Google Nexus 4 review
09 Dec 2012 12:00am
Android phones typically offer either dull specs and an affordable price, or high-performance components and a price tag suitable only for oil barons. With the Nexus 4, Google and LG have smashed that tradition to pieces.
It packs in a ferocious quad-core processor, a whopping 2GB of RAM, a glorious 4.7-inch display and the latest Android 4.2 Jelly Bean software, which boasts some really cool new features. With a starting price of only £239, it's just half the price of its technical rivals.
£239 will snag you the 8GB model, which will be up for pre-order direct from Google soon. The 16GB model will cost you £279. Both will be available from networks on contract, although the initial deals I've seen have hardly been great value. My advice is to save up, buy it SIM-free and stick in a cheap unlimited data SIM from GiffGaff or Three.
Should I buy the Google Nexus 4?
The Nexus 4 isn't particularly remarkable to look at. It's perfectly inoffensive, sure, but it's hardly pushing any boundaries in terms of cutting-edge design. The front is dominated by a single piece of glass while the back, also glass, has a subtle sparkly effect. In between is curved matte plastic.
Turn it on, though, and its screen jumps out at you. Measuring a spacious 4.7 inches, it's wonderfully bright and bold. Images and videos look great on screen and fine text is kept sharp thanks to the high resolution.
Inside the phone is a 1.5GHz quad-core processor along with 2GB of RAM. Those specs are more impressive than even the Samsung Galaxy S3 and are typically reserved for top of the range mobiles. Unsurprisingly, I found it gave an excellent performance on benchmark tests and there was no task I could find that slowed it down.
Nexus devices always run an untampered version of Android, which means you'll always be first to get the latest update.
It's running on the latest version of Google's operating system, Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. The interface is basically the same as earlier versions of Jelly Bean, but it brings new features including settings shortcuts in the notifications bar, turn by turn GPS navigation, and various other tweaks.
The most important change is to the camera software. Photo Sphere allows you to take full 360-degree images to either swipe around on your phone, Street View-style, or view as one wide panorama on your computer. Built-in editing software lets you turn this into a cool 'tiny planet' picture, as well as add numerous filters and effects tweaks to any of your pictures.
No, it doesn't have 4G, but I can't say that's a particularly painful omission. You can only get 4G on one network, it's only available in a handful of cities and it's outrageously expensive -- and that situation is unlikely to improve until at least next summer.
The Nexus 4 isn't just amazing for its price, it's just plain amazing. It outstrips the Galaxy S3 in power and screen resolution, and is less than half the price. Add on to that the great updates to Android Jelly Bean and the amazing photo features on board, the Nexus 4 isn't just the best Android phone on a budget, it's probably the best Android phone full stop. Should you buy it? You can't afford not to.
Design and build quality
The front of the Nexus 4 is made up of a single piece of glass stretching right up to the edges. It's not interrupted by physical buttons or fancy company logos -- it's an unusually minimal design. Whether you like that sort of simplistic style is a matter of taste, but I found the way the glass curves at the edges to meet the chrome effect surround particularly attractive.
If you want a bit more going on in your design, flip it over. The back panel has been given a shimmering effect. In the right light, it appears as though it's made of tiny sequins. It's very subtle, but it's not at all unpleasant. I think LG could have taken a risk and made it even shinier -- it's definitely more interesting to look at than the standard black matte plastic found on most phones.
The Nexus 4 is a respectable 9mm thick and its screen is protected from scratches by Gorilla Glass.
It measures 134mm long and 69mm wide -- a very similar size to the Galaxy S3. At 9.1mm thick though, it's a tad chubbier than the S3 and considerably fatter than the iPhone 5's 7.6mm. It's chunky, but far from cumbersome.
It might look smart from a distance, but get it in your hand and it suffers in comparison to more expensive phones. The casing feels a little on the plasticky side and it doesn't have the same solid feel as its plutocratic rivals.
The casing doesn't offer much in the way of flex when you squeeze it, however, and the buttons offer a satisfying click, without any of the unpleasant rattling that smacks of cheap construction. The glass front is made from Corning Gorilla Glass 2, which is toughened to be more resistant to scratches and breakages.
It doesn't feel at all poorly put together though. Feeling a little cheap may even remind you of how little you paid for it. Let's face it -- most of us would happily sacrifice a cutting-edge design to save a few hundred quid.
Around the edges you'll find a power button, volume rocker, 3.5mm headphone jack and a micro-USB port for charging and data transfer.
There's sadly no microSD card slot so there's no way to expand the internal memory. That's a problem if you're hoping for the cheapest model, as it only offers 8GB of storage. You'll have to be very careful about what music and photos you keep on board, and big games likeNova 3 or Real Racing 2 are pretty much off the cards.
If you're an app addict and prefer to store music files on your phone rather than stream them, you'd be better off going for the 16GB model. It's £40 more expensive, but it'll give you much more flexibility with what you can install.
The Nexus 4 comes with a 4.7-inch screen, giving it more display room than the iPhone 5's 4 inches and just a tiny bit less than the Galaxy S3's 4.8 inches. That makes it less portable than the iPhone, of course, but the added screen real estate makes web browsing, typing and playing big-screen games much easier.
The display's resolution is a stonking 768x1,280 pixels. That's slightly higher than the S3's resolution and, due to its smaller size, results in the Nexus having a pixel density of 320 pixels per inch over the S3's 306ppi. That means that the Nexus is packing in more pixels into the same space, resulting in a slightly sharper image.
It's not a huge difference, of course, so I doubt you'd be able to tell much difference between the two. Considering the Nexus is so cheap, I'd be happy to forgive it for having a lower-resolution display. The fact that it's packed in so many many pixels and sliced the price in half is just astounding.
Those thousands of pixels make it extremely sharp. Text is beautifully clear, so reading for longer periods in a web browser or in the Kindle app is perfectly pleasant. Watching high-definition video is a joy.
It's very bold too. The black levels are deep, resulting in rich colours and good contrast. It made my favourite video Art Of Flight look lusciously vivid, with the flurries of snow crisp and clear. It's certainly good enough to enjoy TV shows on Netflix or the odd movie rented through the Google Play store.
Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
The Nexus range of devices are designed to showcase the latest version of Google's Android operating system. As such, it's loaded up with the brand-spanking new Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.
The core structure of Jelly Bean hasn't been changed so existing Android users will feel right at home.
In terms of its core interface it's no different from standard Jelly Bean you might -- if you're lucky -- have already seen on your current phone. The usual multiple homescreens are there for filling up with apps and live widgets, or you can dive into a grid of apps to see all the stuff you don't want up front.
What a happy little Jelly Bean. That's the latest version right there.
Jelly Bean brought a few neat features such as improved frame rates for smoother swiping and the live information service Google Now. Both these features are present and correct and Google Now has been given a couple of updates to boot.
The multi-tasking bar is still on board, making it simple to switch between currently open apps.
It still brings you information based on your day to day actions without needing to search for it, but it's added extra info for nearby events and notifications about flights. Nothing popped up while I was testing it, so I can't say it was particularly useful, but it learns from your habits and searches, so give it time to get to know you and I'm sure you'll find it useful.
The notifications bar is similar to the existing Jelly Bean one too, showing detailed information about events, emails and text messages so you know what's worth reading now or saving for later. Importantly, it's added an extra section that gives immediate access to settings like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and screen brightness.
The notifications bar shows information about events and now lets you change critical settings to do with Bluetooth or screen brightness.