Verizon Galaxy Nexus review – Does it live up to the hype?

At the beginning of the year it appeared the DROID Bionic would be the most hyped and anticipated phone of the year, but the Galaxy Nexus blew it away. The fact that Verizon waited so long to release it sure helped stir the pot. The anticipation for the Galaxy Nexus felt much like the original DROID did, but did it live up?

Before we get into that, we need to talk about the controversy of whether this a true Nexus device. This is the first time a Nexus device was made available on Verizon, and with that came Verizon branding on the battery cover and a couple of bloatware apps like VZ Backup Assistant and My Verizon Mobile. Some declare this as a complete sin and no one should buy the Verizon version. Instead we are supposed to buy the unlocked GSM version, which costs $700+. That cost isn’t so bad when you figure in that you would have free tethering without rooting, but the problem for many people is that T-Mobile’s coverage is dismal in many areas. Where I am, I barely get Edge service from T-Mobile. Some of us have to be on Verizon because even AT&T or Sprint can’t deliver either. So technically, if you want to say the Verizon Galaxy Nexus isn’t a true Nexus, then I won’t disagree with you, but I am more than happy that Verizon added this complete stock experience phone to their lineup. The fact that the battery door has the Verizon logo on it and there are a couple of pre-installed apps (and many might actually find useful) doesn’t bother me. Since the original DROID, there hasn’t been an opportunity for a stock Android experience on Verizon, so this is something to be excited about.

I review many devices and I don’t purchase the majority of them. This is one of those that I actually can say that I own so I am reviewing my device and not just a review unit from the manufacturer. You can also checkout my initial hands on.

Design

Since Samsung manufactured the Galaxy Nexus, it’s no surprise that it looks and feels like many Samsung devices. The curved screen is the biggest difference which looks and feels nice. The 4.65-inch display is not as scary as it sounds since there are no physical navigation buttons. Unfortunately, my biggest complaint about this phone comes in the hardware and design as just like most Samsung devices, its slippery in your hand. Those prone to dropping their phone will definitely need a case. I personally don’t like cases as it adds too much bulk, so I will live with it. The textured battery cover does help, and honestly, I’m not sure I would keep this phone if it didn’t have one. Speaking of the battery door, this has to be one of the worst ones I have seen. It is so thin and it’s insane to put back in place.

The other complaint I have with the design is the volume rocker on the left side. I sticks out way too much and I find my self hitting it by mistake.

I will discuss the software later, but the biggest reason to buy this phone is Ice Cream Sandwich and the fact that it’s pure Google stock Android experience. The hardware is always what has turned me off from actually buying a Samsung phone.

The Verizon version is a little thicker than the GSM sibling as it comes in at 9.4mm. This is mostly because of the additional LTE radio. At 144 grams it’s not too heavy. All in all, it does feels solid, and Samsung is probably the most popular Android manufacturer so most people don’t seem concerned with the build.

Hardware

The Verizon version is virtually the same specs as the GSM version except for the addition of the LTE radio and a bigger battery. It features a 4.65-inch 720p (1280 x 720) Super AMOLED contoured display, a 1.2GHz TI OMAP processor, 1GB RAM, 5MP rear camera with 1080p video recording, 1.3MP front camera, 32GB for storage, 1800mAh, HDMI through MHL micro USB to HDMI cable, and Bluetooth 3.0.

Battery

Other than the design, if there is another achilles heal for the Galaxy Nexus, it’s battery life. This wasn’t a surprise as all 4G LTE phones suffer this. I do think the DROID RAZR is a  little better in this category, but all Verizon 4G LTE phones have issues. You can barely make it through the work day with the Galaxy Nexus and I would say I’m not a heavy user during the work day. It’s possible an update may improve things, but I don’t expect much. Many will recommend getting an extra battery or an extended battery, but I personally don’t like spending the extra money to make my phone “right.” Being an early adopter and a tech geek gets me used to these issues so I will live with it, but many mainstream consumers may have a difficult time swallowing this. It’s the biggest reason why the iPhone 4S isn’t LTE capable. Battery life isn’t there yet for LTE phones and its no fault of any of the manufacturers. It’s just something we have to live with for the time being.

