The Galaxy Nexus - Hardware and Aesthetics

The evolution of Google’s Nexus line is an interesting one. Each year, Google choses both a silicon partner and an OEM to make a unique hardware archetype which it caters a specific build of Android to. We’ve now seen three Nexus handset designs from two OEMs and three silicon vendors - the Nexus One (HTC and Qualcomm’s QSD8x50), Nexus S (Samsung and Samsung’s S5PC110 ‘Hummingbird’), and today the Galaxy Nexus (Samsung and TI’s OMAP4460).

Looking at the hardware of those three handsets gives a great survey of the course the Android ecosystem has taken over the last couple of years. The Nexus One started things out with a 3.7” LCD, capacitive buttons, and hardware trackball. Nexus S then removed the trackball, added a curved 4.0” display, and ditched the microSD card slot. The Galaxy Nexus continues in that direction, increasing display size to 4.65” and resolution to 1280x720, and finally removing the capacitive buttons all together. Instead, the Galaxy Nexus uses a 96 x 720 region at the bottom of the display to visualize the navigational buttons, a move that has the consequence of also keeping the display interaction area aspect ratio close to that of WVGA.

It’s interesting to see how many of the design motifs set by the original Nexus One still have been thoughtfully preserved on the Galaxy Nexus. The notched chrome ring around the camera aperture has continued as a thread for three generations, as has the overall lightly rounded shape. The Galaxy Nexus also retains the chin from Nexus S backside where the speakerphone port and primary cellular antennas are located. In addition, the volume rocker, power/lock button, headphone jack, and primary microphone position from the Nexus S is unchanged.

The Galaxy Nexus’ backside is no longer the extremely slippery and scratch prone plastic that the Nexus S (and original Galaxy S) adorned, instead it’s a textured, lightly soft touch material. I’m always surprised by how much of a difference changing the backside texture makes on the overall in-hand feel impressions I come away with, and in this case it’s a major positive change. It’s clear that this is an evolution of Nexus more than a huge departure from what’s come before - if anything the Galaxy Nexus is like a larger, thinner, more refined Nexus S.

We’ve taken a look at both the CDMA/LTE (codename mysid/toro) and the GSM/UMTS (codename yakju/maguro) Galaxy Nexus variants.

The two differ beyond just the air interfaces they support slightly in the physical department as well, though the two share all the same other features (SoC, display, camera, etc.). The CDMA/LTE Galaxy Nexus is ever so slightly thicker than the GSM/UMTS Galaxy Nexus, though the difference is enough to be perceptible.

In addition, the two have the same exterior “titanium silver” color, no doubt the differences we saw earlier can be attributed to the difference between renders and the real deal. The other small detail is that the two use very different, non-interchangeable batteries - the GSM/UMTS variant uses a 6.48 Whr battery, the CDMA/LTE version gets a slightly larger 6.85 Whr battery. Both of these include the NFC antenna patterned the outside surface of the battery, just under the sticker. 

Other than those subtle differences, Samsung has done a good job masking the challenges which underlie having two superficially similar phones with different cellular architectures. The two variants do feel different in the hand, but the difference isn't dramatic. 

Physical Comparison
  Apple iPhone 4S Samsung Galaxy S 2 Samsung Galaxy Nexus (CDMA/LTE) Samsung Galaxy Nexus (GSM/UMTS)
Height 115.2 mm (4.5") 125.3 mm (4.93") 135.5 mm (5.33") 135.5 mm (5.33")
Width 58.6 mm (2.31") 66.1 mm (2.60") 67.94 mm (2.67) 67.94 mm (2.67)
Depth 9.3 mm ( 0.37") 8.49 mm (0.33") 9.47 mm (0.37") 8.94 mm (0.35")
Weight 140 g (4.9 oz) 115 g (4.06 oz) 150 g (5.3 oz) 135 g (4.8 oz)
CPU Apple A5 @ ~800MHz Dual Core Cortex A9 1.2 GHz Exynos 4210 Dual Core Cortex A9 1.2 GHz Dual Core Cortex-A9 OMAP 4460 1.2 GHz Dual Core Cortex-A9 OMAP 4460
GPU PowerVR SGX 543MP2 ARM Mali-400 PowerVR SGX 540 PowerVR SGX 540
RAM 512MB LPDDR2-800 1 GB LPDDR2 1 GB LPDDR2 1 GB LPDDR2
NAND 16GB, 32GB or 64GB integrated 16 GB NAND with up to 32 GB microSD 32 GB NAND 16/32 GB NAND
Camera 8 MP with LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 8 MP AF/LED flash, 2 MP front facing 5 MP with AF/LED Flash, 1080p30 video recording, 1.3 MP front facing 5 MP with AF/LED Flash, 1080p30 video recording, 1.3 MP front facing
Screen 3.5" 640 x 960 LED backlit LCD 4.27" 800 x 480 SAMOLED+ 4.65" 1280x720 SAMOLED HD 4.65" 1280x720 SAMOLED HD
Battery Internal 5.3 Whr Removable 6.11 Whr Removable 6.85 Whr Removable 6.48 Whr

