02
Feb
introduction

A rumor has begun circulating over the past week about the possible existence of an upgraded version of the just-released Galaxy Nexus. At CES, ASUS announced the TF700T, a beefier version of the Transformer Prime (well before the first Transformer Prime has even been released in many countries), leaving a lot of people who bought the first iteration a bit upset. Are Google and Samsung following ASUS's lead and planning on releasing an incremental upgrade to the Galaxy Nexus so soon?

The Story So Far

Normally, our policy is to avoid reporting on stories for which we can’t find good corroborating evidence. We originally decided against running with this story, but in light of the coverage it’s received we feel a responsibility to try to provide some insight.

Rumors started swirling with the pre-CES discovery of an advertisement for a Sprint version of the Galaxy Nexus. The ad specifically mentioned a “1.5 GHz Dual-Core Processor”, which doesn’t match the clock speed of the GSM or Verizon LTE versions. It was easy enough to pass this off as a marketing mistake, since the CPU in the Galaxy Nexus is technically advertised as a 1.5 GHz chip. During CES, the Sprint version of the Galaxy Nexus was officially announced, but with no mention of CPU speed. Samsung and Sprint have declined to comment on the CPU specifications of this device, so we’re left to draw our own conclusions.

Then, a few days ago an anonymous Nenamark2 benchmark result was found which had a device identified as a Galaxy Nexus operating above the standard CPU speed and equipped with a new graphics processor. This happens to correspond nicely to a new TI chip that is scheduled to start appearing in devices during the first half of 2012 - and it’s the direct successor to the one currently found in the Galaxy Nexus. Suddenly everyone’s new phone is worthless, right?

The OMAP4460 and OMAP4470

This new version of the Galaxy Nexus would seem to feature a new system-on-chip from Texas Instruments, the OMAP4470, replacing the current OMAP4460. According to TI’s roadmap, the most noteworthy improvements to the new SoC are higher-clocked CPU cores and a much-improved graphics subsystem.

The OMAP4460 is manufactured using a 45nm process. Its two ARM Cortex A9 cores have a maximum intended clock speed of 1.5 GHz; however, to reduce battery usage and maximize chip production yield, the Galaxy Nexus runs at a reduced 1.2 GHz.

The OMAP4470 is manufactured with the same 45nm process and retains the two Cortex A9 CPU cores but with a higher maximum clock speed - up to 1.8 GHz. It’s likely that to improve battery life the CPU speed could end up as low as 1.5 GHz.

These numbers aren’t set in stone obviously, but it would appear that the theoretical speed difference could be as high as 25%. A faster CPU is always a welcome change (as long as there are no major tradeoffs), but let’s put that aside for now. What about the GPU?

A Faster GPU: The Answer To All Our Problems!

One of the frequent criticisms of the Galaxy Nexus is its GPU, which is basically just a faster version of the old PowerVR SGX540. This is the same GPU that was used in a slew of Android devices including Samsung’s popular Galaxy S series, and has even found a home in some of Intel’s Atom chips.

Needless to say, the choice to put this piece of “old technology” into the cutting-edge Galaxy Nexus has left some people a little... perturbed. The original SGX540 ran at 200 MHz, while the one in the OMAP4460 is specified to run at 384 MHz, but even this has a caveat. As mentioned earlier, the OMAP4460 doesn’t run at its full speed, and this applies to the GPU as well: it’s reduced to just 307 MHz, just (approximately) 50% faster than the original version.

The fact is, if you wanted to pick on a single weakness for Google’s new developer phone, this would be a fair target. The engineers at TI have lots of calculators on hand to figure this all out, and it's one area where the OMAP4470 would represent a significant improvement over its older sibling.

In the new OMAP4470 SoC, the SGX540 is swapped out for a shiny new SGX544 alongside a new dedicated 2D graphics core. This new GPU would be a nice step up from the SGX540@307MHz, but it’s difficult to say precisely how much faster it would be in practice because we don’t know what the final clock speeds will be. As previously mentioned, the OMAP4460 is officially supposed to operate at 1.5 GHz / 384 MHz, but instead we have it running in the Galaxy Nexus at 1.2 GHz / 307 MHz.

What can be said for certain is that the new GPU will be much more powerful: at least twice the theoretical performance at the same clock speed. This probably won’t mean that a game which ran at 25 FPS before will run at 50 FPS on a device with the new SoC; there will always be performance bottlenecks that have nothing to do with the GPU, though it would definitely improve that performance significantly. But before we get ahead of ourselves, is this Galaxy Nexus rumor even true?

