Galaxy Nexus review

The Samsung-made Galaxy Nexus is the third Nexus Android phone from Google, offering an ever-so-slightly curved 4.65″ Super AMOLED screen running at a super-high 720×1280 resolution, a 1.2GHz dual-core processor processor and, excitingly, our first chance to see the Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” version of Google’s mobile OS running on an actual phone.

Plus there’s a 5megapixel camera with flash and 1080p video recording, NFC capabilities, video output through its USB connector if you have an MHL adaptor, a front-facing secondary camera, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of onboard media storage space. It does a lot. It’s a flagship phone for a reason.

This model has been supplied for review by Expansys, which is selling the Galaxy Nexus for £519 at time of writing.

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The handset itself is much more rounded than Samsung’s Galaxy S II, with that slightly curved screen and a contoured sides giving it more of a friendly, welcoming feel. It’s like the Galaxy S II has been sandblasted into a more curvaceous form.

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Plus look at that. No physical buttons on the front of the phone. You get three white software buttons; Back, Home and the all-new multitasking recent app tab button to the right. Which means we’ve also lost one of the core Android features – there’s no Menu button unless an app chooses to display a tiny “…” icon to the far right of the button array.

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Just like the HTC Sensation, the Galaxy Nexus has a rounded edge to its screen, making the glass sit nicely inside the body. It’s a lovely thing to hold, plus those capacitive buttons are sensitive and reliable. We don’t miss physical feedback one bit.

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As with the Galaxy S II, the back cover of the Galaxy Nexus is amazingly thin. Putting it on is like putting a sticky plaster over a gaping wound. But it’s tough and nicely textured. We managed not to break it. You probably won’t ever need to take it off, as there’s no SD card slot on the Galaxy Nexus. That 16GB of internal memory is your lot.

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It has, to coin a phrase, quite a sexy back, with a protruding lip at the bottom to make it a little easier to balance in one hand.

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The sides are nice too, with the USB and 3.5mm headphone socket along the bottom edge, power top-right and volume rocker just above the middle on the left. You don’t get a physical camera button.

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It feels great. Solid and well balanced in the hand, with just enough style to it to make it stand out a little more than some of Samsung’s less glamorous Android models. Yes. We like it. We like looking at it.

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And look. New things. That’s your Android 4.0 lock screen, with the phone giving you two options here – dragging the padlock to the right to unlock the phone, or sliding it to the left to quickly open the camera. And if you’re playing music there’s a simple music controller on the screen, too. If someone rings you you can answer or ignore calls via the circles, too.

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And here’s the business end of it all. Android 4.0 supplies you with five Home screens, along with a collection of familiar and completely redesigned widgets. Google provides a folder of Google apps, and you can see the new folder icon, which shows you a mini stacked array of its contents.

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The new Calendar widget is absolutely beautiful. Enough to make you want to do things. But then you also get the boring old Android power strip, which hasn’t been prettified in any way. And to the right you see shortcuts to individual contacts, which can be popped on a Home screen and set to automatically dial or message a person when touched.

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The email widget is another visual highlight. It’s a lovely little thing that scrolls through your messages, plus it can be resized in place with a long-press. And that’s a simple, stylish, resizable and scrollable bookmarks widget to the right. The new widgets are all very nice indeed.

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And the app drawer has been refreshed, too, with your apps sliding horizontally from page to page, with a key new feature in here – pages of shortcuts for your phone’s widgets. You long-press a widget’s preview icon, then chuck it on a Home screen. Finally, a simple way to handle widgets that the “layman” will understand.

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Long-press any uninstallable app on this app drawer and you can fling it up to the top of the screen to uninstall it, or open up any app’s Android information page. But you don’t get any manual sorting options in the app drawer. It’s alphabetical only. There are no menu options here whatsoever.

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And there’s another Big New Thing, the multitasking menu. It’s a nice scrolling list of everything you’ve had open recently, with a long-press letting you remove any particular thing from this list, if you’ve left tracks that need covering.

