We recently reviewed the the Samsung Galaxy Nexus model available on Verizon. Due to the phones' similar build and components, applicable portions of that review will also be used in this Sprint-specific evaluation.
Until now, Verizon Wireless was the sole U.S. carrier to receive the coveted Samsung Galaxy Nexus. As the first Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) phone, the Galaxy Nexus quickly won fans for its stock Android OS and the power it packed under the hood. Indeed, ever since the unlocked version went on sale late last year, I've had a soft spot for this device.
So now almost four months after its CES debut, the handset arrives at Sprint. It's just as powerful. It's compatible with Google Wallet (Verizon's phone is not), and it has the pure Android experience that we enjoyed on the HTC Nexus One and the Samsung Nexus S. Yet, Sprint's version also falls short, at least for the moment. It supports 4G LTE, but since the carrier is still some time away from switching on its LTE network, you're stuck on 3G in the meantime. And until that changes, you're left with an alluring though not outstanding Sprint Android phone.Editors' note: Portions of this review were taken from our analysis of the unlocked Galaxy Nexus. Also, please see that review for a deeper dive into Ice Cream Sandwich.
Ten years ago, the big joke was that Nokia kept building the same phone design while slightly tweaking it for each subsequent model. These days, however, it's Samsung that's consistently guilty of this design faux pas. Ever since the company started making Galaxy devices, many of them have looked very similar. Indeed, the Galaxy Nexus has much in common with its predecessors, especially the Nexus S (a Galaxy device if not by name) and even the upcoming Galaxy S III.
You'll see the same dark color, tapered edges, and "contour" shape that's supposed to follow the curve of your head. The handset is large (5.33 inches long by 2.67 inches wide), so it may be too much for some users to handle. Samsung, however, squeezed off every inch it could to make it as thin as possible (0.37 inch for this LTE version).
It's eye-catching, yes, but like other Samsung phones before it, the Galaxy Nexus also looks and feels fragile. Luckily, the thicker LTE version (both Verizon and Sprint) is stouter than the GSM model (5.1 ounces vs. 4.76 ounces), but I dreaded dropping it even once on a hard surface. Of course, a case is an option, but that would fatten up the phone. The "hyperskin" material on the back cover adds some texture, but it's not quite the Kevlar material that's on the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx (Verizon) or anodized aluminum of the upcoming HTC Evo 4G LTE.
On the right side you'll find a power control/lock button and three metal contacts to support dock accessories. Over on the left side is the volume rocker and on the bottom end are the Micro-USB charge/syncing port and the 3.5mm headset jack. That's not the best place for them, though, and I wish that they were in a more convenient place like the phone's top edge. The camera lens and flash sit on the top end of the back cover.
Display and interface
The Galaxy Nexus's display measures 4.65 inches, though only 4 inches of that space is usable given the programmable shortcut tray that sits at the bottom (the tray also shows up on some, but not all, internal screens). But even with that quirk, the display is plenty big for a smartphone, but not quite big enough for ICS.
With a 1,280x720-pixel Super AMOLED resolution, the HD display is wonderfully bright and vivid with eye-popping colors. Everything looks great, from graphics to photos to menu icons, and you can customize the five home screens with the Google Search bar, menu icons, and widgets. ICS brings new folders and new widgets, but I'll get to those later. The main menu shows the traditional icons, and internal menus have the familiar list structure. This is a clean, elegant design that especially shines in the texting and e-mail apps, where it's dead simple to add an attachment, audio, video, and photos.
Like other Nexus devices, the Galaxy Nexus has a pure Android interface that isn't muddled by a manufacturer or carrier skin. It's great for users and developers alike, as it lets Android's true appearance shine through. Developers also will love the dedicated "Developer options" in the main menu; it offers access to such features as showing CPU usage, setting a background process limit, and activating a visual feedback for the touch screen.
At the very bottom of the phone's front face sit three touch controls for moving backward through a menu, jumping to the Home screen, and opening a list of recent apps. Yes, you lose the dedicated search button that's on earlier Android phones, but that's a trait that the Galaxy Nexus inherited from Honeycomb (the search field is available in almost every native app and home screen). And as in Honeycomb, these ICS controls will fade in some apps to three points of light, until you tap them again. What's more, the controls rotate 90 degrees when you reorient the phone.
The Galaxy Nexus has all of the other essentials you'd expect from a smartphone, like text and multimedia messaging, e-mail syncing (both Gmail and not), calendar syncing (both Google and not), a calculator, an alarm clock, and a news and weather widget. Also onboard are Bluetooth 2.0 (with A2DP), Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n), and a download and file manager. The speaker-independent voice commands let you do just about anything using only your voice. They work fine as long as you speak clearly and use the phone in a place without a lot of background noise. You can transfer images and connect as a media device via a USB cable, but I don't like that even though ICS supports USB mass storage, the Galaxy Nexus does not. Bad news, Samsung.
Otherwise there are no physical controls on the front of the phone. Yet, you'll notice a glowing indicator light which pulses when you have a call and receive messages, e-mail, or notifications. It may seem like a minor touch, I'm glad it's there since that was a big omission on the Nexus S.
The virtual keyboard takes up the whole width of the display, whether you're using it in portrait or landscape mode. The primary screen has three rows of alphabet keys with main punctuation just above. On the bottom row, there's a huge spacebar smack in the center with a voice-activation key just to the left (when entering an e-mail address an "@" key takes its place). You'll need to click through to the additional keyboard for more punctuation and numbers, but the keyboard is spacious and easy to use. Unfortunately, it does not support Swype. The alphanumeric dial pad shows huge numbers, but tiny text.
Google features and apps
Google fans have plenty of Google apps and services to use and explore. The list is no different from the handset's Nexus ancestors, but they're worth repeating: Google Talk, YouTube, Google Search (with voice), Google Latitude, Google Places, Google+, Google Maps with Navigation, and Google Messenger. And as I said above, Sprint gets points for actually letting us use Google wallet.
Maps get a little more 3D treatment with ICS. Zoom in far enough (with two fingers) and you'll see the buildings start to get some 3D shape. Glide two fingers up and down the screen to tilt the screen for a better view.
GPS features performed well. On the first try, it placed me about a block away from CNET's New York offices, which is normal. On the second try, however, it pinpointed my location in the office precisely. For the best experience, you should activate Wi-Fi and the GPS location feature in the Settings menu. The Galaxy Nexus has a gyroscope and a compass and a big leg up over the iPhone: it supports real-time turn-by-turn voice directions out of the box. The built-in barometer could be partially to thank for that, as its purpose on the Galaxy Nexus is to assist with GPS locking. With a pure Google experience, you have the freedom to use whichever apps you want through the Google Play store. In fact, while its Verizon cousin has annoying Verizon apps you can;t uninstall, I couldn't find a single Sprint-branded piece of software here.
Camera, video, and music
The main camera has a 5-megapixel resolution, but you also can shoot in 3 megapixels, 1.3 megapixels, QVGA, and VGA. There's also a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for photos and video calls.
The shooters come with a fair, but not overwhelming set of editing options you can use while taking the photo (more options are available in the photo gallery). You'll find a digital zoom, face detection, location tagging, four white-balance choices, seven exposure settings, and four "scene" modes (action, night, sunset, and party). The flash on the rear side is powerful to a fault. In dim environments it can wash out the lighter colors. You can set the flash to auto, keep it always on, or turn it off completely.