A day in life with the Galaxy Nexus

Daniel Bader

December 7, 2011 8:49am


We’ve been using the Galaxy Nexus as our main phone now for a few weeks now, and for the most part it is a great experience. But, as with any relationship, as you spend more time with the person or thing, quirks naturally arise. In the run-up to December 8th, when the device will be widely available for $159.99 on a 3-year term from Bell and Virgin, we thought we’d give an updated perspective, so you know what to expect from this most-anticipated device.

Form

The first thing you have to consider is whether the phone is too big for you. If you’ve played with the Galaxy S II you have a good idea of the size, but we find the Galaxy Nexus more comfortable to hold; that “contoured” backing really does conform quite well to your hand.

Admittedly, there have been times we wish the screen was smaller. More often, Android apps are being designed with an internal “home” button in the top left corner. The official Twitter app, for instance, allows you to touch the top left to change accounts, while the popular FriendCaster Facebook app uses that area to go back to the app’s starting screen. This area is not possible to hit when holding the device in your right hand, period. You must cradle it in your right hand and press with the left. While these commands can often be emulated by going into the context menu and pressing “Accounts” or “Home” respectively, it isn’t as intuitive or comfortable.

Every owner of the Nexus S we’ve shown the Galaxy Nexus to has remarked on its size. For better or worse, this is a big phone and while it is extremely comfortable, part of us wishes they’d kept it at the 4″ sweet spot (which would make it 4.3″ with the software buttons). We still think the Nexus S is one of the most comfortable devices ever released, and the perfect size.

If there is one advantage to having a larger screen, it’s how fantastic everything looks. The screen on the Galaxy Nexus continues to amaze, even after the initial “shine” has worn off. This is honestly the most stunning mobile display we’ve ever seen, period.

Speed & Ease

We’ve done a lot of LTE reviews lately, and going back to the Galaxy Nexus is a clear step down. That being said, it’s not a deal breaker either. The HSPA+ connection is plenty fast for what we need it to do, and it’s noticeably faster than the same network on the iPhone 4S, which supports 14.4Mbps to the GN’s 21Mbps. There are times when we miss the 40+Mbps speeds of the LG Optimus LTE or Galaxy S II LTE, mainly when downloading large files or loading heavy web pages. It’s just unfortunate that we won’t be able to import the Verizon Galaxy Nexus to Canada and use it on our networks here.

As for the phone UI, we are even more thrilled now than we were in the beginning. The phone is consistently smooth and fast, and constantly delights us with its stability. Little things like being easily able to create folders, or to get to the settings menu from the notification bar, or being able to swipe unwanted notifications away — they’re all small, iterative improvements that we realize in hindsight we couldn’t live without.

The new multitasking menu is not only brilliant but saves so much time. Being able to cycle through your open apps with one touch is by far the best experience we’ve had on any mobile platform. We only wish it were possible, like with the Playbook, to cycle through open applications as we can emails in the Gmail app. Would take multitasking to that next level.

Battery Life

We had loaded the Galaxy Nexus with all our favourite apps, which means more than ever the 1750mAh battery is being taxed with background updates and push notifications, in addition to the regular barrage of emails, phone calls and tweets.

To be honest we’re not entirely satisfied with the battery life situation. It’s quite easy to eat up 50% in a couple hours of furious use. We had hoped that Google would have made background data an opt-in rather than opt-out scenario. At the moment, if you want to prohibit an app from using background data it’s either all or nothing: WiFi-only or unrestricted. There is no ability to granularly set background data based on time of day, location, or limit an app to a specific limit in Megabytes.

If Android wants to win the war on battery life, it needs to impose restrictions to apps the way that iOS does. Yes, we know this is a core tenet of what makes Android “open,” and to some people better, but it will always be at a disadvantage to iOS or WP7 as a result. Would you rather have to explicitly allow an app to use background data, or bring along a spare battery when you leave in the morning? To some extent, these are your options. Third-party apps like Juice Defender have been doing a great job in regulating background updates for years; it’s incumbent on Google to make this more transparent to the end user.

Camera

Going back and forth between the iPhone 4S (left) and the Galaxy Nexus (right) really exposes the Android device’s inferiority when it comes to camera quality. It’s great to be able to shoot instantly, but those times you need that function the shots turn out blurry. If you take the time to line up your subject, autofocus and shoot, the advantage over the iPhone shrinks to nothing.

We’re not talking about a night-and-day difference, but there is a noticeable drop-off in detail and colour reproduction, and an unsightly amount of grain when you compare the Galaxy Nexus to the iPhone 4S. Keep in mind, when you look at the photos, that the iPhone 4S shoots at 8MP and the GN at 5MP, so a 100% comparison is not helpful. We have set different zoom levels to compare them at certain stages.