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The result of the loss of the Android menu button is that it’s now left to the apps to generate their own menu icons – either on-screen (left) or by displaying the tiny menu icon in the button array (bottom right).

It’s an odd and slightly inconsistent thing to do – instead of having one menu button, you now end up having to look for it. As more apps are updated for Android 4.0 this issue will no doubt resolve itself, but it currently makes the OS seem a little haphazard and disjointed in places.

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The pull-down Notifications area is different, too. You can now drag individual messages to the side, deleting them while leaving others. That Facebook one literally will not go away, though. The Facebook app doesn’t work very well with Android 4.0.

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You can add individual shortcuts to the Home screen for a few of the key settings pages, creating your own little tactical array of shortcuts to certain features. And that’s Google’s Books widget to the right. You can’t resize that one.

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To create a folder, just drag one icon on to another. Then you have a folder.

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The email app is another highlight of the Android 4.0 design refresh. It’s simple and stylish, featuring a grey-on-grey look that’s pleasingly minimal. It supports multiple accounts, push notifications if your provider offers them, and works really well.

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The keyboard is your boring Android basic model. There’s no Swype, there’s no clone of Swype like Motorola and Sony Ericsson have been providing of late, just a bland peck-peck-peck QWERTY. It’s good enough to use, though, fast and responsive, with long-press punctuation for keeping up appearances. And there’s voice input, too, if you’re brave.

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The all-new settings screen, complete with built-in data monitor, mobile data toggle and a complete breakdown of what’s been using up your mobile allowance. Great to see this made part of the baseline Android feature set.

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The equally minimal and stylish Apps management pages, illustrating just how much app storage space there is in the Galaxy Nexus. That’ll keep us going for a while.

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Now, the Music app. This is entirely new. We haven’t played with any of the leaked builds, so it’s a very big change. Your music collection is broken down by artist, album and song, with the same horizontal flipping thing as found in the new Android Market app.

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It’s quite bland but integrates playlists well, plus there’s a playlist widget, which lets you create a 1×1 Home screen icon that plays any particular play list. Shame the music player Home screen widget (left) hasn’t been updated for Android 4.0, though. It’s a bit… simplistic.

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There’s also a terrible “Shop for artist” option accessed through long-pressing on an artist’s name, which brings up a list of Google search results in the web browser.

There’s a chance we’re not supposed to be seeing see this and it’s only come up because we’ve been fiddling with the region settings on our desktop Google Music account, so let’s not make an issue out of it.

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Video playback is good. It effortlessly managed a 1280×720 MP4 file without stuttering, which is impressive to see – but it refused MKV files and was picky about AVI support. Some AVIs worked, some didn’t. There are no doubt technical reasons for that, but the power is there if you can be bothered making sure your files are in the right format.

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The camera app is a bit plain and lacking in fancy features. It’s grey, it’s sparse, options are rather few – you can’t even select the image size, all you get is a message telling you that images are captured at “< 5M Pixels”.

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You get five scene selections. There are exposure and white balance options. And that is literally your lot. There’s no manual macro mode, either…

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…but the camera sensor does a good job of automatically focusing in on tight shots all the same.

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Picture quality is actually OK. It’s a very fast camera to open and use, although the auto-focus is slow to react. Tap the button to take a photo and it’ll instantly take a shot without bothering to focus, so you may end up with an SD card full of blurry shots until you realise you need to hold the shutter button and force it to focus, or tap the screen to focus manually.

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There’s some loss of detail in backgrounds and when capturing grassy, leafy things, but results are good enough for most purposes. It’s a bit disappointing that shots are all recorded in 4:3 aspect ratio, though. We’ve got used to widescreen. It makes life look more exciting.

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That’s the front-facing camera (left), which records at 960×1280 – pretty good for a secondary sensor. And that’s a front camera face-warp to the right. Hilarious. For at least 20 seconds.

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But yes, we like the images. They could perhaps be a bit more vibrant and colourful, but then again it was raining that day.

