By Jonathan Charles | Jun 29, 2012 11:49 AM EDT
On day one - June 27 - of the Google I/O conference, the company gave away free Galaxy Nexus handsets with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean installed to attendees. So is 2011's first-party smartphone ,updated with the latest version of Android, a better option than the Samsung Galaxy S3?
The Galaxy Nexus measures 5.33 x 2.67 x 0.37 inches and weighs 0.33 pounds. It features a Super AMOLED HD display at 4.65 inches, with a 1280 x 720 resolution. Samsung's Galaxy S3 measures 5.38 x 2.78 x 0.34 inches and weighs 0.29 pounds. It uses the same display technology as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and the same 720p resolution.
Internally it comes with 1GB of RAM, a 1.2GHz dual core processor and 32GB of internal storage along with a 1820 mAh battery which is removable. Externally there's a 1.3 megapixel camera on the front, a 5-megapixel camera on the back with support for 1080p output. There's also a 3.5 mm headphone jack, micro-USB and the usual assortment of accelerometers and gyroscopes.
The Galaxy S3 offers 16GB, 32GB and 64GB internal storage options with a 2100 mAh battery - which is also removable and supports wireless charging - along with 2GB of RAM. On the front there's a 1.9-megapixel camera and on the rear an 8-megapixel camera which also supports 1080p video. It includes a 3.5 mm headphone jack, micro USB and the aforementioned accelerometer and gyroscope.
The big difference between the two devices, though, is Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. It combines the stock Android experience - versus Samsung's TouchWiz layer - along with all the added features of Jelly Bean. That means for users who want to get into hacking a device, there's little in the way.
On Jelly Bean specifically, notable features include Google Now - a real-time updating service for your favorite pieces of information - along with a new voice-to-text recognition service. Samsung offers S voice, clearly a Siri rival, which performs requests when users speak to the phone. The voice capabilities on Jelly Bean are much more specific; for example, searching "Who is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom?" will bring up a picture of David Cameron and his Wikipedia entry.
The notification bar, which may seem unimportant, has received a complete refresh: aesthetically it now appears in the middle of the screen semi-transparently, but more importantly notifications can be expanded to show more detailed views. This is useful for notifications such as e-mail, but a preview of the message - not just the subject line - can be seen without opening the app. The Samsung Galaxy S3 probably will get that functionality, but when? Google has announced the official Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update will arrive in mid-July for the Galaxy Nexus, and Samsung has been notoriously slow in updating its handsets. There's also the issue of how long will it take carriers to approve the update.
Google Now is probably the most unique feature of Jelly Bean, and it's basically a real-time notification service based on information such as your location. On the Nexus 7, it's presented in cards, showing information such as the local Target store or the current score or a favorite baseball team. That's not available until the Galaxy S3 gets Jelly Bean, and notifications on iOS currently pop-up - such as scores on Eurosport - with an option to open the app. For people who follow a particular type of information daily, such as sport, not opening the app for each individual notification or leaving the app open increases multitasking.
There's also the Project Butter UI, which increases the overall performance of the software. It includes triple buffering in the graphics pipeline, and creates a much higher frame rate. Again, that's only going to take effect on Galaxy S3 devices when the update arrives. For versions of the Galaxy S3 using the quad-core processor, that seems like a good feature to have.
Ultimately the focus here is on 4.1 Jelly Bean, because spec-for-spec the Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S3 are very similar. Therefore the software is the deciding factor, and as the in-house phone with the stock Android experience the Galaxy Nexus is naturally the first device to receive the features being introduced in Jelly Bean.
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