There’s no point beating around the bush; the Nexus 4 is awesome. I absolutely love it. It’s the best Android phone I’ve ever used and, £ for £, most likely the best phone you can(‘t) buy. There are still a few flaws, and I’ll get to them, but they’re ones I can live with. With the Nexus 4 Google have finally got both the hardware and software right to create a great complete package.
Look and feel
Viewed face on it’s hard to distinguish the Nexus 4 from the Galaxy Nexus, they’re like long lost brothers, if not quite twins. Google have clearly gone with the if it ain’t broke attitude and I’m happy enough with the result.
Front face apart, it’s all change for the rest of the body. The biggest difference is the new glass black. On the positive side, it looks and feels great. The back features what LG calls a crystal reflection pattern. While it mostly just looks black, it shimmers when it catches light at different angles. To my eyes, it looks great and adds some much needed character and design flair to what otherwise would just be another black slab. It also lends the device a feeling of quality and makes the Nexus 4 feel high end in a way that the Galaxy Nexus (and Nexus S) never did.
Of course the downside is that glass is prone to scratch, crack and shatter, unlike plastic. I’m usually extra careful with my devices, but it’s always in my mind that it won’t come out well from a fall onto concrete, or likely any hard surface. I’m therefore extra tempted to buy a case, which totally defeats the purpose of having the lovely reflective back.
The glass is also quite slippery, which only exacerbates the problem. The soft plastic band around the edge of the phone helps to add a little grip, but I’m still always conscious of making sure I hold it securely. So while it looks and feels great, it does feel a little too much form over function. Although I’ve always preferred using my phone with two hands, this is even more so the case with the Nexus 4, as one handed use feels a little too insecure for my liking.
And be careful where you leave it. Mine has fallen off various surfaces several times already, particular culprits are sofas and beds, but anything with a smooth surface will likely cause a fall if it’s not perfectly flat. I’m lucky my house is fully carpeted. It’s an issue I’ve never previously had with a phone.
The Nexus 4 is very similar in physical size to the Galaxy Nexus. Although this should lead to a similar feel in hand, the flat glass back just isn’t as comfortable to hold as the rounded back on the Galaxy Nexus (and Nexus S), which your hand would naturally mould around. Again, while it does look better, it doesn’t aid usability.
Perhaps my biggest annoyance with the Nexus 4 is the relocation of the headphone port to the top of the device. This just makes no sense to me at all. For one, having the port on the bottom means that when you pull it out of your pocket, the device is the right way around. This is especially important on a device which is somewhat hard to grip! Secondly, when charging the phone and listening to music, you end up with wires sticking out of both ends of the device. Not exactly elegant. I can’t overstate how much this decision has irked me so far.
Thankfully, all the other buttons and ports are positioned similarly to the Galaxy Nexus. Volume rocker on the left, power button on the right, and micro USB on the bottom. Just as it should be.
I’ve repeatedly complained about the low quality look and feel of the Galaxy Nexus on the Coolsmartphone Podcast. The Nexus 4 has dramatically improved both, and the compromise on comfort is one I’m willing to make. But it’s by no means a total win. The iPhone 4 used to get called out for its form over function design, and the Nexus 4 makes me see why. I’m hoping that a nice case should solve most of my issues. Keep watching for some reviews in the coming weeks.
I raved about the screen in my hands on earlier this week, and if anything I’m even more impressed with it now. I’ve never had a device with a screen this good, and it really does make using the Nexus 4 a joy. The move away from AMOLED was long overdue (IMHO). The true RGB panel is a quantum leap over the pentile matrix of the Galaxy Nexus. Although it might have been the first phone with a 720p display, compared to the Nexus 4 it looks distinctly SD. And I don’t think that’s being hyperbolic.
LG have employed a lamination technique similar to that used by Apple with the iPhone, and it basically brings the LCD as close to the glass as possible. I’ve never noticed the gap before, but having used the Nexus 4 I can totally appreciate the difference it makes. It gives the impression that everything is just floating on the surface of the glass and makes interacting with the screen somehow feel more direct.
Even the black levels are very good. They’re not quite as dark as AMOLED, where black pixels are effectively switched off, but the other benefits easily outweigh this one (relative) weakness. I also much prefer how all other colours look far more natural, without the oversaturated reds and greens of my Galaxy Nexus.
Although I can’t say that I notice the extra 48 horizontal pixels on the Nexus 4, the difference in physical width is appreciable, and very welcome. Typing in particular, feels far quicker and more accurate than before.