The iPhone 4S is typically warmer, too, with reddish tints and softer whites. It’s better at detecting overexposure in certain scenes and adjusting accordingly. Like the Nexus S, the Galaxy Nexus shoots true and accurate, even if it doesn’t benefit the photo.

Software

Ice Cream Sandwich has caught up to iOS in so many features, it’s now down to preference. Both have great notification systems, multitasking menus, customization and aesthetics.

Widgets and the home screen paradigm is still a huge advantage for Android — it adds a layer of personalization and intimacy that is not possible on any other mobile platform. Google has improved the experience dramatically in Ice Cream Sandwich, too, making it easier to pick up and use, and far more attractive than any previous version.

Really, it’s now only third-party apps that suffer from the “Android effect.” Equivalent apps on both platforms look and perform worse on Android. Many apps that are available on Android have merely been ported over from iOS, retaining the same design which is often a problem. Android apps need to be customized for different screen sizes, resolutions and usage patterns. Every phone has a back button, and there needs to be uniformity between apps and app developers as to what that back button does; sometimes it returns to the previous screen, but more often than not it just exits.

Ice Cream Sandwich unifies the look of Android phones and tablets, and improves the usability of both. But it’s incumbent on app developers to use the tools given to them by Google to not only make functional apps, but ones that are beautiful and perform consistently. One of the best parts of ICS is that most of the native applications — SMS, Dialler, Browser, etc. — are now good enough to use without resorting to downloading third-party alternatives.

Issues

There are some lingering problems with the Galaxy Nexus. Google has done away with Mass USB storage on non-removable media, so it is not possible to plug and transfer as we could in the past. On our MacBook, plugging the device in allows us to view photos or media, but Aperture does not read the contents properly, meaning there are hundreds of corrupted non-photo files detected. It makes transferring files to and from the device extremely difficult, and while we understand the need for added security, it inhibits one of Android’s most useful features.

Google advertises the Galaxy Nexus as having reinforced glass, and while so far it has been resistant to scratches it is also a fingerprint magnet. To put it bluntly, we have to wipe the the Galaxy Nexus clean every few minutes.

We also want to reiterate from our review that call volume, and external speaker volume, are unacceptably low, and the auto-brightness setting is too sensitive, keeping the screen too dark even in low-light situations. These are things that can likely be rectified with a software update, but they’re annoying.

Wrap-up

A day in the ife of the Galaxy Nexus is a privilege. It’s fast, clean and smart. The OS is the biggest improvement to Android since its inception, and but for a few third-party apps that we’d love to see improved, or ported, from iOS, the experience is just as good.

We love the form factor, the screen and the experience. If it wasn’t for the lower-quality camera, battery life and occasional software bug, we’d call it the best device on the market. In its current form it is the best Android device to date, and depending on your priorities, the best on the market.

  • JL

    I got mine too yesterday in the mail.. now 15 hours into the first day of mine :)

    • Paul

      Have you checked to see if it is carrier locked yet? Hoping it is not…

    • John

      After 15hrs how is the battery?

    • Cdawg

      @paul, they are carrier locked

  • Scott

    SO JELLY! I’m not eligible for an upgrade yet :(

  • Mattymo

    You mentioned that ICS caught up to IOS under software. It’s definitely the other way around.

    • bob

      yeah android has been ahead on many features:

      wifi hotspot, notifications, gps nav

  • hfx_nick

    Just a question – does it not let you connect to Mac using Android File Transfer at all? This would unfortunately be a dealbreaker for me..

    • Jacques

      It does connect to Mac using Android file transfer but it is a drag and drop. It’s not smooth. U need to now your way with Mac and Android.it does synch Ical with the agenda on the nexus, if u added your gmail account in the Ical preferences.

  • LC

    Only thing I needed to take away from this review is that the phone loses 50% charge after a few hours of “furious” use. To me, this means under normal use it will last 10-14hrs. which is typical and quite crappy for a 1750mah battery.

  • Sean

    Getting mine in January =D

  • Gallagher Nexust

    Looks like many of the issues with the Galaxy Nexus will be addressed when the Nexus S gets ICS. Can’t wait!!!

  • Merckx

    Was anyone able to buy the nexus outright or did you have to sign a 30 day contact? If you bought it outright were did you buy it?

    • Cdawg

      They are going to be hard to find unlocked in canada. So far the best I can come up with is getting it through virgin on a super tab and cancel right away. Your stuck with minimum a month.

  • Gord

    I wish they had discussed how they were finding the keyboard. Having gone from Blackberry to a small Android device a few months ago, I find it infuriating how much harder it is to type out emails or even just chat. I hear the keyboard is better on the Galaxy Nexus, is it as good as a physical keyboard?

