The first Ice Cream Sandwich smartphone arrives – but will Samsung's Android flagship sink or soar?
Samsung Galaxy Nexus – enter the killer
Almost every major smartphone launch is accompanied by the phrase ‘iPhone killer’, but with Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus it may well turn out to be more than mere hyperbole.
With a tablet-baiting screen, dual-core processor, and massively flashy features like face recognition, anticipation for the Galaxy Nexus is already pretty high. But on top of all that, this is the very first handset to arrive kitted out with the revolutionary new Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Our excitement level just went through the roof.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus – build and styling
The Galaxy Nexus is an undeniably hefty smartphone next to an iPhone 4S or Nokia Lumia 800, but thanks to its slimness and to the fact that very little space on the front is devoted to anything other than screen, the Nexus doesn’t feel anywhere near as big as the specs tell us it is.
Its styling is almost lovely, too, but we’ll confess to not being entirely enamoured with the textured panel on the back, and it certainly doesn’t feel as valuable or premium as the iPhone.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus – the screen
The big bonus of having a big case is that it allows for a big screen, and the Galaxy Nexus certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front.
Not only do you get 4.65in of glorious AMOLED, the 316 pixel-per-inch resolution is tantalisingly close to the 326ppi of the iPhone 4S. It’s terrifically bright and colourful, too, but still manages to dig up deep, dark blacks, all of which makes this a movie-viewer’s dream.
When not enjoying glorious HD video, about a quarter of an inch of the display is reserved for the (customisable) virtual buttons, but the vastness of the screen still enables you to see more of what you want, which for some people could well simply be the mesmerizingly colourful live wallpapers.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus – usability
The Samsung’s 1.2GHz dual-core chip coaxes out a performance that’s responsive enough to be massively satisfying.
Apps load in a flash, web browsing is fluid, and – depending on your data connection – embedded videos load near-instantly and play in very smooth style. The 2ms haptic feedback adds a subtle extra layer of control to every prod of the intuitively spaced-out keyboard.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus – the camera
It seems churlish to bemoan a 5MP camera, but with the iPhone 4S’s 8MP snapper, expectations have suddenly changed. Still, in use it’s hard to complain about the Galaxy Nexus’ photo-taking ability – as you can see from the panorama and standard snaps above.
The Galaxy Nexus' camera does have a tendency to produce shots that are a touch lighter or darker than is truly ‘correct’, but its pictures are crisp and detailed, it produces lovely macro shots, and there’s a tonne of after-edit options to make sure your photographic masterpiece looks its best.
What’s more, Ice Cream Sandwich brings with it an easy panorama feature – instead of painfully lining up images one by one, you simply pan from one side and keep going until you’re ready to stop.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus – so much more
We can’t end our review without talking about the 1.3MP camera on the front that unlocks the phone when it scans and recognises your face (don’t worry, there is a pin backup for balaclava-wearers and spontaneous beard-growers), or Android Beam, the latest iteration of Google’s NFC-enabled sharing platform – which works really well but might still struggle to take off in the short-term.
With all of those fancy features and the massive, bright screen, we expected the Galaxy Nexus to be real power-drain, but it actually holds up pretty well. It’s still a smartphone, of course, so it’ll generally need a daily dose of recharging, but it’s no less efficient than its rivals.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus – verdict
The combination of a gloriously fast, big-screened handset and a brand-new, slick and feature-laden OS makes the Ice Cream Sandwich-toting Galaxy Nexus a perfect smartphone storm.
It’s a very close call between it and Apple’s iPhone 4S, but one thing is for sure – this is the best Android phone we’ve ever seen.
UPDATE Star rating adjusted to reflect age and new competitors