Software & Performance
I’ve already covered Android 4.2 and won’t go into too much detail about it here. Suffice to say that the Nexus 4 runs the new version of Jellybean (almost) flawlessly. I have encountered one strange bug though. For some reason the clock always seems to be about five to ten minutes too fast when automatically set. I’ve no idea what’s causing it.
It’s also important to point out that being a Nexus device (and Google’s current flagsip), you’re getting the proper Android experience. No skins, no crapware, and no waiting for updates. For all its flaws, in a world with no Nexus 4 I’d still pick my Galaxy Nexus over any other Android phone for this reason alone.
The Nexus 4 is the first Nexus device since the Nexus One to launch with truly standout hardware specs. The Snapdragon S4 Pro really is the latest and greatest when it comes to SOCs. There’s a quad core processor, a vastly improved Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM. While the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus were simply warmed over Galaxy S and S2s, the Nexus 4 is state of the art.
Performance has been outstanding. In general use (navigation, apps, multitasking, scrolling, browsing) it’s absolutely flawless. Boot up is quick, apps launch instantly, everything responds perfectly. To be honest, I never had any complaints with the performance of my Galaxy Nexus, but the Nexus 4 makes it feel like a relic. I’ve never used a phone this quick.
The S4 Pro inside the Nexus 4 is a beast and, alongside the A6 in the iPhone 5, is comfortably the fastest SOC currently available in a phone. There’s plenty of untapped power in the Nexus 4, which should mean that the hardware stays relevant for at least the next year or two. If you’re interested in benchmarks, you might want to look at this performance review by AnandTech.
Perhaps the single biggest weakness of the Galaxy Nexus was its distinctly mediocre camera. In good light it could take fairly decent shots, but you had to be careful to focus the image properly and avoid camera shake, which could easily lead to blurry snaps. The low light performance was just poor. You could take nice shots, but it was far from effortless.
The Nexus 4 camera is a massive improvement. I’ve tried to take a range of snaps in the gallery below to demonstrate its ability in different scenarios. Having never had a Galaxy S3 or iPhone 5, I don’t have a basis of comparison. But I can say that I’m more than happy with its performance, which is something I could never say with the Galaxy Nexus. Shots are captured quickly, and it’s very easy to get great results.
Although I know that there’s far more to photos than megapixels, I’m also glad that Google have upped the count from 5 to 8 to bring it more in line with other higher phones. While there’s no need for 15, 5 just felt a little low.
When taking photos in low light, I find that the LED flash was way too powerful. It completely overexposed pictures and washed out all the detail. I’d avoid using it. On the other hand, it does make for a great torch.
One thing I will mention, the insanely great screen makes the shots you take look even better. Viewing the same photos on my PC, I felt they lost a little of the punch and vibrancy they displayed on the Nexus 4. I had the same issue with the iPad 3 back in March.
I’ve only had the Nexus 4 for a week, and in that time the battery life I’ve experienced has unfortunately been quite disappointing. The 50% increase in capacity over the Galaxy Nexus hasn’t translated to longer battery life for me. Fortunately it’s not worse, but it’s still disappointing to not see an improvement in this rather crucial area. I know that others have had better results, but I can only speak about my own experience. Still, it’s not worse than my Galaxy Nexus.
Possibly the Nexus 4’s biggest flaw: its availability in only 8GB and 16GB capacities. No, there isn’t a bigger option. And no, there’s isn’t a Micro SD slot. If either is essential to you, look away now. A larger capacity option would obviously have been appreciated, but for now you’re out of luck.
However, personally speaking I’ve found it a non-issue. I currently have 9.25GB free on my 16GB Nexus 4, and won’t be filling the available space any time soon. I’m by no means a typical use case but I have a few albums and podcasts stored on my phone, along with my apps and photos. I don’t really watch videos or play games on my phone and I download tracks and albums from Google Music as and when I feel the urge to listen to them. Everything else is on Dropbox and Google Drive, and easily accessible whenever required.
Rightly or wrongly, Google wants your data to live in the cloud. It may or may not work for you. But if it does, the Nexus 4 will suit you just fine.
As I said at the start, the Nexus 4 is awesome. It looks great, feels high end, has a spectacular screen, runs flawlessly, has a much improved camera and features the best version of Android currently available. For me, these more than outweigh the slightly less comfortable/practical design and still average battery life.
I’ve consciously not mentioned price till the last paragraph. The Neuxs 4 would be a fantastic phone at £500, at £240 it’s simply outstanding. I personally can’t justify buying a phone for £400+ in a world with the Nexus 4. You’d have to really want expandable memory, a smaller/bigger device or iOS to go for something else. That’s not to deprecate the importance of such preferences, but the value proposition of the Nexus 4 is simply unmatched by anything else available.