Galaxy Nexus / Android 4.0

I made the switch to a new cell phone and carrier.  The Galaxy Nexus on Verizon’s 4G LTE network.

I previously had a T-Mobile G2.  First, I have to say the G2 is a very good phone.  I really had no complaints about it, but I was mainly unhappy with T-Mobiles HSPA+ network.  There were simply too many holes in their coverage.  Verizon supposedly had a better network so I switched.

I went with the Galaxy Nexus since it was a brand new phone and as of this writing, the only phone available with Android 4.0 (hereforth referred to as ICS which is short for Ice Cream Sandwich – the codename for Android 4.0).

Right off the bat, the Nexus is thinner, lighter, and has a much larger and higher resolution screen.  This is obvious simply by looking at the phone.  The G2 was a slider phone, and the Nexus is not.  I really was worried about losing a physical keyboard, and Im still getting used to it, but after switching keyboards from the stock ICS keyboard to SwiftKey+, I am happy again.

Aside from obvious hardware differences, my thoughts on ICS can basically be summarized as “meh”.  Theres nothing wrong with Android 2.3 (Gingerbread).  What ICS brings is a lot of software tweaks.  The new skin is called Holo, and is actually pretty nice.  Google went with a more simpler bluish theme with ICS.  The new camera software is very fast.  Plus, there is a new Gmail app, which is not available on any other phone.  The new Gmail looks great on the Galaxy Nexus and takes advantage of the much higher resolution.  Changing tags, and overall moving through your emails is MUCH easier than in the old app.  Im sure there are many other sites out there that go into great detail about the new app, but I’ll just say that its a big step forward in my opinion.

Another big change is in the default web browser.  Where I used to use alternate browsers on my G2 such as Miren or Dolphin HD, the stock browser is real nice.  I cant prove this, but I have a feeling this browser will eventually become Google Chrome for Android.  It doesn’t have the name “Chrome” or “Chromium” anywhere, but it works with Google Sync, and all of my bookmarks came over from my desktop version of Chrome.  There are other Chrome-esque features as well that are hard to describe.  Another great feature of this new browser is it has some sort of hardware acceleration to speed up loading of websites.  As websites are loading, they have a sort of low-res “dithered” look to them.  This might sound bad, but you only see this dithering effect for a fraction of a second while a page is loading or graphics are drawing.  The speed at which pages load, and are resized is really good.  This new browser supports tabs, and many plug-ins such as Adobe Flash.

Aside from the Gmail client and the Browser, the biggest other software change is in the general UI of the phone.  Contacts, the Dialer, and even the Settings menu has a classy blue interface that works very well. In some ways, I wonder if Google is aiming for a more straightforward approach to Android to take away some of the remaining iPhone users who are used to a simple, and easy to use UI.

As far as compatibility, there are a few apps which don’t yet work in ICS.  A couple games, whcih arent a huge loss, but two big ones are Swype and Facebook contacts.  I read that the people who make Swype have to make some changes to make them ICS compatible, so I imagine it wont be long before a new version comes out.  As for Facebook contacts, I merely mean the ability to import Facebook contacts into your Android contacts.  The Facebook app works fine.  On my G2, I could sync my Facebook friends and their contact information with Facebook.  This doesnt work in ICS, likely due to competitive disagreements between Facebook and Google+.

Speaking of Google+, if you use that social network, there are a lot of great features built into the contacts of Android.  Google+ is fully integrated into all parts of this phone.  Whether thats a good thing or a bad thing depends on how successful Google+ becomes.  I’ve read a lot about how many millions of people are switching to Google+.  Although this may be true, the majority of my friends and family still use Facebook, so until more people I know use Google+, I wont be using some of these features.

So far, I’ve mainly talked about the software, because simply put, that is the biggest news. As I mentioned before, the Galaxy Nexus is a lightweight, thin, Samsung phone with a great screen and high resolution.  The battery life is much better than on my G2, but I suspect this has more to do with the fact that my G2 was always roaming and searching for a signal, which negatively impacted battery life.  I can take my Galaxy Nexus off its charger at 7am, go to work, use it for some music and light usage, then come home and use the phone to play a couple games and browse a few sites, and go to bed without completely draining the battery.

One last comment on this phone is that this phone strangely does not have any type of SD or MicroSD slot.  There is 32 GB worth of storage built into the phone (about 23 of which is usable), but it cant be changed.  At first this seemed like a con, but my G2 had a 16 GB MicroSD card in it, and I never filled it, so having more than that built in wont be a huge deal for me.  Plus with more and more cloud storage options, I doubt many people will be impacted by this.

So overall, I am happy with the phone.  Verizon’s 4G LTE network is clearly superior to T-Mobiles HSPA+ network in my area.  To be fair, I rarely had calling problems with T-Mobile.  When I needed it as a phone, it worked fine, but since I’m paying extra for a fancy phone with high speed data, I want to be able to use it.

Im still learning how to effectively type on a screen as opposed to a physical keyboard, but upgrading to an alternate keyboard as opposed to the stock Android keyboard really helped alot.  Android 4.0 works pretty good, but wont give you anything to make you really wish you had ICS.  Most of the changes are just cosmetic.  The browser is nice, but there are other great browsers out there, and the Gmail client is nice too, but again, this isnt a reason to lose sleep over whether or not you’ll get an ICS update.

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