Monday, December 19, 2011

Galaxy Nexus Wins With Android 4.0

In general, I think Android 4.0 is smoother and simpler than previous versions of Android, with better animations between screens and somewhat easier controls. The recently used app list makes it easy to switch among applications, but it doesn't clearly show which are actually running at any time. It's also hard to kill apps. It has five home screens where users can put icons for apps or various widgets. Many new features are enabled and work quite well. I like having face recognition to unlock the phone, though it isn't as secure as a passkey and sometimes I had to resort to typing a pass code anyway.

The mobile data usage monitor (under settings) is quite useful. Others features don't seem quite as ready yet. As others have noticed, Facebook integration is notably lacking in this version; users are unable to integrate Facebook contacts with the address book easily. Near Field Communications, which is highlighted on back of the removable battery, aren't working as well, as Verizon has declined to ship Google Wallet. Overall, I think Ice Cream Sandwich is a big step forward. It's still not quite as intuitive as the iPhone's iOS, but good enough for most people. I've been particularly impressed by browsing.

The Nexus seems faster on both Wi-Fi and WAN connections than any Android phone I've tested. It offers "tabbed browsing," (actually just thumb nails of multiple open sites) and a very useful feature that lets users request a desktop version, rather than a mobile one, of any website. By default, it does not include Flash support, although users can download Adobe Flash 11, which works quite well. The speed, combined with screen size and resolution, make this a great phone for Web browsing. The phone has 32GB of memory, of which more than 28GB is available for user data, including apps, music, and photos. I was able to transfer data to and from the phone from a Windows PC without trouble, except for a message warning me MP3s might not play, though they did. Unlike many phones, it does not have a microSD slot. Instead, it seems designed to pull information from Google's cloud-based services.

Indeed, in order to play music at all, users have to set up a Google Music account or link a current Google account. Once set up, though, I was able to play music fairly easily and new features such as Android 4.0's equalizer were quite nice. (One thing to note: This phone has mostly "pure" Google Android software and as such will not play WMA audio, unlike some previous Android phones. I mostly use MP3s, so it's not an issue for me, but will be for some others.) Thus far, I've been pretty happy with the built-in camera. It has a 1-megapixel front-facing camera designed for video chat, and a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera. While other phones have higher megapixel counts, users get more control over scene settings, exposure and white balance options, and a panorama mode. The Gallery app contains a variety of photo editing tools and special effects. Still, I've gotten better pictures with an iPhone 4S. Of course, users have the Android Market, which offers a wide array of applications.

Everything I've tried so far has worked well, including the mobile version of The New York Times app, the Barnes & Noble reader, and Google Maps with driving directions. Overall, my first few days with the Galaxy Nexus have left me pretty impressed. It still has a few rough edges, as seems to be true with any new release these days, but the phone generally strikes me as quite fast and powerful.

By Michael J. Miller PCMag