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

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Messaging alone isn't what smartphones these days are used for. They're also surrogate computers and game players, and such use has been long one of Android's aims to satisfy.

Apps. The apps bundled with Android 4 are essentially the same as in previous Android versions: Books, Browser, Calculator, Calendar, Camera, Clock, Earth, Email, Gallery, Gmail, Google+, Maps, Market, Messaging, Movie Studio, Music, Navigation, News & Weather, People, Phone, Places, Search, Talk, Videos, and YouTube. The Photo app adds an editing mode very much like the facility in iOS's Camera app and Photo Booth app to straighten and crop images, as well as apply color and silly special effects. The Maps app provides simulated 3D views of buildings when you zoom in, and the Videos app supports 1080p HD-resolution movies rentable from Google.

The calculator has no scientific version as in iOS, nor is there a task-management or note-taking app as in iOS 5. There's no document-syncing protocol like iCloud either, nor are there the same rich business and creative apps as available for iOS. However, business users can work with moderately capable apps like Quickoffice and Documents to Go from the Android Market to do word processing, spreadsheet editing, and light presentation touchup. Avoid the Google Docs app -- it's only able to edit plain text in an awkward interface, and it's no better than using the limited Google Docs mobile service on the Web.

But many Android apps have rich sharing capabilities, with a Share menu that offers many more options (depending on what apps you have installed) for dispersing URLs, photos, and other contents. iOS 5's equivalent is restricted to email, Twitter, and messaging. Note: Getting to the Share menu, if it's available, varies from application to application. Sometimes it's accessed via an icon button and sometimes via the Other or Menu button's popup menu.

Android 4's notifications facility is essentially unchanged, though you can now dismiss individual items from the tray. And Android 4 finally introduces the ability to take screenshots on the device -- you no longer have to do so from the developers' SDK on your Mac or PC. Simultaneously press the reduce-volume rocker switch and power/sleep button. Screenshots are stored in the Screenshots album in the Gallery app, whose Windows Phone 7-like tile UI is a bit confusing to use, given its non-Androidness. (The People app also has the Windows Phone 7 look.)

App management. On smartphones, Android 4 brings a scrollable set of app tiles that shows not only the apps that are running (as in iOS 5) but live previews of their current state (unlike iOS 5). This is a smartphone-optimized version of the similar facility in Android 3 for tablets.

Android 4 now lets you create app folders, using the same technique pioneered in iOS: Drag one app onto another. Unlike iOS, Android has a very nice widgets capability that lets you not only position widgets -- from clocks to new-email lists -- on the home screens but (new to Android 4) also resize compatible widgets as desired. In addition, Android 4 lets you add apps to an apps tray visible on every home screen -- a clear clone of a similar iOS feature.

Location support. Android 4 hasn't done much to improve its location capabilities -- just cleaned up the UI in the Navigation app a bit. So, you get a maps app similar to that in iOS and Windows Phone, plus the Navigation app that provides while-you-drive directions that costs extra in iOS.

The good and the bad of Android 4:
Left: The resizable widgets and permanent quick-access app bar are nice additions. Center: The lines of text in the Email app's mail list overlap. Right: The browser has trouble accurately rendering layouts on some websites (note the blank column), and many websites can't distinguish Android 4 smartphones from tablets. (Click any image to see the full-size version in a new window.)
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