Nexus 4: Finally (A Review)

After almost two long months of wanting to get my hands on a Nexus 4, I’ve finally received mine from Google. My interest in Android has been bubbling over for the past few months, and after Google announced its partnership with LG to develop a new Nexus phone I had to take the plunge. Not too long ago I received my email from Google that it’d shipped, I instantly ordered a case from Amazon, and both it and the phone were here last Friday.

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As you can probably suspect I’ve been playing with this thing nonstop. There are definitely some hits, and there are a few misses, but overall I’m impressed. After almost a week of using this phone, I can officially say I’m in love with Android — at least for now. If you’ve boosted my blog or seen my tweets, you’ll know not only have I been an avid iOS fan and user for a while, I’ve had every iPhone since the 3GS. Yes, I’ve gone through four phones; the 3GS, 4, 4S, and I just sold my 5. It’s only been a few months since I’ve been interested in moving to Android, my first choice would have been a Samsung Galaxy S3, although I’m largely against their plastic designs, AMOLED displays, and TouchWiz is an absolute eyesore in my opinion. It just so happens that this was around the time Google announced their LG partnership to release a new Nexus handset. When I heard of this phone, which definitely is influenced by the iPhone series in design, I was all over it.

Nexus 4

The Phone.

Like I said, this is all coming from someone who’s only used some kind of iPhone for the past four years. To finally use Android on a daily basis is very refreshing. Physically, this is the cream of the crop in the world of Android phones. Every Android phone I see is made of plastic, loaded down heavily with bloat-ware, and under some service provider’s ridiculous subsidy. The Nexus 4 looks, feels and works beautifully, and Google packs the final punch with that $299/$349 price point. LG definitely tipped a hat to Apple’s construction of the iPhone 4 and 4S. It’s basically the same kind of design. A glass front display, with a glass backing, and some kind of band between the two. In the Nexus 4’s case, it isn’t a steel band, it’s a not-so-rubbery, plastic-ish, yet durable and high-quality feeling material that provides good grip. The glass backing is a double-edged sword, just as it was with the last generation two generations of iPhones, it’s as much of a potential problem with the Nexus 4. One drop on a fairly hard surface from a few feet up without any protection on this phone will likely yield undesired results. If you’ve read anything about this phone you may know that the back glass is seemingly weaker than the front glass which Google and LG claim to be Gorilla Glass 2. In any event I’m a strong believer in using cases 24/7.

Diztronic Matte Black Case

Diztronic Matte Black Case

Diztronic Matte Black Case

I picked up a TPU-style case by a company, Diztronic, for under $13. Aside from their rather large logo on the back, if you’re in to simple cases that provide a good amount of protection, but aren’t too bulky, the Matte Black Case by Diztronic is a good buy. It does however hide that sparkly design that everyone’s been clamoring for underneath the Nexus 4’s glass backing. When unboxing my Nexus 4, that design stood out a lot less than I thought it would, nonetheless it’s still a very welcome addition to the design of the phone.

Outside of a case, this is definitely one of the better looking phones that run Android. It feels solid and durable, yet it’s sleek and clean. With the up ticks in design come some drawbacks. Of course as you probably know, there’s no removable battery here, so those who tote a fully charged spare battery are completely out of luck. There’s a microSIM card tray on the right side of the phone, but no opening for any kind of expandable storage. That’s right, no microSD card slot here either. These are both downers, and I think Google could have offered a 32GB version of the Nexus 4, but 16GB and your choice of cloud storage will have to do. The Nexus 4’s internals hold a 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 quad-core CPU, with 2GB of onboard RAM, and is powered by an average 3.8 volt, 2100 mAh battery (same as the Galaxy S3).

Nexus 4

Nexus 4

Nexus 4

Nexus 4

The screen, probably the most important part of the device, is gorgeous. I dislike Samsung’s choice of AMOLED displays with a passion. I find them over saturated, too dark in some instances, and unrealistic looking. The Galaxy S3, while it’s screen is a tad bigger than the Nexus 4’s at 4.8 inches, pales in comparison if you ask me. The Nexus 4’s screen at 4.7 inches is an IPS-based display, much like the iPhone 5’s. Although the contrast and viewing angles may be a bit better on the iPhone, the Nexus 4 has a stellar display with brilliant colors and very dark blacks. For those interested in the PPI density conversation, the Nexus 4 touts a pixel density of 320 ppi at 4.7 inches. In comparison, the iPhone 5 has a density of 326 ppi at 4 inches, and the S3 sports 306 ppi at 4.8 inches. With that said, none of these devices have anything on a new standard of Android phones which seem to include five inch screens and 1080p resolutions, which yield insanely high pixel densities. HTC’s Droid DNA, and Chinese phone maker, Oppo’s Find 5 both contain these newly marketed higher-than-720p displays. Sony’s Xperia Z, which was unveiled at CES 2013 claims to have a 1080p display at five inches, 1.5GHz quad-core chip, and a 13 megapixel camera.

