google-nexus-4-review

Ever since Google started the Nexus program to bring devices with pure Android experience to the masses, the Nexus devices have been, at best, popular. Never has there been a I-can-kill-to-get-my-hands-on-this-phone kind of demand for a Nexus device. Not until Nexus 4 anyways. Its predecessor Galaxy Nexus boasted of excellent specs but could never garner a demand on the scale of other OEM manufactured devices like HTC one series and primarily Samsung Galaxy S3.

What is different about Nexus 4 to create such an unprecedented demand for the device? The supply woes had made it real difficult to get a hold of the phone. But now that supply issues have been sorted out, you can get a Nexus 4 within a few days. I finally got hold of one and set out to see what makes Nexus 4 so special.

Hardware and design

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The first thing that you notice about Nexus 4 is its screen. With the release of Galaxy Nexus, Google has been advocating the use of on-screen buttons for back, home and recent apps. As such, there are no hardware buttons on the front and gives a seamless appearance to the screen. The speaker grille sits at the top center of the screen along its edge with the front camera located slightly to its right. There is also a LED notification light below the screen that is almost impossible to see unless it’s flashing.

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Nexus 4 sports a Gorilla Glass 2 touch screen that is slightly curved and smoothly flows into the bezel. The phone’s top and bottom corners are nicely curved, which is very unlike the rectangular designs of recent devices manufactured by LG.

There is a matte plastic film along the edge of the screen running on all sides of the device. It is followed by a rubbery surface that connects to the glass-backed surface. Though these components don’t really add value to the build quality, the rubbery surface does offer a better grip on the phone.

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Nexus 4 has a pixelated pattern on the glass back plate which sparkles under the right light. The way the back plate sparkles reminds me of The Matrix. It’s a distinctive feature and I like it. The back plate also has a speaker slit and a camera with the flash placed right above it.

The glass back plate of Nexus 4 has been the topic of quite a few discussions but hardly on account of its sparkly feature. The back plate is fragile and tends to shatter easily. A lot of users have learnt this the hard way and it would be wise to invest in a good cover to protect it.

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Coming to the hardware slots and buttons, the power/sleep button is located on the right edge near the top while the volume rocker is on the left. Little below that there is Micro-sim slot and tray. There is a Micro USB port and microphone on the bottom side with another microphone and the headphone jack on the top.

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Overall, Nexus 4 is a beautifully designed device that builds upon the design of Galaxy Nexus. There are several subtle improvements but no inspirational changes. Perhaps this is a conscious approach taken by Google to build iterational devices and establish the Nexus brand. Personally, I would like that. No fragmentation here at least.

Display

The display on the Nexus 4 has a resolution of 1280 X 768. With a screen size of 4.7 inches, that is a screen density of 320 dpi, just shy of the 326 dpi boasted by the iPhone 5. The LCD display produced crisp images and worked with any light settings. The screen seems slightly devoid of color when compared to the rich and saturated Super AMOLED displays of Samsung devices, but has no adverse effect on the sharpness of Nexus 4’s display.

Performance: Handling and benchmarks

The Nexus 4 is a snappy device to use and smoothly handled everything I threw at it. Switching apps, sliding across the home screens and browsing in Chrome with numerous open tabs was a breeze. I had no trouble reading eBooks or working with documents or even multi-tasking.

On the inside, Nexus 4 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset with quad-core CPU that clocks at 1.5 GHz. Add 2 GB RAM to this, and it makes up for a powerful phone that should give you a smooth performance with games, even with the one’s who have high resource requirements.

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Below is a chart that shows the performance of the Nexus 4 against various benchmarks.

Quadrant 4487
Vellamo 1265
AnTuTu Benchmark 13679
SunSpider 0.9.1 1652.1 (lower is better)
CF-Bench 11137

The benchmark results are somewhat confusing. I expected them to be higher after witnessing the blazing fast performance of the device firsthand. The benchmark scores of the Nexus 4 are certainly a lot better than the ones of Galaxy Nexus. However, it lags behind the the scores of flagship phones from Samsung and HTC.

Battery performance

Nexus 4 houses a non-removable Li-Po 2100 mAh battery whose performance is pretty good. I did not have high expectations from the battery as I figured the screen would be a major reason for the battery drain. Though the screen did consume significant power, there was still 61% juice remaining after over seven hours of use. In the background, data sync was on for a couple of email accounts and I was online on Skype.

