So last week was all about Apple, and to be fair, they announced some great products. This week the focus shifted over to the other side of the coin: Android. Many of you may or may not have known, but Google and Samsung have been working together on something that could make deciding which smartphone is your next one a difficult decision. Read on to find out what delicious treats they have been hiding up their sleeves...
The Hardware: Galaxy Nexus
For those of you familiar with Android, you know the name Nexus is not just thrown on any Android device, but only for the cream of the crop...the purest Android offering on the market. The previous Nexus devices, Nexus One and the Nexus S, were products of partnership between manufacturers and Google, focused on providing the purest Android experience.
The Galaxy Nexus is no exception. As the premier manufacturer of Android device, Samsung has been putting out premium devices that Android aficionados often point out as the best bloatware free devices. The Galaxy Nexus rocks a plenty wide 4.65" Super AMOLED display with the HD resolution of 1280x720, closing in on Apple's retina display in terms of pixel density. We love the clean curved line the contoured display creates, similar to its older sibling the Nexus S. The design allows Google to keep the phone at just 8.94mm thick despite the larger screen size and the exterior is finished in a "Hyperskin", smooth to the touch. The 1.2 GHz dual-core processor is just a tad bit faster than the 800MHz in Apple's iPhone 4S.
A 5-megapixel camera with 1080p video recording capability takes care of image duties. Video stabilization is also built-in, which should alleviate "shaky cam" footage to a moderate extent. Like the Nexus S, the Galaxy Nexus has built-in NFC, as well as a barometer for those with meteorological interests. The phone will support "4G", as in HSPA+, as well as LTE. You can expect the Galaxy Nexus in your hands in early November, just in time for the holidays. No word on carriers or pricing, however using the Nexus S as a reference, it should be available via AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. Update: Verizon has confirmed the Galaxy Nexus will be available "later this year."
The Software: Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich"
As many of you are well aware, hardware is only half of the story when it comes to smartphones. Without software, it's a case of beautiful home, ugly furniture inside. And Android has stepped its game up with its newest 4.0 version OS, dubbed "Ice Cream Sandwich." Android 4.0 brings the look and feel of Honeycomb, previously reserved for tablets, to the smartphones.
An improved UI design permeates throughout Android 4.0, an overhaul of every aspect of the OS. Google is so focused on improving the user experience via UI design, they even built a brand new typeface called Roboto, specifically designed for mobile device legibility. Those of you who have used Honeycomb will find Ice Cream Sandwich familiar, with the widget menu for easy viewing, tabbed browsing, and live preview of opened apps.
Google's improvements continue throughout over to its native apps, with updates to Gmail, Calendar, Camera and People apps. Open API means that developers will be able to build apps with greater integrateion with Google's own apps. For now that means easier sharing of content, especially with the new Camera and Gallery apps. Although the Galaxy Nexus's camera is not much of an upgrade compared to the iPhone 4S, the Camera app offers more functionality. The photo app users to apply filters and photo editing on the fly, alongside continuous auto-focusing and zooming while recording video (a novelty in camera phone), alongside the option for would-be stop motion moviemakers to createtime lapse videos.
Face Unlock. This is exactly what you think it is. Face unlock allows instant phone unlocking via facial recognition. This means no more forgetting pass codes or using clumsy gestures; the phone will simply recognize you through the front facing camera and unlock when it confirms the identity of the user.
There is however a possible issue with the simple fact that your phone may not recognize you, evident in Google's own demo, when the phone did not recognize the presenter (and what if you gain weight, change your hairdo, or experience any change to physical appearance?). But we do like where Google's head is when developing this function, and hope with software updates this technology will become more reliable.
Data Usage tracking. With many carriers starting to impose data usage limit on their customers, we think this is the perfect time for built-in data usage tracking. The data tracking function allows you to not only check in with your data usage, but also analyze which app uses the most data, whether foreground or background usage is sucking up your allotted data plan, and it even estimates the month's end as you go based upon your current usage. You can also set alarms and data cutoffs to ensure that there are no surprises when the phone bill arrives.
People app. This app replaces the Contacts app in Android. The People app aggregates all of the information of a specific contact and presents it in one contact card, similar to WP7's People Hub. This includes social media updates such as Facebook and Twitter. People app also permeates throughout the OS, such as within Gmail where you are able to tap on the contact's photo to access the Contact card, allowing you to choose a different avenues to communicate with the contact.
Android Beam. A sharing app utilizing the built-in NFC chip on the Galaxy Nexus and the Nexus S, Android beam permits sharing information by touching two Android devices together. You can share apps, webpages, contacts and even map locations. For now, its functions are limited to Google's own apps, however developers are open to use this function in their own apps. With the inventiveness of app developers, we can't wait to see what they come up with.
Instant dictation. Android already has an excellent Voice Search app, Google now use their voice expertise and bring instant dictation to Android. Now anywhere there is a text field, Android is able to use voice as a method of input and instantly dictate the text. The best part: no internet connection necessary! So you'll be able to use this function even if you're away from a network or wi-fi network.
Ice Cream Sandwich brings tons of innovation and refinement to the most popular smartphone OS. Android has come a long way in the short three years, and its rapid development has been a wonder to observe. Now with Android 4.0, we're glad to see Google focusing on the design and user experience of Android. We can't wait to see Android 4.0 do its thing next on tablets...