Make no mistake about it - the Galaxy Nexus is the most important phone of 2011. It's the first device from the next generation of Android. It hits every major feature the phones of 2012 will be touting: On-screen buttons, a massive 720p OLED screen, NFC, LTE, and Ice Cream Sandwich. Together these things make this phone unlike any other Android phone. This is what Android's future looks like.


  • CPU: 1.2 GHz, Dual Core TI OMAP 4460
  • GPU: 384 MHz PowerVR SGX540
  • RAM: 1 GB
  • Storage: 32GB (28GB usable, no SD card)
  • Screen: 4.65" 720p Super AMOLED PenTile
  • Camera: 5MP rear, 1.3MP front, 1080p Video
  • Battery: 1,850 mAh
  • OS: Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich (Stock)
  • Weight: 135 g (4.8 oz)
  • Dimensions: 135.5 mm x 67.94 mm x 9.47 mm
  • Verizon LTE

The Good

  • Ice Cream Sandwich is a revolution. It's polished, smooth, and it brings a major redesign of most Google apps. It's best version of Android yet, and it finally looks good.
  • Beautiful hardware design. A uninterrupted, solid black front. Curved glass, and a unique teardrop shape.
  • This is the best looking screen to ever hit an Android phone. It's not perfect, but 95% of the time it will blow you away. Plus it's huge. Just turn off auto brightness.
  • The smallest bezel you will find on any phone.
  • NFC. Paying for stuff with a phone just feels like you're in the future. Beaming apps to your friends is way easier than searching.
  • A huge, multi-color notification LED .
  • Updates. You'll be in the front of the line for Jelly Bean (or whatever the next version of Android is called).

The Bad

For Everyone:

  • A grainy camera. It's just not very good. And it takes 4:3 pictures. Does anyone have any 4:3 screens anymore?
  • The external speaker is too quiet, it's easy to miss notifications. Some of the stock notifications are so quiet they can only be heard in a silent room. Root apps can help with the volume level, but it still doesn't make it loud enough to be called "Good".

For Non-Rooters:

  • The lack of a voice search button severely diminishes the usefulness of Voice Actions. Voice input is supposed to be the future - this is going backwards.
  • The software DPI setting is so high, lower resolution phones with smaller screens actually show more information. The 4.65 inch, 720p screen is wasted on most apps.
  • The auto brightness is way too dim. At lower brightness settings the screen looks dirty.

Hardware Design

It's beautiful. Can I just say that?


Like I said in the initial impressions, the front of the phone is completely devoid of logos, buttons, and any other markings. The OLED screen blends into the bezel in many lighting conditions, leaving the earpiece and sensor cluster as the only blemish on a pure, black slab. It's the complete opposite of the in-your-face NASCAR look most other phones are going for. It's so hard to capture on camera. You just need to see it in person.

If you haven't guessed by now, I love the design. The Galaxy Nexus is classy. It reminds me of the Monolith from 2001. It's a monument to the gods of minimalism.

wm_SAM_1309 You won't hear any complaints about the size of the phone from me. It's one of the biggest phones you can buy (dell streak aside) but it works. The whole phone has a nice teardrop shape. It slides into a pocket very easily, and just feels great in your hand. One handed, I can reach every area of the screen. The corner opposite my thumb can be a slight stretch, but to me the size tradeoff is worth it. Bigger screens are better.


The button placement is great. The power button falls right where your left index finger or right thumb would naturally rest. Volume is in it's normal, easy to use position on the left hand side.

One interesting feature is the 3 little gold dots on the right side. That's called a Pogo Pin Connector, and it's for docking and charging. The idea being you can just slam it into a dock without having to fumble with cables or lining up a micro USB plug. Now if only someone would sell me a car dock.

Hey, does anyone remember hardware camera buttons? Are we just done with those? I liked them.

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The top of the phone is too thin for a headphone jack, so it's at the bottom. That's kind of weird. It makes you wonder though, what happens when the whole phone is too thin for a headphone jack? Look at the RAZR, we're getting there.

The Micro-USB port is MHL compatible, which means you can turn the Micro-USB into full-sized HDMI with an adapter.

Also on the back is the quietest phone speaker I have ever heard. This thing is lame. Things like the hum of your car going down the road will overpower many of the ringtones. It's not totally the speaker, the ringtones weren't specifically designed for this phone, and as a result some of them fall in the dead zone of the speaker. You're going to want use something with high pitched sounds.

