March 2012


When Google launched its first smartphone and called it Nexus there was much hype and anticipation for a smart device that could effectively compete side by side against the IPhone 4. Whilst the interest on the Android operating system continues unabated with analysts predicting Android to become the dominant smartphone OS eclipsing IOS, Windows and any other mobile platform (Symbian being all but dead and WebOS DOA), the success of Nexus remains largely niche. The Nexus has not gained the wide success of the iPhone as the chic phone of the cool masses. Instead Google’s strategic pullout in the direct sale business and limited marketing of the Nexus has relegated it to the realm of the geeks, nerds and experimenters daring to be different.

On 26 June 2011, I opted to get myself a Samsung Galaxy S2. Months earlier I was content to use my BB Torch. Owning an iPhone was never in my radar but having read so much about Android, including the much hyped and anticipated Nexus 3, I was waiting anxiously for a chance to try out an Android phone. So the SGS2 was a welcome replacement for my Torch. To be honest I was still hooting for the Nexus 3 even as I was signing on the dotted line to fork out my hard-earned dough for the SGS2.

Five months later, I was helping a cousin buy a Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 when the store sales clerk said I could trade in my SGS2 for the new Nexus 3 and pay only HK$1,500 for the upgrade. Without thinking (also called impulse buys) I decided to make the trade. But as I headed home that night I realized I was duped into buying the Nexus 3 so early in its Lifecycle.

While the three button device with a curvaceous frame certainly was very appealing I very quickly discovered somethings I’ve grown accustomed to on my SGS2 were missing and I want them on Nexus 3 (more on that later).

The Nexus 3 uses the same curve glass top design concept as the Nexus S (its predecessor).  Somehow Samsung and Google decided not to use Corning Gorilla Glass and instead opted for a no-brand glass top. Does it make it inferior? You be the judge watch this video.

The back cover uses the so-called Hyper Skin finish giving it a nice grip – which I felt was missing with the SGS2. The rest of the body is made entirely of plastic – a let down if you consider how much you have to fork out to get this phone (PRICE).

The Nexus 3 screen is a large 4.65 inch with an HD resolution of 720×1280 pixels and pixel density of 316 ppi. The phone sports a HD Super AMOLED screen using an RGBG PenTile matrix for pixel arrangement. The AMOLED screen means you get high contrast levels, wide viewing angles and very saturated colors, which results is very sharp vivid images.

The Nexus 3 comes with the usual ports, buttons and switches: a standard microUSB charging/sync port, 3.5, headset jack, volume rocker and power key. There is also a three-dot connector on the right side of the device. What’s it for remains a mystery to me. The buttonless glass is partly attributable to the Google Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) OS used on the Nexus 3. The biggest physical let down for me on this phone is the 5MP camera. At a time when 8MP is almost standard, Google allowed Samsung to fit this phone with a mere 5MP camera. That said, this is one of the fastest camera I’ve had the pleasure of using.

Unlike the iPhone which uses static homescreen, on the Nexus you can have widgets as well as apps, meaning you can access features like email, weather, etc., without launching a separate application. Yes this approach adds complexity to the environment and additional system resources. And that is the trade off when you want customizability as that which comes with Android – something lacking on the iPhone. As with the current versions of IOS, you can now create folders where you can group like-minded applications.

On ICS, navigational keys “Back”, “Home” and “Multitasking” form part of the interface. The latter allows you to move back and forth between running applications. The notification dropdown is transparent; plus the addition of the ‘swipe away’ gesture to remove unwanted items.

The Nexus 3 is by far the fastest phone I’ve ever had the pleasure to use. I suspect it may be because the ICS software was optimized for the duo-core TI OMAP 4460 processor running at 1.2 GHz.

The most common apps I’d use with a smartphone are messaging, contacts (People) and calendar. On the Nexus the apps are optimized for clean interface and fast access. The Calendar is swipe-enabled, so you can now use gestures like pinch-to-zoom to get details and swipe between days, weeks and months.

With affordable mobile broadband Web browsing on the smartphone has become a common pre-occupation. On the Nexus 3, browsing is fast and almost flawless. Navigation is fast and browsing even better when the website is optimized for mobile devices. As with the calendar app, scrolling, panning around, zooming in using pinch-to-zoom and double-tap work very smoothly. Did I tell you there is an offline viewing feature for those times when you expect to be out of Internet connection.

The Nexus 3 is built for connectivity, including Wi-Fi b/g/n/a and Bluetooth 3.0, NFC and MHL. I use the NFC feature to scan my Octopus card’s stored value. The Nexus 3 comes with a GPS.

While the Nexus 3 came with a 5MP camera which is disappointing when you consider that many of the high end smartphones are equipped with at least 8MP. The camera interface itself is simple and easy to use, and comes with white balance, exposure and scene modes. Video recording comes with a set of fun face-detection-based effects like Squeeze, Big Eyes, Big Mouth, Big Nose, etc. I particularly like the built-in panorama model – it works very efficiently. The biggest plus for me when it comes to the camera is its shutter speed. It even beats my Canon G1 X – how is that for speed? Word of warning… the continuous auto focus feature sometimes acts up and doesn’t want to shift from one target to another. Outdoor shots are reasonably sharp but low light situations are bad (but most phone cameras and even some dedicated compact cameras do the same thing). The Nexus 3 comes with a tiny flash so don’t expect much.

To complement the camera is Gallery, a photo app with built-in image editor. It comes with some decent tools like adjusting exposure or saturation, fixing the red-eyes, and applying other effects.

