By February 21, 2013

Google Nexus 4 review

Google Nexus 4 reviewThe Nexus range was one of the first instances where software heavyweights enter the market to produce their own hardware to complement that of the traditional manufacturers which has proven to be a popular move ever since the Nexus One. With the Google Nexus 4, Google have collaborated with LG to bring a successor to last year’s popular Galaxy Nexus from Samsung. While that was certainly a great phone it was not without its flaws, and the fourth iteration of the Nexus phone has received some well deserved hype and praise from the media and passionate users.

In fact the combination of a stock Android device with top-notch specs and a heavily publicised launch meant the number of launch customers was grossly underestimated, as Google only had the (modest) numbers of previous Nexus devices to go on. This lead to a huge supply issue; it was almost four months after the first launch before it readily available from the Play Store. It may not sound like too long, but in a market where new devices supersede older ones each year, that’s a good third of the Nexus 4′s lifespan.

So is the Nexus 4 actually worth the wait? Read on to find out.

What’s in the box?

Answer: not much.

  • LG Google Nexus 4 Phone
  • Wall charger
  • micro USB cable

Google Nexus 4 Specification:

  • GSM 850/900/1800/1900
  • HSDPA 21Mbps 850/900/1700/1900/2100
  • DC-HSDPA 42Mbps
  • HSUPA 5.76Mbps
  • Dualband WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n
  • DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot, Wi-Fi direct
  • Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP
  • NFC
  • A-GPS and GLONASS
  • TV out via MHL
  • 133.9mm x 68.7mm x 9.1mm, 139g
  • micro SIM
  • 4.7″ True HD IPS Plus LCD
  • 768×1280 (318ppi)
  • Gorilla Glass 2 (front and back)
  • 8/16GB internal storage
  • Qualcomm 1.5GHz Krait quadcore (APQ8064)
  • 2GB RAM
  • Adreno 320 graphics
  • Android 4.2.1 Jelly Bean
  • 8MP AF camera with LED flash, geotagging, face detection, photosphere
  • 1080p 30fps video recording
  • Front facing 1.3MP camera
  • Lithium Polymer 2100mAh non-removable battery
  • Up to 390h standby, 15h talktime

Google Nexus 4 review

The 10-second review:

  • Product: LG Google Nexus 4 (E960)
  • Price: £239 & £279 for 8/16GB sim-free unlocked
  • Summary: The fastest and most rounded Android smartphone to date, though not without some cut corners to achieve the low (for a flagship) price.
  • Best of: design, screen,  fast direct updates from Google, price
  • Worst of: camera performance, limited storage expandability
  • Buy from : Google Play Store
  • Also consider: Sony Xperia Z, Samsung Galaxy SIII, HTC One X+, Nokia Lumia 920, iPhone 5

General

The top houses just the headphone jack and the second noise cancelling microphone.

Google Nexus 4 review top

The bottom is where the micro USB lies for charging and syncing, while the volume rocker and sleep/wake button are on the left and right sides respectively. The sides are coated in a quality soft touch plastic which helps the grip.

bottom

Over on the back, you’ll find the camera and flash along with prominent Nexus and LG logos and the speaker grill on the bottom. The back is actually glass, but not just any glass; look closely and it’s covered in rows of tiny dots which catch the light at different angles. It’s certainly a unique feature which matches the ‘digital’ vision of Android.

back
The front is pretty much as you’d expect, with the screen in the middle and the speaker at the top. The front facing camera sits next to the speaker, and there’s also a discreet notification light below the display. The glass slopes off towards the side edges too which makes swiping in from the side a bit more natural. You may notice the lack of any buttons on the front, and that’s because they are now on the screen. There’s an always-there navigation bar at the bottom of the screen with the back, home, and multitasking buttons. When viewing videos, this disappears, giving you the full 4.7″ screen to enjoy.

front

Highlights

 

  • Unique design and solid build quality
  • Large HD display
  • Decent battery life
  • Best value-for-money Android smartphone

Lowlights

  • Image quality could be better
  • No LTE option
  • Horrendous supply issues

 

