ICS brings a host of camera improvements, which I'll discuss in more detail below. Importantly though, that the lack of shutter lag is remarkable. In fact, when I took the first photo, I didn't realize that the shutter had closed -- it's really that quick. Nice work, Google.
I found the full suite of built-in editing tools in the photo gallery more interesting: cropping, red-eye reduction, face glow, straightening, rotating, flipping, and sharpening. You also can add effects like warmth, saturation, and sepia tones. In total, there are 16 color and style effects, and another four options for adjusting lighting. Google could have easily stopped short and continued to let the manufacturers add their own filters, but onboard editing makes the Android OS that much stronger on its own.
The camcorder shoots clips in three resolutions: 1080p HD, 720p HD, and 480p. You can adjust the white balance, you can use the flash as a recording light, and ICS added zooming while recording and several time-lapse intervals, from 1.5 seconds up to 10 seconds. Exactly how much you can record will depend on the available memory.
If you really want to get creative, the camcorder has several effects that will add some zaniness to your videos. Some of the options are nothing but fun--the sunset, disco, and space effects will add a background to your clips--but others are weird and pretty freaky. For example, a "big nose" effect will give your subject an enormous honker, "big mouth" will do the same for the smackers, and "big eyes" will give your friend vaguely disturbing bug eyes straight out of a Lady Gaga video. Here's one great hidden feature: you can tap the screen while recording a video to capture a still shot.
Photo quality was mostly satisfying, but color accuracy was uneven. In some shots the brighter hues were faded, while in other pictures, we had too much saturation. There was also some questionable focusing from time to time.
Videos were a mixed bag. HD clips were crisp and bright, though quick motions were blurry. Lower-res clips are usable in a pinch, but nothing appropriate for your wedding. The Galaxy Nexus also has an integrated Movie Studio app for creating your own video projects. When you're not using the camera, the Galaxy Nexus has a Slacker radio app and a music player (MP3 and AAC files) that's linked in with the Google Music. Features aren't extensive, but it's easy to use, and loading music on the phone is a seamless process, either wirelessly or using a USB cable.
The video rental store that operates through the Play store offers a selection which appears to be broad and the prices ($3.99 for a standard title and $4.99 for HD) are fair. In any case, an easy way to get videos is something Android has badly needed for a long time. Google Books also gives you access to plenty of titles.
The basic shell of the Web browser is the same, though ICS adds "Request desktop site," which opens the full version of a Web site and syncs with your bookmarks. You also can save Web pages offline, view your browsing history, share a page, and find text on a page, and use up to 16 tabs. And in true Android fashion, you can change the browser's settings down to the smallest detail. All of this adds up to make a useful and powerful mobile browser that's very much like one you'd use on a computer.
Another new feature is an "incognito" mode that allows you to browse pages without them appearing on your history or search bar and without leaving traces like cookies. Third-party apps have done this before, but now Google has built it right into the browser.
Even with all the new features, the browser user experience doesn't feel too different. The interface isn't cluttered or difficult to learn. Both mobile and full versions of Web pages look great. There's pinch-to-zoom multitouch, you can change the text size, and you can change how far you'd like to zoom when you double-tap.
The 1.2GHz dual-core processor is a big step above the Nexus S'. Menus opened instantly and most features took a couple of seconds to power up. Even the photo gallery, which took about 5 seconds to open on the Nexus S, was up and running in 2 seconds. The phone also kept up during a day of heavy use. I switched between applications quickly and without any hiccups.
When my colleague Jessica Dolcourt tested the Galaxy Nexus next to the iPhone 4, she got varying results. Some apps, like messaging and maps, for example, opened faster on the Galaxy Nexus, while other features, such as the camera, opened faster on the iPhone. And to make things even more confusing, it was a tie between the phones for the settings menu.
I tested the dual-band (CDMA 800/1900) Samsung Galaxy Nexus in New York using Sprint's network. Callers said that while they could tell I was calling from a cellular connection, my voice came through loud and clear. Likewise, I clearly heard people I called, and the earpiece produced a good amount of volume, as did the speakerphone. In fact, I had to dial things down a couple of notches below maximum to enjoy a comfortable setting.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus (Sprint) call quality sample
One of the most compelling attributes of the Verizon Samsung Galaxy Nexus is its fast 4G LTE connection. Unfortunately at the time of this writing, I couldn't test this Sprint variant's LTE prowess since the carrier's network didn't exist yet. Sprint says it will roll out its 4G LTE infrastructure by the second half of 2012. In the meantime, the phone provides slow 3G data speeds. I measured an average download throughput of 0.54 Mbps at multiple locations in Manhattan and Queens, NY. Upload speeds were better, with the phone achieving an average of 0.93Mbps. Still these numbers are a far cry from what the Verizon Galaxy Nexus was capable of. Paired with Big Red's LTE system, the phone managed downloads ranging from 6Mbps to 17Mbps.
Samsung rates the Sprint Galaxy Nexus' 1,850 mAh battery to provide 6.25 days of standby time and 12 hours of usage time. In my anecdotal tests the handset managed to play a 720p HD MP4 video file continuously for 5 hours and 12 minutes. That's consistent with the battery life I experienced, with the Nexus consistently lasting through a full workday but not much more. According to ICNIRP radiation standards, the device has a digital SAR rating of 1.04W/kg.
The $199.99 Samsung Galaxy Nexus is unmistakably an Android flagship phone. It's incredibly powerful, offers a pure ICS experience, and you can tinker with it down to its core. While it's a sleek and powerful smartphone, it sadly needs LTE to soar like its Verizon counterpart. I hope we won't have to wait too long for Sprint's advanced 4G network to arrive. If you can live without ICS, the $99.99 LG Viper is another compelling Sprint Android option. It has a better camera, but it too is waiting for Sprint's LTE network to go live. For the same price, you could wait for Sprint's upcoming HTC Evo 4G LTE, which is right around the corner. You'll be waiting for LTE on that handset, as well, but it could be Sprint's best Android phone yet.