Out of all the smartphones that hit in 2011, the impending release of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is probably our most anticipated. (Saving the best for last?) Ever since announcing Ice Cream Sandwich back in October, consumers have been eagerly awaiting the Galaxy Nexus with expectations that the device would combine hardware and, more importantly, software into the ultimate, harmonious Android experience. After 48-hours of use, is this the best Android phone money can buy?

In a word, yes, but it isn’t a resounding affirmation. There are many things to like, but there are also a few things marring the experience, both hardware and software related.

The good: Screen. It’s absolutely gorgeous. At 4.65-inches, the Nexus’s display is one of the finest on the market and one of only a handful of devices to sport a full 720p (1280×720) screen. Images, video and text all look incredible. Unfortunately, that’s one of the few positives things we can say about the Nexus design, but more on that in a bit.

On the software side, multitasking was very intuitive, and we found Android 4.0‘s speech-to-text feature a nice addition. We found the calendar app to be a pleasant experience; In particular, pinch-to-zoom, which really makes it simple to plan your day accordingly.

Further into the software, there is a new data usage setting that helps users set caps and see which apps are using the most data each month. It’s stuff like this that sets this OS apart from something like iOS.

Moving on to the bad: Design. It looks beautiful in pictures, but unfortunately it doesn’t translate very well in real life. The Nexus is a beast, and even for someone with big hands, it feels too big. Holding it one-handed and reaching to swipe down notifications requires a user to really stretch their thumb or otherwise adjust the way they hold the phone for it to be comfortable. On a side note, we wonder if Ice Cream Sandwich requires a bigger screen to get the intended experience?

Why Samsung chose to put the power button on the side of the phone we’ll never understand. As you’ll see in the video, pressing the button is a task in of itself because of accidental volume presses. Why not put the button on the top? The build materials are a bit of a disappointment as well. We’ve seen some great phones hit recently – Droid Razr, HTC Rezound, iPhone 4S – and this one felt on the cheaper side. We also felt battery life was lacking, and the device didn’t feel quite as fast as the Galaxy S II which was a big surprise.

Remember, these are our initial impressions after only 48-hours of use, so we haven’t fully developed a taste the Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich. We’re definitely satisfied with what it offers, and we’ll be sure to hit you guys with a more thorough review once we spend more time with Samsung’s flagship device.

Check the video for our full impressions and be sure to stay tuned for further Galaxy Nexus coverage.

Samsung Galaxy Nexus Gallery