I had a Nexus 4 for a week and wrote an extensive review about it
This is a re-post of the Nexus 4 review I wrote here on Google+. I hope you find it useful, if you are on Google+ then it would be great if you could re-share it as well. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy it:
As you know, last week I finally managed to get hold of the elusive Nexus 4. The Nexus line-up is there to be the ultimate showcase of what Android is capable of. They don’t have performance issues that are created by the custom graphical user interfaces and software tweaks that the likes of Samsung, HTC, Sony and others have built in order to suck you into their ecosystem. These are always the first Android devices to receive updates directly from Google. This is Android as how the designers at Google intended it to be, they represent the best of what Android has to offer.
Just so you know, since I got the phone I decided to spend some more time with a few other phones - most notably the iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5, the Galaxy S3, the Lumia 920, and my daily driver up until now: the Galaxy Nexus. My friend +Floris van Eck asked me to write an unbiased article, I don’t think I’m letting him down.
When you actually hold the Nexus 4 in your hands you will see how incredibly good the build quality is. The back and front of the phone are covered in ‘Gorilla Glass 2’, here you can see how tough it is: http://youtu.be/wT8xI4PEU8c?hd=1. Just like the Nexus S and the Galaxy Nexus you will find that the glass is slightly curved. However, the implementation here is different - the glass gently curves down on both the left and right side of the screen. It creates a deep appreciation for the screen real estate, your fingers really learn where the sides are. Much has been said about the holographic effect on the back. It’s often highlighted on photos, but in reality it is very subtle. You really need to tilt the phone at the right angle in order to see it. I’m a fan of the effect, it adds class to the phone. Between the two slabs of glass is a thick black band. The material is unusual, it feels like highly compressed rubber, and it provides great grip.
One thing that I don’t like is that the glass on the back of the phone is just as slippery smooth as the glass on the front. It works well on the front since it allows you to reach parts of the user interface faster, but on the back it makes me very cautious. The only other phone I know that has glass on both the back and the front is the iPhone 4, and it has almost become a rare occurrence to see those undamaged. And the glass on the Nexus 4 is far slippier. You will drop the Nexus 4 eventually, it will slide out of your hands or off a table, so it’s worth considering getting the right protection. Just an example, I live in an old house and the floor in my living room isn’t completely level. I have never seen this before with a phone, but I can’t even put the Nexus 4 on the table since it will just slowly slide towards the floor. Very scary. My Nexus 4 has dropped onto the floor once already, and the build quality seems good enough since the phone didn’t have a single scratch - but this is not something you’d want to experience too often.
Taking a few steps back I think it’s important to mention that there is a large problem with the industrial design of practically all Android phones in general. It is just incredibly poor. I don’t know what it is - The Lumia 920 is a beautifully distinctive handset running Windows Phone 8. Apple is renowned for using expensive materials for their iPhones. But the most popular Android phone, the Samsung Galaxy S3, is still made out of cheap plastic. And the Galaxy Nexus looks even worse.
The Nexus 4 comes as a breath of fresh air in the world of Android and is the new standard. Don’t even think for a second that photos give the same impression as touching the device with your own hands and seeing it with your own eyes. The industrial design that Google and LG have created together is just stunning and should be taken as a benchmark. This is the new standard.
Camera, Display, and Specifications
The 8 megapixel Sony camera on the Nexus 4 features Sony’s BSI (Back-Side Illuminated) CMOS sensor, which quite well could be the exact same sensor that’s in the iPhone 5 (since the iPhone 5 also features Sony’s BSI CMOS sensor). Photos are definitely much better than what I get out of the Galaxy Nexus, but don’t expect to impress your iPhone 5 friends with it. They’re very decent, but won’t blow your mind.
The 1280-by-768 4.7-inch 320PPI IPS display on the phone is a different story though - the HTC One X is known as the phone with the most beautiful screen on the European market, and the Nexus 4 comes incredibly close to it. It’s interesting, the HTC One X ‘only’ has a 1280-by-720 4.7-inch 312PPI screen, but the fact that it uses Super LCD 2 technology seems to give it the upper hand over an IPS display. Not that it should matter - in the end it still comes down to the Nexus 4 having one of the most beautiful screens on the market.
Even before I got hold of the Nexus 4 I already heard different opinions on the benchmarking tests. I personally hate these tests, because they don’t mean anything. In the end it’s all about the user experience and not about how many numbers your phone can crunch. Nexus phones are really similar to iPhones in this respect - as a company you are in a superior position if you can control both the hardware and the software at the same time. Everything can be optimised to work perfectly with each other. Obviously I can talk about how this is one of the highest specced phones on the market, with its quad-core 1.5Ghz processor. And it even comes with 2GB of RAM, twice of what you’ll find in the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S3. But in the end that doesn’t matter - what does matter is that Android Jelly Bean (4.2) runs buttery smooth on this phone. There are no hick-ups, you can pinch-to-zoom wherever you want, scroll through endless lists of photos, and it all just works as expected. This is the smoothest phone I have ever used.