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The lack of fancy options and filters inside the Galaxy Nexus camera is made up in the image editing tool – accessed through the gallery – which gives you a load of hipster filters and colour modes to play with. So you can still ruin your photographs if you want.

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As with the Motorola RAZR , the panorama mode is the one big, game-saving feature in the Galaxy Nexus camera app. It does an amazing job of stitching together pictures, giving you superb wide angle shots of your surroundings.

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Can’t get enough of taking panoramas, they’re amazing. The camcorder app is also saved from being a complete write off by having one really nice feature – timelapse.

That’s a timelapse. A proper timelapse! It’s a fantastic little tool, as long as you can find a way of balancing/wedging the phone into position to keep it steady for long enough. You can set the time delay, taking a shot every second or in various increment up to one frame every 10 seconds.

The silly thing is you can’t turn the screen off while recording a timelapse, and the screen doesn’t go dark automatically. Which is a ludicrous oversight in a feature specifically designed to leave your phone active for long periods of time.

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As for the rest of the video tools, it’s once again been kept very simple. You get three clip resolutions, manual white balance, and an LED light on/off toggle.

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But you do get SILLY FACES MODE. These work well. You’ll have to take my word for it as I’m not humiliating myself any further than I already have for you lot.

 

Video capture goes all the way up to 1080p. There’s a digital zoom you can use while recording, but it ruins the image quality so best not. Click that YouTube link to watch the clip at 1080p resolution to see the picture quality better.

The images are good and run at a solid frame rate, although there’s a bit of an odd 2D warping effect in places. Good enough results, though, and definitely on a par with the best of the 1080p smartphones.

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Also, while recording a video, tapping the screen takes a still shot at the full usual still photo resolution. That’s a handy feature to stumble across while rummaging through your SD card.

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The Android 4.0 image gallery has also seen a pretty huge visual change. Images are now automatically grouped into a grid of albums, which also pulls in your photos from other Google services. It’s a bit more of a messy solution than the old gallery, to be honest…

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…but there’s a useful carousel beneath images and the sharing menus look smart, so there are some improvements in here. It’s odd how the menu buttons disappear and are replaced by dots after you’ve been scrolling through the images for a while, though (right). Makes you pause to think what the dots do.

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That’s the photo gallery widget. You can customise it to show what you like. We have very little else to say about that.

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Back to the apps. There’s a new YouTube app on here, which copies the updated Android Market app tabbing system, plus you get a standalone Video app for keeping track of any films you may have download through Google’s video shop.

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And the Google suite is all on here – Books, Calendar, Earth, Gmail, Google+, Latitude, Maps, Places…

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…Maps. The Maps app itself looks great on the high-res screen, while GPS is quick to get a lock and worked well for us.

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And there’s one new app from Google – Movie Studio. It uses a visual, icon-based timeline to let you edit together multiple film clips recorded on the phone.

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The browser is another area where there’s been a huge change for the better in Android 4.0. Tabbed browsing is handled through the custom tab button to the right of the URL bar, which is a very welcome change. It pops up your recent sites, with the option to open a current tab, pop up a new one or access your bookmarks.

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And although not really advertised, the browser does pull in all your bookmarks from Chrome if you’re using the same linked Gmail account as you do on Chrome. Plus there’s that occasionally very important incognito mode – and offline saving of sites for reading away from a connection. It’s a huge improvement over the old mobile browser.

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Rather shockingly there’s no Flash support at the moment, which is a slightly awkward hole in the phone’s feature list. Not that we miss it.

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Pages load fast, text is sharp, scrolling is just perfect. The Galaxy Nexus is absolutely fantastic on the web, up there alongside the Galaxy S II in terms of scrolling speed and performance.

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The dialer. It’s boring. But it does have all the numbers. The Galaxy Nexus supports SIP internet calling, too, which is handy if you’re into that sort of thing. Call quality was great, very loud and clear.

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The contacts section is a bit of a disappointment. It tries to look good by blowing up icons of your favourite contacts to fill the top of the screen – making the page look terrible in the process. Maybe it’s nice if you use proper photos of people?

