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Galaxy Nexus / Jelly Bean

 |  reviews

I ordered an unlocked Galaxy Nexus — figuring that, hey, if Apple was trying to ban it, it must be good — and managed to get it just before Google stopped selling it. They’ll be selling it again this week, but just wanted to get some notes and impressions of playing around with the latest and greatest. I have an iPhone 4 that I’m really happy with, but wanted to try out the Galaxy Nexus, both as a phone and as a development platform.

Upgrading to Jelly Bean

This was not obvious to me. (This will not be necessary to anyone getting a Nexus now, since Jelly Bean is preinstalled, but in case anyone is in my situation). After much Googling, I did:

Moving from iPhone to Android

Remember to turn off iMessage in your settings before removing your card.

The iPhone 4 uses a micro-SIM, but it turns out that you don’t actually need an adapter to use the micro-SIM in the Galaxy Nexus — it fits snug enough that there is no problem. It took me a couple of tries to get it to work, though – the key is to line up the contacts just right. Specifically, the card does not go all the way to the left or right (or back) – it sits in the middle. A picture makes it more obvious:

I used My Contacts Backup to export all my contacts to a .VCF file, and then just imported it on the Android side.

I wanted visual voicemail (I’m on AT&T). The AT&T voicemail app got sketchy reviews and wanted to take over the messaging app, as well; I ended up using Google Voice for my voicemail messages.

Some people said that their connection was spotty and that they needed to change their APN settings, but I didn’t have any problems. Speed appears to be about the same as iPhone, although reception seems a little more iffy.


The Galaxy Nexus is a nicely built phone, barring a slightly chintzy back panel — but, hey, you get a replaceable battery out of it. The only hardware buttons are the power button on the right side and a single volume rocker on the left; the Android buttons are displayed as soft buttons.

The Galaxy Nexus is a bit larger (apologies for the dark photo):

… but the larger size didn’t bother me, because I usually just stick the phone in my pocket anyways, and they both fit pretty handily. The larger screen is kind of nice, although it’s not as bright as the iPhone, nor is it as white. It may not be clear in the photo, but everything seems to have a distinct yellow cast on the Galaxy Nexus — whites on the iPhone are much whiter. While the Galaxy Nexus has a pretty high density screen, the Retina is still markedly better; small text on websites is easier to read, even on the smaller screen.

Battery life seems pretty comparable to iPhone, although the iPhone seems a little bit better (but, then, I had over a period of time eventually turned off everything I could on the iPhone, and haven’t yet done that process with the Galaxy Nexus). The phone itself seems faster than the iPhone 4, though; tasks such as bringing up a web page or loading the camera app are very quick.

Android vs. iOS

More notes on this after I’ve played with the phone for a week or so, but: Jelly Bean is a perfectly respectable operating system. It just lacks polish. Using Android is like having a beautiful house, but every room has a slow leak.

Some examples: go to marketplace, do a search, drill down on an object. Now, go back, but you’re at the beginning of the list again — you have to scroll back down. Or, in mail, almost any HTML formatted mail you open up is too wide, so you have to scroll the e-mail around to read it; you can’t zoom in and out in the Gmail app. The Google Books app turns pages by bending them in the middle, instead of turning the edge of the page first. Why do I need to use two e-mail apps (Gmail and Mail) for my mail, when it’s the same functionality? All minor stuff, admittedly, and might not even bother the majority of people that use the phone, but it bugs me a bit.

Some stuff is substantially better, though. The notification system in Jelly Bean is great, and kicks iOS’s notification system into a cocked hat. The flexibility of screen arrangement, and the ability to drop in arbitrary widgets and whatnot, is also a nice touch. Another great feature are the battery and data screens, which give you an app-by-app tally of what apps used the most battery / bandwidth.

The built-in turn by turn direction is really nice and better than my car’s built-in GPS, although a little clunky to find in the interface.

Google Voice, and the new info card system, seems completely useless. Simple requests like “Call ” or “Directions to home” aren’t understood. In fact, I can only get it do web searches, and the proactive card display that is supposed to be so amazing hasn’t worked at all for me. Mind you, the speech recognition part of it seems very decent, and it usually gets what I am trying to say, it’s just afterwards that it decides that “Call Carrie” means that I want to call Sears.

The Android marketplace has everything that I needed, although both the iOS store and the Android marketplace suffer from the problem of too many apps and not enough ways of filtering / sorting through them. (Example: searching for battery widget gave me 9500 results in the Android marketplace: kind of a pain to scroll through, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to sort).

More in a bit, after I’ve used the phone for a while.

Updated 7/16:

Having the notification light is handy — I wish the iPhone had something similar.

Had to call Google Support for an issue with Google Play (I tried to order a rental, and if you order a rental on a Google account that doesn’t have Youtube available at the time, then the movie will not show up when you activate the Youtube account). I got a call back in 30 seconds, and they were helpful, and took care of my problem immediately! Amazing.

I understand that the screen is larger and will therefore consume more battery, but battery life is an issue. The phone seems to drain really quickly, even with everything off. I might have been spoiled by my iPhone 4, but I could go days between recharging — with the Galaxy Nexus, I always worried about getting through a day. I’m trying some of the battery saver apps to see if this gets better.

The Google Navigation is neat, but the voice overs are seriously bugged; all it does is repeat “in two miles” over and over again. Update: fixed this by clearing the data out for the Navigation app.

Updated 7/25:

Well, the phone is growing on me. It’s missing polish, but it offers a substantial amount of customizability that is kind of nice. Tasker for Android is astounding — it allows you to define actions that are kicked off by arbitrary events. As an example, I set up my phone to:

Another program that is amazingly handy is Mr. Number, which is basically a spam filter for phone calls. I used to get an inordinate amount of calls for, oh, termite inspections and cruise vacations and everything else under the sun, but Mr. Number filters them out without problems. I don’t see why this program is free — what’s their business model? — but it’s a must-have.

After installing Juice Defender and using aforementioned Tasker to turn off stuff at appropriate times, battery life is better — it uses about ½ % per hour in standby, and I can easily get through the day with over half my battery left, which is good enough.

Updated 9/21:

Switched back to an iPhone (specifically, the new iPhone 5).

I will miss Tasker a bit, and Mr. Number quite a bit. In return I get a bluetooth stack that mostly works, and Siri on the iPhone 5 is everything that Google Voice wants to be, and I get iMessage with all my friends. Plus, battery life is substantially better.

All in all, it was worth using an Android phone for a while — and I could see using it again in the future, but for now I’ll stick with the iPhone ecosystem.


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