Review: Samsung Galaxy Nexus

So I finally bit the bullet and decided to replace my T-Mobile G1 (HTC Dream) – the first ever production “consumer” Android phone with a newer model.  I went in the end for the  Sim-Free version of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus for several reasons – one, it’s a “Nexus” phone which means that Google tightly control the user experience and firmware, so there’s no unexpected surprises or manufacturer/operator add-ons in there.

Compared to my previous phone, it’s certainly much lighter, and seems a lot more “flimsy” – but much of that is probably because it’s lighter.  The screen size is far bigger than the old one, at 4.65″ diagonal and is one of Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays.  Very nice quality screen, nice vibrant colours.  One of the downsides of having a thin phone though is that there isn’t enough space for a “real” keyboard like the G1 had – personally, I found using the onscreen keyboard of the G1 a total nightmare because the combination of large fingers and too small a screen size meant that I ended up getting the wrong letters out most of the time.  Thankfully with the Galaxy Nexus this isn’t the case, since the screen size is bigger and therefore more accommodating to my larger fingers.

The phone has NFC (support for contactless smart cards, etc.) built in and does actually work (inasmuch as I proved that the NXP application could detect my Oyster card), which when the carriers/card companies/banks get their act together could be very useful.  Battery life is also much improved compared to the G1 (which frankly isn’t hard).

The phone comes with the brand-new Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) operating system which is completely different in design but thankfully I had a go with it on the Android Emulator before I bought the phone so I knew exactly what to expect.  A big downside of this phone is that there is no SD card slot, it just has 16GB of internal Flash memory.  However there is a good reason for this, which is that most applications can’t be moved to an SD card slot anyway, so there’s limited use for it.  I can cope with that, and the phone therefore isn’t able to work as a USB Mass Storage device, but can cope with the Microsoft MTP and PTP protocols so it appears as a Windows Portable Device, and you can use that to copy files to and from the phone.

Camera is average (at 5 megapixels), but I’m not too worried about that since I don’t tend to use a mobile phone to take serious pictures anyway.  Front camera is 1.3 megapixels.  There are no physical buttons on the phone apart from the volume controls on the left, and the power button on the right – all the other buttons are ‘soft’ buttons and are part of the display.  This seems a bit odd at first, but you soon get used to it.  And the ITL41F firmware update rolled out to me yesterday to fix the so-called ‘Volume bug’, which probably wouldn’t have affected me much anyway since the mobile provider I use does not use 900MHz 2G, but I’m glad to see it fixed anyway.  Another nice feature is that it does support (albeit in a limited way) 5GHz wireless networking, which means I can use it with the 802.11a standard (I don’t have an 802.11n capable access point).

As this phone is a Nexus, unlocking the bootloader was a relative piece of cake – install the phone USB drivers, and put the phone into fastboot mode, then run “fastboot oem unlock” from the Android SDK software, and accept the ‘Do you really want to do this?’ message on the phone, and job done.  It does however wipe your phone when you unlock the bootloader, but at least that means I now have the choice of any third-party firmware that I like once Google have stopped issuing updates to the official one.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the phone, having had it less than a week.  The only thing I’m really unhappy about is the fact I can’t get a suitable pouch case for it yet, but that’s only to expected with a newly-released phone.  I can definitely recommend buying one if Android’s your thing and you’re looking for a no-nonsense Android phone.  Some people may not like the “bare Android” experience though, and might be better suited to going for a phone with the extra bells and whistles put in.