Why I LOVE My Samsung Galaxy Nexus Phone & The Must-Have Apps And Widgets I Immediately Downloaded

galaxy-nexus-phoneI recently traded in my Droid X for the brand new Galaxy Nexus. So did my hubby.

There are so many more pro’s than con’s to this phone. Both hubby and I absolutely love our new Samsung Galaxy Nexus cell phones! (Our phones were purchased through Verizon, with their unlimited data plan.)

Right now, the Galaxy Nexus is the best Android phone you can buy.PC World

 

I’ve always gotten a lot of positive feedback whenever I’ve shared my favorite apps for those who just got a new cell phone. It all started with my favorite apps for the iPhone. That was my very first smartphone.

Then I switched from the iPhone to the DroidX a couple years ago, and I wrote about my favorite apps for the Droid phone.

Now, these are the apps that I consider to be “must-haves” for the Galaxy Nexus, as well as all of the great things (and the not-so-great things) that hubby and I have noticed about this phone…

 

 

Things I Don’t Like So Much

These are the only downsides to this phone that I can think of:

  • Ringer volume is way too low. This is definitely my #1 complaint. Even with all of the phone’s settings set to maximum loudness, it’s really difficult to hear this phone ring, or audibly notify you of messages. This is a problem for lots of Galaxy Nexus users. Some have concluded that earlier versions of the GN had a hardware issue.  This was the workaround. To boost the volume on the Galaxy Nexus, many recommend trying the Volume+ app. They said it’s the only app that truly works. The FREE version has mixed reviews as to whether it works with ICS or not. (It worked for both hubby and myself.) If not, then try the paid for version, which clearly works great with ICS. Other DIY options: Download a loud and/or annoying ringtone, or place your phone in a bowl to magnify the sound of music, rings, and notifications.
  • Due to the placement of the power on/off button (upper right side), I’m always accidentally hitting the volume up/down buttons (which are on the upper left side) at the same time. This happens nearly every time I turn off the screen — several times each day — which is annoying. If you choose to turn on/off the phone without holding it in your hand, then you won’t have this problem. But it’s awkward that way.
  • The Galaxy Nexus is so sleek and slim that it is literally slippery and hard to hold onto without a protective case on it. The Droid X that I previously used had a nice “lip” around all of the edges which was a natural grip for your fingertips to grab onto. Hubby and I both ditched our Droid X protective cases a few months after getting them. On the other hand, the Galaxy Nexus is completely smooth all the way around… on all edges… and on front and back. So while it’s sleek and slim, it’s a nightmare to hold onto! Hubby and I both inadvertently dropped our phones several times until we got this Galaxy Nexus case for less than $10. (It also comes with a screen protector and a little cloth.) The best part: the case itself is also sleek and slim, so it doesn’t add much weight or depth to the phone itself. Bravo!
  • There’s no way to take a picture using only one hand with the Galaxy Nexus standard camera app. The reason: you HAVE to push the on-screen shutter button in order to take a picture. You cannot use the camera’s external power on/off button, or volume buttons (like I could with my Droid phone). That’s a real bummer. However, you can quickly switch the camera’s lens to face you on the GN. Therefore, it’s easier to include yourself in the photos with this phone. (My Droid X didn’t have this feature.) The workaround: download the Camera Zoom FX app. (See below)
  • I don’t mind the fact that there are no hard buttons for the most common actions — like Home and Back. (Instead, they’re on-screen softkeys that appear only when you hover over the bottom area of the screen.) However, it’s a little odd that the location of the Menu/Settings button (also an on-screen “button”) — which takes you to each app’s own unique settings and preferences — moves around from app to app. Seriously. Usually, it’s in the lower right corner (symbolized by 3 vertical dots), but sometimes it’s in the upper right corner. Fortunately, it’s not that big of a deal because you typically access the settings only once or twice, not repeatedly every time you use the app — so who cares where it is, really?
  • While you can swipe to remove items from your list of notification in the Notification Bar and your list of apps in the Recent Apps list, it’s a little bit frustrating that you can’t swipe to remove items in other apps with lists — like Gmail. (On the iPhone, you could simply swipe to delete individual emails from your list of emails in Gmail.)

