Galaxy Nexus: First Android 4 smartphone triumphs -- almost

A gorgeous screen, business-class security, and Android 4 push this smartphone to a new level. Too bad about the several flaws

At long last, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is here, the first smartphone to run Google's Android 4 "Ice Cream Sandwich" release. There's no question: When you first get your hands on the Galaxy Nexus, available in a 4G LTE version in the United States on the Verizon Wireless network and in 3G GSM models in Canada and the United Kingdom, you'll likely drool over the huge, bright screen. It makes the 3.5-inch screen of the iPhone feel tiny and cramped, and argues that it's time for Apple to make an iPhone with at least a 4-inch screen.

But spend a bit of time with the Galaxy Nexus, and you start to discover some of the cracks in both the hardware and the Android 4 OS that keep the Galaxy Nexus from topping the iPhone 4S as the best smartphone for business users. It's really too bad that Google and its hardware partners continue to skimp on quality assurance and holistic design, focusing on gloss instead.

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The Galaxy Nexus surpasses in many respects our previous picks among Android smartphones, the previous generation's Motorola Mobility "business-ready" series, such as the Photon 4G and Droid Razr. If you don't want an iPhone 4S, the Galaxy Nexus may be the smartphone for you. But you might want to wait until a few more Android 4 smartphones come on the market before taking the plunge.

Hardware
Before looking at the changes brought by Android 4, let's look at the Galaxy Nexus hardware itself. As I mentioned, the screen is huge and vivid, thanks to its 4.65-inch Super AMOLED display, yet it still fits in a shirt pocket. Well, mostly -- it sticks out the top a bit, so be careful when bending forward. It has a typical processor for current-generation devices: a 1.2GHz dual-core ARM chip.

A big reason to wait for more Android 4 competitors to emerge is the Galaxy Nexus's poor battery life. It eats up power quickly, giving you four to six hours of life when using a lot of network access, such as for downloading apps, surfing the Web, and loading information through apps, whether they be social networking or multiuser games. Even when the Galaxy Nexus sits unused (but connected to Wi-Fi), the battery runs down within 36 hours. Except for that small minority of iPhone 4S users who've had battery-life issues, iPhone owners can get a good workday out of their smartphones and several days in standby mode. Complaints about poor Galaxy Nexus battery life are all over the Web, both in formal reviews and user complaints, so the issue appears to be widespread. You can stretch an Android device's battery life by using a third-party utility, but a smartphone should be able to go at least one full workday on its own.

The Galaxy Nexus comes with a 5-megapixel rear camera capable of still and video photography, as well as a flash, with autofocus, panoramic stitching, 1080p video resolution, and low-light image-capture sensors -- par for the course with current smartphones in the $200-and-up contract price range. But it's not as capable as the 8-megapixel, high-precision-optics camera in the iPhone 4S. The front camera is also typical, with 1.3-megapixel resolution.

The fact that the rear camera is centered horizontally does make snapping photos -- especially tight close-ups and bar-code scans -- easier compared to using the iPhone's offset camera. Note that if you use a PIN- or password-protected lock screen -- required by many businesses' Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) security policies, there's no way to take pictures on the Galaxy Nexus without logging in, as the iPhone's iOS 5 allows. You also don't get music playback controls from the lock screen, as on an iPhone. Your notification tray is unavailable as well, which can be annoying but is very secure.

The Verizon version of the Galaxy Nexus comes with 32GB of internal storage, the same as the same-price iPhone 4S ($649 without contract, $299 with two-year contract). And like the iPhone 4S (and unlike some other Android models), the Galaxy Nexus has no SD slot for storage expansion. For most users, 32GB is fine. Do note that the Canadian and British GSM models have just 16GB of internal RAM, which is too skimpy.

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Test Center Scorecard
 
 20%20%15%20%15%10% 
Samsung Galaxy Nexus878779

7.6

Good

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