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I would like to give a HUGE thank you to Google for smacking Samsung in the back of the head and saying "Hey, a notification light is like, a basic feature, how are you not normally including one?!" Most of the GSII variants have no way of notification beyond a one time chirp. With the Nexus, though, Google is in charge, so the GN is rocking a multi color LED. Personally, the most important job my phone has is telling me about texts and emails, so a light is a big deal.

The notification LED is actually beautiful. It's very large (the bigger, the better!) and surprisingly located at the bottom center of the phone, harking back to the good old days of the N1 trackball. It has a wonderful "pulse" animation when it goes off; it gently fades in and out. Plus it's multicolored, you get a full range of flavors for your notifications. Great job so far.

The only problem is the blink speed. It's different for every app, but for many it's way too slow. Google Talk goes SEVEN SECONDS in between blinks. Stop right now and count out 7 seconds; that's a ridiculous about of time. If, like me, you're a frequent victim of the "phantom blink" every time a light source glints off your phone, knowing you have to stare at it for 7 seconds will drive you absolutely insane. It's the phone equivalent of a smoke detector chirp. The blink rate is fixable, though, an app like Light Flow will let you set the color and blink speed of all your notifications.

The vibration motor on this phone feels fantastic. It's much crisper than I'm used to, and it's really satisfying. This is the only phone I've had (besides the GSII, which has the same motor) where I want to leave the vibration feedback on. If you want to get really specific about it, you can set the vibration duration, in milliseconds, in the settings.

The Screen

The Galaxy Nexus is the first phone with a 720p AMOLED display. It's not perfect, but it's the best looking display I've seen on a phone. The colors pop, text is smooth and clear, the blacks are deep and dark.

The subpixels are in a Pentile arrangement, which is normally a bad thing, but the display is so dense you can't discern individual subpixels the way you can with a RAZR, Atrix, or Galaxy S.


The only problems start to pop up when you leave the incompetent auto-brightness in control. It will always set the display brightness too dim. The 2 lowest brightness slots should probably be disabled entirely. They cause strange artifacting in the blacks, make the whites look dingy, and I don't think you ever need the screen to be that dim, even in total darkness.

I have a real problem with the way the software makes use of the screen, though.


We need to talk, for a minute, about this picture. This is the 1280 x 720, 4.65 inch Nexus screen vs the 960 x 540, 4 inch Motorola Atrix screen. This is one example, but it's the same story across every app. The Nexus has a higher resolution, a bigger screen, and better DPI, yet it shows less information. What good is more pixels and a bigger screen if you don't use it?

It's extremely disappointing. I was expecting to be able to see more with the bigger, better screen, but instead everything is just bigger. You can root and adjust the software DPI (the "size" of Android), but then some apps (like YouTube) just don't open, and others (Music) have serious layout problems. So why bother with the screen upgrade when Android will almost never make use of it? Hopefully app DPI problems will get fixed (either by Google or XDAers) so the screen can live up to it's full potential.


That's a multitouch test. Each circle is a point of contact. Needless to say, it passed. The touchscreen works great. Gestures get recognized correctly, touches register the first time, everything just works.


The Nexus has an NFC chip, which lets you send a small amount of data, wirelessly, between two devices by simply tapping them together.

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What exactly can you send? Well, Android has a built in feature called "Android Beam" that will basically send whatever is currently open on one phone to another. The receiving phone stays on their home screen and the sender opens whatever they want to send. Then you just hold the two phones back to back, tap the screen, and that's it! The current item transfers.

Beaming with the browser open will open the current URL on the other phone. YouTube will send the playing video and the current time. The contacts app will send the current contact. 3rd party apps can use the NFC chip for whatever they want; there's an open API. By default a 3rd party app will launch their Market page, so your friend can download the app.

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The other major use for NFC is Google Wallet. Wallet lets you pay for stuff with your phone! You just tap on a compatible credit card terminal, enter a pin, and the payment happens. You can transfer money into your Wallet account (you get $10 free when you sign up), or you can attach a Citi MasterCard number.


If you didn't guess from the picture, compatible terminals means anything with one of those logos on it. The first one is actually everywhere in my area.

