Nexus brings Ice Cream Sandwich to the masses
by Alan Zisman (c) 2012
published in Business in
Vancouver March 6-12, 2012 Issue #1167 High Tech
Last time, we started to look at the state of Android, Google’s
smartphone operating system that is used by the likes of Samsung,
Motorola and HTC to bring touchscreens, apps and media features to
Once little more than an iPhone wannabe, Android phones have rapidly
improved, and while no single model out-sells Apple’s, Android phones –
in total – top the smartphone charts.
Google makes its Android operating system freely available to
manufacturers. That lets them customize it as desired. That can be a
good thing: Android-powered models offer features (like keyboards,
large screens, memory card slots and more) not available on iPhones.
But it also can be problematic: when improved or more secure versions
of Android are released, it takes time for manufacturers to fit the new
version to their customizations. The result: your new Android phone is
probably running last year’s version. It might be upgradable eventually
– or not at all. Apps might require specific Android versions and might
not work on your phone.
Since 2009, Google has worked with selected manufacturers on various
“Nexus” phones – the flagship Android device at the time of its
release, showing off the pure Android experience free of any
customization. I spent a few weeks with the most recent: Samsung’s
Galaxy Nexus, courtesy of Virgin Mobile, the first to offer it in
Canada, though it’s now offered by other mobile networks as well.
Virgin prices the Galaxy Nexus between $160 and $650. The Nexus
showcases the new Android 4.0 – code-named Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS).
(Google has used dessert names in alphabetical order for Android
releases: Frozen Yogurt for version 2.2, Gingerbread (2.3), Honeycomb
The Galaxy Nexus hardware is reasonably nice – like the models from
Motorola and HTC we looked at last time, it’s got a speedy dual-core
processor and a large screen. It’s not cutting-edge: while the camera
is fast, it’s a mere five megapixels; many high-end Android phones
offer eight megapixels. And while it comes with a reasonable 16
gigabytes of built-in storage, it lacks a memory card slot. High-speed
LTE versions are available in the U.S. but not yet in Canada.
What differentiates the Galaxy Nexus from the flock is its support for
the new ICS Android version. Many of its features came first to Android
3 (Honeycomb), but that version was tablet-only; ICS also supports
Earlier Android phones sported dedicated buttons (home, back, etc.)
below the screen. ICS makes them part of the standard home screen. That
takes some screen real estate and means the buttons aren’t always
available, but lets them rotate to the bottom when the phone is held
sideways. Like Apple’s iOS, users can easily create folders holding
Email is now more readable, and Microsoft Office-format attachments can
be read without any additional software. Email users can also dictate
The phone boasts near field communications (NFC), which provides
capabilities ranging from sharing data with nearby NFC phones to being
used as a digital wallet for retail purchases. But with a scarcity of
other NFC devices – and a total lack of retailer support – this is more
a promise of things to come than a real feature.
Cool – and usable now – is Face Unlock. The feature allows the phone to
unlock itself when it recognizes its user’s face.
Expect Ice Cream Sandwich on upcoming Android phone and tablet models.
But, for now, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the way for Android fans to
see the shape of things to come.