The Smell Test

Probably not. There are a number of reasons this rumor must be put under heavy scrutiny.

The original basis for the rumor was a Sprint ad that said 1.5 GHz instead of 1.2 GHz for the CPU clock speed. But the versions of the Galaxy Nexus that are currently available have a CPU intended to run at 1.5 GHz. but which is actually running at 1.2 GHz. Given how often carriers make mistakes in their advertising, it’s hardly surprising that this might slip through.

The second part of this rumor is a single benchmark score. If you’re at all familiar with Android benchmarks, you’ll probably know that falsifying scores or even system information is very easy to do.

Not to mention, it would be highly unusual for Google to release an updated Nexus device so quickly. Up to this point, they have released only one Nexus device each year. Even before there were Nexus devices, major “flagship” Android devices like the the HTC G1 and Motorola DROID (or Milestone) were released about a year apart. This has even extended to tablets, where the Motorola Xoom officially carried the Google-approved torch for all of 2011. And that doesn't appear to be something that's about to change: Google recently announced their intention to “[market] a tablet of the highest quality” in the first half of 2012. “A” tablet. Singular.

It’s normal for new hardware to be tested by pairing it with older hardware rather than designing a whole new device right away. It’s possible that there’s a new device in development that’s using the guts of a Galaxy Nexus during testing. It could even be the “Nexus tablet” - which would make a lot more sense than a major hardware revision to the 2-month-old Nexus phone.

Or, who knows? Maybe, against all odds, there’s actually a new Galaxy Nexus variant coming out for Sprint. It just seems very, very unlikely. But what if it is true, should current Galaxy Nexus owners be up in arms?

So Is Everyone’s Phone Suddenly Worthless Or Not?

The Galaxy Nexus isn’t underpowered, but it was released right at the end of a technology cycle; the SGX540 GPU is undeniably at the end of its rope as far as performance is concerned. Some have argued that a different SoC should’ve been used, such as Samsung’s Exynos, but to say that one chip should have been used over another without actually having been involved in the design process is nonsense. Besides, with the all new chips coming down the pike over the next 12 months, the Exynos SoC will quickly be just as "outdated". Snapdragon S4 chips such as the totally kickass MSM8960 are one near-term example. But not long after that, we'll see the first Cortex A15-based chips! This stuff has been moving fast, and the pace is continuing to accelerate.

The Galaxy Nexus is still among the fastest, most advanced devices you can buy, and some hypothetical new variant won’t change that. To developers right now, making apps that require Galaxy Nexus-level hardware as a minimum would mean closing themselves off from the vast majority of the market. It’ll be a while yet before anything comes out that requires better hardware than what this phone provides.

And before you start worrying about the inevitable fact that your shiny new phone will eventually be obsolete, why not wait and see what it turns out to be capable of? Android 4.0 introduces a wide range of new features that app developers have only just gained access to. As apps are gradually updated to take advantage of these new things - like 2D hardware acceleration for example - you’ll actually find your phone performing better in some respects than when you bought it.

What matters about a device isn’t the numbers, it’s whether it does what you want. The Galaxy Nexus is an incredibly well-balanced device: it has a great screen, a solid design, pretty decent battery life, and lots of extra features you won’t easily find in another device. If you want to pick on something, pick on the average-quality camera or the lack of expandable storage. These are at least functional complaints about the device, not a knee-jerk panic attack because there's a higher-numbered chip possibly available at some time during the next six months. If you want the best smartphone right now, this is still it, and probably will be for a good while.

Update: One of our sources that has been reliable in the past insists the Sprint Nexus devices that are undergoing testing right now are clocked at 1.2GHz and not 1.5.

  • Matt

    everyone always rags on the camera. i love this camera. i don't expect photographer-quality pictures. i just want something that can take a picture before the moment ends. this can take like 50 before a moment ends. i love it.

    • http://patricksoon.com soondot

      Still, the colors are washed out. It's not as sharp as it can be (see Galaxy S2, iPhone 4S for reference). A new version with a better 8MP camera would be excellent news.

