Nexus 4 Review – The Best Android Phone Yet?
When the Nexus One was first announced in January 2010 it was, for the time a power-house of a phone. The HTC made device ran a 1GHz Snapdragon processor coupled with 512MB of RAM. The display was an OLED, 3.7″ 800×480 pixel affair. Often criticised because it was pentile and lacked the full RGB dot matrix of LCD technology. Aimed at developers as a device that would enable them to receive software updates directly from Google and thus make their apps as up-to the minute as possible. Sold directly from Google, this was the forerunner to what we see now with the Nexus range. From there it becomes convoluted, the Nexus S was pretty much a warmed over Galaxy S, bringing with it no new specifications over the Nexus One. Late 2011 and we have the Galaxy Nexus, a device with somewhat outdated specs. except the display, which while pentile had a resolution of 1280×720. That’s right, an HD display of 4.65″. It was my favourite phone. I had two of them. Can the Nexus 4 take over the crown for my favoured device? Read on to find out.
The hardware in the Nexus 4 is nothing to complain about, once more the Nexus phone has the best internals among Androids. Quad-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4, 2GB RAM, 16GB internal storage and an 8 megapixel camera. The display is IPS running the erroneously titled HD+ resolution of 1280×768, in the 4.7″ size this equates to a retina esq. 320ppi and because it’s using LCD technology we get the real RGB sub-pixel arrangement. In short this selection of components creates the best experience I have had on any Android device. Ever. I’ve thrown many things at this phone and nothing has an impact on speed of use and fluid animations. I’m guessing that the 2GB RAM is overkill and this leads to there always being some available for any app, should it so wish.
As for the externals, well, here we have a conundrum. The shape of the phone is part annoyance and part beauty. I love the minimal nature of the front, I have no real qualms with the rear, admittedly I would like a small amount more roundness on there, as it stands it doesn’t cut into my hand. I am able to hold it easily, but it doesn’t feel as ‘nice’ in the hand as the Galaxy Nexus did. My biggest bug though comes with the soft-touch rubber/plastic. It runs around all edges of the device. It feels cheap, it looks cheap and I can only assume that it is cheap. The phone does retail for £239 (8GB model, 16GB is £279), so I’m certain that corners had to be cut in terms of production. But for a device that has such incredible internals I really would have liked an external appearance to match. The fit and finish isn’t high either. There is a small amount of flex and I can definitely get a creak out of it. In a world where Apple are doing some amazing things with aluminium, I don’t see why other companies shouldn’t be striving forward with metals more.
Enough ranting. The screen on the Nexus 4 is wonderful. I have noticed that due to it being LCD the colours will not ‘pop’ as much as those on the Galaxy S3 or any other phone with a Samsung Super-AMOLED. This is a limitation of the technology, however, when compared to the iPhone 5, a device who’s display is also IPS, it doesn’t fare well either. Blacks are of similar depth, but Apple must be calibrating their’s differently as colours do have more saturation. Hopefully this is something that can be fixed via a software patch. Better still, Google please let me calibrate my own display. Hide it in developer options if you’re worried the average novice might make a pigs ear of it. The glass covering the screen is really slick. Almost slippery. I am of the belief that this is to aid with operation of the new keyboard, something I’ll talk about later in the article.
Of note I have noticed some static feedback from the ear-piece. This is not always present, and when it is it’s not much of a distraction. I’ve read of others complaining of the same thing on the internet so it can’t be a localised issue on my device.
In the end though, this is nice hardware. It’s not the best, but for the average, non OCD consumer it will suffice well.
Also new with the Nexus 4 is Android version 4.2. Still falling under the Jelly Bean moniker, we receive minor improvements. Don’t let that deceive you though. This is a welcome update with some very good improvements. The first thing you’ll notice is that the phone has a new lock screen. Gone is the three way slider. Now we have the unlock symbol starting in the middle, dragging in any direction will unlock to your home screen. On the bottom bar is the Google Now icon, dragging this up takes you to, unsurprisingly, Google Now. The camera can be accessed via a right-to-left swipe from the edge of the display. The interesting and optional elements are via a left-to-right swipe. Google have seen fit to add widgets to the lock screen. I’m not sold on their usefulness just yet, I think I need to get into the habit of using them before I can conclude as to their inclusion. But for those that aren’t fully engrained in one way of doing things they work, they work well and they look lovely. The stock widgets you can get are; Clock, Calendar, Messages, GMail, E-mail and music. More will come with time as developers take advantage of this feature.
Up top in the notification bar everything is visually the same, dragging it down to see your apps communication with you however will yield a new button. Tapping this will take you to the Quick Settings, sadly these are not toggles as I would have liked, merely tapping one will take you to the corresponding settings menu item, apart from screen brightness, this brings up an overlay that allows quick selection of your desired nits. Definitely handy, but not as quick as they would have you think on first glance.
What else is important on a smartphone? The keyboard, here Google have borrowed the idea of Swype, and implemented their own version. Dragging your finger over the letters you wish to include in the word creates a chain that is constantly updating with the system guessing what you want to say. It works exceedingly well, not perfectly but the words it guesses are 90% accurate. Quite frankly I can’t believe that I didn’t listen to all those people that raved about Swype before, it’s really quick to create a message now. Also in true Google style, it looks beautiful too, an ever tapering blue line connecting your letters.
My second grievance with the Nexus 4 lies with the camera. It’s abysmal. Coming from an iPhone 5 I’ve been incredibly spoiled. I completely understand how cameras work and all I can deduce is that maybe the software could be updated to give some better results. I’ve got some comparison shots vs. an iPhone 5 for you to have a look at and be the judge. Other than that, the quick toggles is brilliant, holding your finger anywhere on the screen brings up the settings menu, all easily accessible with a flicking movement, I have found that sometimes my thumb is over the setting I need and thus I miss it but otherwise it works really well. We also have a 360° panoramic mode called Photosphere. It’s really fun to use this, sadly most people will only ever see a flat image and not the immersive view as intended due to the fact that only the Nexus 4,7 & 10 and Google+ have the ability to display the images correctly. This will change in due course but at the moment it can be annoying. I’ve popped one of mine on + for you to have a look at.
The Nexus 4 is the best Android device right now. It is however a double edged sword. It is only good for people who know what they’re doing. A regular consumer is most likely better suited to a Galaxy S3 or HTC One X+. For the purists, tinkerers and more advanced I heartily recommend getting this. Even with the grievances that I have noted, the price of this device negates most of them. For the best experience on a mobile device today you can’t go wrong with a Nexus in your pocket.