 

Things I Love About The Galaxy Nexusgoogle-phone-galaxy-nexus

  • You can access anything that appears in your Notification Bar without unlocking your phone’s screen first. So, instead of moving the on-screen “unlock button” to the right on your opening screen each time that you want to read one of your notifications, you can simply drag the notification bar downward, then select the item you want to access. It’s as simple as that! Of course, if there’s nothing in your notification bar at the time that you want to access your phone, then you do need to slide to unlock the screen as usual.
  • This phone is super-fast in 4G mode. It even seems faster than my desktop at home which is connected directly to Cable Internet! However, any time you’re NOT in range of a 4G tower, the phone is constantly switching between 3G to 4G, while always trying to keep you connected to 4G whenever possible. 4G towers aren’t as plentiful as you might think (yet). In fact, in my living room, I get 4G, but in my bedroom I only get 3G connectivity. As a result, there’s a bit of a drain on the battery due to all of that constant tower searching.  Fortunately, there’s a really cool solution that I love! (My Droid X didn’t do this, that I’m aware of.) You can set the phone to automatically connect via WiFi only when you’re at home. [Settings - Wireless & Networks - More - Mobile Networks (CHECK: "data enabled") - System Select (CHECK: "home only").] It happens seamlessly as you come and go from you house. You don’t even know when it switches from 4G to WiFi (except for the little icon that appears in your Notification Bar). The best part: my battery now lasts much longer (a full day or more), since using WiFi eliminates all of that constant searching for 4G connectivity!
  • The Galaxy Nexus is running Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) operating system which is super-fast in its own right. And there are many reasons why Ice Cream Sandwich is pretty cool.
  • The phone is (obviously) very Google friendly. All things Google are intuitive and handy and built right into the phone itself.
    Some examples:
  • Google+ and Picasa – Granted, I don’t use Google+ as much as I think we all will in the future, but I do like one feature that is only available through G+. It’s the ability to have your phone automatically upload any photos taken directly to your Picasa web folders. Have no fear, they’re still PRIVATE (if that’s what you’ve set for your Picasa web albums), so your photos aren’t being sent out publicly anywhere. But this means you never have to “upload” the photos from your phone to your computer again — if you use Picasa like I do. I currently have my lifetime photo collection (currently 50,000+ digital photos that I’ve taken) stored in private Picasa web albums. Why is Picasa so great? It’s a FREE backup for all your digital photos. Plus, you can access all of your digital photos from ANY computer or from your phone. (Yep, all of my 50,000+ photos are easily accessible to me right from the built-in Gallery app on my phone!) IMPORTANT: I highly recommend NOT syncing your Google+ account with your phone though. Why? Because, if you do, you’ll get all of those names mixed in with your personal Contact list! Fortunately, you do not need to sync your phone with Google+ in order to do the photo syncing that I mentioned above. You turn that on through the Google+ app settings directly.
  • Contacts – Your Google Contacts are perfectly synced between your desktop and your phone at all times as well. By the way, I don’t let Facebook or Google+ sync with  my Contacts because I like for my phone’s Contact list to include only those people I’m closest to… and that I would actually call. Who doesn’t have “friends” on those social media platforms that you’ve never even met, right? I just don’t want those people clogging up my personal phonebook / Contact list.
  • Gmail  - If you use Gmail as much as I use Gmail, then you’ll appreciate the fact that all of your email is perfectly synced between your desktop and your phone at all times. See why I like Gmail better than other email programs.
  • Calendar – Same with your Calendar… if you use Google Calendar.
  • Browser – This is a new one for me. I’ve been using the Google Chrome browser for years now, but I’ve never synced my browser (and bookmarks) across computers before. Now I do. Since the Galaxy Nexus uses the Google Chrome browser (which, among other things, features tabbed browsing on your phone!), I now love how all of the bookmarks I’ve saved on my desktop or laptop are automatically synced with my phone! Even the Bookmarks Bar — which is where you keep shortcuts to your most-used sites — is perfectly synced on my phone! (For what it’s worth, I use Google Bookmarks only for my most-used things that I want to be handy at all times. I use Diigo bookmarks for everything else, including all of my blogging resources. I like Diigo for research purposes — because you can highlight directly on the web page the sections that you want to remember. I have about 200 bookmarks stored in Google Bookmarks and I have over 20,000 bookmarks stored in Diigo!)