      • Matt

        Yeah, I definitely see where people are coming from with that.. they're a little washed out and blueish. But before this phone, I never used to use my phone's camera. I got sick of missing the things I was trying to get a picture of because it was just too slow.. painfully slow on both the OGD and Bionic. This thing is a pleasure to whip out and take pictures with.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/brandonjnunn bjn714

      I am disappointed by the amount of noise in the photos in certain situations but it is not the worst camera ever. I definitely use it more than other phone cameras in past, even the Incredible 2 which had a great camera.

      I knew this about the camera and the chipset before I bought it. I knew there will be other devices coming soon that will best its specs. I bought the device for what it is, not for what it should have been. Aside from a few minor complaints I am happy.

    • Brandon

      I also love my galaxy nexus camera. Its better then my old droid x2 camera which was 8mp. I consider the galaxy nexus the fastest phone in the world because of ICS. It has the fastest broweser and has a great gpu. I havent had any problems with glitchy games.

  • http://justreboot.wordpress.com Dei

    If I stopped myself from buying a phone because of a better one coming out, I'd end up in a cycle where I never had a new phone. It's just the age we're in.
    I love my Galaxy Nexus - I have no problem with this rumor, if it were true. I don't lament the milk I bought yesterday because there's a fresher gallon at the store today.

    • Drew Nusser

      No kidding! The same goes for the RAZR and RAZR Maxx. People who bought the RAZR still have one of the best phones out there. It doesn't make sense to get mad just because a better one came out. That's how it works. Phones definitely aren't going to regress in quality any time soon, and I don't think that's a bad thing.

      • Matt

        ... i would probably get mad at that. you could argue either way, but i feel like that's different than the bionic/razr situation, or this nexus/supernexus situation. they literally took the same phone and fixed its biggest issue (..and then some) and kept the price the same, like a month or two after releasing it. shenanigans on motorola for that one.

        • http://twitter.com/#!/brandonjnunn bjn714

          I wouldn't call it fixing the biggest issue. For some it is not an issue and they purchased the phone for the size and not the battery. I do agree that it was a poor move to launch them at separate times though. They should have been offered side by side from day 1 so users could have the choice of super thin with decent battery life or still pretty thin but with amazing battery life.

        • http://justreboot.wordpress.com Dei

          I think Razr owners have a right to be upset; going Razr, colorful Razrs, big battery Razr, and then dev Razr in such a short time span is an exception to what I said. If I'd gotten a Razr instead of a Nexus on Nexus launch day, I'd be beside myself. Motorola trolls its customers like no other manufacturer.

    • GergS

      In a few months Galaxy S3 is out!!!

      Then in a few months the Nexus 4 is out!!!

      Just wait a few more months after that, then the Galaxy S4 will be out!!!

      ... ;)

    • Alex

      I buy Nexi because they are the cleanest phones out there with stock android. ALSO because a new one doesnt realease every 2 days like motorola and htc. I would be kinda dissapointed if it came out but i dont care im still always getting Nexi in the future. Manu Skins are ridiculous...

  • ex-iPhone user

    Major Minuses:
    - camera
    - no expandable storage
    - processor
    Major plusses:
    - everything else
    Conclusion:
    - The best smartphone right now!

    • Nick

      What's wrong with the camera and the processor?...

      People hear there's a "better" version of something and think the old one's outdated.

      • malccc

        the only problem with nexus isnt that there are new versions coming out, the real problem is that it shipped with older hardware that was new 8 months ago.

        Camera has nice 0 shutter lag, beautiful feature, but the picture quality is from 2010 and some of the other specs are from last years nexus.

  • http://derp.org autoprime

    not uncommon for Sprint to see a different device than everyone else ;)

    • http://twitter.com/#!/brandonjnunn bjn714

      That was so they could have WiMax. Now that they are going LTE it will be easier. Just some minor changes to the amplifiers and antennae for the different band and there you go.

      Then again, I still haven't seen specs on how Sprint will authenticate to the network - USIM or something different? So it could change I guess.

  • http://me.com Ben M

    I don't if this would matter but the Sprint LTE network uses a different frequency than the Verizon LTE network. So there might be a different version for the Now Network. Just like the Nexus S 4g is a little different than the Nexus S. So I guess TI could be like here use this new processor in this model. You never know.

  • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com Cody

    Agreed on everything in the article.

    Even if true, with all things considered, this would be a pretty insignificant upgrade. The boost of .3 Ghz is a pretty negligible speed improvement and TI is the absolute last place contender for graphics performance, so the upgrade would certainly be welcome but it's going to be like putting better quality gas into the same old car.

