After weeks of anticipation, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus finally arrives in US stores. The much awaited smartphone is the first to show off Google’s updated Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, an OS update that promises to bridge the smartphone and tablet experience. Starting today, the Galaxy Nexus will sell for $299.99 with a new two-year contract in an exclusive deal with Verizon, though StarkInsider reports the handset will be available at Costco stores as well. Many expected the phone to hit stores by the end of November, though Samsung and Verizon indicated the Galaxy Nexus would be available by year-end.

With a fresh design and an updated OS, the Galaxy Nexus comes with all the hype of a next generation phone. Its improved user experience comes with better multitasking, notifications, NFC features and speedy web browsing. Everything from the lock screen to the home screen has been rethought to simplify (and beautify) the Android experience. The Face Unlock feature is one of the most talked about upgrades on the Galaxy Nexus, using facial recognition to access the phone. Android Beam lets you share web pages, apps, contacts and other content just by tapping the Galaxy Nexus with another compatible phone, and it comes pre-loaded with a handful of cloud services to keep your data synced, including Google’s Music cloud service with support for up to 20,000 songs and free, on-demand streaming.

Google Wallet on the Galaxy Nexus

Having been tested on our UK counterparts, the Galaxy Nexus encountered an early bug before its US arrival. If used on a 2G network, the phone’s volume control seemed to have a mind of its own, though Samsung has reportedly addressed the issue. The replacement of Google Wallet with Verizon’s own Isis payment platform has also caused quite a stir, considering the demonstrative purpose of the Galaxy Nexus on Google’s behalf. But if you really want Google Wallet on the Galaxy Nexus, there is a way to install it as long as you’re not afraid of rooting your brand new phone.

Samsung Galaxy a household name

While the Galaxy Nexus is an important launch for Android, it’s also a noteworthy release for Samsung as well. Samsung’s really made a name for itself in the mobile realm, rising to the top of Android handset makers despite being a latecomer. Their row with Apple has only made Samsung more popular, drawing in consumer curiosity for the phone that’s so great, it’s attracted the full wrath of Apple’s legal council. Having surpassed iPhone sales in Q3, it seems there’s no stopping Samsung now.