The purpose of Google's Nexus line of smartphones is to offer a "pure Android experience." As the latest smartphone in this line, the Galaxy Nexus holds true to this intent with only a few caveats. Although you won't find a lot of custom UI tweaks or anything like that on the phone, you will find some of Verizon Wireless' common apps preinstalled on the phone including My Verizon Mobile and VZ Backup Assistant. Still, compared to the long list of pre-installed apps we often find on Verizon Wireless smartphones, this list is almost non-existent. Although you can't uninstall either of these apps, you can disable both of them from running.
The Galaxy Nexus has five customizable home screens. Unlike other phones we've seen lately, there is no way to add or remove home screens or view thumbnails of all of the home screens. Although jumping from one screen to the next requires only a swipe, we missed being able to jump from the first screen to the last screen quickly and easily using thumbnails.
To help you organize and arrange your applications, Google has made it easy to group several apps into a folder. All you have to do is drag one app icon over another on a Home screen and the two items will be combined. Although this functionality is nice, we also wish it were possible to group icons within the Application screen as well.
You may notice that the "standard" list of control buttons (Back, Home, and Recent Apps) is missing one of the common Android controls: Menu. For apps that offer a menu, you'll see three vertical dots within the application that provide access to the menu. In some applications such as the browser, these three dots are near the top of the screen. In other apps, we noticed that they occasionally appeared at the bottom of the screen to the right of the Recent Apps control button.
In previous versions of Android, you could add widgets to the home screen by pressing and holding your finger in an empty area. With Android 4.0, you can see all of the widgets and page through them just as you would page through apps. In fact, the only way to access the widgets is through the Application menu. To use a widget, press and hold your finger on the widget and drag it to a home screen. Once a widget has been placed on a home screen, you can move it around and resize it.
One of the new features that have come to the notification manager is the ability to dismiss notifications individually. There have been many times in the past that we simply haven't cleared our notifications on other Android phones because we didn't want to clear them all. Now, you can swipe a notification to dismiss one message and leave others in the notification bar to be handled later.
From the Recent Apps button, you can view and access all recently used applications. If you want to close a recently used app and remove it from this list, simply swipe it off of the screen.
Recognizing that many data plans today are not unlimited, Google has included better controls to help you monitor and manage your data usage in Android 4.0. From the Settings menu, you can easily see how much data you've used and set mobile data limits. You can also view and restrict data usage for individual apps.
Because the Galaxy Nexus features the pure Android experience, the phone comes with the standard Android and Google voice keyboards and no others. Third-party keyboards such as SWYPE have become quite popular but you won't find them installed on this phone out of the box. Although the virtual keyboard found on the Galaxy Nexus is quite good, we found ourselves missing the SWYPE keyboard. Early adopters of the Galaxy Nexus who also prefer SWYPE will have to wait or look into other third-party options for now: SWYPE is currently not supported by Android 4.0 though the company says it is working on a solution that will enable the keyboard in ICS soon.
You can also enter text using your voice. While dictating to the phone, we appreciate that it displays the text while you're still speaking. During our tests, results were hit and miss in terms of quality. Google makes it easy to edit words a necessary. This feature uses Google's speech-recognition service, so you'll need a data connection or Wi-Fi connectivity to use it.
In addition to dictation, you can also use Voice Actions to control the phone. Although these voice controls aren't nearly as robust as Apple's Siri, it's still nice to have some voice control functionality built into the phone.
As mentioned, Ice Cream Sandwich comes with a Face Unlock feature that lets you unlock the phone simply by looking at it. In our tests, this functionality worked very well. When setting up the Face Unlock feature, the phone will ask you to choose a PIN or pattern that can also be used to unlock the phone in the event that you're in a dim environment or for some other reason can't use the Face Unlock feature.