Bittersweet: The Galaxy Nexus, Android 4.0 And The Growing Gap Between Native And 3rd Party Software.

  • January 31, 2012 6:56 am


The Galaxy Nexus officially ushered in a new era for Android. Some would say, and rightfully so, that Android 4.0 is “what Android 1.0 should have been”. That statement has been echoed at least a couple of times now with the major 2.x and 3.x releases, signaling that despite constant updates and attention, Google’s love child OS still had a ways to go. But Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is more feature complete, polished, and overall more cohesive than anything else Google has ever put out under the Android brand name.

Add to that the Galaxy Nexus hardware — it isn’t the highest end product on the market. But what it does have is a tight connection between hardware and software as well as an open channel to Google for future, unhindered updates. To the biggest Android enthusiasts, that is the best feature.

You could consider myself a late bloomer when it comes to the Galaxy Nexus. A series of unfortunate events and one massive tech trade show got in the way. But it’s here. I’m ready. Let’s get to it.

Because we’re so late in getting our Galaxy Nexus, a normal review would simply be pointless at this stage of the game. No one would read it. Instead, I’m going to give you a no bullshit assessment of the Android equivalent of the “Jesus Phone”.

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When specs for the Galaxy Nexus first leaked, the 4.65″ 1280 x 720 display stole the show. The dual-core processor, memory, general design and pretty much everything else paled in comparison to that magical resolution. And despite continuing controversy over the actual display tech used (tip: it’s PenTile), the fact of the matter is that until the most recent non-PenTile 720p displays, the Galaxy Nexus was as good as it got. Hell, even compared to the newest phones that have ditched PenTile displays, the Nexus is still a sight to behold.

Of course, the display is the GN’s greatest strength and weakness. I’m not shy in admitting that I have small hands, hands that find navigating across the vast expanses of the Galaxy Nexus’ gargantuan display a chore. Don’t get me wrong, movies, games, and other scenarios in which simply gazing at the display are warranted are amazing. Actually using it, for example, to write a post on the go, is a cluster fuck of shifting the phone up/down and back and forth to constantly hit the corners and everything in between. It’s seriously work to use the Galaxy Nexus as a workhorse device.

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The second and equally important feature — and one that is both loved/hated — is LTE. If you somehow haven’t managed to experience LTE yet, let us just tell you this: You’re missing out. It makes just above any and every web/data related task much more enjoyable while on the go. In many scenarios, too, you’ll find that your cellular LTE connection is faster than that of your house! How far we’ve come in just a few years.

But that same LTE we’ll praise day and night we’ll also curse. LTE technology as it currently stands is incredibly inefficient. We can’t begin to voice our displeasure with the Galaxy Nexus’ battery life. At 3-4 hours max of moderate to heavy usage with LTE on, it’s borderline useless for a legitimate work device on the road. There’s no guesswork as to whether or not you should bring a charger, spare battery, or small fission reactor. It’s a guaranteed fact you’ll need it.

And contrary to most of Android’s problems, Android manufacturers can’t really do anything about it — yet. You see, the LTE hardware we’ve come to depend on in all of the current LTE phones is in its early years. As hardware like this matures, it shrinks in size which in turn reduces power requirements and, bonus, increases performance. Later this year a new generation of LTE chips are supposed to hit the market meaning (in theory) that the next big batch of LTE devices should not only run longer but faster too!

After playing with the Galaxy Nexus for the last week, we can’t welcome next-gen LTE hardware soon enough. A smartphone/computer in your pocket is only good when it’s actually working. When you’re on the go away from power sources, 3-4 hours isn’t much to work with at all.

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Android 4.0 is a new breed of awesome. While the look won’t cater to everyone (sadly carriers will keep Android 4.0′s beauty from most eyes), we’re pretty impressed by what Google did in blending Android 3.x and 2.x UIs. Everything is a lot more fluid. At first we’d attribute it to the GN’s speedy 1.5 GHz dual-core processor and gig of RAM. But such hardware muscle has so far proven ineffective on Android 2.x handsets. A similarly powerful device, the HTC Rezound, is pretty laggy. Everywhere. Dragging down the notification bar, scrolling through lists of data, and *insert anything else here*. Clearly Google has optimized Android 4.0.