  • Dynamo

    After playing with this phone and comparing it to my iPhone 4 (start your engines, gasp an opinion!) the video quality on sites like YouTube and VEVO were absolutely unacceptable. Videos in high definition looked nothing like a 720p display should look, they were grainy and a mess.

    I wanted this phone so, so badly..
    But after all the limitations discussed in the review up above, including the poor audio, battery and video playback from the sites I have listed I will be waiting for the phone to either get its firmware updates that may possibly fix these very noticeable issues, or I’ll just stick to what works.

    That being the iPhone (gasp!)

    • aka

      you’re seriously putting down the display based on a youtube video?? That’s like saying Netflix HD is just a good as Blu-ray!! Try downloading an actual 1080p movie trailer (approx 160MB) and get back to us on the display quality..

  • Claudiu

    Great phone. Now make one with a 4″ screen and I will buy it in a heart beat.

  • Jonnyboy

    I was told at connects wireless a bell dealer that i could buy it outright and they would ring it in as prepaid

  • Dalex

    That’s why I love this site. A great follow up review bringing us a real life usage perspective on a device. Clearly you love the device enough to let us know its shortcomings which seemingly are outweighed by its strenghts. It seems like a great device, but after reading this I’m glad I chose not to wait and purchase the GS2. It seems that the only thing my phone is lacking is ICS while being better at everything else (screen is a wash as I’d rather a full RGB panel at a lower resolution to a pentile display even at a higher res).

  • John

    I’m sure CyanogenMod will address any issues that this phone might have and make it that much better

  • Panzerpug

    16GB=Deal Breaker.

    Simple as that.

  • al2k

    Starbucks at Dennison and Woodbine!

  • Calvin

    Are the galaxy nexus pure unlocked like the tr nexus s?

  • Jake

    Excellent and honest write up. Much appreciated. We need opinions like this to help us make an informed decision.

  • Mathieu

    “It makes transferring files to and from the device extremely difficult”
    Google wants you to stop using the USB cable to transfer files. Just store the files in the cloud (Picasa, Dropbox…) and access them from everywhere.

    • lolz

      It would be great if Google would give me at least an option whether I want to use Cloud or USB storage.

      Forcing me to use only Cloud is just putting them in control over my content…anytime…anywhere…NO THANX!!!

  • Vicky

    How does the call volume/speaker volume compares to the Nexus S?

    I’m a Nexus S user who is interested in the upgrade, but the USB storage sounds like a dealbreaker.

  • Malevolent

    I was all hopped up to get this phone right away but battery life, lack of LTE and crappy camera is disappointing. I am sure it is the best Android phone currently but I think I may wait to see if the Samsung SIII packs a better camera and battery before I upgrade. Too bad, this phone could have knocked it out of the park if they really wanted to.

  • Nic

    this write up does not make it sound like the best android device on the market – the htc amaze sounds a bit more apealing

  • Lazed

    I’m shocked that they gave this “flagship” phone such a terrible camera. It ruins it.

  • Ec

    its your macbook thats not compatible with the galaxy nexus, microsoft’s MTP works fine on windows and google even stated tha the majority of users has windows that use their phone.

    MTP is the same thing the transformer uses for transfering and it works flawless

  • Mike E

    Oh nooooes, it’s not perfect! Guess I’ll have to get the perfect iPhone4S….because it’s perfect…in every way.

  • Saffant

    @Malevolent The GS2 already has a better camera.

  • Jay

    That’s a review of an iFan…”Android as caught up with iOS”???? Are you serious when you say that?? Anyways…It’s a great phone but Samsung and google screwed with the cameras.

  • Bob

    If anyone has bought one from Virgin Mobile, can you please confirm if the phone is unlocked?

    • g_____

      I just bought one from Virgin and it does not appear to be locked.

    • Bob

      how did you test?

  • Malevolent

    @Saffant Yeah, I knew that I meant to say LTE. I think I have waited this long for the Nexus I just am going to wait a bit longer to have an LTE capable device. For myself, if this Nexus had a better camera, bigger battery and LTE it would be perfect. Still going to have to rock out the Nokia N95 a big longer…

  • skrutor

    Every review I read leaves me with the distinct feeling of “the emporer’s new clothes” syndrome. Ignoring ICS for a minute because it will eventually be available for all newer android phones, there’s not a lot to be impressed with of the hardware. I am disappoint.

  • g_____

    Confirmed: my GGN from Virgin works with both Fido and WIND sim. Freedom!

    • Jen

      Has anyone tried this phone on koodo?

  • mindo

    This is the 3rd Nexus phone, every time they are promising it’s gonna be the next best thing. You can’t compete against apple or bb when they have FULL control over hardware & s/w. HTC, Samsung, moto, LG they are all clueless. Doesn’t LG make dishwashers??? Wtf…

    If you’re gonna get an all touch phone, you should really get an iphone. If you haven’t then you’ve been googles guinea pig for the last 4 years.

