As expected, Google and Samsung took the stage together today to announce a new Google Experience Device, the Nexus Prime, running Android 4.0, aka 'Ice Cream Sandwich'.
First off the bat the new hardware was unveiled, two SKUs for LTE and HSPA+ markets respectively. Rumours were pretty much spot-on and they've confirmed the new phone has a whopping 4.65" HD Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 1280x720, a contrast ratio of 100,000:1 and a response time of 0.01ms. Other hardware specs include a dual-core 1.2Ghz processor, 1GB RAM and 16GB/32GB of storage.
Although the display is larger, Samsung were keen to emphasise that the Galaxy Nexus isn't a significantly bigger phone, having reduced the bezel to 4.29mm and with the body of the phone measuring 8.94mm at its thinnest. They did caveat that the 8.94mm applied to the HSPA+ model, which leaves us presuming that the LTE variant will be a little chunkier and may account for the difference in profile between some of the videos and photos that have done the rounds on the web this week. Comparing dimensions to the previous Samsung flagship Galaxy S II, the new phone is a little over 10mm longer and 2mm wider. As the many leaks prior to the launch have already shown the Nexus has no softkeys, with Ice Cream Sandwich providing new on-screen virtual keys in their place.
Below the screen Samsung have added a notification LED (finally!) and despite the tendency for many to keep their phones safe inside a case of some description, Samsung have covered the back of the new Nexus in something they call 'HyperSkin' - a slip-resistant material to help you keep hold of your new investment.
Other notable components include a barometer, NFC and three small metal 'Pogo Pin' contacts on the side of the device for use with a drop-in dock accessory.
A potential disappointment is the camera, a step back from the 8 megapixel of the Galaxy S II and iPhone 4S, the Galaxy Nexus sports a 5MP camera at the rear, albeit one capable of 1080P with Samsung claiming zero shutter lag for instant photography. No mention was made of the type of sensor or how it performs in low light, although a video demo run later in the presentation showed it to be reasonable.
Android 4.0 - Ice Cream Sandwich
Android really appears to have caught up some ground in the UX department with Ice Cream Sandwich making some significant improvements to the look and feel of Android in addition to the necessary unification of handset/tablet OS. Matias Duarte emphasised the goals for Ice Cream Sandwich and beyond, to Enchant, Simplify and 'Make Us Awesome' .
4.0 is heavily influenced by print and typography and is designed around a new font designed called 'roboto'. Roboto is optimised for paper density displays and is used throughout the OS.
One area of focus during the presentation was that of gestures, whether you're reviewing notifications or using the new app-switcher, you'll be able to swipe across individial objects out of the list to remove them. Obviously a lot is left down to developers, but watching the run through of each of the core apps the new consistency is apparent.
The new virtual buttons are a great addition by the looks, being able to reposition/rotate based on device orientation and giving visual feedback when used. They also mean that when using fullscreen apps they can be hidden entirely, providing more screen real-estate for your books, films and games.
Some of the tweaks are long overdue, ICS will finally give us native screenshot capability (power+volumedown) and a standard media player control which will appear in the notification tray.
The lock screen has seen several enhancements, notifications can now be accessed directly and the unlock circle at the bottom can both simply unlock the device or take you straight to the camera app, although hopefully the latter is configurable. Facial recognition to unlock is also a feature of Ice Cream Sandwich, although the demo didn't go to plan, not recognising Matias which may just be down to his stage makeup . Unless Google have some secret sauce however, don't be planning to ditch your patterns and PIN codes just yet, there was no mention of any sophistication in the recognition technique and it's likely aimed at users who thus far have resisted securing their devices at all.
The Android browser now allows up to 16 tabs and has a new tab view with live previews, it also supports the new gestures seen elsewhere to close tabs with a swipe. By default, mobile sites will be requested by the device as they are today, but a new menu option has been added one tap away to request the desktop versions of pages when needed. Bookmarks are now synchronised with Google Chrome and pages can now be saved for reading whilst offline.
Email & Calendar
Gmail and Calendar have both seen a refresh with Gmail now displaying 2-line previews of messages and a new context-sensitive action bar while Calendar makes good use of swiping and pinching to review your schedule.
Managing your Data Usage
A personal favourite has to be the new Data Usage feature added to the settings menu. Android now records your data usage across the billing cycle and plots it graphically, it can estimate your usage for that billing month and allows the user to set a soft limit at which they will be warned or a hard limit stopping data connectivity entirely. It's also possible to review the timeline in detail to work out which apps were responsible for traffic spikes and if required restrict their access to background data on a per-app basis.
Photography and video recording have also had an overhaul.
A new Photo Editor allows the application of 'hipstermatic' filters, keystone/angle correction, cropping, and red-eye reduction with all changes saved to a copy, preserving the original. The camera also supports panorama photographs, taken by tapping the shutter button and slowly moving the device as guided on-screen rather than stitching.
Video recording is supported up to 1080P and now allows continuous focus, zoom while recoding, time lapse and snapshots.
Sharing content looks to be even easier than before, taking as little as 3 taps to upload your photo/video to the desired service.
After all the criticism of the default gallery app in Gingerbread, it's nice to see that even it has had some Ice Cream Sandwich loving (!) - presenting much larger clearer tiles and sorting the images based on attributes such as people tags or geolocation data.
Considering how important 'social' seems to be for the vendors it's surprising this one was shown so late in the presentation, the new People functionality aggregates your contacts posts to the various social networks.
Android Beam puts the built-in NFC to good use, allowing two devices when touched back-to-back to share anything from Maps and webpages to a market page for a running application.
The Galaxy Nexus launches in November although the only networks announced at present are NTT DoCoMo and Verizon.
Google Nexus Website
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