Performance

Forget benchmarks, this is one of the best performing phones I’ve used. Spec-wise there are phones that are better, but what separates the Galaxy Nexus from other devices is the fact that its stock Android. There is no UI skin holding it down. This is the way Android was meant to be experienced. From launching apps to scrolling through the app drawer, things just run smooth. The other big difference with the Galaxy Nexus is that the performance six months from now should be the same. A lot of phones perform great out of the box, but then get bogged down after some usage. Again, I believe the UI skins have a lot to do with this. I’m expecting the experience to hold up which is yet another reason to buy it.

The 720p screen is really nice, but I wasn’t as wowed by it as I thought I would be. Maybe it’s the fact that a screen of this size really can’t show off a 720p display properly. It could also be that I’ve held a lot of Samsung phones in my hand, all of which have nice displays. It could be the fact that it’s PenTile. Either way, I think it’s a really nice display and I can’t imagine anyone complaining about it. I was just expecting more for whatever reason.

As far as phone calls go, the quality is great, but I think the speaker phone quality is a little lacking. The only other complaint I have is the ring vibrator is very weak. You can barely feel it, and I’ve already missed a few calls as a result. It’s possible a software update could fix it, but for those that use the vibrator more often than not, it will be an issue.

Software

The software is where the Galaxy Nexus outshines the competition. It’s the only phone (or tablet) with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. There are so many changes that it’s hard to go over them all. Most of them are for the better, and I’m sure many of you will find some of the changes a pain at first. Most of it is just the fact that it’s a “change” and it takes getting used to. It will take you a couple of days to get the feel for it all, and for those that never used Honeycomb, it may take longer.

Many people ask me what my favorite feature of ICS is, and it’s impossible to pinpoint it because there are so many subtle enhancements like folder creations, the new GMail app, the new Roboto font, and the newer magazine style theme with contacts. Taking screen shots is also a major plus for those that don’t have an interest in rooting. The face unlock feature is definitely hit or miss, but I think it could develop to be a nice feature. Speaking of the lockscreen, surprisingly they didn’t put a built in feature for changing the wallpaper for it. All in all, ICS is a major improvement and the changes are for the better. You can’t make everyone happy so I’m sure there will be some complaints. For me, it’s just sometimes annoying changing old habits, but it doesn’t mean it’s not for the better.

Camera

The camera is what everyone has been shaking their head about. Why on earth they decided to put a lower quality 5MP camera in it is beyond me. Maybe its the software or maybe it’s for the zero shutter lag, but this should have an identical (if not better) camera as the Galaxy S II. Fortunately for me, phone cameras are not that important to me, so it doesn’t bother me so much. However, it’s one of those things that does annoy me as I feel like this is a flagship phone, so why should any corners be cut? Here are some sample photos.

I’m not a camera connoisseur, but I don’t think a lot of people are going to find too many issues with this camera. I think it compares well with the Galaxy S II, but again, it still bugs me that it isn’t the same exact camera.

Video quality is great and the added time lapse feature is a nice plus. I didn’t get a chance to play with it, but from the examples I’ve seen on the Net, it’s definitely a nice addition.

Closing:

The Galaxy Nexus is one hell of a phone, but I do find myself not as excited about it. The hype surrounding it almost felt like the original DROID and I remember the excitement when I bought that phone. I was somehow expecting the same thing and it wasn’t there. I don’t think that’s a bad thing because the DROID was my first experience with Android and that’s why there was so much excitement. The Nexus brought us a major software update, but it’s not as dramatic as going from an old crappy Windows Mobile device to Android. It’s still Android, but it’s just a much better Android. Maybe my excitement level dissipated because of the long delay from Verizon, but don’t misunderstand me, I love this phone and to me, having the best phone on the market is what it’s all about, so I’m satisfied knowing I have that. It’s one of those rare occasions where the end result didn’t live up to the hype, but I was still satisfied.

