The Nexus 4 is the unassuming fourth album in the Google-certified smartphone master collection that is the Nexus program. It's part of a larger ecosystem this time around, alongside the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets. Google is looking for a hat-trick after success with the Nexus 7. Is this another Google slam dunk?
What Is It?
When Google wants to carve out a new Nexus, it finds hardware from a third-party manufacturer in the form factor it likes, and takes the bare bones of the device to rework it into something more fitting.
This time Google has selected LG and its Optimus G for the Nexus line honours. Despite a design overhaul, the Nexus 4 isn't all that different to the Optimus G when you get down to it.
The 4.7-inch black rectangle is still running a quad-core 1.5Ghz Snapdragon processor, only without the integrated 4G support; it's still packing 2GB of RAM, an 8-megapixel camera and Gorilla Glass for added protection. The screen is beautiful at 1280x768 True HD IPS Plus and 318 ppi and it runs Android 4.2 for added smoothness and power.
The only differences come in the storage available on-board -- Nexus 4 has 8GN and 16GB versions whereas the Optimus has 32GB -- and the weight -- 139 grams for the Nexus 4 while the Optimus G tips in at 145 grams.
The Nexus 4 is fairly bland to look at despite the subtle sparkle pattern, but where this thing really hits its mark is power.
This is one of the most powerful Android devices on the market right now, making mincemeat of the competition. It clocks in with a Geekbench score of 2115, making it more powerful than an Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Air (2009), gruntier than the Nexus 7's quad-core Tegra 3 processor and don't even mention the iPhone.
The only device that outperforms it on raw power is the Nexus 10 tablet built by Samsung, which clocks in with a score of 2356. Compare these two devices to the closest-ranked Android devices and you end up at the Galaxy Note II which packs a score of 1941. This new phone really is a superweapon with a Nexus logo.
The phone is solid but not too heavy and I actually quite like the subtle sparkles on the rear of the device.
Android 4.2 is a welcome addition to the new Nexus, too. It's smoother than ever and it really feels as if our little Android is growing up into the operating system we want it to be after all this time.
New additions in Android 4.2 include Google Gestures, which is Mountain View's answer to Swype. The speed difference between actually lifting your finger to type and Gesturing is minimal, but out of the box, Google has managed to create a smarter, smoother, more manageable one-touch type experience than Swype ever could be. Google Gestures tries to guess the words you're writing and when it can't figure it out, you have the option to teach it so it doesn't foul up next time. It's super-smooth and very intelligent to use.
Google has continued to make modifications to the Notifications pane, too. Android 4.2 features a flipping Notifications pane that makes setting things like Wi-Fi hotspots, screen brightness and Airplane Mode really easy.
Android 4.2 also puts Voice Search onto the device. This means that your queries are answered faster than ever because the phone knows what you're saying without having to ping Google via a data network to double check. That's going to help both the time you spend searching and the cash you spend on a data plan.
The camera is beefed up with a new panorama mode called Photo Sphere that makes an interactive, 3D landscape of what you're looking at. It's a little strange in some areas but it's still one of the cooler ways to make a great looking landscape to share with your friends.
The Gallery app also has a new editing function that lets you filter your images, Instagram-style.
On top of all these goodies, Android 4.2 is also faster, smoother and more usable than ever.
The Nexus 4 also rings up at a crackingly good price. Something like this you could expect to pay in the realm of $800 for, but Google is trying to stitch up the bottom end of the market and get these out the door for cheap. That means in Australia, you can expect to pay $349 for the 8GB model and $399 for the 16GB model. That's absurdly good value. Is it any wonder they all sold out in minutes?
The Nexus 4 is such a great phone that it's tough to find fault with it. I only found two issues that put me off, one of which has a very sensible explanation.
First, the most obvious downside: the lack of 4G/LTE support. 4G isn't an omission that Google has done lightly though.
On the surface you might think it's a way to keep costs down, and while it probably is helping the Nexus 4 to that all important $349, it's not the primary reason. Google actually omitted 4G from the Nexus 4 to keep the world on an even playing field.
When Google released the Galaxy Nexus it built with Samsung, it was sold through carriers. That meant bespoke hardware and software versions had to ship all over the world. That made updating the device a massive chore. It's part of the reason that the device still doesn't have Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.
Google wanted to fix its mistake this time around and instead decided to sell the hardware via the Play Store rather than saddle it to carriers, and it also opted for simple hardware and software so that it didn't have to reinvent the wheel every time the device needed an update.
3G is a global wireless network standard, whereas 4G/LTE runs on different frequencies all over the world. By speccing the handset lower, it made it easy for Google to sell everywhere at once and keep updated.
Sure it's bad that it doesn't pack 4G, but that's not Google's fault.
The only other issue I found with the device was with the SIM tray. The eject slot on the device isn't flat, it's all jagged and torn up. It's easy enough to sand down, but taking your new phone into the shed for a tune up isn't something you should have to do on day one.
This Is Weird...
When we pulled the device out of the box and fired it up, we were disappointed with the screen. I was just about ready to write the device off because of it, but upon investigation, it's not all bad. The Chrome and Camera shortcut icons in the bottom tray look like junk, but when you delve further into the device, the screen rights itself and looks as beautiful as ever. Whites are white and colours are deep and vibrant.
We suspect that the weird vertical icon grain visible is the fault of lower resolution icons rather than a lower resolution screen. It's tough to describe in text, but go and have a look at the device for yourself (if you can) before spending your cash if this is something that has you concerned.
Should You Buy It?
The Nexus 4 is the confirmation we were all waiting for that Google is now building phones to a price point. Rather than have the best of everything on the one device, Google is picking its battles. With all of the new Nexus devices from LG, Asus and Samsung (Nexus 4, 7 and 10), Google is loading devices up to the nines with power while stripping out the elements that drive up price like heavy metal bodies and super-bright screens. This isn't a bad thing, though.
The benefit of this corner cutting is cheap handsets that are lowering the floor-price of amazing smartphones. By competing on price and power, Google is stitching up the market and making it better for the rest of us to buy phones. Sooner or later, we're going to demand lower prices from all manufacturers as a result.
The Nexus 4 is unassuming. It's not flamboyant and despite the sparkly cover, it's not outrageous either. It looks like just a run-of-the-mill black rectangle. It's what's inside this discreet enclosure though that makes it the silent killer. It's not a device you buy when you want to show off. Instead, it's the phone you buy when you want something that's still going to be incredibly relevant in two-years time.
The Nexus program was started to give developers and customers the best that Google had to offer, and nothing has ever been truer to that original mission than the Nexus 4. It's the perfect Android device.