  • Docs - I don’t access my Google Docs much when I’m out & about because it’s where I store all of my recipes and my blogging stuff – like article ideas and longterm goals. (While I manage the content of 32 blogs, I only write on my laptop, not from my phone. Therefore, Google Docs isn’t as important to me when I’m out & ab0ut as it is when I’m at home.) Due to the immediate syncing and the overall convenience of Google Docs (it’s just like Microsoft Word!), I really should be using it more often for major note taking — like at conferences, etc. For day-to-day use, I actually prefer Google Tasks for taking notes on the fly from my phone. (See Apps below.)
  • Music – I’ve been using Google Music to store all my CDs and music downloads for awhile now (see below). With the Galaxy Nexus, all Google products are synced (if you so choose; under Settings – Accounts & Sync), including the Music!
  • I love how easy it is to use Voice Commands when searching Google while using the browser, writing email, and searching for things on the phone itself (like Contacts you’re about to call). Here are all the ways that you can use Voice Actions instead of typing on your Android phone. FYI, here’s a comparison of Apple’s Siri vs Google Voice Actions.
  • I kind of had to train myself to regularly use this next feature, and now I love it! Next to the on-screen buttons for Home and Back is a 3rd (and final) on-screen button which takes you to a list of all the apps you’ve recently used. It’s an ever-changing list of Recent Apps, so you can — with one click — go back to any place you’ve been since you last powered off your phone. It’s also like a task manager in that it will kill any apps that are currently running in the background. It’s a cinch to access it, and it’s a cinch to remove any apps that you know you won’t be accessing again soon: simply swipe to remove it from the list!
  • galaxy-nexus-screenshotIt’s super-easy to organize your apps into Folders on the Galaxy Nexus. If you have 2 or more apps that are similar (or serve a similar purpose), and you want to put them into a single folder on your screen, simply drag & drop one app onto the other and a new Folder magically appears with those apps inside it. You can name the Folder whatever you want. You can have as many apps inside each Folder as you want. I love Folders because they save screen space and help you organize all your apps! As a result, I’m only using 2 of the 5 screens that you get with the Galaxy Nexus.
    Some of my Folders are:
    • Shopping – for apps that I’m likely to use when shopping to find coupons, compare prices, find items locally, etc.
    • Houses – for apps like Zillow, Trulia, REALTOR, as well as links to the homepages of several local sites that I access to find home values within my county.
    • Fitness – for apps that help me track calories, show me how to do specific exercises, and map my bike routes (mileage & calories burned).
    • Games – for those times when I’ve got a few minutes to kill, like at the doctor’s office, on a plane, etc.
    • Food & Travel – for apps that help me find restaurants and hotels when I’m traveling.
    • Nightlife – a collection of homepages for local clubs and music venues (so I can check the schedule at each, on the fly).
    • TV & Movies – my favorite apps for checking movie times at local theaters, my Netflix queue, and the local TV schedule
  • When unlocking your phone to use it each time, you can swipe to the right to land on your home screen with your most-used apps… or you can swipe to the left to immediately open the Camera app instead. That’s quite a handy feature! There’s no need to fumble around trying to find the Camera app whenever you just want to snap a quick photo.
  • The camera itself is 5 megapixel zero shutterlag camera with 1080p video recording. The photos look great. (I haven’t tried the video yet.) I mostly love the zero shutterlag! That’s the worst part about point-and-shoot digital cameras: the lag time between when you press the shutter button and when the photo is actually taken. No worries with the Galaxy Nexus… this camera is fast! Of course the trade-off is things that are moving are more likely to be slightly out of focus. That is, unless the shot is taken in very good daylight.
  • The Galaxy Nexus camera has a few other cool features as well:  1) An easy-access toggle so you can switch from the front-facing lens (like a webcam, so you can get in the photo) to the rear-facing lens (the traditional photo-taking mode). Since there’s no flash with the front-facing lens, you need to be in good lighting in order for those pictures to turn out.  2) An on-screen zoom slide bar that you can use with both photos and video. However, it’s just digital zoom. So it increases the fuzziness of your photos. Only an optical zoom camera would prevent that.  3) A single-click panorama feature. You click, then pan the area you wish to photograph, and the Galaxy Nexus stitches together a great panoramic photo for you!
  •  

