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Galaxy Nexus LTE Review

Most items of interest have already been covered in professional and personal reviews by now, so my review will consist mainly of miscellaneous thoughts about the device.

The Galaxy Nexus LTE is my very first smartphone, so, needless to say, I was really excited to put my feature phone in a drawer and upgrade (although I did like my feature phone and really appreciated its thinness).

Coming from a feature phone with a battery that lasted days, even a week sometimes depending on usage, the GN’s battery drain was both expected and surprisingly fast.  With WiFi + 4G LTE, Bluetooth, GPS, Sync, and full screen brightness, the battery drains really fast.  And it drains even faster when you actually do something on the phone.  Granted, it does a heck of a lot more than a feature phone, but still…it can be an annoying thing to keep track of.  With that said, you’re not going to need all those things on all the time, so realistically you can easily make it through a day (unless you’re watching Netflix/Youtube, browsing, snapping pictures, checking email, playing games, etc. nonstop).  There are various ways to manage battery life – switching to 3G if you only need simple stuff for a while like email, quick Google searches, light browsing, etc., keeping the brightness on auto or low, turning off GPS/Bluetooth when not needed, etc.  One thing which is annoying is that there is no built-in widget to switch between 3G and 4G; a widget does exist, but it doesn’t work on stock ICS (last time I looked).  In addition, putting an extra charger in your car/office should keep you topped up in most situations; if you’re on the road, carrying a portable battery pack can do the trick, too.

Moving on from battery life, I found the screen quite impressive.  I have good eyes and I couldn’t discern any pixels in almost any situation.  Sometimes I spot a tiny bit of pixellation when watching Youtube videos (due to low video resolution), but that’s about it.  I suppose if you whip out an electron microscope you’ll see them, but in day to day situations, you won’t.  The blacks on the display are truly black — as in black hole black.  The blacks on the OLED display give the phone an elegant appearance when using it.  The one thing which is kind of frustrating is that whites aren’t really white.  When putting the GN next to a family member’s ASUS Transformer tablet, the difference is shocking.  The whites on the tablet look blindingly white, whereas a color cast is immediately obvious on the GN.  On my particular unit, there seems to be a shift toward warmer temps (so whites seem reddish).  However, as bad as it sounds, I don’t really notice this color cast when using the phone during the day, unless I literally put it next to something like with whites closer to white.

Next up, the camera.  I was quite disappointed that the GN didn’t come with an 8MP shooter.  I know all about the “5MP can be OK if the sensor is awesome”, etc. etc., but let’s face it–it’s still 5MP.  With that said, I’ve taken both good and bad pictures with the phone.  I have (and have access to many) traditional SLRs, so when I see a picture from this phone, I *know* it’s from a phone.  On the other hand, it certainly is nice to have the ability to snap pictures wherever I am, without bring along a point-and-shoot or SLR.  The panorama mode is really cool, although I could spot banding in some of my panorama shots.  I admittedly haven’t tried out the time lapse feature (shameful, I know), but I expect it’ll work as expected and be really fun to play with.  In regards to low light photos, I’ve gotten both extremely grainy, terrible looking photos and surprisingly good-looking photos.  Many reviewers said their photos were fuzzy, but I didn’t notice that in my photos.  The key seems to be carefully focusing & setting up shots and using the usual breathing techniques to steady your hands when pressing the shutter release–in other words, doing the same kinds of things you would do on a regular camera.  Of course, I suppose that many people just mash the shutter release repeatedly while grunting or something and expect to see perfectly sharp pictures.  One thing I was fairly impressed with was the microphone; I’ve taken several videos and the audio has been fairly consistently clear (unlike on my family’s older camcorder).  So, to sum up, the camera is adequate, but it could be better.

Android ICS: definitely polished and very slick in general.  Customization potential is greatly appreciated.  I have noticed lag in a number of situations, like switching apps, typing in some cases, etc.  Also, the launcher has crashed a handful of times (rare) and the soft keys have crashed once.  Annoying, but I assume, like everything that it’ll improve over time and that it was a lot better than it was before in Gingerbread, Eclair, Froyo, etc.  Overall, though, the phone is very snappy and responds quickly the vast majority of the time.  Face unlock is very cool and is my preferred method of unlocking.  It doesn’t catch every position of my face, but this is easily remedied (“improve face unlock” under security) and nowadays it rarely fails to recognize my face.

The stock-ness of Android is very nice.  I don’t have to deal with stupid skins, bloatware, custom this, custom that, etc.  Rooting was easy (oh and WiFi Tether works great), as was unlocking the bootloader (both completed the first day).  The knowledge that I won’t have to wait for a year or more to get OS updates and have access to new software unique to the latest version of Android (like Chrome for Android) is really comforting.  It’s also nice to know that if I try my hand at app development I’ll have a clean platform to develop on.

Weight is pretty good–not too heavy, not too light.  Build quality, in my opinion, was fine.  Plastic != junk.  Plastic also doesn’t mean quality.  You’ve got to evaluate materials on a case by case basis.  Admittedly, it’s a bit nerve wracking to take the back off and put it back on, but I’m also not ripping it off and putting it back on multiple times per day (only did it once so far).  Charging time is quite fast; I’ve seen other phones that took forever to fully charge, but the GN juices up very quickly.  The Verizon logo on the back is…annoying.  It really should be Google.  On the other hand, though, it’s a logo, and doesn’t affect the phone’s performance or anything.  The oleophobic coating on the phone works surprisingly well; you’ll still want to wipe it down once in a while, but compared to, say, the previously mentioned Transformer tablet, fingerprints are not really an issue.  Volume has been noted as being low, but it’s plenty loud for me.  Maybe everyone else is just deaf from loud music?  3G speeds were pathetic (but usable); 4G speeds were excellent, on the other hand.  Interestingly, Verizon’s network quality seems to have done a complete about-face.  About 8-10 years ago, my family’s and my calls were constantly–and I mean constantly–dropped.  You literally could not finish a single conversation without dropping.  I haven’t had any dropped calls on the GN and voices sounded much clearer than what I was used to.

I played with a number of other Android phones that I had researched and I wasn’t impressed.  I even played with Android’s and my archenemy, the iPhone.  It was usable enough; the screen was nice in terms of color, but the size…compared to more spacious phones (like the GN), it felt like I was working on a matchbox.  The inability to add widgets and perform other small customizations immediately stood out to me as a con.  Also, although it’s hailed as being impossibly smooth, I managed to spotted a couple instances of lag (though it wasn’t as bad as the other skinned Android devices).  HTC devices felt like thick bricks and Motorola phones seemed to have some odd design decisions (sharp corners, unnecessary grooves, etc.).

To sum up, I’d have to agree with most reviewers that the GN is a great phone, indeed the best Android phone available now.  It has its faults, yes, but so does every device.  This is one of those times when you have to go with the gadget with the least amount of problems that matches your needs.  For me, that gadget is the Galaxy Nexus LTE.

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