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There’s a standalone Voice Dialer app, which does a semi-reliable job of picking one of your contacts if you ask it to. And that’s the rather patchy Google voice web search. I asked it for “Pizza and coffee in San Francisco”.

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The Galaxy Nexus battery life isn’t that great. The Nexus comes with a 1750mAh battery, which could just about make last a full day. There’s nothing scientific about how we test batteries, we just go on feel. And it felt like the Nexus was one of the less impressive performers we’ve used of late.

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We’re now in the “Just Put Up Some Random Screengrabs” part of the review, as we near the end of this journey.

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Big font mode. Not much bigger.

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That’s the calculator. It seems to work. Time for the conclusion!

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So. That was the Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0. It is quite a lot to take in. Android 4.0 is solid and fast to use. We like the majority of the new visual changes – everything from the new text settings screens through to some extremely sexy Home screen widgets – which have totally refreshed the mobile version of Android.

But there are some weird inconsistencies. The in-app Menu bar is now all over the place thanks to the loss of the traditional Android menu button, so can get a bit confused in places. Plus some apps – Facebook & Twitter – are a little glitchy at the moment, but blame for that lies with the app developers.

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And the camera app’s a pretty basic thing, saved only by its headline-grabbing face-warping tools and a very nice integrated panorama stitching tool for making arty videos.

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As for the Galaxy Nexus itself, it’s a very nice, premium phone. We like the curved body much more than the angular slab of the Galaxy S II, it’s easier to grip and hold, plus it has a sleek, shiny look to it that will make it the envy of anyone who sees you casually slipping it out in public.

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It’s fast. It’s new and exciting. It’s a very good phone and it’ll get even better once app developers have unified their offerings and sorted out where exactly the Menu button is supposed to go. If you want the best Android phone out there today, the Galaxy Nexus is probably it.

HARDWARE: 9/10
It’s a great phone that’s more comfortable in the hand than the Galaxy S II, with a bright, sensitive touchscreen and more than enough power to ensure everything runs quickly. The camera could do with being a bit more exciting considering this is supposed to be a flagship model, and the battery life wasn’t great for us, but those are the only weak points in an otherwise incredibly sleek device.

SOFTWARE: 9/10
Android 4.0 is a great leap for the OS. It’s much better looking across the board, with some of the new widgets and apps absolutely huge improvements on those featured in the 2.X versions – and the browser’s been totally transformed. There are some menu button inconsistencies and the camera app’s a bit bland, but those are mere niggles worth ignoring to enjoy this very, very shiny new version of Android.

PERFORMANCE: 9/10
It’s fast, it’s reliable, it’s smooth. Apps install quickly, plus there’s enough power here to make web use an absolute joy on the 4.65″ screen. We noticed a few glitches with some apps not handling scrolling very well, but again, we’re happy to wait for those to be fixed by app developers if it means having this phone NOW.

OVERALL: 9/10
It’s more stylish than the Galaxy S II, it’s slimmer than HTC’s models, plus you get Android 4.0 which is remarkably smooth and polished considering this is its first public release. The design makes the 4.65″ screen seem modest. It’s nice to hold. The screen’s bright and clear. We only have a few pathetically minor complaints. This is a superb smartphone.

And thanks once again to Expansys for the phone. It’ll sell you a Galaxy Nexus for £519 if you like ‘em as new and exciting as they get.

14 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. edhe

     /  December 13, 2011

    Really need to get a good feel for battery life unplugging at 7am, used for twitter/fb/podcasts until work, online and syncing at work then browsing at lunch, then ‘net radio in the avo then podcasts and feeds on the way home then some browsing/gaming in the evening.

    If it can’t manage that then i’m not entirely sold.

  2. Furbs

     /  December 13, 2011

    Great review, probably the most indepth I’ve seen.

    Got mine yesterday, and for the most part I love it. Its amazingly quick and the screen is gorgeous.

    My problem is simply the size of it. I have girlyman hands and I simply can’t access all parts of the screen when using it one handed. Its compounded because noone at Google seems to have tested ICS with lefthanders, since all the default important buttons are on the right hand side, meaning too far to comfortably reach.