One thing I don’t understand is how Google thought it was sensible to release an 8GB version of this phone. Is it to attract more people by having an even lower price point? I know quite a few people who easily get away with 8GB, such as my Android homeboy +Scott Spence and my good friend +DAVID FERGUSON. In fact, I also only use about 5GB on the phone. Quite a few people who are using Google cloud services to its full potential will find that the amount of space they use on their phone is minimal. Music comes streamed from Google Music, photos and videos are stored in YouTube and Picasa, and the list goes on. In those cases 8GB is often enough, but the 16GB version of the Nexus 4 still remains the preferred choice for most people. And I don’t understand why there is no 32GB version. Is it because Google wants to push people towards using their cloud services to the full extent? Maybe, but I don’t think they’re doing it in the best way possible.
There is also no expandable storage. This is great, and it shows how important it is for Google that Android works as a mobile operating system that can be used by anyone. It is incredibly unfriendly for users if they have to start fiddling around with copying files from the local storage to a memory card, who really wants to go through that hassle? Google has been quite vocal about it, and I even think that sometimes they should be harder in their stand and just disable support for expandable storage completely. Obviously they don't, and for many people that's simply a problem since they love having endless Gigabytes of data stored locally. I wish Google had put more thought into this. For me it's not a problem, but I know that for many people it is.
GPS, Speaker and Battery Performance
Discussing the performance of the phone also brings me to the GPS sensor (and probably the barometer). Maybe I’ve just been unlucky, but it never has been perfect for me. On all my previous phones (both Nexus and iPhones) I always had a compass that took far too long to find the right direction, and if you were in a fast moving vehicle it would just stutter along the way - as if the GPS only updates itself every 10 seconds or so. That’s not the case on the Nexus 4 - last Monday I had to go up to London by train for some business meeting and I was playing around with Google Maps. I have never seen this on any other phone before, but it immediately showed an arrow pointing in the right direction scrolling incredibly smoothly over the railway track. I’ve had numerous great experiences with the GPS sensor on the Nexus 4, but this one really was like a magical moment. Amazing.
After the disappointment that was the speaker of the Galaxy Nexus I can say that LG has done a great job in improving it. The phone can get incredibly loud, and even though it can start to sound tinny I’m still happy that I have this amount of control over it. If my phone is in my pocket I’d rather hear my phone ringing loud & tinny, than not hearing it at all. Big improvement, and I find that I only use the maximum volume if I put the phone in the pockets of my coat. It’s good enough to use as a decent speaker for some quick listening to music, but obviously it doesn’t beat a proper sound set, or quality headphones.
I’ve heard people worrying about the non-removable battery in the Nexus 4, but I don’t see the problem. The phone supports wireless charging, so you can buy extended batteries that just sit against the charging coil. Or you can purchase an external battery pack that just plugs into the micro-USB port. Is that too much of a problem? You can always just use a small torx screwdriver to remove the battery if need be, but I just don’t see the point. What I do know is that the 2100mAh battery is an improvement over the one that can be found in the Galaxy Nexus. Don’t expect anything significant, but it is definitely noticeable.+Adrian Chapmanlaw asked me to install a battery monitor app (http://goo.gl/8Lvpv) that monitors the battery - I’ve only used it for a few days but right now it says that the battery should give me 14h21m of life based on my current use. For reference, I use my phone A LOT. As you might have suspected. For me 14 hours translates to roughly a day, which is enough for me.
Mobile Data and Overall Reception
The HSPA+ antenna inside the old Nexus S only supported data downloads up to a maximum speed of 7.2 Mbit per second. The Galaxy Nexus improved on that by using the HSPA+ 21 standard, which allows for 21 Mbit per second download speed. The Nexus 4 brings something even more special to the market; it is one of the few phones around that supports HSPA+ 42 (also known as DC-HSDPA) which goes all the way up to providing a maximum download speed of 42 Mbit per second! DC-HSDPA gives you roughly the same speeds as 4G/LTE and it’s already here in the UK! Just an example, but the British mobile provider +Three UK states that they aim to offer this to 50% of the people in the UK by Christmas this year. And Three wants to have 80% covered by April 2013. You can find out more about Three’s DC-HSDPA plans here:http://goo.gl/g3zdv
I’m not that much of a fan of making phone calls, it really winds me up that in 2012 we somehow still can’t talk to people over the phone with crystal clear audio. Why is it still the exact same quality of how I remember it from the eighties? Absolutely ridiculous, and it might be the main reason why I often just refuse to make a call. The call quality on the Nexus 4 is just like any other high end phone out there - it’s horrible. Is there a way we can change this?