    Here’s a complete list of Galaxy Nexus features and all of the detailed technical specs.

     

    The Must-Have Apps I Immediately Downloaded

    At the recommendation of Leo Laporte (via This Week in Google podcast), we considered using AppBrain to preserve all of the free and purchased Android apps that hubby and I had previously downloaded onto our Droid X phones. However, there’s really no need because we found that the Galaxy Nexus behaved just like Engadget describes:

    We logged in with our Google ID and password, and to our surprise, the Nexus started downloading and installing all of our purchased apps (in addition to syncing our email, calendar and contacts).

    Now, onto my must-have apps and widgets…

     

    • Swype  - It came pre-loaded on my Droid X phone. But I had to download the Swype app manually on my Galaxy Nexus. It’s FREE and runs in the background. In my opinion: Once you try Swype, you’ll never go back to a ‘regular’ keyboard on your smartphone again! I’ve used it on my last 2 phones (Droid X and Galaxy Nexus), but had to go 3 days without it… and can’t believe how tedious it is to type letter-by-letter. With Swype, you drag your finger across the keyboard rather than tap letters. If you just get near the letter you’re intending, it “knows” the word you meant to type (based on the other letters you got near). 99% of the time, Swype gets it right and it does all the punctuation and spaces for you too. No more shift+__. I love Love LOVE Swype!
    • Dropbox – I use Dropbox all the time. If you’re currently using a thumb drive to share things between computers, I bet you’ll like Dropbox better than that. It’s a FREE and simple way to move files and photos from one computer to another — so you can view your own things on various computers, or so you can share things with other people. It’s especially great for sharing really large files or many photos at once. Those are things that could bog down an email program, or may even be too large for an email program to handle. But best of all, I just like being able to move things and share things privately and wirelessly on the fly! (P.S. If you decide to use Dropbox and you use this referral link, both you and I will get an extra 250MB of storage space — on top of the standard 2GB that’s already FREE.)galaxy-nexus-homescreen
    •  GTasks – My all time favorite way to take notes on the fly and keep running To Do lists  is to use the GTasks app. It’s FREE. Whether you’ve used Google Tasks before or not (I’ve been using it for years on my desktop and laptop computers — it resides in the corner of my Gmail webpage), you can use the GTasks app to store multiple To Do Lists and individual Notes. (You can have as many separate lists and notes as you want.) Best of all, you can use the Galaxy Nexus “widget” for GTasks to have your most important, or most recent, or items with due dates appear right on your phone’s home screen — either as a list, or as an item. Since you can assign a due date to items if you want, it’s also a handy event reminder system as well! GTasks is a lifesaver for me. It stays perfectly synced across all my computers and my phone!
    • Handcent SMS – I use this app so I can change the way text messages look and feel on the Galaxy Nexus (like the color of the LED notification button, how rapidly it blinks, the ringtone that is heard whenever I receive a text message, what the messages themselves look like, and to have each text message appear as a pop-up on my screen whether the phone is asleep or not). Hubby uses this app so he can send “group texts”. For some reason, the default text messaging program on the Galaxy Nexus doesn’t allow you to do that. This is a FREE app.
    • Light Flow LED Control - This has replaced most of what I was using the Handcent SMS app for. (All but the on-screen pop-ups for each text messages.) Light Flow LED Control allows you to control how just about every app on the Galaxy Nexus utilizes the flashing LED light and/or ringtones on the phone. You can set custom colors, blink rates, vibration patterns, ringtones, and more for people that you communicate frequently with, as well as for just about every single app that you have on your phone. For example: If you want your missed calls to blink RED while ringtone ABC sounds, but a missed call from your hubby to blink BLUE while ringtone XYZ sounds, you can! If you want an incoming text message to blink ORANGE and vibrate 3 times while ringtone ABC sounds, but an incoming text message from your hubby to blink GREEN and vibrate 2 times while ringtone XYZ sounds, you can! The possibilities are endless in terms of the number of ways that you can customize all of your lights, sounds, and vibration patterns on the Galaxy Nexus. Light Flow LED Control  is a FREE app. If you want to use it for anything other than your email, missed calls, text messages, calendar reminders, and the like, then you’ll need to upgrade to the paid version. (I might upgrade so I can customize the notifications for 2 of the multi-player games that I frequently use: WordFeud and WordSmith.)
    • VoiceRecorder – This is an awesome FREE app for recording things (audibly) on the fly. I use it to leave myself reminders. I also use it to record meetings and conversations — instead of taking notes. It’s a lifesaver when you’re meeting with a doctor, and you want to make sure that you don’t miss a thing he says! The best part: you can save them in the app itself, or email them to yourself as audio files which you can share or replay over and over!
    • CamScanner Phone PDF Creator – I don’t use this one a lot, but boy it has come in handy a couple of times. Think of it as a pocket-sized scanner — only the item doesn’t have to fit within the size of a typical scanner bed. Instead, you just snap a picture of something and CamScanner takes a super-high quality shot of that item and even lets you resize and crop on the fly. It’s better than taking a picture with your regular camera phone because this CamScanner app recognizes actual characters — so they’re sharper and easier to read, no matter how far away you are and what angle you take the picture from. To top it all off, you can save these images as PDF files — to keep or share with others. The only downside: it’s not free.
