Samsung Unveils the Galaxy Nexus A La Mode

Samsung and Google unveiled the latest flagship Android phone today called the Galaxy Nexus, which is running a version of the operating system called Ice Cream Sandwich.

The phone is big and powerful, boasting a 4.65-inch display and LTE, which is one of the fastest 4G networks available worldwide.

Based on demonstrations today, Ice Cream Sandwich marks the most polished version of Android yet. Improved usability will make it easier to conduct tasks in fewer steps, and an improved user interface has better graphics and typefaces.

It’s too early to tell how evolutionary Android 4.0 is, or if it’s more revolutionary. One of the tangible differences between it and Apple’s new iPhone 4S is a built-in near field communications chip, which will allow two users to tap with NFC-enabled phones to share any content on the phone, from a map to a news article. It will also support mobile payments, including Google’s own wallet.

From earlier:

Samsung and Google are gathering reporters in Hong Kong Thursday morning to talk about the next version of Android called Ice Cream Sandwich.

However, I’ll be watching a live webcast of the event from back here in the states, where it is evening.

The event was rescheduled by Google and Samsung for today after the two companies graciously delayed the news after the passing of Apple’s Steve Jobs.

Now, perhaps enough time has gone by to talk about whether Ice Cream Sandwich (or ICS, for short) has passed Apple’s recently released iOS 5 in terms of features and functionality.

So far, not much has been officially revealed about the software as All Things D’s Ina Fried pointed out this morning. The answers we’ll be looking for are around what improvements it will offer, how it will compete with iOS 5, and, ultimately, availability.

At the minimum, it is the expectation that Ice Cream Sandwich will eliminate some fragmentation in the OS by tying the last two releases together. Gingerbread was for phones and Honeycomb was for tablets. Now, Ice Cream Sandwich is for both.

The software is expected to be backwards compatible with existing hardware and should be available in time for the holidays. Since Samsung is also participating in the event, expect some new hardware, too!

Here’s the live blog:

6:58 pm: Please stand by, the event is starting shortly.

Lots of the news has already leaked out. We are going to hear all about Ice Cream Sandwich, and the Galaxy Nexus, which will be Google’s latest flagship phone.

All the details for the gadget have been handed out to the press who are attending the event in person. But the crafty people at the Verge have all the details, from pictures to video to hands-on already.

Samsung’s head of public relations, Kim Titus, is on stage introducing the President of Samsung Mobile, J.K. Shin.

7:04 pm: Shin says that it is Samsung’s close relationship with Google that has allowed it to become the largest Android smartphone manufacturer.

He’s on stage to announce the first Ice Cream Sandwich phone.

It will be enabled with LTE for rapid wireless speeds via Verizon Wireless in the U.S., and depending on consumer demand, there will be an HSPA+ version, which today in the U.S. would work on T-Mobile USA and AT&T.

To help introduce the phone, Shin is introducing his friend from Google, Andy Rubin.

Rubin is very excited! It’s their next flagship phone, running Android 4.0!

We want it to be easy to use, and intuitive to use and predict what the user wants to do next. We want the customer feeling satisfied.

7:08 pm: Google wants to include all of Google’s cloud services, so it works intuitively, even when it’s in your pocket.

To illustrate how well this latest version of the operating system works, Google has a video.

That was really short. Basically a screenshot of the phone.

Now for the photo ops. Rubin and Shin holding phones together for the cameras. Awkward silence.

7:10 pm: Here are more details from Kevin Packingham.

Packingham repeats that Samsung is the largest manufacturer of Android phones. I guess there are no hard feelings yet about Google buying Motorola.

Packingham confirms both HSPA+ and LTE, depending on the market.

He said the Galaxy Nexus is the first Android smartphone, featuring Android 4.0 and LTE. That means it’s fast. The software and the network.

Here’s all the nitty gritty of the phone.

The phone will have the best screen, best processor, and quite possibly one of the largest screens at 4.65 inches. (Tablets are commonly 7 and 10 inches, for perspective.)

7:17 pm: Samsung has retained the rounded edge found on the Nexus S that is for sale on Sprint’s network currently.

Lots of other details being shared here, like a “hyperskin” back that keeps it from slipping out of your hand, and a “buttonless” design.

Some other features: 1.2 GHz, a five megapixel camera with zero shutter lag, and a forward-facing camera. It has NFC, of course, which will offer “a broad number of mobile payments options,” probably like Google Wallet.

In November it will go on sale in the U.S., Asia and Europe.

