Google Galaxy Nexus: Second Thoughts

I posted the video yesterday about five minutes after unwrapping the Google Galaxy Nexus, which meant I’d had very little time to actually assess it. Having had a little bit of time to assess the Google Galaxy Nexus, here’s my early thoughts on the first Ice Cream Sandwich phone.

As a number of you requested something in text form rather than video, I thought I’d oblige. This isn’t a full review — that’ll come a little later — but just my early impressions.

On The Plus Side:

The Google Galaxy Nexus has the nicest physical profile of any large screen Android phone I’ve tested. I’ve noted previously that whether you want a large screen or not is a very personal choice and that those with smaller hands may find a large screen challenging. I still think that’s true, but the Galaxy Nexus’ rounded shape fits far more comfortably in the hand than, say the Motorola RAZR’s squared off profile.

Ice Cream Sandwich is, on the whole, a genuine pleasure to use; it’s clear that Google has indeed taken the best parts of its existing tablet and phone UIs and buffed them to a fine polish. Everything works quickly and looks really nice, especially on the generous 4.65 inch screen. There will be a learning curve for everybody, although it’ll be slightly less for Android tablet users, as there’s more visual DNA from Honeycomb than from Gingerbread.

Face unlock is fun and it works very quickly even under slightly less than optimal lighting conditions. It’s sensibly set so that if it can’t find your face quickly enough it’ll just default to your choice of pattern or PIN.

I wrote some time back about how good software engineering and a level of control over the hardware platform can lead to highly optimised experiences, and the Galaxy Nexus appears to bear that observation out. Internally this isn’t that different from many other premium Android handsets, but Ice Cream Sandwich makes it really fly along with a significant speed premium. It’ll be fascinating to see how well Ice Cream Sandwich works on the existing crop of smartphones by comparison.

On The Minus Side

The model I’ve got is the victim of a rather nasty volume bug; randomly it’ll just drop the volume because it seemingly feels like it. Google are apparently aware of the bug and working to fix it; the sooner the better.

The headphone jack is on the bottom. This is terrible design, and frankly my opinion is unlikely to change on that issue over time. But I’ve been asked to elaborate, so here’s why: A downwards facing port means that if you’re using it while walking, you’ve either got a cable in the way of your hand (right way up) or the player UI upside down — and neither is optimal. If you’re using it on a desk while charging there’s extra cable clutter to deal with in the same spot, and cables love tangling. I don’t buy for a second the argument that it’s somehow “quicker” to get a phone with a headphone socket on the base out of your pocket; you’re going to put it in your pocket with the headphone socket facing up either way.

Speaking of poor design decisions, the more I used the back cover, the more I hated it. The feel is good when it’s clipped on, but it’s a pain to place back on if you do pop it off. To make sure this wasn’t just me, I passed it around the office for others to try, and got one response of “Blimey, that’s difficult” and another of “I don’t even want to try to get that [expletive] thing on any more” after several minutes of fiddling.

There’s slightly more app incompatibility with Ice Cream Sandwich than I’d like. Some apps just don’t know how to react to a phone without the standard button layout, while others crash while launching. Again, hopefully that’s a time limited issue that’ll be solved by individual app updates, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you’re keen to import, because you’ll be right in the middle of it.

It’s a chewer of battery power par excellence. Again, not a huge shock; this is a big screen phone and I spent a lot of time testing it yesterday, and then letting it sit on the charger once it started plaintively bleeping at me that power was low. My own ability in this area is something I’ve already noted, though.

I’m also still a little confused as to why it’s lacking microSD expansion capabilities; that makes it a limited phone, and it’s not as though microSD itself is either an unknown quantity or one that’d add much bulk.

There’s still no confirmed local carrier. My review unit of the Google Galaxy Nexus was kindly provided by MobiCity.