The sweetest Android phone yet.
Obviously the biggest overhaul here is the fact that the phone is running Google Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) – version 4.0 of Android sees a much more refined interface and operating system, and even minor tweaks make for a very satisfying user experience. Right after booting up the phone, the main home screen is clean and clutter-free. A Google Search box and text command sits at the top of the screen, with the launcher and four software shortcuts residing at the bottom. The phone also features zero physical buttons (apart from the power and volume rocker), as everything is handled by the Android OS. You will always see three bottoms appear in apps, the first two are the ‘Back’ and ‘Home’ buttons, but the third button is a new feature taken from Honeycomb, and opens up a neat stack of all your running apps, so you can quickly switch to any other app or dismiss them with a quick swipe of your finger. This is a great feature for users who might not necessarily install third-party application management apps, so having it built right into the phone is a big bonus. My one issue is that the menu button has been condensed and tends to move around on screen depending on how it’s deployed in the app you’re using. The interface is also all Google – there are no extra skins or cluttering widgets being bundled here, helping to keep everything clean and trouble-free.
ICS also has many of Google’s own apps being refreshed – the Gmail and Email clients both have had a cleanup, and not only look slicker but also help mange emails in a much better way. The phone also has G+ bundled along for instant Huddles and video conferences thanks to Hangout, so it’s nice to see Google getting more of their apps into their OS. The web browser has also had a makeover, and now finally features proper tabbed browsing. I did notice a few sites occasionally didn’t render properly or had the columns aligned incorrectly, but these were minor annoyances as for the most part browsing the web was much better than in previous versions of Android.
The notification bar has also had a tweaking, and now allows you to swipe away single or multiple notifications from view, as well as displaying more information on some alerts, such as which song you’re listening to or who the sender is for new email. There’s also a handy shortcut to the phone’s Settings app right at the top, which also makes it easier to quickly adjust settings no matter what app you’re in. By far the coolest option I came across is the Data Usage feature – for people like myself who have no idea when they’re actually going over their data limit, this handy feature will track how much data you’ve been using on your phone, and for the most part is fairly accurate, again dismissing the need to have a third-party app monitoring your data usage. Other nifty things in ICS is the much talked about Face Unlock feature, where you stare at your locked phone and it creepily recognizes your face. While it isn’t as secure as having a PIN or unlock pattern on your phone, it’s certainly a cool feature to show off to your friends. For the Android geeks, 4.0 also brings improved developer features as well as the option to take screenshots by simply pressing the power and volume down buttons. You can even connect the phone to your PC via USB and configure the camera to send photos directly to your PC rather than store them on the phone, kind of like a makeshift studio booth. The phone also features NFC to share and connect to other compatible phones and devices, but again its usefulness is up to you.
Voice control seems to be a bit better this time around – by some miracle the phone was able to connect to my archaic Nokia CK-15W car kit and support voice commands, something I’ve never been able to do with prior versions of Android. I was able to send quick text messages, call contacts, and do simple Google searches all with my voice. While plenty of people will boast about Siri’s capabilities on the iPhone, I think the voice control on Android is slowly but surely going to be just as good.
Battery life on the Galaxy Nexus was quite good – on a full charge I was able to get to about 8pm before I was prompted to plug in my charger. This was with Wi-fi always on, about 2 hours of Bluetooth use, occasional 3G data usage, regular phone calls, watching a few HD TV episodes, and listening to some streaming music. Recharging is also quite quick, with the phone being back to full charge in a little under two hours when plugged into a wall socket.
So is this the Android phone you’ve been waiting for? Well for the most part it’s Android in a way that you’ve never seen before, and that’s a genuinely good thing. The phone runs without any hiccups, and the only major issue I found was with the Tweetdeck app, which is down to the app itself and not the phone. ICS brings a sleeker look to Android that users have been wanting for a long time, and it’s nice to see that Google is finally fleshing out the Android OS from its previous cookie-cutter formula. While the phone does take a bit of time to get used to because of its size, it is easily the phone I would recommend for anyone looking to join Android army.