Nexus 4

The Software.

Now on to the OS. Android is great, Nexus 4 is up to version 4.2.1. One of the fundamental design principles in Android for Google seems to be related to giving the user as much data as they want as soon as they turn on their device. Maybe some people like having screens and screens of app icons, much like iOS, but I’m very pleased with Android’s way of giving you the choice of what you want your home screen to look like. Widgets are a huge part of Android. There are a bunch of pre-installed widgets, and there are also widgets that come with apps as you download new apps. These widgets have predetermined sizes, some can be adjusted. There are widgets for weather, news, music services like Pandora, task apps like Wunderlist, and more. There are also a few widgets available for the lock screen. Just like your home screen, you can have a slew of widgets that you slide to the right and access before you even unlock the device. The camera app is also available from the lock screen by swiping to the left. Much like the iPhone, it provides all the usual access to the camera app without allowing one to see pictures taken prior unless the phone is unlocked.

Nexus 4

Speaking of the camera, this was one area of Android I was worried about coming from an iPhone 5. Although three app itself is superb, and the gesture-based menus fairly intuitive, the quality of many of the stills I’ve taken leave a lot to be desired. The crispness of the iPhone 5’s stills with decent lighting in my experience trump what I’ve been able to get from the Nexus 4. With that said I’ve still got to test video, which should be comparable to what iOS can produce at 1080p and 30fps. Nonetheless, with adequate lighting, the Nexus 4 produces decent pictures. The front-facing camera did do well compared to my iPhone 5. I have no real gripes with it. It has a 1.3 megapixel sensor while the rear camera boasts eight. The blockbuster feature for this phone as Google would have you know is definitely Photo Sphere. This is a riff on panoramas which allows you to take an all encompassing panoramic image in 360 degrees. I don’t know how practical this feature is, I mean I know I can say I barely ever took panoramas with my iPhone 5, which produced very nice results. It’s nice to have it though.

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Customization is the reason I ditched my iPhone to use the Nexus 4, and there’s plenty to work with. From Light Manager, to widgets, the openness with files, Android is a techie’s dream come true if you were an avid iPhone user in your past life like me… Android is head and shoulders above what Apple has to offer when it comes to personalization of the phone. Just being able to populate my main screens with as much or as little information as I want is an incredible idea…and it seems so obvious. Google got it. Microsoft seems to get it. Even Palm got it a few years ago, with the Pre and Pixie. Apple, however still can’t seem to get it right. Maybe 2013 is the year they’ll kick it into high gear and start realizing people need a little more flexibility and personalization. There been plenty of talk about Android and how it works, I don’t think I need to go through absolutely everything.

There are two other major points I want to make about this phone; Project Butter, and the battery. Battery life was another major concern I had coming to Android. Everyone I know with an Android phone is almost always scavenging for a power outlet to juice up their device. I’m now part of that group. I’m pretty vigilant with keeping my phone plugged up in the car so I rarely ever had to worry about my phone dying on me. Coming from an iPhone I’m used to going an entire day with moderate use and never dipping below 20%. The same use case with the Nexus 4 would probably only get me through 60 to 70 percent of that same day. But with all of the pros that come with using Android, battery life is something I’ll learn to live with. Project Butter something Google implemented in the development of Jelly Bean version 4.1 and into 4.2, that focused on the smoothness of the Android. My number one gripe on Android was the choppiness, hiccups, and the sluggishness when you’re using the phone. In the iOS world, things move very fluidly throughout the OS. There are almost no hiccups, no crashes, and moving to an Android phone is usually quite disappointing in this regard. The Nexus 4 with Project Butter, however, is the complete opposite. While I can notice the slight difference in speed to iOS — which is definitely still superior — Android Jelly Bean is by far the best version of the OS yet. It’s as smooth as Android has ever been on a phone, and can finally stand up to iOS without falling flat on its face.

The Hits.

Gesture Typing. This Swype-inspired gesture-based typing technology makes typing on a phone worth it. I don’t know how or if Apple would ever implement such a feature, especially since it’s deeply rooted in Android, but it’s very nice. Best of all, it’s baked right into this stock version of Android.