    I do see a catch to the 1-per-year point though. There have been variations to each of the Nexus devices that have come out, just none have been to the internals before. The Nexus One changed screens because HTC ran into a supply problem. The Nexus S had minor feature variations between the version first released on T-Mobile and then the much later released Sprint and AT&T versions (for the life of me I can't recall what the differences were, I just remember having read a complaint about the AT&T version changing something). If the Galaxy Nexus saw a change in internals it would be a first, but it's not entirely unprecedented.

    Also applying the sniff test, I just can't see this being the hardware selection for a Nexus tablet...they'd be saddling a still unannounced tablet with a dual core processor and a woefully underpowered GPU. There's no point in releasing that to the market today, and definitely no reason to push it out to the market in a few months when the Tegra III is going to be in practically everything.

  • TareX

    What's bothering me about the Galaxy Nexus:
    - Noticeable lag on all LWPs except Photo Beam.
    - NO SD CARD; only 16 GB on board. Ridiculous.

    I won't be upgrading before the new Android 5.0/4.5 Nexus comes out in Q4 2012.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/brandonjnunn bjn714

      While there are benefits to having a removable SD card, the internal storage being all one big pool in the Nexus is actually nice. Sure MTP can be a pain at times but I don't often connect to the computer physically anyhow - wifi transfers are good as long as it is not a huge file size.

      And 16GB is a choice - 32GB is available too.

      And there is a bit of lag in the stock SW versions but that should be corrected by the next update. All the 4.0.3 based ROMs are not like this.

    • Alex

      They should of had 16 gb and 32, google is stupid for not having both GSM versions loll. But like bjn714 said, we dont have the same stupid problem like all other devices, one stupid gig for apps. Just like iphone, its one big partition. Honestly, even though MTP is a damn pain sometimes (gets the job done though...) i rather have it like this. I like my big partition lol

  • D.J.

    I'm not too worried about the SoC. As AP says new technology comes out all the time (although I would have preferred the Exynos).

    What I am concerned about is the camera because there was already a better camera on the market and in Android phones. The Nexus not using the 8MP camera of the Galaxy S2 is just baffling.

    • ins0mn1a

      my thoughts exactly. it almost seems like a requirement: a nexus phone must come with a crappy camera. wtf? who is making these decisions? i guess they kind of know that people who choose nexus will most often do so in spite of camera quality, so they can get away with it. stinks.

  • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

    Update: One of our sources that has been reliable in the past insists the Sprint Nexus devices that are undergoing testing right now are clocked at 1.2GHz and not 1.5.

    • http://justreboot.wordpress.com Dei

      I sincerely hope the Sprint model is as close to the Verizon model as possible; I desperately want to see GNex peripherals better than the mostly junk we have now. I'm hoping a similar (and mutually compatible) Sprint model comes out, and somebody makes the CDMA version of the GSM car dock... and other neat stuff.

  • Toddrick

    It's quite possible that the 4470 has an integrated LTE chipset... wouldn't that be nice?

  • J-Dog

    Could the leaked benchmark just been someone who had over-clocked(?) their processor back up to the full 1.5GHz... Rather than leaving it at the lower stock 1.2? Or would that have shown on the benchmark results?

    • http://twitter.com/#!/brandonjnunn bjn714

      The OMAP4460 which is in the current Galaxy Nexus includes the PowerVR SGX540 GPU so if it were just an overclocked Galaxy Nexus, it would still show the GPU as an SGX540 instead of an SGX544 like the benchmark shows. This doesn't mean much really, as the Galaxy Nexus part can be easily faked.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/brandonjnunn bjn714

      Oh and the processor is not necessarily underclocked. The chip was originally speced at 1.5GHz but some of the chips were binned at 1.2GHz and some at 1.5GHz. To maximize the amount of chips they can use and also to save battery (based on use 1.5GHz really is NOT needed) they are all clocked to 1.2GHz whether it is a 1.2GHz chip or a 1.5GHz chip in the device.

  • some internet dude

    Google knows what there doing, there going to stick it to Verizon for them not offering Google wallet on the Galaxy Nexus. Verizon refused to offer it. Now Google will release with Samsung an updated model and leave Verizon in there dust.

  • Roberto

    If they release a nexus with 8 mpx camera... it will be the war!!!!