Jan 09 AT 10:59 PM Anthony Domanico 85 Comments

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus has quickly become the Holy Grail of Android smartphones. After a lengthy wait, the Galaxy Nexus finally made its way stateside with a release on Verizon Wireless back in December to much fanfare, with people lining up in droves to pick one up on release day. The Galaxy Nexus marks the third release in Google’s Nexus line of devices, bringing a pure Android experience without the bloatware handset makers are keen to putting on their devices.

The Galaxy Nexus is the first device to feature Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Google’s biggest leap forward in the mobile market to date, as well as the best hardware on the market today. On paper, it has the potential to be the perfect phone; but how does it hold up after a few weeks of use? Read on for our full review.

1. Display

The Galaxy Nexus features a 4.65-inch Super AMOLED HD display, with a 1280×720 resolution. Some have complained that the display is an RGBG PenTile display and that it renders color poorly with other various quirks, but having spent several weeks with the device, the display is simply as stunning as we’ve come to expect in Samsung devices. But the Galaxy Nexus takes it a step further; the display is the best in any phone I’ve used thus far, and I think we can safely say we’re beyond the point where PenTile is an inherently negative feature.

2. Hardware and Performance

2011 was the year of the dual core processors, and the Galaxy Nexus features one of the best – Texas Instruments’ OMAP 4460 clocked at 1.2GHz. Though it may not feature the highest clock speed out there, performance on the Galaxy Nexus is always snappy and fluid. The phone was able to handle every task I threw its way without any lag, even when playing graphically intensive games, such as Dead Space and Modern Combat 3, thanks to the PowerVR SGX 540 GPU.

Will the hardware be eclipsed next week when NVIDIA showcases devices with their quad-core Tegra 3 processor? Perhaps, but the Galaxy Nexus is powerful enough to get the job done with top-notch performance.

3. Camera

Over the last several months, we have reached the point where cameras can perform as well as point and shoot cameras for most people. Handset makers are doing truly amazing things with cameras, but the Galaxy Nexus is another story altogether. Though the Nexus can take pictures almost instantaneously and features a solid array of photo editing tools, the pictures taken with the Galaxy Nexus camera comes up average and leaves me reaching for my point and shoot more than I’d like.

What the Galaxy Nexus lacks in high-quality images it more than makes up for in the camera software. You can take panoramic pictures, edit the photos on the fly, and take time lapse images. The camera app is more intuitive to use than previous implementations, as well. Overall, the Galaxy Nexus camera isn’t horrible, but it’s not good either.

Some sample pictures and video taken from the Galaxy Nexus follow, so you can judge for yourself.

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4. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich

Ice Cream Sandwich takes the Android operating system and kicks it up about 5 notches. Android 4.0 is a complete reimagining of Android, with a new font throughout the system, a new Holo UI theme, reworked notification pulldown, and many, many other features we’ve previously covered.

Android’s biggest critique thus far has been that Android was built for geeks, favoring function over form. Many have claimed that Android has lacked the polish found in iOS and Windows Phone platforms. Ice Cream Sandwich is the first Android platform released that beautifully melds form and function into an elegant, intuitive user experience.

5. Verizon 4G LTE

By now, it should come as no surprise that we totally love Verizon’s superfast LTE network. Though Verizon’s network went down three times in the month of December (leading many to question Verizon’s “most reliable network” claim), when LTE is up it’s super fast. Faster than most people actually need.

Verizon’s LTE network provided speeds that averaged about 10 mbps download and 5 mbps upload. That’s fast enough to stream basically anything you want, including music and HD movies, and is faster than what most people have in their homes. The era of LTE is upon us, and Verizon’s been leading the way for about a year now.

6. Battery Life

LTE isn’t all unicorns and rainbows, however. Battery Life has been the Achilles’ heel of LTE networks since LTE has been released, with several LTE devices struggling to get through a day of use. This trend continues with the Galaxy Nexus, which I’ve generally needed to charge before the end of the workday came. On average, the stock battery provided 7 to 8 hours of juice with moderate use, which though better than most LTE devices to date, is still pretty subpar.

Verizon is offering an extended battery that promises battery life in the 9 to 10 hour range for $24.99, which is highly recommended in this case. I didn’t spend hands-on time with the extended battery myself, but both Clark and Taylor bought the extended battery for their phones, and claim the extended battery is essential in getting them through the day.

7. Call and Sound Quality

Call quality on the Galaxy Nexus was excellent; everyone I called from the device were able to hear me perfectly, and they came through loud and clear as well. We’ve come to expect this with Samsung devices, whose handsets generally offer the best call quality of any smartphone out there.

The speakers on the Galaxy Nexus are a different story altogether. Whether using the phone’s speakerphone function, watching Netflix, or streaming music, the sound produced by the Galaxy Nexus is not good. The volume needs to be cranked up considerably, as I had a difficult time hearing the person on the other end of the line on speakerphone even when I was standing right next to the device.

8. Build Quality

Many were concerned with how big the Galaxy Nexus is, with the massive 4.65-inch display.The Galaxy Nexus is certainly bordering on Phablet territory, though certainly not as much as the Galaxy Note. Rest assured, the phone is lightweight, slender, and feels incredible in the hand. Because of the slim form factor, the Nexus also feels good in the pocket, and adds less bulk than many other devices on the market today.

9. Software Support

This one really goes without saying, but one of the biggest advantages to the Nexus line of phones is that the software updates come directly from Google. This means that the Galaxy Nexus will always be first in line to get the latest and greatest software updates because the updates will come directly from Google, rather than having to wait for handset makers to build their UI overlays atop the core software.

10. Notification Light

Handset makers need to understand that notification lights are essential to smartphones. We want to be notified when a new email or text message comes in and don’t want to have to constantly turn our screens on to figure it out. Google strayed from this with the Nexus S, and this omission was one of the main beefs with that device. Fortunately, Google has put the notification light back into the Galaxy Nexus, though it sits at the bottom of the device instead of the top as we’ve become accustomed.

Regardless of the location, the fact that the Galaxy Nexus has a notification light is a huge plus in our book and is something we rely on every day in our smartphone use.

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Final Thoughts

Galaxy Nexus8.5 / 10

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is THE phone to have on Verizon’s network. If you’re in the market for a high-end phone, you simply owe it to yourself to purchase the Galaxy Nexus. The phenomenal hardware mixed with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich highlights what an Android phone should be, and despite its shortcomings, the Nexus offers the best user experience on the market today.

Just be sure to pick up an extended battery if you don’t have a charger readily available throughout the day (or, you know, turn off LTE when you’re not using it). The Galaxy Nexus is currently available at Verizon Wireless for $299.99 with new 2-year agreement.

Anthony loves all things technology, from hardware to apps and games. You can connect with him via Google+ or Twitter by clicking one of the fancy doo-dads above.

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