Nexus 4

Soft Hardware Buttons. One of Google’s new paradigms for Android devices involves doing away with physical buttons, and putting them on screen. Years ago Google proposed that Android phones have four hardware buttons on front. Now, the Nexus 4, 7, 10, and other Android device makers are only using three; back, home, and multitasking. The home button doubles as a shortcut to the Google app when it’s held. The back button will also actively change to act as a keyboard toggle. The difference here is, that the buttons aren’t buttons at all, they take up the bottom-most half-centimeter of your screen at all times, even in landscape mode. The buttons do, however, disappear when watching video (in YouTube for example) to give you all of that screen real estate.

Nexus 4

Google Now. The Google app is built into this version of Android Jelly Bean. I was a frequent user of the Google app on iOS, and the Android version is even better. While the iOS version is based largely on Google search, the version here on Android is based on Google’s new Now technology. It’s basically another system of algorithms that Google developed which looks at what a user does, via emails, their search behavior, and their location. As per the Google standard, there is of course always a search bar at the top of the app. Underneath it lie a series of tabs called cards, which provide you with info Google predictively thinks will be useful to you. Weather is obviously a card that’s almost always present, but there are an array of others which include events happening around where you’re located, new box office releases when you’re near a movie theater…and the list goes on. Voice search, which I’d already had some experience with on the iOS version of the app, is just as accurate on Android. The good thing about the Android version is that it can fully tie in with the OS unlike the iOS version. That job on iOS is strictly reserved for Siri, who’s quickly been antiquated by Google’s female Android assistant. She not only sounds less robotic, but interprets a bit more accurately, and much faster than Siri can. Being able to ask for directions from the home screen and being taken into turn-by-turn navigation within seconds is remarkable. This is a big plus over iOS, and the mediocre built-in Maps app.

The Misses.

Battery Life. Now as a big iPhone user, I’ve become very accustomed to the luxurious battery life that iOS devices offer. This is something I knew would be a downgrade coming into the Android world, and it’s come as no surprise that after about an hour of a full charge, and some heavy use, the Nexus 4 is probably down to 70 to 80 percent. This sucks, but as I said before, the pros definitely outweigh the cons with this thing.

LTE. No, I’m not gonna rant like most other reviews out there have, I know this thing has no [practical] LTE feature. LTE, albeit technically onboard this phone, is all but vaporware on the Nexus 4 with AT&T service. I almost never had LTE enabled on my iPhone 5 with AT&T, so I’m not missing anything here. Don’t get me wrong, the speed increase was noticeable when I did try it on my iPhone 5, but at the end of the day the battery drain wasn’t worth it. Point blank, I know there’s no LTE, and that’s fine for my use case. In the US, there is support for HSPA+ on AT&T, same as my iPhone 5. While the real world results from LTE on AT&T are impressive, HSPA+ speeds can definitely hold their own.

Nexus 4

Removable Battery & MicroSD Card Slot. I touched on this earlier, but not only is there no storage option above 16GB, there’s also no route to expandable storage with the Nexus 4. I’m not the media hog I used to be a few years ago, so 16GB isn’t bad. All that’ll be on this phone is a little portion of my music library, apps, and a bunch of pictures. While I don’t think 8GB would have worked for me, 16GB should do just fine for the six to 12 months I’ll use this phone. And while battery life is a fairly sizable downgrade coming from an iPhone 5, the non-removable battery is also a negative. With that said, I’m a fan of a well designed phone — that’s why I love Apple products —  so a nice looking phone comes at a cost, and that cost is the non-removable battery and no expandable memory. You win some, you lose some.

All in all, I love this device. The bigger screen, the widgets, the personalization and customizability, I’m loving it all. Now, am I satisfied after hyping myself up to make the move to Android from iOS? Yes, very much so. I will continue using Android, probably until Apple can manage to finally give iOS the overhaul it deserves. With that said, this is definitely the only Android phone on the market that I would even consider using. It’s a true Nexus device, meaning it will receive OS updates before any other Android phones. The second reason I would only use a Nexus phone is because it is pure and stock Android. No bloat-ware, no unnecessary apps, no carrier branding, none of that. This is the only way to go Android in my opinion, and if you’re looking to make the move from iOS to Android, this is the way to go. Best of all, this phone is unlocked, and at the price of $299 or $349, you can’t beat it.

Nexus 4

I pointed out a couple of other devices, the Oppo Find 5, and Sony’s Xperia Z, I’ll most-likely be featuring at least the Xperia Z in an upcoming post. If you haven’t seen this phone, it’s definitely worth a look.

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