    • US Newspapers – This is a no-frills app that has become my go-to source for timely news round the clock. You have all of the major U.S. newspapers right in one place. I also like the Google News and Yahoo News, among others. It’s a FREE app.
    • Hootsuite (for Twitter and Facebook) – I’ve been using the desktop version for years. It’s the best program (and app) for managing multiple Twitter accounts, receiving notifications, scheduling tweets, and viewing Twitter lists. Plus, you can do all of those same things with your Facebook account (including Facebook Pages) through the FREE Hootsuite app as well. I don’t even use the Facebook app itself anymore. I like reading my FB stream in Hootsuite better.
    • Google Plus - This FREE app comes on the phone, but you don’t have to enable it. (I did.) I use this app mostly for its ability to automatically upload all photos taken with my Galaxy Nexus camera to my Picasa web albums (mentioned above). And I have no doubt  that I’ll start using Google+ more soon — once it becomes more mainstream — because I actually think that Google+ is a better platform for social sharing and connecting. However, currently most of my social networking takes place on Twitter and Facebook — using the Hootsuite app. Perhaps when Hootsuite starts supporting Google+ (for FREE!), then I’ll start using Google+ more. Because, for me, it’s more about the convenience of being able to chat and share things from one place (like Hootsuite), rather than from many individual apps and platforms.
    • Google Calendar – The Google Calendar app also comes standard on the Galaxy Nexus — after all, it is a Google phone. But the best part is the cool Calendar widget that comes on the Galaxy Nexus! I keep the widget on my home screen, so I can always see, at a glance, exactly what’s coming up on my Calendar. You can make this widget (and all widgets) any size you like… all the way up to full-screen size! No matter what size you make it, if you click on it, you’ll go directly to the most recent event on your calendar. From there, you can switch to weekly view, or monthly view — to see all of your other Calendar events. This is a FREE app.
    • Brightest  Flashlight - I like this FREE flashlight app best because it turns on both the camera’s flash and the phone’s screen light for the most powerful flashlight possible. Seriously. The LED light alone that comes from your camera’s flash is much more powerful than most of the other LED flashlight apps out there. This flashlight app comes in handy when walking around the yard at night, camping, walking the dog, etc.
    • Camera Zoom FX – This app replaced the standard camera app for me on both the Droid X and the Galaxy Nexus phones. The most important reason to get this app for the GN is so you can turn your volume keys into a shutter button (no more having to click the exact spot on the screen to snap a picture). You can also make it so you can touch anywhere on the screen (rather than just that blue button area) in order to take a picture. There are lots more cool features in addition to this. I don’t use most of them. It’s not a free app, but it doesn’t cost much and it goes on sale all the time.
    • Listen - This FREE app enables me to listen to my favorite podcasts — mostly Leo Laporte’s TwitTV stuff.
    • Google Maps - Of course, this FREE app comes standard on the phone. And of course it’s the mack-daddy when it comes to voice-guided GPS navigation. Use it all the time.
    • Google Play Music - When Google Music first came out, I jumped right on board. It’s a FREE program (for your desktop and/or phone app) that enables you to keep all of the music you’ve purchased right in one place. The best part: it syncs automatically across all of your computers and/or your cell phone. I’ve uploaded all of the CDs I’ve ever purchased to my Google Music account, as well as all of my mp3′s (including those I had in iTunes from my previous iPhone days). Now all of my music is in one place and it’s synced at all times. I use a Jabra Cruiser bluetooth in-car speakerphone to listen to music from my phone over my car radio.
    • Power Control widget - This FREE widget comes pre-installed on the Galaxy Nexus. I use it on occasion in these ways.

     

    Okay, so those are all of the apps and widgets that I keep on my home screen. They are definitely the must-have’s for me.

    The other apps that I mentioned I keep in Folders (above), are all random apps and shortcuts (webpage links that I’ve saved as shortcuts from the Browser). I rarely use them, except to play a game occasionally (I keep my ongoing games in a folder on my homescreen), or to see what’s going on in town, or at the movies, or to snag a coupon when I’m out shopping. I certainly don’t use them a lot, but they’re all handy under the right circumstances.

    Every one of the apps mentioned above either runs in the background or fits perfectly on the only 2 screens (of the 5 you get on the Galaxy Nexus) that I am using. I’m a very organized person, can you tell?

     

    Galaxy Nexus Tips From Others

     

    Lynnette Walczak

    I like to help people find unique ways to do things in order to save time & money -- so I frequently write about "outside the box" ideas that most wouldn't think of. As a lifelong dog owner, I often share my best tips for living with and training dogs. I worked in Higher Ed several years until switching gears to pursue things I was more passionate about. I've worked at a vet, in a photo lab, and at a zoo -- to name a few. I enjoy the outdoors via bicycle, motorcycle, Jeep, or RV. You can always find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun websites).

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