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Google’s Android operating system has long has its partisans. Forums abound with denunciations of Apple “fanboys,” filled with assertions that Android offers a fuller, more open operating system than the iPhone. But beneath all these claims of Android’s superiority, one unpleasant fact has remained, to some observers: many users of Android have been left feeling cold by their devices.

All that has changed, to judge from recent reviews that are pouring in of the Galaxy Nexus ($300), released this month after its debut at a Google/Samsung event in Hong Kong in October. Says Wired, in a representative review: “the Galaxy Nexus is better, faster and smarter than any other Android phone on the market.” Mike Isaac, the reviewer, goes so far as to suggest the device is the first Android with a “soul.” Dan Nosowitz of Popular Science meanwhile calls it “the best Android phone I’ve ever used, heads and tails above anything else on the market.” Google’s so proud of the phone that it’s been giving it out as a Christmas present to its employees.

The device is the first to run Android 4.0, codenamed “Ice Cream Sandwich,” and as a collaboration between Samsung and Google itself – engineers from both companies contributed to the phone and the OS – the Galaxy Nexus is earning wide accolades. Isaac raves about various aspects of the phone: the increased role of gestures, the easy access to hidden menus via a simple swipe of the thumb, an improved touch-typing interface, and even a new typeface that a Google UX guy calls “modern, yet approachable” and having “a cheerful demeanor.” (The Wikipedia article rattles off dozens of more features: enhanced speed, voice typing, real-time speech to text dictation, and a browser allowing up to 16 tabs, among many others.) To put it somewhat awkwardly, the Galaxy Nexus is more Andr- than -oid. Here is a more human, less robotic device.

Ice Cream Sandwich is what’s exciting most people here – Ice Cream Sandwich being, as Engadget snarkily reminds us, the Android release “designed to unify the tablet and smartphone experience while also creating world peace and curing the common cold.” Engadget definitely gives the phone a thumbs-up, overall, though: “This thing is fast. Really fast,” writes Tim Stevens. The main complaint that Stevens – and others – level against the device is its lack of Google Wallet, Google’s emerging mobile payment solution. Some suggest the reason for this is that Verizon, the network on which the phone runs, has invested in a rival payment service called Isis. Clever folks on the Internet, though, are finding a way around this.

All in all, it’s a phone for Android partisans to rave about, and one to tempt those who might begin to find their eye wandering from iOS or other smartphone platforms. As Joe Wilcox of BetaNews says, in a sly Star Wars reference: “this is the droid you’ve been looking for.”

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