Buy the Samsung Galaxy Nexus now or wait for something better?

This edition of Ask Maggie helps a reader decide whether to get the Samsung Galaxy Nexus or wait for another Ice Cream Sandwich Android phone. Also: Advice for syncing e-mail on a smartphone.

The trickiest thing about technology is that six months after you buy the hottest gadget, another product is introduced that makes your once-cutting-edge device look like yesterday's news.

And in the smartphone world, it seems like that cycle of hot-to-not is rapidly increasing. So what's a cell phone aficionado to do?

The perfect smartphone


Dear Maggie,
I need your help. I'm a Verizon Wireless customer, and I'm in the market for a new smartphone. My contract is up next month. I was wondering if you think the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the best choice for someone who is looking for the latest and greatest smartphone. My biggest requirement is that it has to be 4G. (That means no iPhone 4S for me, thank you very much!) And I also want the latest and greatest specs, i.e. processing power, memory, screen resolution, camera, etc. And of course, I want the latest Google software.


I've heard the Galaxy Nexus may fall short in some areas, but it's the only phone available today with ICS. So what should I do? Buy the Galaxy Nexus now or wait to see if ICS comes on some of the other cool Verizon devices like the Motorola Droid Razr or the HTC Rezound?


Thanks,
In Search of the Perfect Smartphone

Dear In Search of the Perfect Smartphone,
Unfortunately for you, no smartphone truly has it all. So you simply have to accept that you will not be able to get "best in class" on every single metric. To build such a phone would be outrageously expensive. And since technology is evolving so fast, what is best in class today, will not be tomorrow.

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the first device to come preloaded with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. CNET

So my advice to you is to not worry too much about which phone is the "best." And instead focus on whether the phone truly meets your needs.

You are correct that the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the first device to come preloaded with Google's latest software, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. This is a significant differentiator. Even though other manufacturers, such as Motorola, have said that their top smartphones, like the Droid Razr, will get the ICS update, it's hard to say when this will happen.

ICS is supposed to make the interface on Android devices easier to use. And there are a slew of enhancements and tweaks enabled by the software upgrade. So if getting your hands on the benefits of Ice Cream Sandwich are top priority for you, then I'd say that Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the device for you.

You also mentioned that 4G LTE speeds are important to you. The Motorola Droid Razr and the HTC Rezound are also 4G devices. So these devices are certainly an option, but as I mentioned before, it's hard to say exactly when they will get Ice Cream Sandwich. So keep that in mind.

You can check out the specs for the Motorola Droid Razr, Samsung Galaxy Nexus , and HTC Rezound on CNET Reviews. But for the most part, the CNET Reviews team has rated them all pretty high. In fact, the Droid Razr and the Galaxy Nexus got the same basic score and designation of Editor's Choice.

Still, Kent German and Jessica Dolcourt, who reviewed the Galaxy Nexus , said the device is not without flaws. And even though ICS may be a major differentiator now, in a few months when other devices have the software, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus may not seem like top dog.

"As the first U.S. phone with Ice Cream Sandwich, Verizon's Samsung Galaxy Nexus takes a coveted, solitary step forward," the review reads. "However, once other premium handsets receive the updated Android OS, the Galaxy Nexus will lose some of its competitive edge."

While the Galaxy Nexus has a beautiful screen and top notch processing power, other aspects of the hardware are less impressive. For example, the Galaxy Nexus lacks a slot for expandable memory, And the 5-megapixel camera isn't Samsung's best, according to the CNET review. The review indicates that the picture quality wasn't that great. Something that's a bit disappointing, since the new ICS software is supposed to be great for editing and manipulating photos right on the phone. What's more, Verizon is not allowing support for Google Wallet, a feature enabled on the previous Google Android Nexus device.

Despite some of these drawbacks, when I asked Kent German whether he'd recommend this phone right now, he said: "Yes, I'd recommend it. It appears to be a very good phone. It's not perfect, but no phone is."

He also acknowledged that it's a tough call when choosing between the Droid Razr and the Galaxy Nexus. The Droid Razr has a premium design, but the Galaxy Nexus has Ice Cream Sandwich. When it comes to specs, they're pretty similar.

I think it's important to take Kent's advice and realize that no phone is perfect. You can look at the Droid Razr and Rezound as comparisons, but remember that these phones have their flaws as well.

That said, each of these devices is considered a high-end smartphone. They each operate on Verizon's 4G LTE network. And they all will eventually get the latest Android software. So you will likely be happy with any one of them. So my advice to you is to prioritize what's most important to you, and then select that device. Good luck!

It's time to move to the cloud

Help me Obi-Wan Maggie, you're my only (last) hope,

I need to help my wife get a cell phone that she will be happy with. Because if she is unhappy, then ... well, you know.


I'm the tech/geek in the household, Systems Admin IT pro by day, home Sys admin by night and on weekends. The problem is that my wife has a Palm Centro phone. She uses the calendar and contacts list, and syncs it with her Palm Desktop on her Windows PC. She would like a new cell phone that can do the same thing, sync to desktop, so that she can use that calendar for appointments and contacts, which will be viewable on her PC as well as her phone.