    Otherwise get a bb 9900 and call it a day.

    I love the control I have over my droid, but in the end it comes at a big price of sucking at a lot of basic stuff. Like email, like dropping wifi, like battery, like being laggy as $hit.

    • Noob

      You know you can make your droid better – root/rom…

      You dont deserve a droid if you cant do that!

      GN – FTW

    • Jonnyboy

      LG may make dishwashers but Samsung makes some of the biggest cargo ships in the world. Bazinga!

  • Nikkuh

    @Mindo

    Jobs is dead, no need to keep posting stuff like this. Your overlord can’t hurt you anymore..

  • jaydee

    mindo has a great point.

    I have never heard of an iPhone user having to remove their battery or reboot their phone because it froze or crashed. I hear this from Android users all the time.

    I don’t care how many custom roms I can install or how many widgets I can have on my home screen, if I can’t make a phone call without rebooting then the device is basically useless.

    After all, these are devices. Imagine having to reboot your toaster before you could make toast? Or rebooting your refrigerator once a day? Or think of a car, being able to mod the crap out of it is pointless if it doesn’t start when you need to go somewhere.

    • Maelstrom

      jaydee, I’ve seen iPhone4s user rebooting their phone, because the phone was having trouble with the contacts and it was not responsive. Of course for them, pulling out the battery is not an option.

      For your information, you don’t need to reboot the phone to make a phone call with Android.

    • aka

      why don’t you work for Apple tech support, then report back to us on the troubles people have with their iPhones. Knowing 2-3 friends with iPhones doesn’t count. you probably don’t hear much from them anyway, they’re too proud to believe there’s a design flaw.

      secondly, you can’t remove the battery in the iPhone, which is why you can hard reboot the device. they also put in 3-4 different types of resets under the settings menu in iOS to resolve various other possible issues. do you even own one?

    • sp

      strangely enough i had to reboot my iP4S this morning. it was weird. checked my emails then deleted them. then went to the home screen and nothing was responding.

      kept trying to make a call but wouldnt even load up. just kept stuck on the home screen.

      had to reboot it so that it would work and i could make a call

      weird huh?

  • DanielP

    Can the low speaker/ringer volume be fixed with a software update? I thought that was more of a hardware problem.

    • Brad

      Get volume + on the market, it can raise the volume for you.

  • Brian247

    A poor mans Windows Phone, stupid people dont even know that ICS was a cheap copy of Windows Phone from the lockscreen look to the Photo gallery to the social networking integration,even the layout screams Windows Phone. I cant wait for Lumia 900 to drop early january and put this cheap copy of a phone to shame.

  • Zach

    I cant believe anyone would make a comparason between WP7 and ICS. They are two, almost completely different platforms. As for the argument between WP7, IOS, and Android, i think thats a losing argument for all three sides. All phones have specific things they are good at and also are meant to target different groups of people. I have been known to switch between all three of these platforms quite freaquently. IOS has the reputation of being incredibly smooth, simple, and easy to use. The best thing going for android is its incredibly customizable. You can almost entirely change the entire identity of your phone in a few min. Android is for people who like tinkering and changing things all the time. WP7 chose the IOS route when it comes to simplicity, very easy to use. So if your someone who needs deeply rooted exchange support and you enjoy 9.99 applications then WP7 is probably for you. The best part about todays phone market is we have all three of these platforms to chose from!

    As for the Galaxy Nexus, i purchased mine unlocked from europe, and i must say, this is the most amazing phone i have ever owned. I am coming off a iphone 4S. Yeah sure there are some things i dont like about it. But that holds true to any phone out there.

  • Jay

    Would you recommend the Amaze over the GN? Knowing that the Amaze is going to get ICS in the new year.

  • enuf already

    im in lovew/my galaxy s2 x from telus, my wife want to getrid of her torch

  • CHRISVILLANI1

    I would do anything to get my hands on this phone !

  • jl

    just got mine today. I’m so pissed about how terrible the battery life is on this thing.

    seriously? I can’t believe I paid so much for this piece of crap

  • Brad

    I’m looking to replace the Nokia N900 I bought over 2 years ago. It has 32GB internal AND a microSD slot. I have about 16GB of music on it now. But the N900 is a nasty battery hog, the CPU is w-a-a-a-y too slow and it is total crap at hot-syncing with Outlook on my laptop (I have a huge contact list).

    I am disappointed that the GN is only 16GB internal with no expansion. Has this become an issue for anyone else?

    But the big question is will it handle my 3000+ contacts (quickly) and hot-sync directly to my laptop?

  • Someone

    Whats the time and weather widget?