Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Friction Factor = LOW FRICTION
Value = RECOMMENDED

February 12, 2015: Samsung may start requiring proprietary accessories (such as USB chargers) for the phones. If they do I will never buy another Samsung phone. 

November 5, 2013: Alas: My Galaxy Nexus has come to the end of its road for me. It developed a problem that causes it to periodically turn the screen back on a few seconds after I put it to sleep. I discovered this as it started heating up in my pocket. It appears that others have had this problem and believe it to be related to contacts that have slipped in the USB port. That seems likely to me, too, since it stops happening when I plug it in to charge and for at least some time after I remove it. For that matter, I periodically find it overheating while charging or while using GPS and have ruined at least one battery from that. Then on a recent trip I dropped it on a paved parking lot and that drop hit wrong, cracking the Gorilla glass.

Interesting note: Verizon considers the battery cover to be an optional accessory. It is not included when a phone is replaced. Weird.

So I began the journey to find a replacement. I wanted to get a Nexus 5, but Verizon's marketing tactics (to the detriment of its customers) make it unavailable. I have been fond of Samsung devices but I just read that they are taking steps to ID accessories so that only Samsung accessories can be used on their phones. Immediate elimination from any further consideration for me.

I settled on an LG G2, a sister device to the Nexus 5. Unfortunately I'll still have to put up with Verizon bloatware, paying extra for WiFi hotspot usage, and long delayed Android updates (not even getting the latest to start). Aaargh! So I am faced with the grief of rooting the phone if/when there is a custom ROM for it and voiding the phone's warranty and hoping for a working WiFi hotspot app that works on it, or living with the Verizon grief. Worse, Verizon is increasing the grief by encrypting the bootloader on at least some phones and soon any phone on their network.

Mainly About Solutions

There are a ton of online sources that dig into the technical specs for the Galaxy Nexus. This article is mainly about solutions and reducing friction factors to get the most benefit from this phone. I am not very familiar with older versions of Android, so where a function is version specific, this is about Android ICS.

Time to Change

I had been using the Blackberry Storm and Storm 2 since they came out. They were a light year improvement over the Motorola Q that I had before that. I finally had a phone that I could actually use for more than a glorified phone directory. Still, the Blackberry browser is so bad that I rarely even tried to use it. And then I got my son's old Motorola Droid X to use just as a wireless device (no Verizon account). I immediately discovered that Kindle for Android is far superior to Kindle for Blackberry. Then I started discovering a ton of very cool and very useful Android apps, comparing them against what is available for the Blackberry...and found myself longing for an Android phone.

At the same time, the iPhone 4S was also looking very attractive. The more I looked, the more tempting it became...tempered enormously by my son's experience with Apple's active policy of unilaterally removing any apps on your device that they don't want on it.

But then...Samsung announced its Galaxy Nexus with Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich or ICS). After research and comparisons, the Galaxy Nexus became my choice for my next smartphone. The only problem last October 2011 was that the Galaxy was not yet available in the U.S. After a number of false rumors about its release date, it finally became official on December 15th. I called in the wee hours and became one of the first to order it (well, not counting the few "Sooners" who managed to get one at stores who goofed on the release date). A couple of days later my new toy arrived. And I love it. Now to get past its imperfections...

Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

To the mocking chagrin of my oldest son, I've always been a belt holster phone guy. The larger size of the Galaxy dissuaded me from continuing the practice. Interestingly, the Galaxy Nexus is so thin that it fits comfortably in the pocket of my slacks and it's hardly even visible. It is a royal pain to get to it when I'm in the car wearing a seat belt, but I shouldn't be getting to it then anyway, right?

Samsung Galaxy Nexus back
Samsung Galaxy Nexus back

Battery cover: One of the things that constantly irritated me about the BB was its metal plate battery cover. Secured only at each end of the cover (a typical design), it didn't align flush with the back surface of the phone, so I kept rubbing across the edge and it would pop off any time I dropped it, spilling out the battery. The battery cover for the Galaxy is elegance in engineering. Its textured plastic "hyper skin" is flexible and snaps into place along the full length of every side. When in place it feels like an integral part of the phone and provides a welcome texture for holding the phone. I've not yet dropped it, so I don't have a report on how it handles that, though it's only a matter of time.

