It's no secret that I love phones to the point where I'm collecting them now. I have two lines of service and use them to alternate getting a new phone every year. To counter my aging iPhone 4 and replace my ancient Moto Droid, I've gotten myself the Samsung Galaxy Nexus for Verizon. So far, I love it. But loving the Galaxy Nexus is like loving a beautiful super model. She looks great, but is so thin, she's difficult to hold without feeling like she'll slip through your arms or get crushed in your manly grip.
Even though I dual wield an iPhone 4 on AT&T and just replaced my OG Droid on VZW with the CDMA Galaxy Nexus with LTE, it was hard to break the instinct to grab my iPhone. I had to force myself to leave what I’m comfortable with and make sure I forced myself to fully explore the phone. I left my iPhone at home for a week and made the Galaxy Nexus my daily driver, solely relying on it to get me through each day. This is what I noticed.
My main complaints are mostly all physical. The large surface area of the phone mixed with the thin profile makes it difficult to hold (compared to a more natural cupping of a round backside - that's right, I said it). The phone itself is slightly curved concave as a way to tout Samsung’s curved display. The large display means that with a typical "monkey grip", you're not likely to be able to reach the far corner with your thumb, making this a two handed phone for anything more than simple browsing. That makes sense for some people to naturally use a smartphone with both hands, but we all have scenarios where it would be nice if our grip hand could manage the whole phone (commuting, walking, driving where legal). That said, should you want to reach the far corner with your thumb single handedly, you turn the phone and cup the thin edge, putting it in a perilous position. The phone's design makes it dangerously smooth and subject to slipping out of your hand. I'd say get a silicone case for grip, but I'd wait until one accommodates the an extended battery should you need it. Plenty of companies will be making cases, especially with CES 2012 here. If you’re unimpressed with the bland grey color scheme, you can wait for the recently announced white version that will start shipping soon, but so far it’s just the GSM version.
The 4.65" display is gorgeous, especially for a PenTile. While we've seen bad Pentile implementation on phones like the Droid RAZR, the Galaxy Nexus doesn't suffer the same woes. The high density of the pixels makes them almost indistinguishable, which makes for clear images and impressive color. It still has a slight discoloration when viewed from an angle, but you likely won’t be doing that. Something to remember is that the display will likely be the most power hungry factor in this phone, with the highest brightness attributing to upwards of 50% power usage. Definitely be smart and use auto brightness or keep it at 50% until you need it brighter.
Knowing that smart phones have become the de facto music player for many, phone maufacturers have put the headphone jack on the top so the user can still look at the screen properly (you can't rest a phone on a surface standing up if the headphone jack is on the bottom edge). I don't know about you, but I frequently put my phone in a cup holder and don't like the idea of putting it upside down just because the headphone cable is coming out the wrong way. If I had to choose a single physical detriment that could hinder a common use case for smart phones, it would be the speaker. The single (possibly stereo, can't tell) speaker is questionably located on the backside, at the bottom. The speaker isn't that strong to begin with, certainly nowhere near close to the iPhone (relative to size), but remember that something else goes along the bottom of the backside - your hand. Why on earth would designers put a single speaker grill right where your hand is? It makes it impossible to hear anything while you hold it. Even then, I've listened to music at full volume with the phone face down on my desk and felt like I was nowhere near "11". There’s really nothing that will make the speaker work any louder short of external accessories.
The phone comes with an 1850mAh battery, which seems ample enough by today's standards, but the larger display, multitasking OS and optional LTE radio usage will consume that power very quickly. On launch, Verizon was already selling a first-party 2100mAh battery for $50 and immediately discounting it to $25 by day two (so if you paid full price for it, call Verizon immediately and have them credit your account). For the price of a nice lunch, you can get yourself a bigger battery that could make the difference between your phone dying before leaving work and making it back home at the end of the day. In my conservative tests with LTE disabled, I made it 24 hours on a single charge with the extended battery. For those with LTE service available, this is a blessing and a curse. LTE can definitely nab you insane speeds, like the 17mbps down, 10 mbps up I got in the road between Ames and Des Moines. But it absolutely destroy your battery. To give you an objective power usage example, I left the phone in my hotel while I was staying in the Milwaukee area. It was 100% charged when I left, so the meter started when I unplugged it. I returned about 5 ½ hours later to see 8% power remaining. I had just powered the phone on before, so I know the only apps I had running were my widgets for GMail, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Google Reader. That actually is a lot to keep running, but without the display running at all, no Wi-Fi, and no calls, iit still would have been dead from virtually zero usage in 6 hours. The lesson here is that if you plan on using LTE, you better be plugged in. Some reports even say that heavy usage with LTE enabled drains the battery faster than it can charge.
ICS is definitely a step up from the Froyo I'm used to and doesn't feel like it needs any mods at the moment with all its monitoring utility. You definitely need to get used to the change in manipulating apps and widgets, and of course the control buttons being "displayed" instead of being static. It's neither better or worse than iOS, and I say that as someone who uses both phones daily, which is about as objective as you can get. Would I recommend it over an iPhone? Depends on the person, of course. It's definitely the best Android phone on the market (with some very close competition from other Android devices), but you have to know that you want iPhone over Android. There's no point in telling people what they want if you are just going to tell them what you like. What I can say is that I would never question anyone buying an iPhone. They're either understand it immediately or in a short amount of time. I would question someone blindly (meaning never used a smartphone) buying any Android phone and recommend they use it before buying. Then again, anyone buying the Galaxy Nexus is buying because they know they want it, especially if they're buying unlocked for GSM (fully compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile services). For Android enthusiasts who are up on modding, CyanogenMod 9 is almost done and the available builds work on the Galaxy Nexus.
I can't speak to the call quality, since that's mostly a VZW issue and I'm probably in a bad place (AT&T has better coverage in every regard here, but that's subjective and useless in a review).