I’ve been carrying the Galaxy Nexus (let’s say “GN” for short) around for weeks, watching Android 4/Ice Cream Sandwich (let’s say “ICS”) come together. It’s a pretty nice phone. Size matters. But software matters more.
tl;dr · The best thing about the device is the new Android release. The best thing about the new Android release is the apps: Gmail, Calendar, and so on. The second-best thing is the screen. The big debating point is the size.
Hard to Photograph · Featureless black rectangles, I mean; give me pretty flowers or Japanese rock bands any day. I totally failed to take a worthwhile shot of the phone, so here’s Plan B: a Nexus S, the GN, an original 7" Galaxy Tab, and a Moto Xoom, all lined up on a shiny black piano.
Did I Say “Size Matters”? · Well, duh. The GN is another stanza in the ongoing argument about what size you might want a phone to be. Pretty well all the high-end Android devices are now bigger than the iPhone 4S, which I guess has to be the world’s top-selling phone at the moment.
MG Siegler asserts that those who disagree with Apple on the essential rightness of the 3.5" form factor are “idiots”. Dustin Curtis avoids the junior-high catcalls while asserting that you can’t reach the whole screen with your thumb on anything much larger than an iPhone.
Actually, you can. With the GN, I can’t reach the whole screen with my thumb if I squidge the phone’s corner down into my palm. So I cradle it a little more loosely across my fingers and have no trouble with one-handed operation. This is made easier by the back’s comfortably-rough texture, so I don’t feel insecure; and also the phone is light. It might not work for everyone, I have big hands.
I’d like to prove this statement, but my attempts to use one hand to photograph the other operating the phone were hilarious failures. With 3 different lenses. But anyhow, Charlie Stross agrees.
When I switch from the GN to my Nexus S, I think “This is pleasingly compact.” Then when I switch back to the GN I think “My eyes are happy.” Because the upside, of course, is that you have a great big honkin’ huge ginormous beautiful screen!
Occupying that screen are 921,600 AMOLED HD pixels, 1280x720. My MacBook Pro is 1280x800, so it’s bigger; by 80 pixels, one way. Practically speaking, this means I can get more Gmail or calendar entries or Tripit details or tweets or Economist column inches on the screen, and that matters. Aesthetically, my pictures look better than on any other screen I own of any kind; but then my photography tends to lurid oversaturated colors.
Back to the size issue. The GN fits in my pocket — it helps that it’s so thin — but would be a problem if it were even a bit bigger. I suppose that in theory this should predispose me to using a larger tablet when in tablet mode, but the creaky old original 7" Galaxy Tab remains my fave device for reading books, playing games, and so on. I have two different 10" tabs around the house but (for the moment) am still reaching for my laptop when I find the 7-incher too small.
Other Hardware Stuff · It’s got a little glow-thingie for notifications; yawn. It works just fine as a phone. It’s really thin. The battery gets me through a day. I’ve got the HSPA version, and the speed is, well, whatever, I’ve decided the whole 3G/4G and forest of network-technology acronyms is pretty much bullshit. It’s fast enough. I’ll be interested to see how it copes with my world-travel orgy next month.
It looks nice! But mostly, that’s the screen.
Camera · I can’t say anything authoritative about the image quality because my GN is slightly pre-final hardware and I’m told that the camera sensor calibration may not be 100%. Today I went out for a sandwich and took ten or so random shots up and down the block, of which four were good enough to keep and a couple might be made interesting with a little Lightroom work. The unprocessed originals are over on G+ at Galaxy Nexus Microphotowalk.
The usability of the camera is massively, insanely better than any previous Android device. When you tap “take the picture” it happens right then; that’s going to improve your chance of getting a decent picture probably more than anything about the lens or sensor. It’s also got tap-to-focus and so on.
Ice Cream Sandwich · Really, this is the best thing about the phone. I don’t find that either of the Nexus S or Galaxy Nexus form-factors slam-dunks the other. I do find that I don’t want to use the S, because ICS makes Gingerbread feel kind of dumb and awkward. Just having the swipe-to-dismiss gesture work with almost anything makes a difference. And the many little fit-&-finish deltas really add up to make a qualitative impact.
To anyone who’s used a Honeycomb tablet, ICS will be unsurprising; it’s about what you’d expect if you asked some really smart people to adapt those idioms to this form factor.
One of the nicest things about Honeycomb was the standard soft-buttons for Home, Back, and Recent; this reduces the need for our hardware partners to exercise their, um, what’s the word... creativity, that’s it, in deciding which buttons to put where. With ICS, it turns out this works just fine on handsets too.
Saving the Best for the Last · But let’s not kid ourselves; we don’t spend most of our time interacting with the OS or platform, but in one app or another. I spend most of the time-that-matters in Gmail and Contacts and Calendar and Maps and Music. On ICS, these have taken big steps forward; Gmail in particular makes me wonder why all mobile-mail programs aren’t this way.
Frankly, I’m not sure how much longer our group at Google and the competition down the road in Cupertino can keep on burning the mobile-software rubber. But it’s sure fun while it lasts.