Listening to music is nothing average but watching videos is a pleasure largely due to the Super AMOLED screen – at times I think it’s better than some of the TVs I see in the market.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

Apart from my disappointment with the camera, I’ve discovered an anomaly that exists on the Nexus 3 as it does on the SGS2. The back of the phone around the camera heats up intermittently. I can only attribute it to some software acting up but to date I’ve not discovered what is doing this. Going to Samsung tech support hasn’t been easy either – um sek yin man (no speak English)!

CONCLUSION

This is my first Android phone with no custom interface developed by the vendor that has been the stumbling block to OS upgrades. Having tested Gingerbread earlier on HTC, Dell, Sony Ericsson and Samsung mobile phones, I have to say that ICS is, by far, the best iteration in the Android line.

As of this writing there are newer phones out in the market that still use Gingerbread – for whatever reason I’ve been reading about ICS coming to some existing HTC, Sony Ericsson and Samsung phones but with no definitive dates, I can only say to the owners of these devices: tough!

I promised earlier on that I am not writing this as a tribute to Google or to Samsung. It isn’t! It’s a review of a product – good and bad. In fairness I think I was dupe – to some degree – into buying this phone. Largely because I’m the kind of person who will never be happy with the version of the device I bought. But owning a Google phone is way better than owning a SE or iPhone or HTC – at least the next iteration won’t be six months from release of the previous version. Other vendors produce new models every 4 to 6 months – and that just riles me up! I bought an iPad and three months later Apple released iPad 3. @$^#@%&$^*#!

Technical Spec
OS: Android 4.0.1
Dimension: 135.5 x 67.94 x 8.94 mm
Weight: 135g
Display: 4.65 inches, 720×1280 pixels Super AMOLED, multi-touch capacitative
Sensors: light, proximity, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, barometer
Battery: 1750mAh
Processor: dual core 1200 MHz TI OMAP 4460

System RAM: 1024MB
Built-in storage: 16GB
Rear-facing camera: 5 megapixel with LED flash
Camcorder: 1920×1080 30 fps
Front-facing camera: 1.3 megapixels
Connectivity: Bluetooth 3.0, 802.11 b/g/n/a with mobile hotspot, micro USB 2.0 and HDMI via micro USB, NFC, MHL, OTA sync
Voice: quad band GSM/UMTS
Data: HSDPA+, HSDPA 14.4 Mbits/s, UMS, HSUPA 5.76 Mbits/s, EDGE
Satellite: GPS, A-GPS
Navigation: Points of Interest, Turn-by-turn navigation, Voice navigation

Photos

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A couple of years back, my family got me a Canon G10. The retailer gave us a free third party camera. Then came the advice from Canon that I needed to bring my camera overto their service center for a firmware update to correct a software bug. At the service center the staff showed me a nick on the side of the G10. This was reported in the service slip so I cannot say Canon damaged my camera. I quickly realized I was at fault because I used a standard compact camera case that didn’t really provide complete protection for what was an expensive gear. It didn’t take long and I looked around for a much better case that was specifically designed for my G10. What am I getting here?
We spend a fortune on stuff that add bling to our life. Many of these stuff no matter how durable are not designed to withstand the wear and tear of every day use. And many times we plan to keep these expensive things with us for some time.
So that was the logic when I got myself a Samsung Google Nexus. From an industrial design standpoint, it was a feat of engineering marvel: a very thin (measurement here) that came with a slightly curve glass panel (not sure how they managed to do that). The first thing I did was look for a case for the Nexus (I christined it ‘Nikki Heat’ cause it gets warm for no reason). And to my disappointment the only case available that had the contour of Nikki H were variants of the rubbery or silicone cases that are made mostly for decorative purpose. There was a leather case but it left 60% of the phone exposed.
So my quest for a case went on for over two months. It included a run to the famed Ap Liu Street in Shamshuipo (sometimes referred to as the electronic street) and the Golden Computer Arcade where street stalls were filled with hoards of mobile phone and tablet cases. I reckoned there were three variants specific for the likes of Nikki H. There is the silicon/plastic case, some made from aluminum, and another claiming to be made of genuine leather. Alas for the price of between $60 to $210, I just didn’t see spending this kind of money for what looked like cheap stuff. In desperation I even went to the Internet where I found a brand called Otterbox. I read the reviews and decided this may be the case for me. I checked for distributor(s) in Hong Kong, founded two and called one for list of retailers.
It took another three weeks before I finally got one from a retailer at LCX in Ocean Terminal onTsim Sha Tsui (TST). Before the cashier could wring in the payment, I had Nikki H wrapped in the Otterbox Commuter and I knew my hunt was over.
The actual case is made of two parts: an inner, soft silicone wrap-around shell; and an outer polycarbonate shell. The silicone shell pretty much covers most of the phone except for the camera/led flash, rear speaker and top and bottom mics. The covering for the USB and 3.5mm audio jack can be raised (soft flaps) to reveal the ports easy enough.The rest of the physical buttons, including volume and power are nicely covered. What holds the silicone shell firmly together is the outer polycarbonate shell. This is important since the phone itself could come off most other silicone cases easy enough, leaving the phone vulnerable to scratches should it fall.
Instructions are provided inside the carton box in case you don’t know how to assemble the case together. In reality, its so simple even my wife (but not my mom) could do it.
I bought the case for HK$273 or US$35. This is not that far off from some of the so called high-end silicone cases available for both iPhone and Samsung phones. Without a doubt the Otterbox Commuter series is well worth it. Nikki H without the case may have been very slim but I always felt like I’d drop it anytime because it felt slippery in my hand. The Otterbox Commuter case gives it the heft and stiffness I appreciate in such an expensive device.
Overall, I like the design, fit and finish of the case. The pieces fit together perfectly giving it the feeling of total protection. Afterall this is what you want to have… the feeling that your investment is protected from the day-to-day trashing and bashing that comes with using a device so portable and so vulnerable.
PHOTOS

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