Is this the Mother of all phones? I guess it kind of is by default, but to me it would really be if it was Motorola hardware and it had the Galaxy S II camera. Is it ready for the mainstream consumer? I don’t think Verizon has any interest in selling anyone a Galaxy Nexus as they continue to pour money into the DROID line. I still feel that most consumers really don’t care about ICS or stock experiences, and if they were to walk into a Verizon store and see a DROID RAZR sitting next to the Galaxy Nexus, they will chose the RAZR 9 times out of 10. When you think about it, they both cost $299 on contract so other than the RAZR being a little thinner, it makes sense to buy the Nexus. Unfortunately the marketing isn’t there, so it won’t be as successful as it could be. In due time, there will be a DROID branded phone with ICS so it won’t be an issue to consumers over the long haul. However, the Nexus will still be a better phone because it’s stock so it will run smoother over the long haul. This is again something most consumers aren’t concerned with, but they should be.

When my friends ask me what phone to get, I feel safe in recommending the Galaxy Nexus, but I won’t be adamant, only because I know that mainstreamers like to buy something that feels mainstream and the RAZR feels like that as opposed to the Nexus. It’s really sad to us tech geeks when the latest and greatest gets lost in the shuffle. If you consider yourself the average consumer, and you are just about to sign a 2-year contract with Verizon, do yourself a favor and get the Nexus. You won’t see a cool DROID Eye during the boot sequence, but you will have a great user experience that is likely to last more than the first couple of months. You can also put a DROID themed wallpaper on it if it makes you feel better.

» See more articles by Robert Nazarian


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  • http://twitter.com/nrage23 Kenneth Blanks

    Nice review.  I’ll stick with my Rezound though.

    • Jack Holt

      May I ask why? 

  • Blackirish42020

    I have the GN (Gsm) and the SGSII (hercules) and use the SGSII. I gave the GN to the wife for the meantime. That says alot being an Android fanatic. I also have the Vibrant so was one of the first to experience ICS (although it was a port, it was a very good one by Onecosmic) so the GN lacked luster for me. Except for a curved screen and Vanilla out of the box, the SGSII kept drawing me back due to it was rooted 15 mins out of the box. The only benefits the GN held for me was stock ICS. Having a device I seemed to like more and knowing it would be updated to ICS and being maybe one of the first that will recieve it, allowed me to put the developer device into the hands of an unexperienced user so I could use the “mainstream” device. I was a truely disappointed consumer on this count and even though it’s too late, wouldn’t make that $700 purchase again. Owning the device makes you not so impartial, but owning 2 that almost match give you a better perspective on whether or not you are just feeding off your own “not wanting to say the device is as disappointing as it is” because it is your own device. Besides OS and Vanilla, I don’t see how it’s better than it’s counterpart SGSII.

  • Curt

    Nice article, well done, shows both sides of the argument and you actually talk about a couple of things that are lacking on this phone. Nice overall

    The two apps that Verizon added are not really bloatware (in my opinion). They are usable programs for a lot of people. My Verizon is an app that gives you access to important information for your Verizon account. This program is really a MUST HAVE for all Verizon phones. If they didn’t include it, I would have installed it anyways. Backup Assistant is another program that a LOT of people use, but not me. I found that Verizon’s Backup Assistant had a problem with Dates (Birthday, anniversary, etc) between it and Gingerbread on my Droid X. I stopped using it since I could backup my contacts to my gmail anyways, and never looked back. It doesn’t bother me to have it on my phone because it is something that I do not use, and I really do not notice that it is there. At least it is not Blockbuster, Madden NFL, or something like that taking up a lot of memory real estate. 

    As for the branding on the door, it doesn’t affect phone performance and I find it funny that people bitch about it.

    The 5mp camera sensor was a surprise to me too, but its not the sensor that makes great pictures alone, the glass in front of the sensor is 75% of how good a picture looks. I do not know the quality of the lens, but the 5mp doesn’t bother me. If I want to take a picture that I want to blow up and frame, I will get out my Canon DSLR and take the picture that way. The phone camera is to take picture while on the go, snapshots, not portraits.

    The screen rivals my Droid X screen which was great. The only problem with my Pentile screen is on a total white background, looking at the screen at an angle, I get a blueish hue. Not a big deal to me. Straight on, it is a wonderful screen.

    My BIGGEST REASON to get the Galaxy Nexus is ICS with NO MOTOTBLUR, HTC SENSE, SAMSUNG TOUCHWIZ crap between me and Android. The two weeks I have had this phone, I find that my GPS Apps (navigation, maps, and CarHome) lock on to a GPS signal MUCH FASTER than my Droid X ever did. What took 2 minutes or more, I now get in 60 seconds or less.

