I'm a little late to the party, but I was finally able to get my hands on the Galaxy Nexus, the latest "one Android phone to rule them all" that was released in December.
The phone itself is beautiful, full of the obligatory latest and greatest tech and packing a 4.65-inch screen, which is massive (for comparison, the iPhone's screen is 3.5 inches) although those with smaller hands might not like the larger screen as it makes one-handed operation of the phone difficult.
However, for as nice as the phone is, my real interest was in its new operating system.
The Galaxy Nexus is the first Android 4.0, better known by its code name, the "Ice Cream Sandwich" device. ICS (as it will be referred to from this point forward) is Google's attempt to fuse its operating system for phones (Android 2.x) and tablets (Android 3.x) into one. ICS has numerous improvements over Android 2.x, but does introduce one new irritation.
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For starters, just about everything you can think of has gotten a new level of polish that was missing from Android 2.x. Changes under the hood have made scrolling and transitions much more smooth, and especially improved is the Web browsing experience.
The new task switcher has a dedicated button that brings up thumbnails of each currently running application, and the apps can be quit easily, which eliminates the need for a task killer.
Its notification system is still the best in the business, and its integration with Google services is even better than before (I especially love the Google Music service, which allows for instant streaming to your phone instead of having to store your music locally -- a big deal for those of us with large music libraries.)
THE NOT SO GOOD
In two words -- software buttons. ICS does away with physical buttons on the phone (indeed, the Galaxy Nexus only has two physical buttons, the power switch and the volume rocker) and replaces them with software buttons. This works in theory, but this implementation of it leaves much to be desired. By default, the three software buttons you get are a "Back," "Home" and the aforementioned task switcher -- each button has its own icon. When inside an app, a fourth button appears to give you options for that particular app and, again, has its own icon. However, depending on what app you're in at any given time, the icons for the buttons can change.
For example, go into the video player or YouTube app and all of a sudden those icons turn into one small dot that looks the same as the others. You're supposed to remember which icon placement did what, which gets problematic when you turn the phone to a landscape view for video, as they are now in a different position.
Also, the behavior of the Back button is wildly inconsistent. Let's say you already have a Web browsing session open, and follow a link out of your email app back into the browser. When finished, you hit the back button expecting to be taken back to your email because that's the last screen you were on, but instead, you will actually go back to last Web page you viewed in the browser before the link you followed.
A minor annoyance perhaps, but jarring to someone coming from the iPhone world where things like that just don't happen.
Overall, ICS is a great leap forward for the Android platform and addresses nearly every complaint I ever had about operating Google's OS (even if it did add a new one). On balance, it is more than a match for Apple's iOS, and the competition will move both platforms forward in ways that can only benefit users. If you're in the market for a new Android phone, I would definitely wait until the model you want is running Ice Cream Sandwich.
Morgan Bonner is pre-press manager and a systems administrator for the Packet and Gazette.