I really can’t say how much I’m liking Android 4.0 and how excited I am for the future of Android. It’s been a rough ride, and frankly I’d pretty much written off Android. And while I’m this close to actually wanting an Android handset again, the sheer awesomeness of the Galaxy Nexus/Android 4.0 has rekindled a big issue I have with the platform overall — apps. Specifically, how terrible they are. Seriously. I’m sailing through the menus and screens of core apps/service in Android 4.0 not givin’ a fuck, loving the world, and then all of a sudden I get drop kicked in the gut upon opening a 3rd party app. “But it must be a small developer’s beginner app, right?”. Wrong. I’m talking about Twitter (stock and most 3rd party), Facebook, and a slew of other big name companies. They’re god awful. Coming from multiple years on iOS and a good long stint with a few Windows Phone 7 review devices, it literally pains me to have to use Android if I have to leave the stock ecosystem Google has (somewhat) neatly laid out.

Sadly, not much can be done in the short term. It’s the nature of the beast; being open means that anyone can propose a great idea or app. Unfortunately, many of them need to go back in the oven. For months. Of course, hardware manufacturers don’t make it any better. In their effort to “differentiate” from other competitors they constantly try to one-up each other in the slightest ways. One phone will have a 1.2 GHz processor, with another at 1.4 GHz and another higher still at 1.5 GHz. Besides the CPU clock speed and the obvious differences in physical design (which themselves aren’t all that different these days), most high-end Android phones are the same.

Look at the current crop of heavy hitters: LG Spectrum, Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy SII, Droid RAZR MAXX, Droid Bionic, HTC Rezound. If you take a gander at the spec sheets, they’re all pretty much the same exact phone. Yeah, the Rezound and Galaxy Nexus have 720p displays and the MAXX has a gigantor battery. More importantly (and that’s a negative) are the software differences, the skins that pollute all of these potentially great devices.

You’ve no doubt heard Android purists complain about the skins from various manufacturers as unnecessary, resource hogs, and the cause for massive delays in updates (if they ever get them). Well, that’s because skins are all of that. Manufacturers think that they are software developers and UI designers. They’re not. They’re terrible at it. Seriously, LG, Motorola, HTC, Samsung, and everyone else. Just stop.

One could argue that that is what rooting is for. Similar to how iOS users jailbreak their iPhones for added functionality, Android users root their devices to get all kinds of extra control. The biggest reason to root, from what I’ve seen anyway, is to remove carrier skins/apps. But honestly, I shouldn’t have to go to such great lengths to not only remove the UI “enhancements” pushed on my by carriers/hardware manufacturers, but also improve general performance of the phone.

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It may seem like I’m rehashing the same rant that’s been said many times before. And I guess if you look at in a very general form, I am. But for me, the gap in native/3rd party quality content is exponentially more noticeable now that Google finally has their ducks in a row.

I’m not a developer and won’t pretend to know the process(es) for working on Android, or how hard it is/isn’t to cater to the vast array of Android devices. That said, I would like to ask them why Android apps in general are lesser quality either in appearance or performance. Is it a limit to Android at the system level or is it a limit with the development tools; something that Google simply isn’t giving you access to whether it be certain features or APIs?

I’ve met some very nice and downright awesome Android developers. They’re an enthusiastic and vibrant group of guys and gals. I can’t imagine the fault lies with all of you.

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So. The Galaxy Nexus. Should you buy it? It’s really quite simple. Do you want to use Android — not some piece of shit “experience” that a hardware manufacturer thinks you want, but the honest to god real Android? Get the Galaxy Nexus. If you want anything else or some borderline gimmicky hardware feature, get that phone.

(Alternate scenario: if you’d like a flagship Nexus device that gets more than ~6 hours of battery life, wait.)



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Gadget lover, smartphone collector, and beer connoisseur. I've been writing about gadgets for three years now and loving every minute of it. Outside of the digital landscape, I enjoy being active outdoors. I'm always up for a good conversation, so feel free to drop me a line!


  • Anonymous

    Great review. I am so torn between waiting for what’s next… and buying the GN. This review helped a lot. I am still leaning towards buying it. And FWIW… for those of us who have very limited experience with iOS apps, Android is just fine! I guess you don’t know what you are missing if you don’t know what else is out there.

    • http://www.gadgetsteria.com The Gadgeteur

      “You don’t know what you’re missing if you don’t know what else is out there…”

      I’m actually writing another review for some headphones with that same statement :P