Google Wallet doesn't actually come pre-installed on the phone, and you won't find it on the market. It looks like Verizon doesn't want it on their phone (they plan on someday having a competing service). Fortunately, the folks at XDA have distilled Wallet down to a simple APK. You don't even need to root to install it.

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I wish I could tell you how awesome the LTE is, but there isn't any in my area. I also haven't run into any connection problems, it's been normal, standard Verizon 3G. Cameron, though, is in an LTE area. He sent me these (thanks Cam!). Ho-ly crap.


For starters, I suggest you take a look at the horrible pictures in the initial impressions. They were all taken with a Galaxy Nexus.

Ok, maybe horrible is too strong. They're... grainy. Definitely not what I would call "Good." Maybe we just need a larger sample size:


Outdoor shots look better, as usual. These were taken on a dreary day, and look appropriate. The bottom picture was taken with the panorama mode, just enable it, slowly move the phone from side to side, and it will stitch everything together. Very cool. For the phone keypad, I tried my best to do a macro style shot, but there isn't a macro setting in the camera - it was taken with auto focus.

One other thing about the camera. It's FAST. If you've ever used a camera with "burst mode," it's about that fast, but manual. Pictures happen as rapidly as you can tap the button. It's impressive. Speaking of burst mode, there isn't one. The hardware is clearly fast enough, but the ICS software isn't up to it.

There's also a flash, which is bright enough, and white, unlike some other Android phones I've seen, which have a yellow-ish flash. I've still, never once in my life, had a camera phone flash improve a picture.


The star of the show is the latest version of Android: 4.0. Ice Cream Sandwich. I've been knee deep in the ICS emulator for the better part of two months, and it's kind of surreal to see it running smoothly, on actual hardware.

You can basically sum up Ice Cream Sandwich in one word: "Design." This is basically the first phone release to see the full influence of Matias Duarte, the former lead designer for WebOS. The Android team FINALLY has someone in a position of power with some design sense. Up until now it's been very obvious Android has been designed by programmers, and it has showed. Android has been soundly condemned as "ugly" and this ugliness is a large justification for the current OEM skinning epidemic.

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The ugly days are over. Every inch of the OS and the packed-in Google apps have gotten a complete UI overhaul. Android is actually beautiful. Beautiful and polished - like an OS from a major company should be. They've added GPU acceleration and tons of smoothness optimizations, and Ice Cream Sandwich is buttery smooth as a result. There are fun little animations all throughout the OS, app pages fade in and zoom forward, folder boxes expand outward from their icons, menu popups spring out of their buttons and just about everything will smoothly swipe left and right; it's really a joy to use.

On-Screen Buttons


My favorite feature. The standard set of 4 hardware buttons have gone the way of the dinosaur. The new way to do things is with an all-screen device and on-screen buttons. I love the idea of on-screen buttons, they have a lot of potential for a great user experience, and now we're seeing the first baby steps.

Search and Menu are gone; apps are now expected to provide those buttons in their apps when needed. For legacy apps, the button bar will add a menu button to the right hand side. The new, rightmost button is for multitasking, which brings up a list of recent apps.


Each app gets a thumbnail, and you can scroll up and down the list. A swipe motion will remove the app from the list and close it.

Search and menu being left up to the developers is fine, but the biggest casualty of the software buttons is Voice Actions. There is now no way to bring up Voice Actions from the buttons; you have to go all the way back to the home screen to activate it. Voice Actions is one of Android's best features, it made one handed texting a breeze, and save you the tedium of address input for navigation. Voice Actions demotion is the biggest problem with ICS in my opinion.

But one of the big strengths of on-screen buttons is their flexibility. I would be out of luck if these were hardware buttons, but since it's all software, I expect modders to come to my rescue and fix this serious regression in ease-of-use.


ICS-aware video apps (and I assume other types of apps) have the ability to completely hide the on-screen buttons. In the pictures above we see YouTube showing the buttons while paused, but start playing the video, and, after about 3 seconds, the UI and the buttons melt away - you can make full use of the 720p screen. If you need your buttons back, just tap the screen and they will pop back up. It's perfect. This is how on-screen buttons are supposed to be used. You have less bezel, because you don't have to make room for painted-on buttons, and you get to use your whole screen when you need it. I love it. Full screen video on a device with such little bezel is very impressive.

