Finally, an unlocked smartphone we can get excited about. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus ($349 direct from Google) is tempting to begin with, since you can use any AT&T or T-Mobile SIM card, even prepaid or monthly ones, plus it will work overseas. And the price is very low for an unlocked phone, which typically costs $500 to $600, leading us to believe Google is subsidizing it somehow. But the Galaxy Nexus ?is also in the unique position of being the only phone running Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" (Free, 4.5 stars) right now, and it's the only?phone you can buy that's guaranteed to get quick Android OS updates. As such, even though some other phones now beat it on pure hardware specs, the unlocked Galaxy Nexus is our Editors' Choice for unlocked smartphones.
Design and Screen
Measuring 5.33 by 2.67 by 0.35 inches (HWD) and weighing 4.76 ounces, the Galaxy Nexus is constructed of all dark gray plastic with the exception of the glass screen. The textured back panel is pleasantly grippy, although it's also hard plastic and not a soft-touch material. The phone isn't particularly eye-catching, but it's finely crafted nonetheless, and the unlocked version is a shade thinner than the CDMA model, which is welcome. The left side holds a volume rocker switch, while the right side houses the Power button and the three-dot docking connector.
The 4.65-inch Super AMOLED screen offers full 720p (1,280-by-720-pixel) resolution. Fonts look exceedingly sharp and crisp. Colors are vibrant, and you get deep blacks. But solid whites looks like pale gray. And like older AMOLED screens, the lowest brightness setting is still pretty bright, which is an issue when using the phone in a dark room. Used within its limits, though, it's still a beautiful screen, but the state of the art has moved forward a bit.?Typing on the screen in both portrait and landscape mode is a pleasure. There's plenty of room to work with, and Jelly Bean's improved predictive text puts it on an even keel with iOS 5.1.?
Connectivity and Voice Quality
The unlocked Galaxy Nexus is a quad-band EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) and quintuple band HSPA+ 21 (850/900/1700/1900/2100 MHz) device with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. It supports HSPA+ 21 speeds on both AT&T and T-Mobile networks here and overseas. It works with regular mini-SIMs (not micro); I tested the Nexus with an AT&T SIM, which worked perfectly.?Inside there's NFC, a gyroscope and compass, and a barometer in addition to the typical accelerometer and proximity and light sensors.
Unfortunately, you're not going to see the same data speeds with this phone as you would with an LTE or even HSPA+ 42 device?and frankly, we've seen HSPA+ 21 devices that test faster than they do here. In a series of tests, the unlocked Galaxy Nexus with an AT&T SIM averaged just 800Kbps to 1200Kbps down, and roughly 100 to 130Kbps up, with 230ms ping times, thanks to a combination of spotty reception quality and the slower data radio. That's decidedly 3G, even when testing outside in midtown Manhattan. We'll chalk it up to a bad test day for AT&T, but even with clear sailing you'd be hard pressed to top 3Mbps down.
Voice calls sounded great, though. Callers sounded clear in the earpiece, with plenty of volume, and transmissions through the microphone were crisp and detailed. I heard a good amount of street noise through the mic, but my voice always cut through loud and clear above it.?Calls sounded fine through a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset ($129, 4 stars). Voice dialing worked perfectly over Bluetooth using Android's stock voice dialer, which you can also trigger from a headset. The speakerphone is pretty weak, both for calls and alert sounds; I barely heard the alarm when I tested it, and it was set to maximum volume. The 1750mAh battery is slightly smaller than what you get with the CDMA versions; we're testing battery life and will update this review as soon as we have a result.