We get our hands on first Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich smartphone – the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
Look and feel
One of first things you’ll notice about the phone is its size. While it has a 4.65-inch screen, the phone itself is actually slightly longer than the 4.7-inch HTC Titan. However, it never feels hefty. It’s slim and surprisingly light.
It’s 1,280 x 720 resolution display is beautifully bright – one of the best I’ve seen on a smartphone. At its brightest setting, images are well defined and wonderfully vivid.
The smartphone is slightly curved towards the bottom. The back of the device is made from a textured plastic, reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy S II, to make it easier to grip.
This Android device has three staple navigation keys at the bottom – back, home and multitasking keys. They are now part of the software, which disappear when the phone is locked. Its notification light is located at the bottom of the phone, which is made up of three context-aware LED lights. The light fades in and out a lot slower than on previous Android phones which seems much more elegant and less annoying.
I should point out numerous reports about bugs with the volume control settings on the Galaxy Nexus when running it on 2G networks. Many users have experienced volume drops and unresponsive volume controls on a GPRS/EDGE data connection, causing sound to drop out for notifications, phone calls and alarms.
Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich)
4.65″ HD (1,280 x 720) Super AMOLED
1.2 GHZ dual core processor
16GB/32GB internal memory
5MP continuous auto focus
I set my phone to 2G networks for a few days, but I never managed to replicate the issue. However, it does exist, judging on the number of complaints I’ve seen about it online. Don’t let this put you off the smartphone, though – Google has said it will be releasing a fix for it soon, so it should be sorted out shortly.
Of course, the stand-out feature of the phone is it’s the first to use Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich.
Google previously said this operating system will work for both tablets and smartphones and I can see how. The company has taken aspects of what it has learned from Honeycomb and improved on them. Adding on how much they’ve evolved, Gingerbread and the end result feel so much more mature and cohesive than any previous edition of Android.
When activating the phone from sleep mode, you can swipe right to unlock the phone or left to go directly to your camera. It’s a useful feature, though there’s a slight delay when getting into the camera app. It also doesn’t appear when you’ve locked the phone securely. One of its locking features includes Face Unlock, where it recognises your face to unlock the device. For me, it worked 70pc of the time and I found its accuracy improved if I held it straight out in front of me, which seems a bit awkward.
Navigating the interface itself is unbelievably fluid. The smartphone is incredibly responsive to every touch and swipe, making it a pleasure to use. The search tool is no longer part of the main navigation keys. Instead, it’s on the homescreen, letting you search through apps or the web by typing or with your voice. The menu function appears within apps, which is represented by three dots.
The multitasking key makes it much easier to manage your open apps. It creates a tiled list of what apps are running in the background, which you can swipe away to close them. Holding down on a tile can let you display the app’s information.
Even in the apps menu, Android’s redesign shines – by swiping across to another menu, the layer of apps in the previous screen slightly overlays the next layer as you make the switch. It’s a small thing, but the subtle touches really make the OS seem much more polished. The apps menu now holds widgets, too, reducing the number of menus to drill into to customise your homescreen.
Typing has much improved since previous editions of Android. The onscreen keyboard much more accurately detects which keys you’ve pressed. While using the phone, I made few errors (that weren’t my own fault, that is) while typing at speed.
Another feature of Ice Cream Sandwich includes the ability to check your 3G data usage. You can select a range of dates to see how much data you’ve used in a given period – much like Google Analytics.
It also tells you which apps used the most and least data, to keep you better informed. It’s a great feature and should be part of every smartphone to prevent any nasty surprises when you get your bill, though it does stipulate that the operator’s data usage analysis could differ from what the phone says.
Android 4.0’s browser has been upgraded, which lets you manage your open windows more intuitively. The tabs button functions similarly to when the multitasking key is pressed, letting you scroll through open windows and swipe away any site you’re not using. The new browser lets you request the desktop versions of a mobile site you’re browsing and pages can be saved for offline reading.
The fact Android needs a Google account to take advantage of some features has let Google push its new social network Google+ on Ice Cream Sandwich. The Google+ app has been integrated into the OS and you can share pages and images onto your Google+ profile. It has also built-in Google+ messenger, letting you chat to people within your circles.
Along with this, it features several other familiar Google apps, such as YouTube, Google Talk, Gmail and Google Maps.
The rear-facing camera on the device has a 5-megapixel sensor. It’s not among the top smartphone cameras out there, but it’s still very sharp. It also has zero-lag shutter, meaning that the second you press the onscreen shutter, it captures the image, which is great when you need to get your shot quickly.
Android 4.0 introduces a panorama mode, letting users take longer images by moving their smartphone across the area they’re photographing. The camera advises you when you’re moving too fast, helping you pace the movement of the phone to get a better photo.
Android has come a long way since its early days and it’s now evolved into a much more mature operating system, with a beautiful design and intuitive features. At this point, I think the OS can stand up on its own, rather than relying on manufacturers to create skins for it.
As for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, it’s an attractive device. Its large, vivid screen is balanced well thanks to its slim form factor, negating bulkiness. It’s a dream to use, too, considering how responsive it is.
Tying these two together provides one of the best smartphones on the market right now and a strong start for Ice Cream Sandwich.
The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is available on Vodafone on bill pay from free to €199.99 depending on the monthly plan chosen.