Google’s new flagship Ice Cream Sandwich smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus was launched on Tuesday in Hong Kong to great fanfare, but what’s the phone really like?

Pocket-lint headed to the Google Android mother ship, otherwise known as Building 44, in Mountain View, California, to find out first hand what the new Samsung smartphone is like and pass on our first impressions.

Light was our first thought as Dave Burke, engineering director for Android, passed us the Samsung Galaxy Nexus for the first time.

The Galaxy Nexus felt as light as the Samsung Galaxy S II (UK version), if not lighter, and the weight, which is 135g incidentally, is nicely distributed within the device. It is neither top nor bottom heavy.

After you’ve got over the lightweight design that is still solid, your thoughts turn to the screen. Like the HTC Sensation XL it’s a monster, 4.65 inches in fact. However, thanks to some curvy corners, a thin bezel, slim design and ever so slightly curved back, the phone fits comfortably in your hand and your pocket.

The screen might be just fractionally smaller than the Sensation XL, but it makes the difference. Of course what also makes a massive difference is the Super AMOLED screen technology that has, well almost, a full 180-degree viewing angle.

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Add that to the 1280 x 720 pixel screen resolution and a new font, called Roboto, specifically designed for Ice Cream Sandwich, and you can’t help but be impressed. The resolution is stunning and that is clearly shown in the icons, the buttons - which are now software rather than hardware - and other gems like web browsing and movie playback.

The move to software buttons, like Honeycomb, has meant a number of new freedoms for users of the phone. For one it means that when you are watching a video you can make full use of the screen rather than having to have a strip at the bottom (or side depending on which way you hold the phone) with controls.

Then there is Android Beam, a new feature that has been inspired, if not lifted from, Palm and webOS. Using two Samsung Galaxy Nexus devices we were able to get an idea of how Android Beam works, essentially, a tap to share feature.

Elsewhere are power button and volume keys and that’s about it. There is a three-pin dock connector, and of course a 3.5mm headphones jack found at the bottom of the phone, rather than the top, along with the usual Micro-USB connector.

Remove the plastic back plate - similar to the one found on the Samsung Galaxy S II in the UK - and you’ll find a removable battery and a SIM card slot.

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Delve deeper into the phone and the specs are as impressive as that screen. You’ll get a 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 16GB or 32GB of storage and 1GB of RAM. On the connectivity front it is HSPA+ outside of the US and LTE inside. You’ll also get Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, NFC; a barometer, for more accurate weather, and a whole stack of proximity sensors.

In our hour-long play it is clear that the super strength specs really have an impact, especially as Google has followed Microsoft’s lead and introduced hardware accelerated browsing that directly benefits, the better the specs you have.

Interactions with Ice Cream Sandwich are smooth and responsive. Loading pages is now incredibly fast, as is snapping pictures with the 5-megapixel camera. That camera, added with some decent camera technology like panorama and zero lag on the shutter button, seemed fast to respond in our tests. in the web browser loaded very fast and scrolling through one of our longer stories with plenty of comments was very quick.

Designed to improve the browsing experience users get a handful of new options and features in the browser. There is a quick "take me to the desktop site" button that lets you do just that, and you can also opt to save entire webpages for reading offline.

The reading offline system isn’t just about saving the text, in the same way that Apple does with its reader feature in Mobile Safari, but the entire webpage - images and all.

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Needless to say we’ve walked away after an hour wondering if there is anything faster on the market, and from our first impressions we don’t think there is. 

One of the fundamental UI changes though is the introduction of more swipe gestures. That can get a bit confusing at times, but on the whole it makes sense - even if it does borrow elements from all three of its major competitors.

Swiping left and right on the home page will reveal more widgets or favourite apps, while within the app menu you’ll get more apps and then more widgets. Widgets, if the developer has added the feature, can be resized, and creating a homescreen that is customised to you is very easy.

For those fascinated in voice, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is a clever little beast. Because of improvements in the server side of things, and improvements on the hardware side of things in the phone itself, the phone will automatically detect what you need to do and where you need to do it.

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That voice technology is shown off even more when it comes to dictating an email or text message to your family. Now Ice Cream Sandwich will attempt to type as you speak rather than storing pockets of information into one file that it then tries to decode in one go. Now, as if by magic (it is really clever) the words start to automatically change based on the concept of what you might be saying. For us that meant “Hollywood” started as “Hensley” before changing to fit in better with the conversation.

Other new features include an enhanced photo gallery, that also acts as the hub for manipulating images quickly and free of charge; and the Face Lock feature, that will unlock the phone by analysing 2000 different points on your face and once those are matched up it’s ready to let you in.

It is perfectly clear that it is the best Android iteration yet and Burke agrees:

"There is no comparison to the Nexus one. It’s a whole new level," Burke told Pocket-lint. "This is our best Android yet."

And he is right, the OS shows a maturity and sophistication of the platform that we haven't seen before. It is still Android however, and the ability to manage the settings that manage the settings, gives a hint as to what you are in for.

Get past that and thanks to a marrying of impressive hardware, with a very crisp looking operating system, we can't help but feel that this is going to be huge for Samsung and Google. 

Of course there is still plenty to explore on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and on Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, and we'll be bringing you everything you need to know.