    I am not an Android purist, fanboy or anything like that. I get cell phones that work for me. I happen to get Android because of the bigger screens and easier to develop for. I am working on some of my own  apps that may never see the light of day in the market, I just enjoy developing stuff for myself. I do not reinvent the wheel, but if there is no app for what I need to do, I can do it myself. With Android, I can do that on a multitude of machines, and not tied to Apple hardware like I would with iOS.

    Bottom line, the Galaxy Nexus works for me really well. My wife is already wanting her own Nexus, but her Droid 2 Global does not upgrade for another year, so maybe someone will have a decent dual core, slider, nice screen 4g powerhouse when her line is up for upgrade next year. Then she will be happy again.

    Again, nice article. I really enjoyed it.

    The comments in this post are my opinion only, and not trying to disparage the writer of this article or any comments they made here.

  • Daniel

    Your getting the Xperia PLAY was a stock Android 2.3 phone when it was released on Verizon, the first stock android phone since the OG Droid.

    • Anonymous

      Correct, I completely forgot about that one. But then again, that wasn’t a phone for everyone like a DROID or Galaxy Nexus.

  • Highwind

    The article should also have discussed the NFC wich is activated on this phone and therefore makes it special. However google wallet is still missing.

    Also you keep saying that this phone has ‘additional LTE’. Sounds like it can do everything the hspa+ version does plus LTE (like the AT&T skyrocket that can do both) but that is not true I think, as it does not have GSM nor hspa+ (a strong limitation for anyone traveling internationally).

    About the camera, I am not an expert, but often lower resolution (5MP) is better than higher especially with these tiny lenses build into phones. Also with 5MP you can probably print the photo on a poster so who needs more?

    • Curt

      more megapixels (mp) is better, but if you have a crap lens in front of the sensor, you get crap pictures. My Canon DSLR is almost 10 years old with an 8mp sensor, putting just a regular lens on it, the pictures are OK. I have a couple of professional lens and the difference it huge.

      But for most phone pictures, you are correct, 5mp is plenty. Most people use the camera in their phones to take quick pictures, not family portraits. For people to pass up the Galaxy Nexus because of the lower camera sensor, is their loss. 

      I have compared pictures between my Droid X (8mp) and my Galaxy Nexus (5mp) and the differences are very hard to see. You will get better pictures with the Nexus because of the lack of shutter delay. No delay will help with out of focus pictures because a lot of people cannot hold the camera still long enough to get past the delay.

      I do miss the dedicated camera button though…. easier to use with the button on the side vs pressing the screen. Like everything else, it takes a little getting used to it. :D

    • Anonymous

      You’re absolutely right. I failed to mention NFC. I didn’t use it at all so I completely forgot about it.

  • Jack Holt

    I couldn’t have put this better myself. The one thing that I do have to add is that one of the main things that I love about this phone over the Razr, Rezound, my old Incredible 2, is how easy this thing is to manipulate. Modding, tweaking, ROMing this phone is amazing :D

  • Guest

    I was thinking about “upgrading” my current, old Android phone.

    I’d like to get 50% LESS battery life.

    Switch from my current 4.3″ screen, DOWN to a 4″.  (Because part of the screen is wasted by pointlessly putting the buttons on it.)

    Switch from my current 3mp front camera, DOWN to 1.5mp.

    Switch from my current 8mp back camera, DOWN to 5mp.

    And I’d like to pay $100-$200 MORE than I’ve ever paid for any cell phone.

    I’d like to find a company that falsely calls the screen-size “more than 4.6 inches”, but the USABLE size is really just only 4″.

    Any ideas?

    Maybe the new Galaxy Nexus?