Google Nexus 4 Design and Build Quality

There are so many Android smartphones on the market today, and as the slate-touchscreen form factor has proven to be the most popular, there are a lot out there that look very similar; not so with the Google Nexus 4. Nexus devices have always been a bit different characterised by their curved ends and minimalist black front. When the screen is off, the entire front is a dark futuristic void of black, with not a button or logo in sight. The glass curves around the edges of the phone (which is great for side swiping) where it meets a smoked chrome effect plastic rim. All four edges are also plastic, but coated in a soft touch plastic which helps the grip substantially. And you’ll need that grip, because the back is a smooth flat panel of glass; not just any glass though. Like the front, it is Corning’s second generation of Gorilla Glass, except underneath lies a subtle pattern of polarised circles which reflect a holographic-like pattern under different lighting angles. It’s definitely something not seen before on a phone, something which feels like it embodies the Nexus program and it’s aesthetical direction very well. As you can probably tell, I’m pretty impressed with the design than LG and Google have come up with, and it just goes to show that a beautiful looking device doesn’t have to be one that looks like an Apple device.

As far as build quality goes, the Nexus 4 is just as solid as it looks. There are no disconcerting creaks to the casing, and it definitely feels more premium than it’s price tag suggests. The hidden, breathing notification LED below the display is also a nice design flair, though it is perhaps a little too inconspicuous considering the purpose of such a light.

The display is also a major feature of the latest Nexus. The unit here is a 4.7″ IPS LCD, with a resolution of 720×1280. This puts it amongst the best screens you can find on a current generation phone. The pixel density is well into Retina territory, so images and text especially are very crisp. Being an LCD, the colours are also more accurate when compared with the AMOLED screens on Samsung phones, but the differences between them are minor and aren’t an issue for most people. It is easy to assume that Google has had to cut corners for this phone, but the screen thankfully isn’t one of them. Outdoor readability was never a problem for me even in bright sunlight – while colours may get a little washed out, it was still easy to make out what was on the screen. Under less harsh lighting conditions though, it is nice and colourful. Unfortunately, the display isn’t without issues. Touch sensitivity is not great, and I know for a fact that it is not just my unit. Swipes seem to work just like any other phone, but taps need a bit more pressure for it to register. It seems like this is something that can be fixed with software, so hopefully Google will pick up on it soon.

Battery

Battery life is always a concern on today’s super powerful phones, and even more so when the battery is not user replaceable. The battery inside the Nexus 4 is a sizable 2100mAh, which comfortably gives the Google Nexus 4 a full day of relatively extensive use but bear in mind that different usage will make your mileage vary considerably. For example, streaming music on 3G through apps such as Spotify can drain the battery quite quickly. As long as you’re not too hard on the phone, the battery will not be something to worry about. With frugal use, you can squeeze out two days, but if you’re after serious stamina as well as serious power, the Samsung Galaxy Note II would be a better bet.

 

Camera

The Google Nexus 4 was the first device to launch with camera specific features on Jelly Bean 4.2, which sound great. Perhaps the most interesting (and certainly the most unique is Photo Sphere. This is essentially a panorama, but with a twist; you can capture photos to create a full 360 degree spherical image, rather than just a super wide one. The interface guides you to where you need to point to build your photosphere, and it’s pretty flexible too – you can build it in any order you want until you’ve covered all angles, or you can stop it prematurely and capture only a specific portion of a sphere. The end results are quite fun, if a little rough. Unless you can line up perfectly in every shot, it often struggles to stitch the individual images and so the edges are pretty obvious. Imagine Google Street View, but not quite as good. You can actually upload your Photosphere to Street View, or to Google+ where your friends can actually scroll and pan around. There’s also a more conventional panorama mode which works just as you’d expect.

The second unique camera update is the new interface for changing modes and settings. Instead of virtual buttons lining the edges of the screen, instead you hold your thumb on the screen and a circle of settings pops up, from which you can drag your thumb to, to adjust that setting. This is a really quick and easy method of adjusting camera settings with one hand, which I think makes it the best camera interface on any phone right now. You also get the Windows Phone-esque swipe-to-the-left to quickly go to your camera roll.

Screenshot_2012-12-24-16-03-55

Where it falls down a little is in the image quality. It packs an 8MP sensor just like it’s rivals, but the end results aren’t on par with the likes of the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy SIII. Even in bright conditions, the images always had more noise than you’d expect. Colours are decent, and the automatic exposure is almost always accurate, but fine details aren’t great. The autofocus is also noticeably slower than other flagship devices. The HDR function is pretty good though – the range of bracketing is more subtle than what you’d usually find on a smartphone so your HDR shots don’t immediately scream HDR.

