Galaxy Nexus: First Impressions

I had been meaning to try out an Android device for a while now and I finally got myself a Galaxy Nexus this past Tuesday. Here are some thoughts on my experience thus far.

Galaxy Nexus

The Awesome

  • Google Integration: Galaxy Nexus is a great phone, no doubt. But make no mistakes — you won’t get the full experience if you’re not using Google’s services (gmail, calendar etc). If you already entrenched in the Google ecosystem (as I am), you’ll love it! As soon as I turned the phone on, it asked me for my Google credentials and within a few minutes I had my email, calendar, contacts, photos, bookmarks and music available on the phone. It was like magic! The support for multiple Google accounts is also fantastic; so if you’re using Google Apps at your workplace (as we are), rejoice!
  • Hardware: This phone is FAST. The display looks great (I’m not quite sure how to compare it with the Retina displays on iPhone 4S, but I won’t be surprised if the Retina display comes off as better). The phone is also surprisingly thin and light.

The Good

  • Android: The Google apps on Android are so much better than their iOS counterparts, especially Gmail, Maps, Google+ and Google Talk. Some services (like Google Music) don’t have apps on iOS (yet).
  • Power Users: Geeks and data nerds will LOVE this phone. Signal strength graphs? Check. Breakdown of data and battery usage by apps? Check. Fine-grained control over how much cellular data apps can use? Check. Aggressively reap processes as soon as user exits an app? Check.
  • No Cables:¬†Unlike iOS devices, the Galaxy Nexus doesn’t depend on any iTunes like software running on a computer to get app updates or synchronize music. Everything synchronizes over the air (you can restrict syncs to wi-fi only). iOS5 has a similar feature but still needs iTunes running and accessible within your network AND requires the devices to be connected to a power source (which typically is also the computer, so …)
  • Google Voice: Unlike on iOS, Google Voice can truly take over the phone on Galaxy Nexus. You can finally use Google Voice how it was meant to be used — let it control all incoming/outgoing calls, voicemail and text messages.

The Bad

  • Lacks Polish: For all the great improvements made in Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), the Galaxy Nexus is still not nearly as polished as the latest iPhones. iOS reigns king when it comes to attention to detail and making sure all aspects of the system fit well together. Here are a few examples. When I first turned on the phone, the home screen was part empty, part full of ugly “widgets” (I still don’t have a good ¬†understanding of widgets on Android). There is a separate area for apps, so when you install something, it won’t appear on any of your home screens. The notification bar is nice, but I find the notification badges on iOS a lot more intuitive. Some of Google’s own apps (notably Google Listen for podcasts and Google Currents for news) are just half-baked and buggy products.
  • Confusing: A common converse for a product that power users like is that it can easily overwhelm average consumers. There are just too many knobs and controls, some system-wide, some app-specific. It’s a phone for which I sometimes wish I had a user manual. Here are a few examples. Do you know how to take a screenshot on the Galaxy Nexus? Or how to quickly put the phone in silent mode? Or exactly what does “background data restriction” mean — and if it does mean what I think it does, why does the phone have a persistent warning in the notification area as if this is a real problem?
  • Size: Size does matter and this phone is BIG to hold. The larger display is sure nice, but I can’t operate this phone with one hand. At all. This is particularly problematic if you need to go to the next song while you are riding your bike, or even just answer a call. Want to write a text with one hand (maybe you have a drink in the other)? Forget it. It doesn’t help that the phone is hard to hold and slips easily — I highly recommend getting some kind of a case/cover that provides a better grip.
  • Verizon only: Galaxy Nexus is only available on Verizon as of today. I’m sure somewhere down the road it will be available via AT&T and other providers but I won’t hold my breath (it took iPhone several years to be available on Verizon). In the meantime, if you want a Galaxy Nexus for a GSM network, just buy an unlocked version from Amazon.

The Ugly

  • Ecosystem: One of the biggest problems with Galaxy Nexus (as I imagine with other Android devices) is the ecosystem. Several key apps are not available in the Android Market yet (Flipboard, Instagram to name two). The app-ecosystem itself is quite fragment with Amazon and others wanting to get their share of the pie. The accessories ecosystem is even worse. Just try searching for a case for Galaxy Nexus. In comparison, the iPhone/iPad ecosystem is significantly richer.

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