  • http://twitter.com/JZAHN1 J Zahn

    Good Review – I concur with the majority of it.

    i have about three weeks on my new verizon galazy nexus. My Droid was up after almost two years. i was happy with the droid, but i do have to say over the last year, its performance deteriorated. it was slow, hung up often, and i only had about 30 applcations on it. i cleared caches, moved everything i could to the sd card; its performance did not improve. the call quality, speaker phone, battery and screen were great. it also survived about 10 drops to concrete, with some minor chips from the steel perimeter of the screen. 

    the glass on the new phone feels great. i can’t put an otterbox on it because it bulks the phone up too much and covers the great feeling glass. i agree with others and Jack the phone could slip and easily drop from your grasp. the battery cover is a good surface, but could be stickier and the sides could have some texture/stick to them to keep it from sliding from your grip.

    the call quality is fine, the speaker phone is fine (contrary to everyone complaining about it). the side button placement isn’t the best, but its okay. the camera picture quality is okay. its fast..and um..fast..but not the best for high quality/sharply focused pictures. i find myself taking 10 pics and picking the best one of the 10. my wife takes one pic on the EVO, and IT IS the best pic. my droid camera sucked big time. it took forever to load the camera and take a picture.. we are talking like 8-12 seconds.  the nexus takes a picture from Screen LOCK at 5 seconds (using the flash to boot). the followup pictures after the camera app is loaded are FAST.

    the software is great. i love all the new features, displays, fonts, colors, etc. i like the ability to send a message while someone is calling on the phone. that is neat.

    the display SIZE and resolution is awesome. i read a lot of websites and articles on the phone, and the screen makes it much more enjoyable. i  keep the screen on maximum brightness all the time, so yes, the battery drains quickly. i am also on edge of a solid 4g coverage, so my coverage tends to oscillate from 3g/4g, but the phone seems to handle it okay, minus  a freeze up or two when verizon was down this week. 

    i was thinking of the RAZR or Rezound to replace my droid. but after reviewing the screen on the  RAZR and seeing it was worse than that on my orginal droid, and my fear of applications slowing/bogging down on the phone in a few short months, the RAZR was out of contention. but still a nice phone.

    I loved the display and speed on the rezound, and am very familar and like HTC programming as my wife has an EVO. its interesting to note that her evo still runs well after a year, and she has all kinds of stuff loaded onto it. and it takes very good pictures. in the final analysis, the rezound screen was too small and apparenlty it doesn’t support micro usb (so my plethora of wall and car chargers would be useless).

    so, due to curiousity, screen size, and ICS, i waited for the nexus. i am glad i did. its not perfect (is there a perfect phone?). but i think its the best offering right now, and probably for at least the next 6-8 months. i highly recommend it.

    • Anonymous

      You mentioned button placement and I totally agree. I forgot to add it in to the story. The volume rocker is awful and sticks out way too far. I’m constantly hitting it.

      • Jack Holt

        I love the button placement, after using the Rezound in which the buttons were hard to touch, I like the feel of these ones. 

  • Ycare

    Had one sold it after 2 weeks,,If one was given to me I would politely lay it on davis’ grave and piss all over it…g nexus sucks, everything about it

  • Munjed

    I have to tell you that in Canada the hype toward galaxy nexus isway higher than toward the razr google did a great job in marketing the nexus I man most people didn’t hear of the razr unless they were geeks about phones, but not the average consumer. When I had to choose between Motorola razr and galaxy nexus I hardly made up my mind: because as you I want nexus to be slimmer and to have hdmi plus a better camera also I was sold for the lapdock that Motorola has, and I only made a clear decision to get the razr instead when I learned that razr will be upgradable to ics. Then it was clear that the razr has all of my beloved features.

    After I bought it and started using it I loved it a lot. It has more features than I anticipated. Really, the motto cast is a great syncing tool it even recognized my playlists on iTunes which was a problem my brother’s Samsung S II still has problem syncing from iTunes. The beautiful Smart Actions app is something I didn’t know about before getting the razr and now I would switch to another smart phone if it didn’t have the smart action app. The gallery and its sync-ability with Facebook is beautiful. And the music player that reminded me of my old Sony Ericsson Walkman W960i, is packed with features that are very entertaining, its easy to use and very well done integrated; it can read you the lyrics in any language despite the language of the song. And many more things of course. On the other hand galaxy nexus doesn’t Swype yet and can’t add a Facebook account, also doesn’t have voice command app. The galaxy nexus feels like it had not been finished yet, more like ics incomplete. I think motorola razr is the complete smart phone experience and galaxy nexus is the latest Android experience. I bet next phone that hold ics will be away better phone than nexus, and hopefully soon enough ics well come to the razr keePing the features Motorola put in the phone. Maybe then text will be both the best smart phone experience and the best Android experience.