IMG_20121221_082124_0 IMG_20121221_130612 IMG_20121223_163120 IMG_20130114_160754_0

There are two ways to look at the camera performance. Firstly, the Nexus 4 is a flagship Android device from Google, and it certainly competes with other top phones from Samsung, Apple, and HTC. This makes the camera stand out, and not in a good way. Of all the flagship devices from other manufacturers, the camera here languishes at the bottom. However, considering the price, it is inevitable some corners had to be cut, and here’s an example of one. And in my view, an acceptable one. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad; only when compared with the competition, it doesn’t shine. Just know that if it’s camera quality you’re after, the Google Nexus 4 probably isn’t your cup of tea.

IMG_20130130_170801  IMG_20130201_133646

PANO_20121221_083244

It’s a similar story with the video recording. While it offers the usual 1080p resolution and the ability to take photos during a recording, it is not really anything special. For a truly awesome camera, take a look at the Nokia Lumia 920.
Software

The Nexus 4 runs the latest version of Android, 4.2 Jelly Bean, and in simple terms, it’s the best overall example of Android on a smartphone. Which is hardly surprising, given than this was designed by Google. Jelly Bean brought with it ‘Project Butter’ which are optimisations in the OS to improve speed and fluidity. Coupled with the quad core Qualcomm processor and 2GB ram, there is not a trace of lag to be found anywhere on the device. Another useful addition is the new notification bar. A single swipe down shows you the notification bar, but a double finger swipe down presents a tiled grid of quick access settings. Notifications themselves can also be expanded with a pinch action to view extra information (if the app supports this).

The initial setup is quick and easy, and if you already have a Google account, all of your email, contact, and calendar data will be synced across, as well as settings from any previously backed up Android devices.

Screenshot_2012-12-24-14-00-55 Screenshot_2012-12-24-14-01-02 Screenshot_2012-12-24-14-01-23 Screenshot_2012-12-24-14-01-47

The home screens are the usual 5 scrollable screens, where you can pin apps and widgets however and wherever you like. The real change is in the lock screen. Now you can scroll left and right to multiple pages where you can place widgets. For example, I have the usual clock and pattern unlock. But swipe to the next screen on the right and it’ll jump into the camera, while the left side has a BBC News widget, torch, and calendar. At the moment, each screen can only show one widget (even if it’s the size of a single icon) but hopefully it’ll become as customisable as the home screens in a later version.

Screenshot_2012-12-24-15-32-53Screenshot_2012-12-24-15-29-45 Screenshot_2012-12-24-15-31-28 Screenshot_2012-12-24-15-31-56  Screenshot_2012-12-24-17-22-39 Screenshot_2012-12-24-17-22-53

 

Browser

Instead of the usual Browser found on Android devices, the Nexus 4′s preloaded browser is Google Chrome. In terms of pure performance, the old browser was actually faster, both to load pages and for general responsiveness when scrolling and zooming. However, Chrome comes with a few advantages which in my opinion makes it a better option. Firstly, the tab management in Chrome is much better – each is treated like a ‘card’ which can be swiped away and navigated through with ease. Swiping in from either side also switches to the next tab, which is a great way to switch between tabs easily. Plus, open tabs on a desktop version of Chrome can be synced with the Nexus 4, as well as your tabs and saved passwords. And now that it’s not part of the OS, it can be updated as a separate app through Google’s Play Store making new updates possible.

Screenshot_2012-12-24-15-30-22 Screenshot_2012-12-24-15-30-35

Speaking of the Play Store, it’s here on the Nexus 4, just like every other Android. You can browse a (huge) selection of apps and games, plus a ton of media including music, movies, magazines and books.

 

Google Now

The headline feature of Android Jelly Bean is Google Now. Clearly a Siri competitor, Google Now offers what is essentially a similar personal assistant-like experience, but with a different direction. While Siri retrieves information based on natural commands from the user, Google Now tries to be a little more independent. In a way, it is almost like it is figuring out what information you may need, and to tell you before you may even think of needing it; this sounds like a pretty lofty achievement, but it is simpler than it sounds. A simple example is that it ‘learns’ where you work and when you usually arrive, and then it will start notifying you when you need to leave to arrive on time, taking into account the traffic. More importantly, it only tells you at the relevant time – there’s no point telling you at 11pm when you need to leave the next day. Extra information is displayed in the Google Search app, in the form of ‘cards’ which are automatically ordered according to importance. There’s also the ability to swipe up from the home button in any screen or app to access Google Now. The potential of this feature is pretty exciting – scanning email for parcel tracking or flight numbers and automatically notifying you of changes is just the surface of what it can do in the future.