7:21 pm: Now Google is on stage. Here’s Matias Duarte.

He asks a very touchy-feely question: What is the soul of Android?

People said they needed it and wanted it, but they didn’t LOVE Android. We set out goals to guide how people would talk about Android: It’s enchanting. It’s easy. It simplifies my life. And, Android should make me feel powerful and smart.

The first example he’s offering of this is “Roboto,” which is a totally new look for Android. It offers a new bold typeface, starting from the homescreen.

One of people’s favorite parts of Android is their homescreen, it’s their personal space.

At the bottom of the screen, there are virtual buttons, such as phone and contacts. They disappear in some apps, though, like watching video.

7:27 pm: One of the demonstrations is showing off how features are better organized on the phone. One of the more difficult things on Android is finding or creating files, but these things have become a little less complex.

But the homescreen is also for speed dial shortcuts.

Ice Cream allows you to organize your favorites tray at the bottom of the screen, so you are always one click away from what you want to do.

One of Android’s best attributes is multi-tasking. Now it’s easier to see what apps you were recently using, and easily flick away apps you are done with to save on processing power.

7:30 pm: Notifications are better than ever. In Ice Cream Sandwich, music will be added to the screen and users can flick away notifications they don’t want to read.

Google says it gave the keyboard a lot of love in Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s more accurate, and there’s an in-line spell checker. Cut, copy and paste is also better. You can drag highlighted words or cut or copy like usual.

Google has always had voice to text, but with Apple’s announcement of Siri, it will have to up its game. Now they are saying voice transcription is “instant.” No need to push a button, even if you pause while dictating. Words show up very quickly.

Another new feature that’s pretty futuristic: Face unlock. The phone recognizes your face and unlocks the screen.

Uh oh, the demo isn’t working. Duarte’s phone didn’t recognize him. He jokes that his stage make-up was heavier than he thought.

7:35 pm: Google is now demonstrating the browser, which has lots of tabs and automatically syncs bookmarks from your Chrome laptop (if you have one …).

One nice feature is that you are able to save Web sites offline, like bus schedules or mobile boarding tickets in case you don’t have service when you need the information.

Google is now showing off the new Gmail, which they hope is the best mobile email anywhere (I thought BlackBerry held that title?).

Roboto makes the text insanely crisp and makes it a pleasure to read, and users are able to swipe to the right and left to change inboxes.

Lots of updates that are refining the Android experience, but nothing revolutionary. For instance, there’s offline search, so you can find an email or contact even when you aren’t online. They also updated the calendar app to pinch to zoom, so you can see details of a very busy day.

7:40 pm: Here’s a feature for carriers on data usage. The new features help you understand your data usage and give you controls to better manage it.

For instance, you can set alerts, or you can set limits to cut off mobile data, or it will forecast your monthly usage based on your past behavior.

Welcome to the world of limited data plans!

7:42 pm: A photo update: Google has worked closely with Samsung to improve the camera.

From the lock screen, you can drag to the left to snap a picture. By tapping on the photo, you can share to a number of locations. In this demo, they are conveniently sharing to Google+ and not Facebook.

The camera has zero shutter lag. It’s instant and you can take a number of shots in one rapid fire.

After taking the photo, you can crop it, remove red eye, or apply a “hipster” filter.

A new Ice Cream Sandwich feature for the camera is panoramic shots. Easily shoot a landscape and the phone will stitch together the photos seamlessly.

The camera also allows you to shoot 1080p video.

Users will be able to shoot time-lapsed videos and add filters to make shots and videos look amazing.

7:49 pm: The next new feature of Ice Cream Sandwich is “The People app.”

This is a new contact list of sorts that pulls in information from various social networks, like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. It’s open to any social network.

A lot of these new features add a lot of finishes to Android. Nicer graphics and typeface and a greater emphasis on photos to show contacts, make phone calls, etc.

The last thing they are showing us today is a new feature called Android Beam that allows you to share any content between phones using NFC.

Two phones must touch together in order to share a news article, or a map, YouTube videos, people cards and a bunch of other things.

You can even share apps to send a person directly to the Android Market page to download the same app.

It can be used to set up a multiplayer game, or a chat discussion. The APIs are shipping with Ice Cream Sandwich and open to developers.

7:57 pm: The phone isn’t available until November, but starting today, developers can download the SDK to start developing apps for the new platform.

That’s it for the demonstration.

And that’s it for the liveblog. The presentation is over.

No pricing information, and no carrier announcements other than NTT DoCoMo in Japan, so presumably, stay tuned for more information.

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