Display: The Galaxy's large (for a phone) 4.65-inch high resolution Super AMOLED display is amazingly readable. Its slightly curved screen gives it a futuristic effect. I like the lack of hardware buttons, the entire screen being configurable as needed. Add Android's two-finger swipe to zoom in and out, together with a browser that actually works (clicking a link goes to the link), and I finally have a phone that can be used in more ways in place of my laptop.

Fast boot: Every few days I needed to reboot my Storm 2 to restore performance (in spite of having a daily scheduled battery-pull app). It takes so long to reboot a Blackberry that it was best if it happened at nap time. In great contrast I am very pleased with the performance of the Galaxy Nexus—and it reboots in about 30 seconds.

Battery life: For its speed and all that it does, I worried that battery life would be a problem. And indeed it drains significantly faster than my Storm 2. OTOH, I wasn't able to use the Blackberry Storm 2 in all the ways I can actively use the Samsung Galaxy. It normally lasts a full day anyway, but I have USB chargers everywhere I park myself (office, bed, car). So battery life hasn't been a problem yet. Thank you world for dumping proprietary chargers.

Android Market: I like Android Market. It is reasonbly easy to find applications of interest and get user ratings. It is very handy to install an app to the phone from the website via phone or laptop.

My List of Desired Solutions, Questions, and Issues

This is where I'll mainly be updating this article—to let you know what I've learned and discovered (and found fixes for) to reduce friction in my life's intersection with my smartphone.

Discoveries

A great source of help: http://www.droidforums.net/forum/galaxy-nexus-help. The people here are very helpful and responsive.

Issues and Questions

I have found answers to many of these questions.

