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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