Android Jelly Bean (4.2)
I don’t think other Android devices work like this, but the upgrade path from Galaxy Nexus to Nexus 4 was incredibly smooth. I switched the device on, entered my Google account details, and it immediately started to wirelessly sync the Nexus 4 to the condition that I left the Galaxy Nexus behind with. All the same apps were installed on the phone, all the little tweaks I had ever made to Wi-Fi settings were carried over, and even the same wallpaper showed up! This is how you provide a quality user experience.
The pure version of Android has gotten so incredibly good, it is incredibly easy and friendly to use. If you go to respected technology blogs like +The Verge and read the iPhone 5 review you will see that they give the software an 8 out of 10. The same applies to their review of the Lumia 920, where they give the software an 8 out of 10 as well. But when you read their review of the Nexus 4 you will see that they have given the software a 10 out of 10. It is incredibly good.
A few key things on why I appreciate Android so much:
1) You don’t need a cable for anything, everything can be done over the air.
2) The settings are unified, each app just has their own settings and that’s it - no hassle with trying to find options in different menus.
3) Jelly Bean knows which apps are installed on your phone, meaning that you can truly share anything with everything - you could download the most obscure photo app in the world, and you just know that you can even share the content that you’ve created with it to the most obscure social networking app in the world. And it will only take two clicks at most. Everything is exactly where you expect it to be.
4) The rich notifications are incredibly good. Android has had a pull-down notification shade practically since the day it came out, and its clear how much experience Google has in doing them. Google knows how to do notifications incredibly well, and Jelly Bean further improves on that.
5) The Android updates on the Nexus come directly from Google. If you buy any non-Nexus phone you instantly lost your direct connection with Google. For the Samsung Galaxy S2, probably the most popular Android phone ever made, it took more than 6 months to get an update from Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) to Jelly Bean. And many phones out there often don’t even ever see a single update. Nexus devices receive all the latest and greatest that Android brings as soon as Google has built it.
6) The coherency in the navigation button. I love how the large round button on the iPhone always brings you back to the main home screen. But Android does it even better, because it gives you two other key options that you use incredibly frequent: a back button and a multi-task button. The back button always takes you back to the previous screen. It is incredibly intuitive. And Android is one of the few mobile operating systems that allow you to do true multi-tasking, so just by pressing the multi-task button you can easily jump from one app to another.
7) The voice recognition, which even works offline, is simply unmatched on any other phone. It works exactly as advertised, and that’s something that can’t be said about its competitors.
8) Google Now: http://youtu.be/ZXtudZl5mzM?hd=1. This is such a major innovation, I don’t even know where to start with describing it.
9) If you use any Google software, such as Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube (etc) then you will find that the best versions of it are running on Android.
I’ve spent quite some time with different Lumia phones and I really start to get fond of Windows Phone 8. It needs some more time, but it has an incredible amount of potential. When I played around with the iPhone 5 it just showed me an operating system that is still largely the same as when I had it running on my iPhone 4 years ago. iPhone aficionados might think that it’s great, because it’s what has kept the software so easy to use, but that’s not true. Pure Android on the Nexus 4 not only does more, but it is also easier to use. I wonder how Apple is going to try and catch up on the quality of the pure Android experience. If they care, that is.
Anyway, if you have a Google account then Android is made for you. It provides the best Google experience for Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, Google Search, Google Translate, Google Earth, Google Calendar, and Google+.
As I’ve said several times before - Nexus devices represent the best of what Android is capable of. The Nexus 4 combines beautifully designed hardware that’s almost obscenely powerful, with software that has been carefully crafted and which presents an incredibly pleasant user experience. The device isn’t perfect, but it definitely is the best Android phone that’s around right now. And it’s possibly even the best phone on the market, period.
The phone has a killer price of £279 for the 16GB version on Google Play, and knowing that Nexus devices keep up their value incredibly well on the long term should make you consider getting it. If you haven’t bought a new phone in the last couple of months then the Nexus 4 should be considered an almost obligatory purchase. Don’t even think about wasting your money on an outdated Galaxy S3 or an iPhone 5. This phone provides the best value for money and is a must-buy, period.
More information about the Nexus 4 can be found here: http://www.google.co.uk/nexus/4/
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