It’s seems like the top Android phone crown changes every month. I’m an Android developer so I have a good excuse to buy them all when they come out. First I had the HTC One X, then the Galaxy S3 and now the Nexus 4 from LG and Google themselves. The phone really shouldn’t be this good judging from its price tag. You can buy it unlocked from $299 in the US for the 8gb version which is less than you’ll pay for the iPhone 5 on some bad contract deals. Well, you could buy it for $299 if it wasn’t sold out in every country. It’s a great deal, maybe such a good deal that you suspect quality might suffer to justify the price.
Sure enough, from a hardware point of view, it’s missing 4G. That’s a big enough reason for many to avoid this phone though it didn’t affect me as I don’t live in a 4G area. It’s also a little heavier than the iPhone 5, has small enough storage and no external SD card or removable battery. From an aesthetic point of view, it can be kind of ugly from the front. It’s a black rectangle of a phone with only a slight bezel. The back has a glass pale pixel effect which looks a bit retro and is prone to cracks and scratches.
But that’s about all the bad news. It truly deserves the Android crown, for the time being at least.
Here’s the good stuff on the Android Nexus 4:
Yes, the N4 has a peculiar look but the feel? It’s fantastic. The phone is a joy to hold in my hand. The screen is curved around the phone from edge to edge, and it nearly feels like the Gorilla Glass is melted over the sides. Google claims the curved sides makes it easier to swipe right or left on the phone, and it doesn’t appear to marketing speak, it did seem to make stuff easier to swipe around at the edges.
When you turn it on, it’s got a crisp 4.7-inch, 1280 x 768 LCD display, giving images that are clean and bright in most light conditions. The 4.7 inch screen can be too big for some people but I find the bigger the better with my massive, manly hands. The screen has something called “Zerogap” technology which means the images look as if they’ve been painted onto the display, not behind it.
Inside, the Nexus 4 boasts some ostensibly impressive specs if you judge by Megahertz and numbers. The CPU is a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro clocked to 1.5GHz, which Google claims makes the N4 the fastest phone on the market. The device was extremely snappy but I found the iPhone 5 slightly snappier in certain situations. The N4 has a solid 2GB of RAM and comes in storage versions of 8GB or 16GB.
Of course, we don’t judge smartphones by their CPU and amount of RAM, it’s all about the software and this is where the Nexus 4 really wins. It’s a Google Nexus device so it runs the untouched, stock version of Android Jelly Bean 4.2 unencumbered with bloat from other hardware manufacturers. You’re also getting future Android upgrades direct from Google so you can expect them pretty much day of release. And how does the new Android version hold up? Well it’s definitely closed the gap on iOS and arguably surpassed it.
It’s a quick and snappy OS which has really shaken the past reputation of Android lag and glack of responsiveness. Google calls this Project Butter and you really notice the improvements when you compare it earlier Android version.
Then you have Google Now, the search engines’s worthy competitor to Apple’s Siri which proactively shows you the information it thinks you need like flight details, travel directions and sports scores without you asking. The voice recognition is very good but you don’t have to use your voice which is much more useful in the real world in my opinion.
Google retains the mobile maps crown by a wide margin over Nokia and the infamous Apple maps. Gmail is slightly improved in this Android version with more swipe gestures and other small improvements. And the Nexus 4 has an innovative new ‘Photo Sphere’ feature in the camera which is best described as creating your own Street View maps. It doesn’t always work perfectly but it’s cool to play around with.
Like all Android phones, the Nexus 4 does suffer from a perceived lack of blockbuster apps, something we’re trying to fix at android-app-development.ie. But I personally think the gap is closing as great phones like this hit the market and propel more programmers into Android.
The result is that the Nexus 4 itself is an incredibly beguiling device.
Overall the phone is top notch in nearly every way and would be a solid chice at typical high-end smartphone prices. But at this low price of $299 unlocked and without a crippling network contract? It’s the deal of the year and a must buy. If you can find one that is.