It just needs to happen more often, so far I've seen YouTube (of course) and Netflix do this, and that's about it. Gallery doesn't hide the buttons, and it really needs to.

With any totally new design, there are bound to be some execution problems, and the on-screen buttons are no exception.


Remember when I said menu is no longer a primary button, and it's up to developers to find a place for it? The problem with that is, Google never laid out any menu placement guidelines. As a result no one, including Google, knows what to do with it.

The menu button is just a mess. At any given time it can be in 3 different places. Old apps that require the menu button can make it pop up in the right corner of the button strip. Some apps put menu at the top of the window, and others put it at the bottom. Google Docs fails particularly hard (as usual) and shows TWO menu buttons. Gmail isn't even internally consistent, the menu button is at the bottom in mail view, but open the settings and it jumps to the top!

Making the menu button pop up only when it is needed is a good idea, and removing it from the main buttons is good too, but there needs to be a consistent spot for it. Just about everything has a top action bar now, so the top right corner is a pretty logical and good looking spot. You need it in the button strip for old apps, but Google should have picked one spot for the new menu button, and used that spot in all their apps. Consistency is important.

Rotate Rotate2

What is going on with this rotate animation? The buttons never move in ICS, they are always in the same spot hardware buttons would be, even in landscape. They only time they move is for about a second during this bizarre rotate animation. When the rotate animation kicks in, the buttons rotate to the (horizontal) bottom of the phone. The buttons can never be at the bottom of a horizontal phone, so why does the animation imply that the buttons are about to move? Look at the picture on the left, there are two sets of buttons at one point. The black bar should be stationary, the app area should rotate, and the each button should rotate on its own center axis. What happens right now is wrong, it looks bad, and it's disorienting.

Home Screen

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The home screen is kind of a mixed bag. The new folders are awesome. Just drop one app on top of another and they merge into a circle with both icons. Tapping the circle will open the folder (I have the "Maps" folder open in the first screenshot) where you can drag and drop the icons to arrange them how you like, and tap on the text at the bottom to rename the folder. The stacked icons is really a beautiful design, I never used folders before because it was so hard to remember what was in them, but now I can easily see what icons are where. It's great.

Dragging an icon out of the app drawer (left picture) now presents you with two really handy shortcut "buckets" at the top of the screen: Uninstall and App info. App info takes you to the applications settings screen, where you can force close the app or clear data. It's one of ICS's handiest features.

Widgets get an overhaul too, bringing in replacement launcher innovations like resizable widgets and scrollable lists.

So why is it a mixed bad? Screen space.

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The stock calendar widget, Pure Calendar (a 3rd party widget), Gmail, and Bookmarks.

The whole home screen design shows a general lack of respect for screen real estate. The top has a permanent Google bar. You can't remove it unless you disable the entire search app. Why would you ever lock something to the home screen? It's supposed to be customizable! I know this is the tradeoff they made when they killed the search button, but it's a terrible tradeoff. The 2 square combo of a Google search icon and a Voice Search icon would do the exact same thing as this 1x4 widget. It's very wasteful and the forced placement is very un-Googley. If this widget is so great, let me drag it out of the app drawer like everything else. There's no need to force it on me.

Many of the widgets are reskinned from Honeycomb, which sounds fine at first, until you remember Honeycomb was designed for giant 10 inch tablets, where screen real estate isn't at such a premium. They've been ported over to the small screen with almost no modifications, which means they are horrible, screen filling monsters. The Gmail app will suck up half your home screen area to display 2 whole messages. In the same space, you'll squeeze about 4 appointments out of the Calendar widget. Bookmarks are displayed on a three wide grid, so the thumnbnails are big enough to tap with 2 fingers. Take a look at Pure Calendar (first picture, right side), a 3rd party widget that values screen space. It fits 10 appointments into the same space as the stock calendar. The widgets are great on a tablet, but no attention was paid to how they fit on a small screen, and as a result they just aren't up to the job.

Lock Screen

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How would you like to unlock your phone? A slider? Pin? Password? Pattern? That apparently wasn't enough options, so they added a new unlock method, your face. The front facing camera will do facial recognition when you turn on the phone, identify you, and load your home screen. It all takes about 1-2 seconds in good lighting. If it fails it will fall back to a pattern or pin.