 

Settings & File Transfers The SoC - TI's OMAP 4460
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  • HooDooMagic - Friday, January 20, 2012 - link

    I think it's already been mentioned that 4.03 fixed the task switcher lag. I have alpha ICS 4.03 roms running on a Nexus One, Nook Color and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and everything runs very smoothly on all 3 devices. Even the very underpowered Nook has surprisingly little lag and stutter when using the task switcher and transitioning between screens/app drawer etc. Reply
  • Chloiber - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    The Galaxy Nexus is a very nice phone indeed, but there are just some things that I don't like about it. As mentioned in the review, the GPU is not the best, which is actually the main reason I won't buy the phone. I buy smartphones which should last about 2 years. Buying one with a GPU from the beginning of last year is just not good enough. As Anand mentions: better wait for Q2, maybe Q3. At the moment, the GN is certainly the best phone (in my opinion) money can buy, but it's not the right moment to buy an android phone.
    The review is very late indeed...but very thorough - thank you!

    One question remains: are microSD slots a thing of the past? Google mentioned that there is a good reason why they didn't include one (slow speeds for apps). But I still think that's a very bad reason not to include a slot. While it is true, that the mSD cards are pretty slow compared to internal storage, there is just no way in hell I'm gonna pay 100$+ for 16GB of additional internal NAND. Additionally, you don't need high speeds for music, pictures and movies (the main reason to get an SD card).

    I hope for a phone in Q2/Q3 with a) better SoC, b) an SD card slot and c) a 720p IPS or SAMOLED+ screen.
    Reply
  • humancyborg - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    I agree. The GPU is a terrible oversight on this phone, particularly considering the inclusion (finally) of OpenGL rendering throughout Android.

    With the 4S GPU being 3-4x faster it's tough to see how this phone is going to stand the test of time. Presumably the iPad3 and next iPhone will be packing an even more powerful SoC and GPU.

    This is one of the main reasons that I think Apple is in a great position going forward with regards to hardware. With the exception of Samsung, everyone else is relying on TI, Qualcomm, Intel, etc to make the right decisions with regards to CPU/GPU etc combination and clearly those chip makers do not always have the best insight with regards to product pipeline or requirements.

    A retina display-ish version of the iPad is going to take a GPU far beyond anything the current SoC guys are manufacturing.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    The next generation of PowerVR SGX graphics chips are supposedly 20x as powerful as the current ones. I'm guessing Apple will still be using the dual core variant of the 6** series. That's good, if the 4x screen resolution rumours are true.

    Yeesh, Android devices still haven't caught up to the old GPU now a new one is around the corner. Nvidia is stuck with their own GPU's of course, but TI or Samsung should switch to PowerVR if this performance domination continues.
    Reply
  • trob6969 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    What performance domination?! Android phones are easily the most powerful on the market! Reply
  • Greg512 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Not when it comes to GPU power. The iPhone 4S has a GPU 3-4 times as powerful as the one in the Nexus. Android phones do tend to have higher clocked processors, however, so they do have a healthy advantage on that front. Android phones also have more RAM, though many would debate that iOS is memory efficient, negating the hardware advantage. Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    You're kidding, right? The Tegra 3 is slower than the eight month old A5. Everything in Android world is playing catch-up with old parts, which is odd given that they have a more frequent upgrade cycle. Problem is that they've been behind since the beginning. Reply
  • doobydoo - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    trob6969 - the leading Android phones have CPU's which are largely comparable to the CPU in the iPhone 4S - in some cases they even boast up to ~10% extra performance (as a result of, in some cases, 50% higher clock speed), but only in CPU limited tasks, and that <10% is barely noticeable.

    Graphically, the GPU in the Nexus Prime is far slower than even the Samsung Galaxy S2 - using an older GPU which is up to 3x slower than the GPU in the iPhone 4S. The GPU in the SG2 (the fastest Android GPU) is also far slower than the iPhone 4S (as the benchmarks in this review show)

    Because iOS is hardware accelerated (and tightly intertwined with the iPhone), the performance of the iPhone 4S and iOS is far superior to any Android phone out at this moment in time.
    Reply
  • zorxd - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    uh?
    50% faster clock speed gives you 50% more performance in CPU limited tasks. Don't forget that it's the same architecture (Cortex A9).

    I hope you are not making that 10% claim based on javascript bencmarks. They are browser benchmarks more than CPU benchmarks.
    Reply
  • Zoomer - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    Not really, the A9 ISA have many different architecture implantations. TI does their own, Apple probably did their own, and I believe nVidia has their own too. Reply

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