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Google, Samsung unveil Android 4.0, Galaxy Nexus

Google and Samsung have unveiled their joint answer to the threat of Apple's best-selling iPhone 4S: Android 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich' and the Nexus Galaxy hero-phone.

Unveiled at an event late last night, the latest build of Android combines the 2.3 'Gingerbread' tree designed for smartphones with the 3.0 'Honeycomb' build for tablets, unifying the two systems once more into a single platform.

"With Ice Cream Sandwich, our mission was to build a mobile OS that works on both phones and tablets, and to make the power of Android enticing and intuitive," explained Google's mobile veep Andy Rubin of the launch. "We created a new font that's optimized for HD displays and eliminated all hardware buttons in favor of adaptable software buttons."

Those two changes are worth investigating in greater detail. The new font, designed for HD screens, indicates a major shift in the ecosystem: Google will be concentrating on devices with a resolution of at least 1280x720 for this and future Android releases.

The removal of the hardware buttons is also a major shift, but one that shouldn't harm backwards compatibility: Google has already confirmed plans to release an Ice Cream Sandwich update for its last-generation Nexus S handset.

"We also dramatically improved the keyboard, made notifications more interactive and created resizable widgets," Rubin continued. "The desktop-class browser is significantly faster, featuring a refined tab manager and the ability to sync your bookmarks with Google Chrome.

"Ice Cream Sandwich also features the best mobile Gmail experience to date, with a new design that lets you quickly swipe through your inbox and search messages even when you’re offline. Calendar boasts a clean new look and you can zoom into your schedule with a pinch.

"People are at the heart of Ice Cream Sandwich," Rubin added. "We rethought how you browse your contacts with the new People app, which combines high-resolution photos and updates from Google+ and other social services. It's also easier to capture and share your life with family and friends."

While the launch of Ice Cream Sandwich is impressive enough, the majority of people present at the event had their eyes on Samsung's contribution: the Galaxy Nexus hero-phone.

The first gadget to get an official Ice Cream Sandwich build, the Galaxy Nexus - previously known under the false codename of Nexus Prime - is the first Nexus device to feature the Samsung brand, although the second - after the Nexus S - the company has manufactured.

The biggest feature of the device is its display: measuring a massive 4.65 inches and with a resolution of 1280x720, the HD Super AMOLED display is nothing short of stunning - and again confirms Google's desire to make 720p a standard for Android devices in the future.

Behind the display is a 1.2GHz dual-core application process, similar to the one found in Samsung's current Galaxy S II flagship device. Rumour has it, however, that Samsung's own-brand Exynos chip has been ditched in favour of rival Texas Instruments' OMAP chip - although this is unconfirmed at present.

The handset also includes 1GB of RAM along with 16GB or 32GB of internal memory, Bluetooth 3.0, USB 2.0, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n, GPS, and a barometer alongside the more usual sensors.

The Galaxy Nexus is also impressively thin: measuring 135.5mm by 67.94mm and just 8.94mm thick, the 135g smartphone should fit pretty much any pocket - despite its large display.

Interestingly, despite the similarities with the Galaxy S II - including the 1.2GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM - the Galaxy Nexus features a five megapixel camera, rather than the eight megapixel model found on the Galaxy S II.

While Rubin is quick to point out the quality - "zero shutter lag, automatic focus, top notch low-light performance and a simple way to capture panoramic picture," he explained, along with 1080p video support - it means that, on paper at least, the Galaxy Nexus camera is outclassed by both the Galaxy S II and the iPhone 4S.

Despite the somewhat underwhelming specifications - for anyone who already has a Galaxy S II, anyway - the Galaxy Nexus is still an impressive device, and is due to hit shop shelves in November.

If you're unconvinced as to its charms, here's Google's promo video offering an insight into the Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich. monitors all leading technology stories and rounds them up to help you save time hunting them down.