How to get Jelly Bean: Samsung Galaxy S III vs. Galaxy Nexus

So while S III users will have hardware bragging rights, Nexus owners will have software bragging rights. Which matters most to you?

Samsung Galaxy S III: I pre-ordered Pebble Blue from Verizon. But now I"m second guessing the upgrade decision from OG Droid. Nexus is, as always, the quickest way to get Google's latest OS. Jelly Bean beckons.
Samsung Galaxy S III: I pre-ordered Pebble Blue from Verizon. But now I”m second guessing the upgrade decision from OG Droid. Nexus is, as always, the quickest way to get Google’s latest OS. Jelly Bean beckons.

Here’s the dilemma. You want Google’s slick new Jelly Bean OS. But how to get it on your smartphone?

If you’re like me, and the reportedly millions of others, you’ve pre-ordered the well-reviewed Samsung Galaxy S III uber Android smartphone. I finally made the upgrade decision after spending two and a half years (a mobile lifetime) with trusty OG Droid from 2009 on Verizon. Though I was tempted late last year by Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus which came loaded with Ice Cream Sandwich (the first Android to do so), its battery life didn’t win me over. Instead, I did the previously unthinkable and — say it ain’t so — waited, even though I was out of contract and free to do as I pleased. The quad-core army I predicted that would arrive earlier this year at CES failed to materialize, and the stream of Android devices hitting the market slowed, just as HTC, Samsung, and others promised; in an effort to take down Apple, it made sense for the partners to put critical marketing mass behind individual phone releases instead of spamming the masses with one indistinguishable black mobile after another.

But now that the world has gotten a glimpse of Android 4.1, aka Jelly Bean, the early adopter in me is second guessing the decision to go with the S III. JB — Bean. Jelly Bean. — though an incremental upgrade, looks to be Google’s best yet. The features we saw at the Google I/O demo were solid, and could tempt even more iPhone converts. Project butter and the incredible performance improvements. Automatically re-sizing widgets. An even better notification system (Android absolutely trounces the iPhone with this feature). Voice typing, and commands. There’s a healthy dose of must-haves here.

We know that Nexus has been established as the pure Google experience. In that regard, the company has done a tremendous job in building a brand rightfully perceived as leading edge. Who know a dystopian film like Blade Runner would inspire product naming conventions decades later? Do Androids dream of electric sheep? No, they dream about rooting, playing Angry Birds, checking in on Foursquare, and streaming (ugh) Transformer “films.”

So while S III users will have hardware bragging rights, Nexus owners will have software bragging rights.

In just a few weeks, the Galaxy S III will ship on Verizon. But it will ship with that poor little bastard step child known as Ice Cream Sandwich. The upstart version of Android shipped around the holiday season last year to much fanfare. Oddly its market penetration, at less than 10%,  is woeful.  Carriers and manufacturers  had to put their various devices through agonizing testing cycles which delayed OTA upgrades for consumers who were drooling at the bit for the latest kit. If I’m HTC, I say get a One X if you want ICS. If I’m Motorola I say get a RAZR. And if I’m Samsung, of course I say pre-order the S III. Yes, not too surprising that they’d prefer that you buy a new device.

Getting Jelly Bean is actually quite simple.

READ: Samsung Galaxy S III: Verizon unlimited data plans grandfathered for existing customers

Samsung Galaxy Nexus: 6 months old, but guaranteed to get Jelly Bean upgrade in July. What matters most? If it’s hardware then the S III is hard to beat, but if you value software then the Nexus is where it’s at.

Google announced it’s coming to the Nexus, Nexus S, and Motorola Xoom tablet (interesting choice that one).

If history is any indication, new S III owners won’t likely see an upgrade for at least six months – and that assumes it even comes at all. Chances are it will. With the iPhone 5 on the horizon, Samsung would do well to make a splash with a JB upgrade some time this fall to woo potential Apple buyers.

Six months is way too long!

If I want to be first with an Android smartphone with JB then there’s only one real upgrade choice: Galaxy Nexus. According to Google, it’ll receive the update mid-July.

So us upgraders are in a bit of a sticky situation — at least those that care about running the latest version of Android.

The S III is the latest and greatest. It features a nice, large 4.8-inch display, a decent (though far from spectacular) battery life, fast performance, and agreeable aesthetics. TouchWiz, that overwrought kindergarden skin that Samsung insists on shoe-horning into our lives is its Achilles’ heal. It’s $199 under contract.

MORE: Android Dilemma: Samsung Galaxy S III or Motorola RAZR HD?

The Nexus, also made by Samsung, is already six months old. That’s ancient, but not quite as ancient as my really ancient OG Droid. With that you get a slightly smaller screen, softkeys (which I like), pure Android (which I really like), poor battery life (an extended battery could help). Best of all, being Nexus, the most revered (feared?) replicant of all, you get Google’s TLC. With Nexus, we’ll be first in line to get Jelly Bean next month. $149 under contract. If you’re so inclined, here’s my review of the Nexus. Also, Google sells an unlocked version direct for only $349. That’s a sweet deal. For me that would require leaving Verizon and my grandfathered unlimited data plan, for AT&T.

I  recently re-watched (for the umpteenth time) Blade Runner on the 120″ home theater with volume pumped. What really makes this film is the score by Vangelis and the gorgeous framing by Ridley Scott. Perfection. Tip: totally avoid that lame happy ending variant. Stick with the Director’s Cut.

So while S III users will have hardware bragging rights, Nexus owners will have software bragging rights.