She doesn't need to continue using the Palm Desktop. It could be Microsoft Outlook, but since it's her home account it won't be through an Exchange server. She doesn't have any "cloud" accounts, i.e. Gmail, Yahoo, or Windows Live.


I have looked for phones with this capability, but haven't been able to find one. Do you have any recommendations? It doesn't seem like anyone is addressing this market. I've seen others looking for the same thing, but no solution. I'm not going for a third-party software, since I'm afraid that a phone update or Windows/Outlook update/patch will break the sync software, and then it's my problem.


I'm contacting you in the faint hope that you will have heard of something, or maybe you can ask the phone manufacturers and cell companies why they're ignoring this market. I'm sure there are other people who would like something like this.


Thanks,
David

Dear David,

Research In Motion BlackBerry devices will still allow you to sync Outlook email to the phone using a USB cable and the desktop manager software. (NOTE: In an earlier version of this story I erroneously omitted the fact that BlackBerry still allows devices to sync to Microsoft Outlook email without going to the cloud. I apologize for this omission.)

But beyond the BlackBerry, there aren't many options for syncing a smartphone to Microsoft Outlook without using third party software. CNET Reviews editors Brian Bennett and Jessica Dolcourt said that even Microsoft in its current version of Windows Phone is moving away from this direct syncing to Outlook and instead offers e-mail sync for Exchange as well as cloud-based e-mail.

Indeed, this is the same for other major smartphone platforms. The Apple iPhone and Google Android smartphones can sync to Outlook e-mail accounts, but that happens through a Microsoft Exchange server. If you don't have Exchange, which your wife doesn't, then there is nothing for the device to sync to.

This means that it may be difficult for her to keep her old Outlook or Palm Desktop e-mail and calendar apps, especially since Palm no longer exists as a company and new parent company Hewlett-Packard is no longer developing new products for Palm. And Microsoft has abandoned the Windows Mobile platform.

So the options that she has are to buy a BlackBerry, which will still allow her to sync to her Outlook account. But this may limit her in terms of other applications she can use. What's more even basic Web browsing is better on other major smartphone platforms. There are also some third party software options she can download onto devices, such as those running the Google Android platform, that will take care of the syncing task.

But if she is interested in an Apple iPhone, Google Android phone or a Windows Phone, the easiest and best way for your wife to keep her e-mail and contacts synced is to switch to a cloud-based e-mail system, such as Gmail. I know you said she doesn't have such an account. And it sounds like she is reluctant to make this switch. But for her sanity and yours, as her personal systems administrator, I'd recommend she make the transition. It's really the easiest way to keep all her devices synced.

I haven't asked the phone manufacturers why they abandoned this method, except to say that it's simply easier for everyone involved to use the cloud. Unfortunately for you and your wife, I don't see any of the major phone manufacturers going back to the old days of device syncing. If you do happen to find a solution, please let me know. And if any readers out there reading this column have found a solution, please let us know in the comment section below.

Correction and Update 1:20 p.m.: An earlier version of this story mistakenly left out Research In Motion's BlackBerry device as a smartphone that will allow people to sync their Microsoft Outlook email and contacts with their smartphones.

After this story was published, I received lots of advice from readers via email. I wanted to share some of this advice with readers, so I have included it below. Please check out the discussion board that follows for additional tips from readers.

Additional advice from readers

Maggie,
I just read your response to a man asking about using his wife's Outlook on a smartphone. I have a solution that works for me that I would like to share. Google has a program that syncs your Outlook calendar with your Google calender. Also, I have my email set to go to my Android phone and Outlook. It's important that you set your phone and Outlook not to delete messages off the server for at least a day so both get all messages. My calendar matches my Outlook and my emails are identical. Sent mail and deletes are unique per device. I think that works for his problem, and she never has to use online calendar or email.

Thanks,
Erik

Dear Maggie,
HTC has a program called HTC Sync that syncs Outlook with my Incredible on Froyo and now Gingerbread. It works perfectly. I mainly use it for syncing my Outlook calendar and contacts. I thought maybe you'd want to pass it on to your readers. I had a Thunderbolt for a couple weeks and it also worked on that. I am assuming it would work on the Rezound.

Thanks,
RL
Dear Maggie,
I read the article about the gentleman whose wife wants to sync her Palm calendar with her (possible) new phone and might be willing to use Outlook Calendar as an alternative to her Palm calendar. I had a similar concern and found that Deja Office was the solution. The app also uses CompanionLink as the desktop interface while Deja Office is the phone's interface. The cost is reasonable ($49.95) and the replication to the Outlook Calendar, Notes, Tasks, Memos and Contacts is pretty much a mirror image. It is a great solution to those who use Outlook and want to retain it on their phone.

Thanks,
Michael

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.

 

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