Here it is. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The new high watermark for Android phones, or it least that’s what Google intended. It runs the all new Android 4.0, “Ice Cream Sandwich”: is it a revolution, or is the Samsung Galaxy S2 still the real Android smartphone to beat? Let’s find out.

Ice Cream Sandwich is the future, and the Galaxy Nexus is ushering it in. But the Samsung Galaxy S2 is still a spectacular rival

Amazing screen, Ice Cream Sandwich is a huge leap forward

Camera is a disappointment, design isn’t astounding

Screen: 4.65-inch, 1280 x 720 resolution
Connectivity: 3G, Wi-Fi, GPS
Camera: 5-megapixel camera
Storage: 16GB non-expandable
Battery: 1730mAh
Size/Weight: 135.5 x 67.9 x 8.9mm, 135 grams

Design and build quality
It’s a funny thing: the Nexus phones are meant to be pure Google experience Android phones. But it’s almost as if the focus on software means the hardware is forgotten in the process. Last year’s Google Nexus S was handsome, but not beautiful. And this year’s Galaxy Nexus is the same. Just bigger.

At 4.65-inches, the screen is enormous. It still feels manageable, but the phone itself isn’t that thin, and that plastic grey back panel is firm rather than premium.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s nicely curved, and there aren’t any shocks. You’ll find micro USB and 3.5mm audio on the bottom, and a volume rocker on the left. But if you were hoping for the beautiful glass design of the iPhone 4S, or the polycarbonate otherness of the Nokia Lumia 800, well, you won’t find it here. Of course, one could argue that that’s not the point.

You might have heard some bad things said about the Samsung Galaxy Nexus’s screen: that its display isn’t made of Gorilla Glass, that its PenTile display means it isn’t really HD.

Ignore them. Gorilla Glass screens still scratch, and 1280 x 720 screens still look ludicrously sharp, even if they’ve got slightly fewer sub-pixels than usual. It’s a Super AMOLED display, and its colour reproduction, contrast, deep blacks and even brighter whites are a sight to behold.

One slight problem: the glass overlay is rather glossy, which means outdoor visibility is worse than on the Galaxy S 2 or Nexus S. But we can live with this when we can’t see the pixels. Amazing.

Key features
You won’t find the extra bells and whistles that Samsung typically includes with its Android phones here. There’s no eight-megapixel sensor, no DLNA media streaming app. No TouchWiz overlay.

This is pure Android, as Google intended. And it’s Android 4.0. it’s new, it’s improved, and most notably, it’s polished. A new font is just the start. It’s been radically changed: apps make sense, there are more core services than ever. It’s smart.

Google takes great pride in its engineers. Too much pride, perhaps. Android has always felt a bit random, like it was never given to someone with design sensibilities to test. What will I get if I push that menu button? Surprise! Why do some Android phones have a search button and not others? What’s a launcher? Who knows.

No more. Ice Cream Sandwich is fast, and clean. You can pop apps in folders with drag and drop, and by default there’s one with Google’s apps inside to show you how it’s done. There’s a persistent search bar at the top of every screen. Hitting the multi-tasking bar shows a screenshot of all your recent apps, and you can swipe these to the side to kill them, just as you now can notifications.

Gmail and Google Talk conversations can be swiped through with a two finger gesture. The browser is searingly fast. It’s seriously powerful, and the keyboard’s auto correction and suggestion tips are even better than before.

It makes sense now, and we love it. If you’ve felt that iOS’s array of static icons on the iPhone was a bit boring, Ice Cream Sandwich on the Galaxy Nexus will be a revelation.

As usual, the 3G, Wi-Fi and GPS you find on almost any self-respecting smartphone these days comes built into the Galaxy Nexus. For the first time in a Nexus phone, however, you also get HDMI-out ability, if you buy a MHL adaptor for a few quid. It’s a nice option to have, and makes watching back videos on your TV simple.

As with the Nexus S, there is also NFC (Near Field Communication) built in, so you’ll be able to make wireless payments and the like. Eventually.

Camera and media playback
The Ice Cream Sandwich camera app is fantastic. It’s fast, seriously fast, and there are Instagram-like filters to muck around with when you’re done. Plus, panorama shots. Everyone likes those, don’t they?

In all seriousness though, although the 1.2GHz dual-core CPU is so fast it can record 1080p video, the stills from the five-megapixel sensor are still rather flat, and start filling up with speckles as soon as you step out of optimal lighting. We definitely still prefer the cameras on the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S and iPhone 4S.

Android is open source, and the pure build on a Nexus phone is never going to support video formats that require licensing. But we’ve almost reached the stage where that doesn’t matter: with Google Music storing music in the cloud, and the Videos app letting you rent and stream new release movies, it’s less of an issue than ever. It’s great to see these apps preloaded, as many people wouldn’t know to seek them out on the Android Market otherwise, even if they are free.

While the Gmail app now feels far more business-like, rather than cartoony, it’s the number of extra apps in Ice Cream Sandwich that we love. Books, Music, Videos, a spruced up camera, Google+, a Movie Studio video editing app. For the first time, it feels like there’s a whole suite of apps onboard. And that’s before you even crack open the Android Market and its hundreds of thousands of downloads.

Call quality/battery life
The battery life on the Galaxy Nexus is certainly an improvement over the Nexus S, which is quite impressive considering how many more clock cycles it’s pushing and pixels it’s pushing. We were able to comfortably clear a day of use with Gmail syncing on, but you’ll still need to charge this up every night.

As for call quality: the internal speaker up against your ear sounds just fine. Crank it up for speakerphone chats, however, and it’s another story: considering this phone’s size, it’s extremely quiet.

Check out our Samsung Galaxy Nexus review photo gallery:

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