Screenshot_2012-12-24-17-19-11 Screenshot_2012-12-24-17-19-31

 

Keyboard

Android’s keyboard has always been updated along with the new major releases, and with Jelly Bean, there’s now a Swype-like way of entering text. As you may know, this involves drawing a line between each letter of your word, and then the software predicts the word you’re trying to type. While this is slower than typing with two thumbs (for most people) where it really comes into its own is when you’ve only got one hand available. It makes typing with just the one thumb so much easier and quicker in comparison to traditional button-pecking. Of course, you don’t have to use this, and there’s no configuring to do to switch between the two. If you want to swipe, or if you want to tap, you can. A third method is voice typing, which is just what it sounds like. Speaking into the microphone will use Google’s voice recognition to dictate a message, which actually works really well. It does not get everything right 100% of the time, and though that sounds like a harsh criticism, it won’t be widely used unless it gets everything right all of the time.
Don’t forget that you can also find alternative keyboards on the Play Store, allowing virtually limitless choice and customisation options.

Screenshot_2012-12-24-14-01-47 Screenshot_2012-12-24-15-31-00

 

Voice calls & 3G

The Google Nexus 4 is a good all round smartphone but when your in areas with no signal why not get yourself some Motorola Radios and a Mototrbo Repeater.

A do-it-all mobile phone needs to be able to take calls, even if voice calls are dropping in popularity. Thankfully, the Nexus 4 does pretty well in this regard. The earpiece is nice and clear, with no dropped calls in my experience. There is a secondary microphone as well to monitor the ambient noise and improve the sound quality accordingly using noise cancelling.

The bigger question here is the radio support. It supports pretty much every useful band of wireless communication, from DLNA to Wi-Fi direct to the pentaband 3G radio. The interesting thing is what it omits – the Nexus 4 does not have 4G LTE capabilities. Google have commented on it’s omission, citing battery life reasons despite a lot of competing devices sporting LTE radios. Instead, the Nexus 4 makes do with ‘just’ DC-HSDPA, with a theoretical max of 42Mbps down. So is the lack of 4G a deal breaker? Not at all in my opinion. In the UK, LTE coverage is incredibly limited, both by network choice and by the premium priced contracts to receive it. DC-HSDPA speeds are certainly fast enough for all but the one percent too. I’m sure that once LTE becomes more of the norm, 3G speeds will feel archaic, but for now, no LTE is only a small downside to the Nexus 4.

back
Conclusion

Whether the the Nexus 4 is your next smartphone depends on how you look at it. On the one hand, this is the latest flagship phone from Google – the one to showcase what their vision for Android is in perfect hardware as well as software. From that point of view, it’s easy to see why there is a disappointing element. Even though this runs the latest ‘pure’ Android with no manufacturer strings attached, it is arguably less user friendly and with less add on features. But king of the concerns is the hardware; the build is solid and exudes quality, but the camera is doesn’t quite match up to the stellar images produced by (older) rivals such as Samsung’s Galaxy SIII or HTC’s One X, not to mention the iPhone 5. Then there’s the limited storage, maxing out at just 16GB, the minimum for many of its competitors. Obviously then, some corners have been cut to achieve the pretty astonishing price tag of £239 off contract for 8GB. But that’s precisely where the second, dare I say more sensible, viewpoint lies.

There’s a reason why it has been so difficult to get hold of one, despite being launched last November. Say what you like about LG’s rocky supply chain or the Play Store shipping fiasco, the Google Nexus 4 is an extremely popular device. And for good reason. This is without a doubt the fastest and smoothest Android experience on any device to date, and on very solid and distinctive hardware too. But best of all, this is a Nexus device and so will be the first to receive the latest Android updates from Google, for a long time too. Factor in the thriving developer community who will undoubtedly continue to support this centuries into the future (in tech-years of course) and you’ll never really be abandoned in terms of software support.
So, is the Nexus 4 for you? To me, it’s clear which demographics this is meant for. For developers, this is a no brainer. For those with a mid-range price budget looking for best bang-for-your-buck, this is the best smartphone in the sub-300 bracket.

And if it’s more than just your taste buds that tingle when someone mentions Key Lime Pie, I bet you’ve made up your mind already.

 

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