    In the end I’ve had to root and flash (which I would have anyway), just to allow me to have the menu key on the lower left side.

    Not sure if this is related, but there seems to be a bug when copying files to the phone. One the last file it just hangs and I have to close and reopen Windows Explorer to get the transfer dialogue closed.

    One other niggle is I miss being able to add a widget from a long press on the main screen, but I’ll get used to it.

    Overall though, its a great phone, especially if you have giganto hands. And that screen, oh that screen.

    • John

       /  December 13, 2011

      I agree, the review is really good.

      How many apps on the Market work fine with ICS? Have there been any notable ones with issues? Cheers!

      • Furbs

         /  December 13, 2011

        Most of the common ones have been fine for me (including Handcent, Astro and Swiftkey). Although bear in mind this is after me only using it for 24 hours. A couple of popular ones have minor issues though:

        Simi Clock works but isnt quite right without some manual tweaks of the margins
        Dolphin Browser won’t work but new version is in beta
        Beautiful Widgets work, but the widgets don’t look quite right.

        I think a lot of the widget problems are because ICT seems to have moved the margins in a fair bit. So in the case of Beautiful Widgets for instance, because they don’t go the width of the screen now, they look cut off.

        Obviously flash is still an “issue” (no great loss except for iPlayer, which I never really used anyway). Oh and Reckless Racing doesnt work for me now. Luckily it only cost me 10p.

        Theres a thread on XDA under their Nexus forum which is (chaotically) listing apps with issues though. I’ve never heard of most of them.

  3. thewretched

     /  December 13, 2011

    If I were you, I wouldn’t put a screenshot of a video in your review, that shows a filename, that is clearly coming from illegitimate sources (case in point, the screenshot of Lost, above).

  4. mark

     /  December 13, 2011

    great review. i’ve had mine for nearly 2 weeks now and am loving it :)

    some additions to the review: when you press the multitask button, you can “slide away” the apps that you had used, rather than long pressing the app

    you forgot to mention another of the cool things – face unlock, which is great for kids to have fun with

    a tip: in the browser, under “settings –> labs”, there is a cool option to add “quick controls”, which will remove the 3 dot menu button, and you can access the menu by sliding from the side of the screen (if you google it, i’m sure you can find an image of it somewhere :-p)

    problems: i’ve been having problems on my phone, and i’m going to call buymobilephones (where i got the contract from) to see what they can do. the problem? the phone has crashed and turned off 3 times while listening to music, and once when i was using the navigation app in my car :(

    apart from that, its a lovely phone, and “furb”, i know exactly what you mean about the screen :):):)

  5. Mike C

     /  December 13, 2011

    I would love to have this phone but… No SD card… Seriously! And then only 16Gb of memory. Anybody knows if the 32Gb version will eventually make it to Europe? Lack of memory in the current version is a deal breaker for me.

    • Furbs

       /  December 13, 2011

      If it helps, that was really putting me off too, but USB Host should get enabled soon I think. Its already unlocked in some custom ROMs/Kernels. The storage thing was going to be a problem for me, but being able to plug in a memory stick for films (since I dont really need to keep them on the phone) unbroke the deal breaker for me.

      Might not be desirable for everyone though.

  6. Mr Anonymous

     /  December 13, 2011

    HTC Sensation XL 9/10 vs Galaxy Nexus 9/10!

    Fight, fight, fight! :D

  7. Bry

     /  December 15, 2011

    great review – thanks Gary.

    This is firmly entrenched at the number 1 spot of my upgrade list!
    Pity I can’t do that until March…

    What happens to your review models when you have finished the review?? ;-)

  8. Table-top surface: 7/10
    Wall cabinet: 4/10
    Offspring: 10/10
    Scenery: 10/10
    +2 bonus points for Sexy Execs references
    Overall review review: 33/40

  9. SCT

     /  January 15, 2012

    Great phone – pity they are rarer than hen’s teeth – no-one has any stock at all

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