Nexus 4 battery life: the difference between filling a gas tank when it needs and always looking for an outlet.

I've had my Nexus 4 for a month or so now, so I wanted to share the difference the battery life on this device makes in my technology using life.

Three weeks or so before Christmas, I'd had enough of my Verizon Galaxy Nexus and its slow updates. I went to the Play store and though it said 4-6 weeks, I ordered a 16G N4.


It shipped the next morning.


My first smartphone was the original iPhone. I then got the 3G when it was available. Two years later and still having the 3G, I received a brick through my windshield called iOS 4. It crippled the device, where I literally couldn't use it. Interface lag was so horrible - it took so long to answer a call that by the time I was furiously swiping at that stupid lock, I'd swipe and swipe and swipe and it'd go to voicemail. Maddening.


And I hate modal notifications. Modality is useful only for “I'm sorry Dave, I can't open the pod bay doors” moments. Nothing else. Critical battery left - stuff like that. I wanted a non-modal notification system and was enticed by the soon-to-be-launched Droid X on competing Verizon's then-speedy EVDO rev.A network. I loved the X even though Android apps were horrible at the time. Then Gingerbread first came to a non-nexus device on the X, and due to the modding community I was testing it before the OTA came.


I needed an LTE device to get grandfathered in on unlimited and got a Droid Charge. The hideousness that was touchwhiz was iOS again with ugly pastels and half-baked replacement for the near-stock apps I'd loved on the X. I immediately replaced the launcher, lockscreen and every other app I could. Consider this - the Droid X was about 8 months old at this point and had Gingerbread. But the Charge - it launched with Froyo. It took until November (for shame, Samsung) to update to Gingerbread - which I'd had on a phone launched over a year and a half before that. I was pissed again and looked at the iPhone 4 (or was it the 4S then?). Then I felt like I was saved when I heard the first Nexus was coming to Verizon and with LTE. So I bought it at full price and sold the Charge for a few hundred to offset its cost.


Sock Android - sweet, sweet sweet stock Android! Free of OEMs!


Sort of.


Any who know the difference between any Verizon phone and its GSM brethren knows it is the difference of months, and the software update cycle on the Galaxy Nexus is no different. Though the Verizon iPhone gets immediate updates from Apple, the Google phone has no such special meaning to Big Red. The GSM Galaxy Nexus received Android 4.2 soon after the Nexus 4 was launched. The LTE Galaxy Nexus has no such fortune - still to this day.


And the LTE Galaxy Nexus has a really ugly side to it. To currently get simultaneous data and voice on a CDMA carrier, you need two radios going at once. One for the LTE with data and the other with CDMA for voice. LTE is a GSM-based technology and I don't believe there any radios shipping with both GSM and CDMA. Two radios plus a large screen and a pretty powerful dual core CPU means one thing in the mobile world: (mili)amperage. And lots of it. This manifests as massive battery drain while using the screen and LTE - say, oh when you're using the phone as a smartphone mostly. I had chargers everywhere I went - one in the car, one at the office, and three at home (depending on the room I was in). I was constantly thinking about battery and kept it on a charger at all times at work to ensure it was ready for an away-from-charger experience. And this wasn't just me - I had it replaced due to 3G-4G data drops and the new device did the same. There are plenty of discussions of frustrated Galaxy Nexus owners about the horrid battery life the device has.


Months passed and I forgot what it was like to go a day or more without the tether to the wall. Normal was a spare battery, a charger in all the afore-mentioned places and if not available, turning Wi-Fi off, data off, brightness down. Ironically it was the Verizon update cycle that ticked me off the most, but the Verge review scared me off. Honestly it's the first review I've read here where I feel it did a disservice to the device. More in a second on that.


I was just figuring that I'd get a "tester" t-mobile prepaid plan for the N4, and if I didn't like HSPA+ compared to LTE, I could ebay the N4 and maybe make money on it even. But I've got to tell you, there's no way I'd do that now and a huge part is how good the N4 is.


Yes - LTE and no CDMA prevents it from being even more awesome, but honestly - I've never missed it - not even once. I've gotten 22Mb/s speeds (down) and yes, the upload speeds are much slower than LTE but in terms of real-world use? T-mobile is great. Their coverage isn't as broad, but you just drop to 2G/Edge on someone else's network. And as soon as you go near a city again, you get HSPA+ back.


But the battery life is life changing. Its difference was evident at first, but I still charged it at home every night and still have the chargers at work - so I wasn't thinking when I'd drop the N4 on a charger out of habit. But then I flashed the Franco kernel after reading the XDA thread over Christmas.


The difference between stock and Franco, the latter of which is still in pre-milestone pre-stable status (currently r28), is like the difference between American cars and my Mitsubishi Evo's gas tank. The Evo is designed and built (or was, it's a 2004) in Japan where they don't drive as far as we do. I get 24 mpg on it (29 on long trips), but have to fill it around 12.5-13 gallons for normal driving with traffic. It means I usually get about 5 days of driving before filling the tank - or 4 on a bad week. In my old Ford Ranger with a 20 gallon tank, I'd go weeks sometimes between fill-ups.


And so the N4 is like owning my beloved Evo but getting Prius gas mileage.


Now I go at least 24 hours on a charge if I'm on HSPA+, 48 hours or more if on WiFi. This past weekend I got 1d, 12 h with 50% WiFi 50% HSPA+ and 31% battery left - and that's using some on-device Google Music, some WiFi Spotify use and a bit of gaming.


Add in the benefit of cheaper, non-contract service ($70 for unlimited everything and 5GB of HSPA+), and a non-contract phone and I couldn't be happier.

So back to the Verge review. I'm sorry to say it's the first time I've been disappointed at a review by Mr. Topolsky, going back to Engadget times. While his criticisms are fair, they're not valid unless you're in an area where T-mobile is saturated. I disagree that there's no way to avoid the device's lack of currently, widely usable LTE. T-mobile HSPA+ in my usage is no different day-to-day than Verizon LTE was. None. HD Youtube streams as fast (faster actually) than it did on LTE. Spotify is fine. Google Music is fine.


I can't say how it would behave in another city, but here in Jacksonville, Florida it's great.

So when you consider the N4, and if you are like I was and can't remember the last time you went a full 24 hours and had decent battery left, consider that too. The last time a phone changed my experience this much, it was the Droid X and before that the original iPhone. I'll trade nearly two-day battery life for the difference LTE brings every day, especially on a device so much better and quicker to get updates like the N4.