Galaxy Nexus Preview

November 22nd, 2011 | Posted by Kevin Wright in Reviews

This will only be a quick look at the new Vanilla Google phone, the Samsung made Nexus, as I have only had it for a few hours.  The first surprise was the size of the box!, its huge, and I can only think it is some attempt to convince a court later on that it is not an iPhone rip off.

I have spent the last few days with a Galaxy Note, so maybe I have just got used to large devices, but given some of the comments I read on the web and Twitter, I was expecting this to be a lot bigger than it is. I was asked on Twitter how much larger the Note is, and would have to say, quite a bit, but as I already said, if you are going to have a two handed device, then maybe you go all the way up to a Note? So, the Nexus is 10mm taller, and just under 3mm wider than the S2,  It is only .5mm thicker according to the spec sheets, but it feels more than that in the hand, not that it feels bad in any way.  The Nexus feels nice and solid, despite its wafer thin back panel, the same as both the Note and the S2.

The hardware on this is not especially amazing, and in some ways it is outdone by the older S2. One area this is true is the screen. Yes, I said the screen. OK, so the Nexus is “HD” resolution, which is 720 * 1280 against the 400 * 800 on the S2, but lets take a look at this, and decide if it really matters. I mean, do we really need 720 * 1280 on a 4.6 inch screen, on a phone?

I am so fussy about screens, and like them bright and contrasty, which is why the S2 I have here for comparison is my 6th!, yes, I have bought 6 (and sold 5!) of these, aways returning back to them time and time again. When you compare the screen on the new Nexus to the S2 on paper, it is no contest, but in the hand, its very different.

My big weakness is brightness, and the iPhone 4 and 4S, and the original Galaxy S are the true leaders in bright screens. The S2 and the Note carry on this fine tradition, after all, if it goes really bright and *you* don’t want it, you can turn yours down, or keep auto brightness turned on. For me, auto brightness is the first thing I switch off after logging into a new Android phone for the first time, and when you do so on the Nexus, it all looks great at first, bright and bold colours, nice white whites. But, as soon as you go into an app, it all changes. In the web browser for example, the S2 is lovely and bright on the white background, but in the Nexus, its much dimmer, in fact, I would say its 35% less bright than the S2. I suspect this is down to the fact that on the S2 and Note you can set both brightness, and another setting that lowers brightness with bright backgrounds, and that control is missing on the Nexus (or I have not found it!) I suspect this will be sorted later, but if you come to the Nexus from a Galaxy S or S2, be prepared to not be blown away by brightness of the screen, it all looks a little lacklustre.

So, how about screen size. Well, 4.65 is bigger than 4.3 right? Well, sort of. To me the actual screen real estate is not much more, because a fair bit of that .3 is taken up by the Home, Back and Task virtual keys at the bottom, more on that later. Of course, due to higher resolution, you can see more on screen at once, albeit with smaller fonts, which brings me back to the question, do we need HD res on a screen this size. In my honest opinion, the screen res on the Note makes more sense, as the 5.3 screen does keep fonts nice and readable, and boy, the brightness is even better than the S2.

Of course, hardware is not the story with this Nexus, its all about software, or more accurately, the operating system. It has jumped from Gingerbread, Android 2.3 to Ice Cream Sandwich, Android 4.0 or ICS for short. Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)  got skipped completely on phones, being a hashed together OS to try to take on the iPad in the Tablet space, and with a couple of modest exceptions, it failed totally. The idea behind ICS is to bring together one OS for Tablets, and Phones, and it ends up looking much more like Honeycomb than Gingerbread. Some of these changes are good, others terrible.

For a start, ICS is “buttonless”. Of course, you have to have an on/off button, and this is mounted on the side in usual Samsung fashion, and a volume switch (although to to a serious bug in early hardware, this is not really needed!!!) but that is it, no other buttons at all. I don’t just mean real buttons, like the superb centre button on the Note and S2, and original S, but no capacitive buttons either. Instead, what you get are the “virtual” buttons at the bottom for Home (centre) and Back (left), and a new one really, the Task Manager (right) key sits where the back button would be on an S2. In fact, again coming from the S2, you will be very confused at first, since Back is opposite sides, and Menu on the S2 is now the Task Manager (was a hold down on physical button on S2).

I find it quite ironic actually that in the face of multiple lawsuits by Apple, Google have with ICS actually gone more towards iOS than away from it. You now have to access the Settings from an App icon, just like on the iPhone (there is a shortcut in the dropdown) and on that subject, the App screen is now a grid of icons that you swipe side to side just like the iPhone.

Another little nod towards showing that Google too can control a device just like Apple can if they want to is the fixed Google Search widget at the top of the Homescreen. Well, at the top of *every* homescreen actually. Yes, someone suddenly realised that if you take away the search button, be it a real one like the Desire, a virtual one like many other devices, or indeed the “long hold on back button” style on the S2, you need another way to search, and boy do Google want you to search!. So, in ICS, they put a widget at the top of the homescreen, which you can not remove, and stays there across all homescreens, right where I put my weather widget. Now, put Launcher Pro on your Nexus and it is sorted, easily, but then, surely that defeats the point of having ICS to some extent? Another annoyance to me is that in many apps, the Menu button appears

It is early days for me with ICS, and I will be giving the handset more of a workout, but I have to say my initial thoughts are that it not for me, and the S2 is a better handset on many levels, and lets face it, if you are reading this, most of you will be able to put ICS on it very soon anyway.

Kev

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