First Impressions Of The Samsung Galaxy Nexus

About a month ago, my wife and I switched from T-Mobile to StraightTalk, based mainly on Kevin Tofel’s recommendation. More on that in a future post. Switching from T-Mobile to AT&T (through StraightTalk), we both needed new phones. I got Christina an iPhone 4 to hold her over until the next iPhone comes out, but wasn’t sure what I was going to use. I tried the One X, but had major issues with it losing signal completely, requiring me to toggle Airplane Mode to restore – super annoying. Then, during Google IO, Google announced Android v4.1, Jelly Bean, and announced that the Galaxy Nexus would be the first phone to get it.

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus came out nearly a year ago, but had dropped to a measly $350 on the Google Play store. To put that in perspective, I paid $582 for my Nokia N95-3 brand new in 2007, and $485 for my Nexus One used back in 2010. Thus, $350 brand new is amazingly cheap, especially for a fully powered smartphone with the absolute latest software on it. I bought it at the indirect recommendation of Stefan and James on The Voicemail podcast, after Stefan’s continued lusting after it (though he won’t just stomach up and buy it already).

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

I’ve owned and used literally countless smartphones over the years, and even since my switch to Android, I’ve used the HTC DROID Eris, HTC Google Nexus One, HTC T-Mobile G2, HTC Sensation 4G, HTC Inspire 4G, and HTC One X. Notice a trend? That’s right – they’re all HTC devices. I’ve never used a Samsung smartphone, ever. There are two main reasons for that:

1. Build – Coming from Nokia, my standards for the materials and build quality of smartphones is really high. Shifting over to HTC, I was treated with the same – high quality metals, solid builds, etc. Samsung is well known for using excessive amounts of plastic on their smartphones, and the Galaxy Nexus is no different. I know it’s quality, it just doesn’t *feel* quality.

2. UI – I’m a pretty big fan of HTC’s Sense user interface – always have been, even when it kinda sucked. It’s gorgeous to look at, and adds some great features, specifically with the Exchange support and the camera app (both of which are high on my priority list). I’m NOT a fan of TouchWiz, mainly due to the square icons that remind me of the iPhone. I’m learning to love stock Android, but it’s hard (for me).

That being said, I’ve used the Galaxy Nexus for a few weeks, so here are my initial reactions:

THE GOOD

1. It has a multicolor LED notification light on the front – this means I can use TrackballAlert Pro again, which I LOVED on my Nexus One. This app (requires root) lets you customize the color of the notification for different things. For instance, I have a dark blue for Twitter notifications, red for my RadioShack email (get it?), and pink when my wife texts/calls. It’s completely brilliant, and really should be on every phone.

2. It has a bottom-mounted microUSB port – you don’t realize how big of a deal this is until you use HTC phones for a while. HTC likes to mount it on the side of the phone, and roughly near the middle, which is completely absurd, and makes charging in pretty much any situation as inconvenient as possible.

3. It has POGO button/plug things – These are the little metal dots on the side of the phone, and not only do they make docks a little more convenient, but they also make things like this possible, where I could easily (WITHOUT soldering on my phone) add inductive wireless charging, using the Palm TouchStone charging thing. Awesomesauce.

THE BAD

4. The power button on the side blows – like the charging port, the power button belongs on the top of the phone, not the side. I’m getting used to it, but it’s still really freaking annoying. But then, I’ve said that before.

5. The loudspeaker kinda sucks – again, coming from Nokia, and even some HTC devices, I have high expectations from a device’s built-in speaker, and the Galaxy Nexus definitely disappoints. I think there are some mods I can load, but I haven’t investigated much yet.

6. Build materials suck – I covered this above, but where it really stands out is the battery cover. You literally just pull it off, and then snap it back on. It is hands-down the most flimsy thing I’ve ever seen, and I cringe every time I remove it. Luckily, that’s not often, but still.

THE REST

My Galaxy Nexus arrived with Ice Cream Sandwich, but I can’t comment on that cause I never used it. I literally booted it up long enough to let the first boot stuff run, then rooted it and installed a custom Jelly Bean ROM. I’m currently using Thunderstick, which is great, and supports TrackballAlert, which is also awesome. Jelly Bean is smooth as silk (or butter…..) on the Galaxy Nexus, and runs amazing. I’ve been discovering little nuggets of awesome the more I use the phone, and am really impressed with Google.

I was also initially concerned about the screen – 4.65-inches is simply ginormous, but it’s tall and skinny, so I can still use it one-handed, though there are parts that I have to reach for.

THE CAMERA

One of the things I was hesitant about the Galaxy Nexus is the camera. Again, with my background in Nokia, I’m rather spoiled with cameraphones. I’ll be honest – the camera on the Galaxy Nexus is nothing to write home about. It even only has a single LED flash, which is just plain sad. However, for what I (and most people) use the camera for, it gets the job done. I would have preferred to at least have a dedicated camera button, but over the years I’ve gotten used to not having that.

So…..would I recommend someone purchase the Galaxy Nexus? Absolutely. For $350 brand new and unlocked, it’s easily the best Android phone available today, for the money. Because it’s a Nexus device, you can count on timely updates to the absolute latest version of Android, even if you don’t root. But you should definitely root. It’s MUCH more fun. The phone itself feels solid, is extremely thin, light, and sleek. It’s a beautiful design, and the guts provide a beautiful experience to match. The headphone volume is MUCH better than the built-in speaker, too.

Battery life was a question for me, especially because I’d used the Galaxy Nexus on Verizon for work and was sorely disappointed. However, with moderate usage (an hour of GPS nav, a handful of photos, plus all-day email and twitter and such, with another 2-3 hours of local music playback) I was able to squeeze 13 hours out of the stock battery, which is more than enough for me, as I seldom go 13 hours without access to a charger of some sort.

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