Slide unlock has gotten a revamp. It's now a circle (like Honeycomb) and there are two icons, "unlock," and "camera." You can jump right to taking a picture.

App Drawer

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The app drawer is now paginated, and scrolls side to side, Touchwiz style. Widgets now live in the App drawer, too. Apps and widgets have different tabs in the app drawer, but in practice they act like one long list. Scrolling past your last page of apps brings up the first widget page. This greatly adds to the discoverability of widgets for new users. Almost no one could figure out to long press an empty spot on their home screen.



Notifications are packing thumbnails now. Music shows album art, the screenshot app shows your screenshot, calls, texts, Gmail and Google Talk show the contact picture. It's all really great looking and helpful. Notifications can even be individually dismissed by swiping them away. (Cyanogenmod says hi.)

Media players can now have controls directly in the notification. Buttons on a notification is a fantastic idea. We need more of this. I want an archive button in my Gmail notifications.


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Hands down, the best keyboard I have ever used. The autocorrect is super accurate. It will even correct a missed space bar, I've haven't seen any other keyboard do that. Copy and paste is super easy, just double tap on a word to bring up the highlight handles, select what you want, and the keyboard will add select all, cut, copy, and paste buttons to the top of the screen.

There's a built in spell checker that will underline non-dictionary words in red, just like a real word processor. Tapping on the word will show list that's a combination of autocorrect and spell check. It's perfect. No exaggeration, it's very hard to, it's very hard to get a typo past this keyboard. I love it.

Voice Recognition

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Voice recognition has always been my favorite feature in Android, and in ICS it's even better. Voice typing is near-real time now. Your phone opens an audio stream to Google and sends and receives words as fast as they can be processed. Having each word come back individually (as opposed to one big block) is much more natural and allows you to follow your train of thought better. Word underlining happens here too. Words Voice Typing is unsure of will be underlined in grey, and you can tap them for alternative suggestions, just like spell check.

The audio input volume is visualized in the red microphone ring. It grows bigger and smaller with the volume level. Very cool.

It really is a shame Voice Actions is home screen-only now. One voice feature gets enhanced, and another gets demoted. I really don't understand it. Activating it with a home button long-press would be perfect. And I wish they would have enabled personalized learning by default, or at least prompted you to enable it. You'll never know it exists unless you dig through the settings.

Arabic language support has been the highest voted item on the public Android bug tracker forever. Support for it in 4.0 is supposed to be much better. I really don't know anything about Arabic to try, but it's listed in the language settings. Somebody on the bug tracker posted this screenshot.


I've already covered many of them to death in Getting To Know Android 4.0, so if you are really interested I suggest you check out Gmail, Google Talk, YouTube, Calendar, Contacts, and Phone. The TL;DR version: Everything is really pretty, and easier to use, and there are almost no new features. Since those articles I've discovered that YouTube actually is high def (look at those StarCraft pictures earlier), and they kept its wacky settings layout. Gmail doesn't do pinch zoom, and you're going to need really, really high res contact pictures to make this screen happy.

On the the rest of the apps.


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The new gallery is slick. Everything is beautifully animated. You are initially presented with a wall of albums, and, when you tap one, pictures fan out of their "stack" to fill the screen. When viewing a picture, you get a scrollable thumbnail list at the bottom, and a swipe will take you between pictures. The Gallery displays your Google+ and Picasa pictures, and gives you to option to store them on the phone for offline access.

There is now a built-in photo editor hidden in the menu button that will let you crop, rotate, flip, sharpen, and apply about a million photo effects to your pictures. The editing is even animated, flip will actually spin the photo around in 3d, rotate functions at a way higher frame rate than is necessary, again, polish makes things fun.

The one downside is that there still isn't a multitouch rotate gesture. If you want to rotate a picture you have to pick "rotate" from the menu or go to the editor. Some OEM galleries do this and it's a really handy feature.


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The browser gets lots of nice improvements. "Request desktop site" is my favorite feature, this will actually reload the page you're viewing, instead of taking you to the home page, what a concept. Also new is the "Save for offline reading" feature, you can guess what that does.

There's a tab button now, which will bring up a list of tab thumbnails. It works just like the multitask button, you can scroll up and down and fling thumbnails away to close them.

