still feels solid and well-made. It's also big, thanks to one of the largest screens found on any smartphone – it's a whopping 4.65in from corner to corner and is gently curved from top to bottom.
We're not fond of smartphones with screens this big, since it makes them difficult to hold and use with one hand, but at least the one on Galaxy Nexus has a correspondingly high resolution of 720x1,280 pixels. If nothing else, this makes browsing the web a breeze and most pages can be read without the need to zoom in.
The AMOLED screen technology makes it bright with rich colours, but text that should be displayed with a sharp edge instead looks a little fuzzy. This screen's higher resolution means the effect isn't quite so pronounced, but we advise potential buyers to see this smartphone for themselves in case they don't like the slightly reduced display clarity.
Given that this is Google's idea of a premium Android smartphone, we're a little disappointed that the Galaxy Nexus has the same 1.4GHz dual-core processor and 1GB RAM as the Samsung Galaxy S II – a smartphone that's now one year old. We can't complain too much though, since both models are extremely capable and run demanding Android apps very smoothly indeed.
Battery life isn't too bad either – the Galaxy Nexus played MP3s on a loop non-stop for 30 hours with all wireless connections disabled. The camera was more of a disappointment though. Its five-megapixel images aren't as sharp as we'd like and the autofocus didn't always do its job properly.
Google has made a lot of changes to Android with version 4, the most immediately obvious being that it no longer uses physical buttons below the smartphone screen – these are now icons that can come and go on the multi-touch display instead. The default user interface is also cleaner and more streamlined than before, although other smartphone manufacturers tend to hide this under their own fussier skins. Widgets are now listed separately to apps, which makes them easier to find, and apps can be grouped into folders on the Home screens by dragging one icon onto another – just like in iOS on the iPhone.
Android 4's built-in apps are also improved. A new ‘People' app replaces the usual contacts manager and can pull in updates from Google+ and Twitter, while the speedy web browser can synchronise its bookmarks with desktop versions of Google Chrome. There's also a new option to set mobile data limits for specific periods of time, which makes it much easier to avoid excess data charges on mobile phone contracts that have a monthly data cap.
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The Galaxy Nexus is a powerful smartphone with a big screen, but it has a few too many flaws for our liking and we suspect we'll see much better Android 4 smartphones from other manufacturers in coming months.
Very high resolution screen; slick software
Plasticky build; screen could be sharper; mediocre digital camera
Phone 0330 SAMSUNG (7267864)
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