The Nexus series is the royal family of Android, used to show off the system's new moves at each major update - although, like every royal family, its genetics are all a bit skew-whiff. Once, Nexus phones were made by HTC, now by Samsung. And this time, with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the popular "Galaxy" tag has been brought in, to further de-purify the bloodline. The Nexus series gets about a bit, basically, and claims of the Nexus series's special status are often spurious. But the Galaxy Nexus has one thing to shout out, loud and proud. It's the first phone to ship with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.
This is the version of Google's OS that reunites the two sides of Android, following the great tablet vs phone split of 2011, at the release of Honeycomb. Royalty, civil war and dual-core processors - it's all about the drama in Android town.
Google is obviously not going to back the fortunes of Ice Cream Sandwich on a dud, and there's no mistaking the Samsung Galaxy Nexus for anything but a top-notch high-end phone. It has a dual-core 1.2GHz A9 processor, 16GB of internal memory and a huge, high-res 4.65in Super AMOLED screen - featuring almost as many pixels as a 10.1in tablet like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.
Aside from its sheer size, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus doesn't emanate its high-end cred in its body that much. There's no metal bodywork here - it's all plastic and glass. Although once the king of the shiny black finish, Samsung has opted for calmer-looking metallic grey here - similar to that of the original Google Nexus.
Most of the back of the phone is dominated by a dimpled battery cover. Aesthetically, it's not going to please the lovers of all things smooth and shiny - and it feels flimsy when removed to boot - but it ups the friction of the device. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus doesn't feel as though it's constantly in danger of slipping out of your fingers, unlike the otherwise impressively built iPhone 4S. And thanks to its plastic body, it weighs just 130g.
The non-slip finish, close-up
That's light, and probably lighter than you'd expect a 4.65in-screened phone to be. Samsung claims it is 8.9mm thick - roughly on-par with the thinnest smartphones - but this blooms out at its bottom to just over 1cm. Do we care? Absolutely not, because it's partly this well-rounded booty that makes the Nexus feel more comfortable in-hand than super-slim phones like the Motorola Razr. It also helps the phone to seem merely large rather than ridiculously huge, although for some 4.65in is always going to be too big.
The one fancy part of its outer bodywork is entirely subtle. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus's toughened glass front is very slightly curved, bending upwards towards your mouth by a degree or two at the bottom. Many may not even notice it, as the large size of the phone makes it subtler than on the similarly-curved Google Nexus S, but it's there. It's also a beautifully serene expanse, with only the earpiece breaking its surface.
A microUSB charging slot and the 3.5mm headphone jack are on the bottom, and there are volume and power buttons on the sides. Samsung (or perhaps Google) has given special thought to docking with the design here - bottom-loading the power and audio jack makes designing a basic desk dock easy. Also surface contact connection points are to be found on the right edge where they're used to connect to a variety of further docks. The connections make it really easy to dock the device, yet provide both audio and power connections. Four dock accesories are currently available; a landscape oriented desk dock, a portrait HDMI dock, a car mount with audio and power port extenders and a battery charger. The latter isn't stricty a dock but rather a holder that also can store and charge a spare battery - a rather innovative idea. Sadly none are included in the standard retail package, nor in our review sample package.
What are we missing connectivity-wise? There's no dedicated video output, although the microUSB socket can output video easily enough as it is an MHL port. This stands for Mobile High-definition Link, and means the port can output 1080p video and up-to 7.1 audio with the help of a £20 adapter - making it a great alternative to a microHDMI socket. Less easy to remedy is the lack of a microSD card slot. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus comes with 16GB of internal memory - enough to install Angry Birds hundreds of times over, but not a great deal if you want to add an extensive music collection and a decent selection of videos. There's no way to get around it, short of resorting to streaming music and video services - a perfectly viable option for much of the time but it certainly has its limitations still, given carrier's data limits and the patchiness of good phone signal.