The browser takes another step closer to Chrome (although it isn't Chrome) with Incognito Tabs (perfect for your holiday shopping and nothing else) and Chrome bookmark sync. If you've signed into Chrome on a desktop, your bookmarks will magically be on your phone. It's awesome.

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Hidden in the settings is this wild checkbox labeled "Invert rendering" which will turn all your white sites black and all your black sites white. AMOLED battery enthusiasts, rejoice.

The browser knows all about your synced Google account, and should you find yourself at a Google site and need to log in, it will offer to directly send your credentials, keystroke free.


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They even, somehow, made the settings beautiful. There are all sorts of little goodies in here. You can set proxies for WiFi networks. There's VPN support, Wi-Fi Direct (aka ad-hoc networking), mouse and keyboard support, a new text to speech engine (though it still doesn't sound as good as the 3rd party stuff), "Explore by touch" for low vision users, adjustable text size, forced GPU rendering, and all sorts of scary developer settings.

There's also full device encryption, which presents you with the above, absolutely terrifying warning screen. You have to charge your battery to full AND leave it plugged-in in order for it to proceed. It will chug away for an hour. Holy crap.

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Built in system apps can be disabled, so for those that don't want to root, you can still de-crapify your phone from the settings menu. It doesn't remove them; it just turns them off so they can't start. Goodbye Verizon apps.

It's also a great way to remove apps you don't use from the stock launcher (for instance: Email, Books, News and Weather, Videos), without having to worry about getting them back if you decide someday that you need them.

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There's also this amazing Data Usage screen. You get a graph (X = time, Y = data) of your data usage, and a couple lines to drag around. The vertical lines set a data warning and a hard data limit, at which point the OS will cut off all data access. The two horizontal lines are time sliders for the bottom set of bar graphs. You can use them to highlight specific time periods and get the app percentage breakdown for that period. Awesome.

I have got to hand it to Google, no other company would give their customers this much credit. Microsoft and Apple would flag the feature as "too geeky" and can it. If anyone from Mountain View is reading this: You guys rock.

We're not done yet, if you click on the individual apps in the percentage breakdown, you get a pie graph showing foreground and background data usage, and another set of time sliders just for this app. Plus you can restrict data access for each app to foreground only. Now Google, please, can we have this exact same setup, with the time sliders and everything, but for the battery? That would be an awesome Jelly Bean feature. Thanks.


Full disclosure: My spare battery and charger are on their way. That should tell you what I think of the battery life.

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It's not horrible or anything. On a good day with light usage I'm getting 10-12 hours of battery life, and if I really want to I can burn the battery down in around 6 hours with heavy usage. This is with WiFi, Sync and GPS turned on (I'm not in a 4g area, but that's on too). I'm also asking a lot of my battery by being a display quality snob and having the brightness pegged at 100% all day.

I'm sure battery life will increase with the rapid fire bugfixes Google has been pushing out the door (we're already up to 4.0.3). Supposedly ICS has lots of room for improvement in the battery area.

Root and Modding

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The best part about the Galaxy Nexus is the hacking community around it. Being Google's flagship phone, all the heavy hitters in the Android community will be working on it. The bootloader is easily unlockable, and it's easy to root. All the development around this phone means advanced users can fix most of the problems it has out of the box.

This is just all the stuff you can do today. In the first week or two. This development community is already huge, this phone will only get better as it ages.



The hardware is great, the screen is beautiful, and it's the only phone that won't be saddled with OEM skins and waiting for updates.

The difference between Ice Cream Sandwich and Gingerbread cannot be overstated - it's a huge upgrade. Android is no longer the ugly duckling of the mobile world. It's smooth, beautiful, and (mostly) well thought out. And this is a Nexus device, so you'll be first in line for the latest Android releases.

There are a few problems, but almost all of them (except the camera and maybe the speaker) are fixable with software. If you're an advanced user, this is a tinkerer's dream. Every day something cool comes out. Those that want the stock experience will still have better luck with this phone than the usual bloated, skinned device.

Purchasing an Android phone is always a tough decision - it's always worrying you'll fall victim to the bi-monthly one-upmanship game the OEMs like to play. The Nexus, though, looks set for the future. Like I said in the intro, it's got every major piece of hardware you expect a phone of the future to have. Couple that with guaranteed software updates direct from Google, and you get one heck of a phone. This is, hands down, the best Android phone available. Go buy it.

Any questions? Ask in the comments.