Upgrading from a Galaxy Nexus

Galaxy Nexus

In the past month, Koodo mobile had a sale on the recertified Nexus 4 for $150 pre-taxes, so I finally pulled the trigger for an upgrade. I had been using the Galaxy Nexus for 1.5 years, having purchased it from Rogers when I switched to Wind mobile.

In short, when buying a new Android phone in 2014:

  • Look for 2GB of RAM or more
  • Buy from a major manufacturer, and be sure to check the disk speed (read and write)
  • Get a newer model with a power efficient chipset

Details

On paper, the Galaxy Nexus still has mid range specs: the second greatest version of Android with 4.3 Jellybean, had a 720p HD display at 4.65″, 1 GB of RAM, and a CPU/GPU that is on par with regards to performance. It would appear to be very close to the likes of the Moto G, which has rave reviews and has been gaining popularity because of its attractive price point of about $200 for the 16GB variant. What gives?

The Galaxy Nexus was a great phone for its time, but it had some glaring flaws. For me personally, what drove me to ultimately upgrade was:

  1. Lag, lag everywhere… Despite having all the right specs on paper, I was experiencing significant lag everywhere despite being pretty light on the phone.
  2. Battery life wasn’t enough for my usage patterns… I couldn’t make it through a workday without having to recharge my phone.
  3. Discontinued support… Grim outlook for 1 or 2 improving significantly in the near future

Let me explain…

  1. Lag: On a smartphone, in addition to making phone calls, you expect to be using Internet connected services. Those services run in the background and consume resources on the device. Android has come a long way since its conception, where the first device shipped with 100MB of available RAM. Now when it comes to the Galaxy Nexus, it may sound like 1GB has to be enough, increasing the amount by 10 times over the span of just 4 years. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with the operating system consistently consuming more than half of what’s left. Out of the box, a portion of this memory is usually reserved for hardware components, notably the GPU, the radio baseband, and the camera – around 300MB worth. Now this number ranges depending on the device, but on the Galaxy Nexus, it was crippling the device performance with other services running on the phone. Once the phone starts running out of RAM, it actually has to work to remove things from RAM in order to keep doing what it’s supposed to. This process, called garbage collection, is one of the key contributors to stuttering in Android. The second contributor is – if applications can remain in RAM in a ‘standby’ state, they will be launched faster than if they had to be launched from scratch from a ‘cold boot’ from the disk, because RAM is much much faster than the disk memory. This means that this process is dependent on how fast the device can read from the disk memory. Unfortunately for the Galaxy Nexus, the disk memory is magnitudes slower than what its supposed to be, leading more more lag. On newer devices from major manufacturers such as Samsung, they make sure that the disk memory is quick enough. The same cannot be said for the likes of Huawei or no name brands. Despite Android 4.4 KitKat having lower requirements for RAM, I do not recommend any less than 2GB of RAM on a new smartphone, or it is guaranteed to be a mediocre experience. 
  2. Battery: While this isn’t a published spec, the Galaxy Nexus has a less power efficient package that results in an average of 1.5 hours of screen-on time in most scenarios. Smartphones in 2014 typically are capable of at least double this figure, but this is not a published spec. It is good to check review sites such as AnandTech for the WiFi browsing time, 4G browsing time, and 3G browsing time for the specific device. Newer models have newer chipsets, which are much more power efficient than older models. It is useful to know what chipset was released in the last while to know the difference. Or you can just go with a huge battery, but that also means you will end up with a bulkier device.
  3. Support: The Galaxy Nexus runs off a Texas Instrument CPU/GPU combination. Texas Instruments’ mobile division had gone belly up, meaning that there is no more software support from the manufacturer. Google stops their commitment for upgrading their software after 18 months. This means that the hardware issues in #1 and #2 will no longer improve with some sort of software fix. Here’s a good diagram by HTC (http://www.htc.com/us/go/htc-software-updates/).

HTC-Anatomy-of-an-Android

 

 

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