Which matters most to you?

For me, I’m on the fence, but oh-so-close to switching my Verizon order from an S III to a Nexus.

Maybe its a crazy scenario, but Google is innovating like made right now (that Project Glass/Sky diving demo was one for the ages) and it would be ashame not to benefit from it on a daily basis. Then again, the CyanogenMod guys are pretty busy these days too, and that could be the best way to get JB onto the S III. If Samsung were to come out with an official statement regarding upgrade timelines, that could make all of this brain wracking irrelevant.

Ah, decisions, decisions.

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  • I am in the exact same scenario … OG Droid, waited after nexus with the quad-core promise, just finally pre-ordered my S III … and then Jelly Bean is announced with the amazing Google Now (among other great features/improvements). I have no idea what to do.

    • odemata

      I know the feeling. I just got the S 3 and sold my Gnex. I can assure you he’s right. The S3 is really really nice hardware wise. I like the slight increase in screen size and the whole response of the Touch WIz, but that’s also the killer. Coming from the Gnex, Touch wiz is a bit overwhelming. You have so many options while the Gnex is just simple which I like. I have it for tmobile and with that Google wallet doesn’t work, battery life is superb, can go the whole day on one charge. Right now i’m really thinking about taking it back and get a Nexus. For me pure ICS is just too good and now with Jelly bean, it will be on par with the s 3 despite the hardware difference. I know samsung will support their flagship phone but with touch wiz you wont get everything that ICS has to offer so really think about it. S3 great phone. Gnex, also great phone.

      • Agree, both great phones, but pure ICS is too good! I have to admit Google is tempting me with the whole Nexus / first-to-get-updates deal + pure experience. Pretty sweet. I don’t want to wait 6 months for Jelly Bean. If only Samsung would follow Motorola’s lead and issue a timeline for updates. (i have S II – hate TouchWiz – rooted with CyanogenMod 9 – WAY better)

  • Zoey Cole

    Wow… Exactly what was going through my head all yesterday.

    • Ha, I’m guessing we’re not the only ones! I’m leaning towards S3. I can’t imagine Samsung not upgrading it to Jelly Bean in reasonable time, esp. with iPhone 5 coming.

  • Zane Hooper

    I am having the *exact* same dilemma right now. Your last paragraph summarized my thoughts.

  • anon

    no need to wait for mid july if you have the gnex, im already on it and def impressed.

  • Ryan5609

    My advice, spend an extra hundred bucks and purchase a used Galaxy Nexus on Ebay and use the Nexus contract free for the next year, wait for the next iteration of the Galaxy S series and buy one on contract then. I just upgraded from a Bionic to a G Nex just this week, I must say that I am thoroughly impressed with the upgrade, the pure Android experience is very awesome, cant wait for the JB OTA update. I have decided that I will probably never buy another contract phone, that is until Verizon forces me to give up my unlimited data plan. 6 months after it has been released, you can buy a used G Nex, contract free, cheaper than you would have purchased it on contract from VZW just 6 months ago.

    • Talk about timing… I was just checking eBay for a GNex. One option I was contemplating is exactly what you’re suggesting: use contract free Nexus until the next version of it comes out. My only concern is unlimited data. Don’t want to lose it, but it sounds like I can keep going – at least until Verizon kicks us to the curb!

  • Tealjay

    I’m going through the same dilemma but I think I’m going to stick with the S3. Here’s my rationale:

    Stock roms for the S3 will start arriving in late-July, early August. If you are OK with rooting your phone (I am) and installing a different rom, then I would order the S3 and wait til then. If you do not want to root your phone, get a Gnex and wait until July.

    My main 2 considerations are Google Now/Voice Search and the camera. The camera cannot between changed on either device; eventually, Jelly Bean will arrive on the S3 (hopefully) and I will be able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

    • Talk about timing… I was just checking eBay for a GNex. One option I was contemplating is exactly what you’re suggesting: use contract free Nexus until the next version of it comes out. My only concern is unlimited data. Don’t want to lose it, but it sounds like I can keep going – at least until Verizon kicks us to the curb!

    • Good points. With CyanogenMod and xda community, rooting has almost (ok not really) become mainstream. With the number of S3 users, there’ll be a tonne of forum activity and ROMs.

  • Robert Crawford

    I am leaning toward the Galaxy Nexus option, maybe via eBay (though I distrust used phones). My iPhone was stolen and AT&T has been useless. Buying a new one 18 months into my contract means I’d pay a premium for a 4S and be ineligible for the next iPhone. I have an AT&T Avail and have gotten to like Android. Seeing JB vs. iOS6, I have to say I am favoring JB. SIII would cost me $500+ and waiting 6 months seems like an eternity for a power-user like me.

  • RL

    I have the exact same dilemma, and thanks to your article, I have had my dilemma highlighted! It really does feel as if either answer is good, but with some shortcomings. As Sam Malone of Cheers said when accused of having no opinion on an issue, “No, I have two opinions.”

  • mamamia57

    Just a heads up for those of you considering a gnex(gsm). There are different builds and whether you receive timely updates are based on which build you have. If you get it from the Google play store, you will get a “takju”build which is by Google. Other “yakjuzs, yakjuxx etc,”depends on their carriers or to be updated. not all gnexs are equal.

    • mamamia57

      Iwas tempted to root and manually install 4.0 .4, mine is the yakjuzs build bought from amazon, but today I received the ota for 4.0 4. Not sure when it will get jellybean!