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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  • zorxd - Friday, January 20, 2012 - link

    They can have some differences (cache size, memory bandwidth, neon instructions) but the A9 is not an ISA. ARMv7 is.

    Given that it has the same configuration, an Apple A5 behave the same as a TI OMAP4 or a Samsung Exynos of the same clock speed. I beleive nVidia tegra2 lacks the neon instructions so can be slower in some cases. There is an article on Anandtech about this.

    Given that the iPhone 4S is only 800 MHz it is the slowest A9 CPU by far.
    Reply
  • pSupaNova - Friday, January 20, 2012 - link

    The GPU's on the IPhone uses Tiling so in most GPU rendering tasks it will be a lot faster, However spit lots of Triangles at it and then see how fast it really it is. Reply
  • StormyParis - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    It's not all about performance, at least if you don't do FPS games. The screen on the Nexus is much bigger than on the 4S for example. For me, it's not about performance at all. I went for the GN for its even bigger screen, and that criteria alone was 95% of my decision, the remain 5% being "... and the rest don't suck", and "has xda-dev support'. Reply
  • humancyborg - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    Once you start accelerating the entire interface, performance becomes much more significant than just FPS games. There's a reason Apple uses such a gigantic and powerful GPU in their devices, and it's definitely not only for FPS gamers.

    Agree with you on the rest, there are other good reasons to buy this phone, just a shame that they skimped here. I have the 4S, GN and Lumia 800 currently and constantly switch around between them.
    Reply
  • metafor - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    It doesn't really take a whole lot of resources to render a 2D interface. Just about any ol' GPU with OpenGL ES 2.0 support will do it.

    About the only thing where the GPU is the limiting factor is rendering 3D games. And even then, most if not the vast majority of games on the market will continue to be written for this level of hardware for at least the coming year.

    Honestly, people take benchmarks way too seriously.
    Reply
  • doobydoo - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    Actually, you're absolutely wrong.

    In fact, the GPU slowness is cited in this very article for causing slowdowns in situations where no 3D gaming is being done.

    Remember, the operating system as a whole is hardware accelerated, so every thing you do - animations, transitions, task switching, etc are carried out by the GPU. With the higher screen, the speed of the GPU becomes even more relevant.

    The combination of a high resolution screen and a low powered GPU is a bad combination and materially affects the performance of everything you do on the phone.
    Reply
  • zorxd - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    Do you remember the iPhone 4? Who complained that the GPU was slow? It was much slower than the SGX540 in the Galaxy S. Reply
  • metafor - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    Speculation in an article isn't exactly proof of concept.

    Alpha blending, panning, compositing are very light tasks for a GPU pipeline; it's only a problem when a GPU is TMU-limited. And if it's TMU-limited, it would be obvious all the time.

    I don't think you quite grasp exactly what parts of UI rendering are handled -- or could be -- by the GPU and just how trivial it is compared to rendering a 3D game.
    Reply
  • trob6969 - Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - link

    What i don't understand is why would samsung give the gn 1gig of ddr2 ram then give it an inferior GPU? But to be fair, Apple is no better. Why give iphone 4s a powerful GPU then give it only 512 mb of ram?! My old-ass og moto droid from over 2yrs. ago had that much! Reply
  • doobydoo - Thursday, January 19, 2012 - link

    As alluded to by numerous posters, including one in this comments section, iOS handles memory usage more efficiently than Android so it doesn't suffer any performance penalty as a result of having less RAM. Reply

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