  1. Phone Design: Does the wi-fi antenna in the Galaxy Nexus have poor gain for anybody besides me?
    Answer: Apparently so from reported complaints. And Samsung's reported solution is to "fix" the software to display stronger signal strength. I ignore the visual indicators. Instead I am just making an observation that reception in some parts of my home is far weaker than on my Blackberry or laptop in the same location. Using the excellent Wi-Fi Analyzer app by farproc on either my laptop or on the Galaxy Nexus, I can see the actual wi-fi signal strength. For a given location and signal strength at that location, my BB or laptop is able to receive just fine. The Galaxy Nexus just spins, not ever able to load a Web page. If I still had access to the right equipment I could quickly create an antenna gain pattern for the GN and I suspect it would be very poor. But there are folks out there who have this equipment and could provide objective data independent of Samsung. I am confident that the result won't be a software issue of not displaying signal strength accurately.
  2. Email: How to force a check for new email?
    Answer:
    You can't on an Android if your email account(s) is set to automatically check for mail on a timed basis.
  3. Email: How to set email to default to "combined" accounts view?
    Answer: I was delighted to see that I didn't lose the ability when I switched to Android to view my email from all of my accounts at once. Unfortunately, the "combined view" setting on the Android is not sticky.
  4. Apps: Android market: cannot update apps now; error (-101)
    Answer: The solutions reported by others did not work for me. My Google account is associated with two email addresses. When I changed Android Market settings / Accounts to have the account's primary email address selected, it started working again. I still don't know why it stopped working.
  5. Feature: How to immediately silence an incoming call and send the caller to voicemail?
    Answer: The easy solution doesn't work on an Android. I kept trying to press the answer button to answer a call and the end call button to silence it and send the call to vmail. Nope, Android requires a swipe. Swipe the ring icon to the answer icon on the right to answer a call, to the left icon to silence the call, or up to select a quick response to text to the caller and silence the call.
  6. Apps (Kindle): Why does Kindle sometimes fail to open the book I'm reading? I have to go into "Recent Apps" and force stop Kindle. When I then go into Kindle again it loads the book ok.
    Answer: I have uninstalled Kindle and reinstalled. I also deregistered my device and registered it again. Also, with the help of a very knowlegeable and patient Kindle support specialist, Katie L., I downloaded updated versions of my books for which an update was available. So now to find out if this freeze behavior still continues...
  7. Apps (Kindle): Why does Kindle keep trying to sync (and fail) even though I have Whispersync disabled in my Amazon account?
    Answer: This can happen if the wireless signal to the device is weak. In my case, it appears that the reason is that I goofed. In my Amazon.com account I deregistered the devices I wasn't using and kept the one I was...or so I thought. It turned out I had renamed the wrong device and was still trying to sync to one that had been turned off. So now to find out if correcting this issue fixes this problem...
  8. Apps (Kindle): While reading a book in bed, in a dark room, with device brightness set to minimum, something happens and the device goes to full bright.
    Answer: Katie at Kindle support advised me to turn off automatic brightness control as a test to see if this behavior stops. If so, it would still be a bug in either Kindle or the device, but I will then have brightness controls in the Kindle's display settings (so at least I can turn down the brightness before getting a tan in my bed). Now to find out if this changes anything. The bug could be in Profile Scheduler which is what I use to turn down the display brightness at night on an automatic schedule.
  9. Support: Where to find a complete user manual for this Verizon phone?
    Answer: Go to the support page for your device, right? True, but only if you're not signed in(as of Jan 2012). No, that doesn't make sense to me either.
  10. Apps: What is the best solution for scheduling profile changes?
    Answer: "Profile Scheduler" by Wetpalm.
  11. Apps: How to fix an address that is wrong in the GPS maps?
  12. Feature: How long are email messages stored?
    Answer: Verizon support said there must be a bug in the mail app because it's only keeping the last day's mail for them, too.
  13. Feature: Why does "speech to text" sometimes stop working, failing to process?
  14. Feature: The Galaxy Nexus has a front facing camera. So what app is needed to use it for video chats? I normally use Live Messenger for video chats, so I was hoping this would be an option for this phone. Nope.
  15. Feature: How to copy my music to the phone—just use the normal file transfer process? To which folder? Which app is best to listen to my music?
  16. Feature: One must the press power button to wake the display. Awkward.
    Answer: None yet. I tried the only solution I could find, "Tap Tap App" does not work reliably except when I don't want it to...when the phone is in my pocket.
  17. Feature: How to check voicemail via a button vs. manually dialing *86?
    Answer: Press and hold "1" on the dialer.
  18. Feature: How to include your voicemail pin in the voicemail dialing sequence?
    Answer: Open the dialer and click the settings button (three dots). Go into Voicemail Settings and select Voicemail number. Edit the number to dial (*86) to be "*86,XXXX#" where the X's are your pin. Add additional commas if more delay is needed before dialing the pin. To enter the special characters press the *# key and it will display special symbol choices.
  19. Feature: How to know when there is new email, voicemail, alerts, etc.?
    Answer: In addition to the audible alert if that is activated, a white light will flash at the bottom of the phone. Touch the top of the screen in the header area and swipe down. This will display your notifications.
  20. Sync to Outlook: How to sync contacts and calendar (without requiring Outlook on the PC to be closed)?
    Answer: "CompanionLink Professional" and "DejaOffice" from CompanionLink Software.
  21. Security: How to locate the phone when it's missing? Remotely wipe its contents?
  22. Answer: "Lookout" from Lookout, Inc. Virus protection is also available.
  23. Feature: How to remove all contacts in preparation for a fresh sync?
    Answer: Settings => Apps => All => Contacts. In the Storage section select "Clear Data".
  24. Backup: How to regularly backup the phone to the cloud with all of its settings and apps?
    Answer: I'm still looking for an ideal solution. Verizon's "VZ Backup Assistant" and your Google mail account can backup contacts and apps, but they are not a complete solution.
  25. Feature: How to get speed dial?
    Answer: Android Contacts lets you mark favorites (highlight the star at the top of a contact) which then show up in the favorites section of the dialer (press the person icon in the three icons at the top of the dialer). It's not the old press and hold a number from the dial pad, but you don't have to remember who goes with which number either. I just wish Favorites could be displayed as smaller buttons or a list to avoid swiping to find a "speed" dial.
  26. Security: How best to protect confidential information on my phone?
    Answer: "mSecure" from mSeven Software.