There was also an on-call time of about half an hour in that period. Considering the fact that I was on WiFi and data use on cellular networks consumes more battery, the 61% figure might have been lower in the same duration had I been using 3G instead of WiFi.

battery-status-nexus-4

The battery performance exceeded my expectations and a full charge should easily get you through a regular day without the need to plug in a charger. If your usage is heavily dependent on cellular data or if you want to put in an hour of gaming during the day, you would probably have battery issues. Another problem I noticed is that the battery tends to heat up a lot. Particularly when you put the phone on charging or while playing games.

Network

A lot of reviews of Nexus 4 highlight the lack of LTE as the biggest flaw of the device. As a reviewer in India, the LTE factor is irrelevant and thus has no bearing on the device rating. Now that you can purchase a Nexus in India via the Play Store, chances are Nexus phones would also be soon available. If so, the lack of LTE should not factor in your decision.

The call quality and reception on the phone is excellent. Even with just two or three bars of signal strength, I was able to complete a few calls without call drops and with a decent sound clarity. The headset that comes with the phone is high quality and adequate for calls or even music. Internet on cellular data was a bit on the slower side though.

Note: If you are located in US, you need to be aware that the device does not support LTE. That is one major flaw in the device when you look at it from the US market perspective.

Software

As a Nexus device, the phone offers pure stock Android experience without alterations by any manufacturer skin. The apps that come pre-loaded on the phone are stock apps like Calendar, Calculator, Email and Google services like Gmail, Maps and Chrome.

The latest OS update does not overhaul the OS as was the case with the release of Ice Cream Sandwich. Instead, the Jelly Bean updates are about subtle and innovative changes that make the entire OS seem more complete.

app-drawer-widgets-nexus-4

Keyboard

There are several awesome keyboards for Android, and some are even better than the stock one. In a bid to keep the keyboard competitive, Google has provided an option to type by swiping. Swipe your fingers over the letters of the word that you wish to type and the keyboard even suggests alternatives.

Word prediction on the keyboard is good and, with sufficient use, you will be often able to type in long word from suggestions. The swiping option is nice to have but there is a long way to go to make it the perfect keyboard. It’s no Swype when it comes to swiping nor is the word prediction as good as that of SwiftKey.

Camera

There are several improvements in the camera application. The minimal interface makes it easy to take photos with just one finger. Touch the screen once to focus the image and swipe from the circle to choose one of the multiple settings. The interface is minimal and makes it extremely easy to take photos and use the various photo processing options to tweak them.

camera-nexus-4

The new feature is called PhotoSphere which enables you to take panoramas or even 360 degree photos. It works be stitching together multiple images and creating a large panoramic image. It’s a bit tricky to use at first but with some practice, you will be taking shooting panoramas all over the place. It’s quite an intuitive addition to the camera application of Android.

Other Tweaks

One of the most visible update in the latest OS update is addition of quick toggle for most commonly used settings in a drop down menu and the way notifications are handled. Drag down a menu from the right top corner of the device and it shows the user, gives option to toggle Bluetooth, WiFi, Airplane Mode and set the brightness. You can also quickly access the system setting from here.

Swiping down from the left-top side of your screen pulls down the actionable notification bar. You can respond to mails, message and phone calls, share images or dismiss the notification right from there.

Updates and support

Being a Nexus device has an advantage in this updates department. Since it is stock Android, updates are immediately available after release by Google. Nexus 4 originally came with 4.1 installed but immediately updated to 4.2. The device would upgrade to the next version of the OS, with the assumed name of Key Lime Pie, soon after release.

Those who plan to procure the device for use in India need to be warned that OS updates for even Nexus devices may be delayed a bit if Google releases the updates on a region-by-region basis. There is also the issue of hardware support. The device does not have International Warranty.  You  can purchase it abroad and bring it to India, but warranty would be applicable only in the country of purchase.

Note: Rating is given on basis of software support and updates only.

Hackability

Nexus devices are often regarded as the “Developer Playground” and thus sport huge support from the developer community. There are numerous hacks and tweaks you can do to improve your phone performance and experience. Bored of the stock interface? Root your device and flash one of the several ROMs available for the device. This forum can help you do whatever tweaks or updates you wish to do.

To sum it all up

Nexus 4 is a fantastic device with  a pure stock experience. The Android OS has improved by leaps and bounds in terms of user interface, performance and features. The battery is good enough to last through the day with moderate usage. The camera is pretty good and you can shoot amazing photos using the Photosphere feature.

The internals are powerful and can handle almost all of your gaming requirements. The main drawback, specially for US users, is the lack of LTE. You can get this blazingly fast phone and thoroughly enjoy it, but you need to compromise on the data speeds.

Those who are not concerned about LTE and its data speed should seriously consider getting the Nexus 4. The Android experience on this terrific phone is well worth the price.