Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
Since the first Google Phone came out in 2008, I’ve been extremely interested in the potential that Android could bring to the market place. Now the dominant and fastest-growing mobile OS has a lot rooted into its Nexus devices which have traditionally broken new ground in terms of hardware specs and features.
I’ve owned all of them, loved most, kept a few and flipped some for the next newer model. The T-Mobile G1, the Nexus One, the Nexus S, The Galaxy Nexus and last but not the least the elusive Nexus 4.
I was fortunate to nab a 16GB Nexus 4 during the brief window that a few units were available. There are a lot of reasons to love and desire the Nexus 4.
It is the phone geek’s phone. With a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, a luscious 4,7-inch screen, happy helpings of NFC (Near Field Communications), wireless charging via compatible inductive Qi chargers, Miracast video mirroring capability, dual noise-cancelling microphones and HSPA + data capability all neatly wrapped in a sleek Gorilla Glass covered frame and dressed daintily with detail taken from skinned mirror balls.
Is this phone a stunner? It looks really good but it also resembles the Galaxy Nexus and it is easy to mistake the two smartphones at first glance. But flip the Nexus 4 over and a large, almost garish NEXUS logo presents itself above the sparkly Gorilla Glass. The more tapered and restrained design of the Nexus 4 makes the Galaxy Nexus feel a little toylike in comparison.
I am happy that Google abandoned the sloping glass design of previous Nexus smartphones. Not only did this make finding a good case extra challenging, Gorilla Glass was not used in those models (possibly because curved Gorilla Glass isn’t available).
The Nexus 4 is exquisitely designed and very well built. Anyone who likes the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S glass and aluminum antenna sandwich look and feel will appreciate what LG has done here. The glass gives a nice density and premium feel while the rubberized core that holds the front and back together feels sturdy and adds much need grip. The Nexus 4 feels very good in the hand no matter how you hold it. It feels like a quality device and a few notches above the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus which weren’t sealed-in smartphones (i.e. you could access the batteries) and were plasticky by comparison.
The design elements are subtle, fit into the now defined Nexus design language and really push the software front and centre. Since I’ve owned the Nexus 4, I’ve had around two system updates in less than a week. That, my friends, is Stock Android. It is the sweet, life giving digital colostrum from the Googleplex straight to your device, over the air and untainted by the stink of third-party carrier and manufacturer code. It is a thing of beauty.
Battery life has been impressive so far with a good 8-10 hours of use between charges being the norm. This is with heavy Twitter, Instagram, email and checking RSS feeds every couple of hours. I’ve also enjoyed YouTube on this device because the screen is so good and I’ve loaded various movies and TV shows to watch on the Nexus 4 and that screen does a stunning job of playing HD video.
Call quality is good, dual microphones help isolate unwanted background noise and the result is very clear vocal quality across most conditions. Reports are that the Nexus 4 supports HD voice which is a new feature that leverages a wider range of sound to help isolate external noise and boost voice quality. It only works if both handsets making calls support the feature and the network they are on has HD Voice.
The camera of the Nexus 4 is certainly better than what we got on the Galaxy Nexus and it is on par with the LG Optimus G but the 8 Megapixel shooter isn’t going to take anything away from the iPhone 4 or 5 or Nokia’s Lumia 920 or even any of the recent HTC models.
That said, the Nexus 4’s camera is still pretty good. Specially since it now uses the new camera features in Jelly Bean 4.2 including photoshpere and more detailed camera controls which will allow a fair amount of fine tuning. This is more than we’ve come to expect from smartphones today and a welcome addition.
One of the persistent bugs I’ve experienced with the Nexus 4’s camera is that is sometimes locks up, freezes or refuses to take a photo. You can imagine frustrating this can be when trying to capture my infant son’s many first Christmas moments (I am glad I packed a proper camera, a Sony NEX 3). This issue, which happens in the camera app and in Instagram, can only be resolved by restarting the Nexus 4 and is a bug that Google should resolve soon.
I’m still a week into my Nexus 4 experience and I have to say it has been generally great. Most people who I have shown the phone to like it a lot. If ample supplies were available and if Google managed to sell Nexus 4’s unlocked in Staples, Best Buy and Future Shop, I have no doubt that it would be one of the biggest selling gadgets of the season. This would make Google a lot of money but more importantly, it would push Android even further in the markets that it is trying to compete in.
The Nexus 4 remains in short supply, still sold out in most Google Play stores with no indication on when it will be made available. So far, this is the best Nexus smartphone I have used and one of the best Android smartphones available (or not) right now. Those who want what the Nexus 4 offers in hardware, need LTE speeds and don’t mind waiting a few months for Jelly Bean 4.2 should check out the LG Optimus G, which is cut from the same cloth and has the same powerful hardware and shares many features.