The Google Nexus 4 carries forward a Nexus [insert number here] theme from search engine giant. Google kicked the summer off with a killer specced, cost effective quad-core 7-inch tablet made by Asus, the Nexus 7. Just a few weeks ago, the company followed this up with the incredible Samsung Nexus 10 and now, a year after the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, we have the new Android flagship phone, the LG made Google Nexus 4. Four cores, Android 4.2 and a 4.7 inch HD display. But are we all for it?
Google Nexus 4: Design
Look at the thing. This glass front and backed phone costs just £239 for the 8GB version. Google must be taking a hit with each and every one - we could name at least four flagships that don't look or feel this good.
It isn't perfect. Tap the back and you'll notice a slight hollowness. Cover the speaker hole accidentally and you'll be hard pressed to hear very much at all. Crack either side and you'll be looking at a costly new glass panel.
But oh how the pros outweigh the cons. This is the first Nexus since the HTC Nexus One that looks and feels premium. It's flat front and backed, curved around the edges, top and bottom. The flat sides make the phone feel more prominent than most and more noticeable in the pocket, but also turning it into a well shaped camera phone, comfortable to hold in landscape one handed. This is helped by the decent amount of grip the matte banding around the sides provides.
The checkerboard back has been a point of contention amongst critics and indeed public. We didn't take to it at first, and were the phone significantly more costly, we might look for more of an understatement in its flourishes. As it stands though, the speckled sparkle manages to only catch in some lights and actually helps the phone look more premium than its price point dictates. Well done LG - this is what #winning feels like.
Google Nexus 4: Screen
On the subject of winning, check out this phone’s screen. 4.7-inches of 720p IPS splendour. To break this down for you, 4.7-inches is what you can expect from the likes of the HTC One X and LG Optimus 4X HD. The Samsung Galaxy S3 is 4.8-inches and the Nokia Lumia 920 is 4.5-inches. This pits it at the perfect side of manageable.
Now onto the 720p part - this means HD resolution. The same as all the other flagships mentioned, but the fact it’s an LCD display means it will be noticeably sharper than the S3. It’s also brighter, though blacks aren’t as deep. While it might not be as perfect for atmospheric movies, it’s absolutely spot on when viewing web pages. Text looks extremely crisp, whites are pure and outdoor viewability commendable.
Google Nexus 4: User Interface
It’s another Android update. We’ve been scratching our heads lately with Windows Phone 7.8, Windows Phone 8, iOS 6 and BlackBerry 10. All these refreshes are either taking too long to hit the market or not innovating in the UI space, some failing to do either. In complete contrast, Android is leapfrogging over iOS and lapping Windows Phone. Only months after Jelly Bean landed, it’s been updated to include such wonders as lock screen shortcuts, an all new notifications bar complete with quick settings, enhancements to Google Now and a screen saver to name but a few.
Kicking off with the lock screen shortcuts and it’s all pretty self explanatory. Lock the phone and swipe to the left to reveal a plus symbol. Tap it to bring up a widget menu. There aren’t all that many choices on offer here, but the widgets included - calendar, email, Gmail and clock - are all key in day to day Android usage, so make for a functional addition to the OS.
Next up it’s the notifications bar. Jelly Bean 4.1 introduces two finger gestures, and now, Jelly Bean 4.2 introduces a two finger notifications bar. Well, it isn’t actually a notifications bar per se. Swipe down with one finger and you get a notifications bar, swipe down with two to pull into frame a quick settings bar. This pulls you straight into key connectivity options in your settings and is probably our high point in terms of Android 4.2's utility updates.
Moving on to the next tweak and it‘s Google Now that falls under the spotlight. New features include the search / voice service dipping into your email and pulling up flight information, hotel bookings, restaurant reservations and package tracking. Delivering all this to your notifications bar and Google Now cards view, it saves you having to think about what’s on your agenda, recalling it all for you. What makes it even quicker than most of the competition, especially S Voice is that the service caches the voice recognition. You therefore won't need a particularly strong connection to use it.
Finally, the last major update is something Google dub Dreamscape. This is in simple terms a screensaver that can be heavily customised to display useful RSS-esque information, something as benign as a clock or a clean, elegant skyline live wallpaper. More and more apps in the Google Play Store are supporting it so we can definitely expect great things from this feature in the future, even if it’s in its infancy now.
We didn’t mention some of the smaller additions the latest version of Jelly Bean. These include an accessibility option that enables a zoomed in version of the UI with a tripple tap and a very comprehensive photo editor which we’ll come onto later.
That said, there’s no way we couldn’t go into detail talking about the Android UI without mentioning the Android 4.2 keyboard.
In the last version of the Android keyboard, text prediction hit new heights with Swiftkey levels of psychic forecasting. Almost everything SwiftKey could do, so too could the Android keyboard - the almost. Now that SwiftKey is getting Swype style gesture input in its next iteration - Swiftkey Flow - so too is Google’s stock Android in version 4.2. One great thing about the implementation of the stock Android gesture input is that it previews the word it’s about to enter in a box above the swipe. This is useful as it means your eyes need never deviate from the keyboard while typing. It also brings the keyboard up to speed with the best out there from Samsung, HTC and indeed third party app developers such as SwiftKey and Swype - another arrow in Android’s quiver.
Google Nexus 4: Camera and Multimedia
The 8-megapixel camera on the Google Nexus 4 neither blows our minds nor let's us down. It's the same sensor found on the lower end LG Optimus G and packs an f/2.4 lens. This ends up producing shots better than any found on a Nexus before it but not quite up there with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S3 or the Note 2.
Dynamic range is strong and there's an HDR mode accessible through the settings for very high contrast scenarios. There's also a nice strong on board flash, which makes for a great fill light in backlit scenes.
Colours can look a little unsaturated, especially indoors, where detail also struggles. Outdoor pictures come out nice and sharp though, perfectly good for printing out 6x4 or 7x5.
The jewel in the Nexus 4's Crown is however is photo editor. Newly added to stock Android it manages to turn distinctly mediocre pictures into atmospheric, well saturated triumphs, and even packing Instagram style filters for an aged look.
Android 4.2 has also introduced a new version of panorama photography. Named photo sphere, the shooting mode enables 1080 degree photography akin to that found in Google street view. The results can be panned around on the phone or exported. Google has even suggested that in due course the results will be sharable via Google Street view.
Video is less impressive. While detail is as expected, delivering adequate clarity for full HD resolution, it’s the focus system that lets it all down, locking in macro to often. The fact continuous autofocus is present is a positive, but manages to work against the Nexus 4 and will continue to do so until this bug is resolved.
Enjoying movies and music is both the best and worst thing about this Android flagship. It’s the best because the screen is spot on for video with its 720p resolution and fantastic overall performance. Music quality from the 3.5mm jack is also good, though as mentioned in the design section, the loudspeaker falls victim to being too easy to muffle. What’s a shame is the lack of expandability. The 8GB version will be very easy to fill up with apps and games alone while the 16GB version won’t take that many movies before it’s rammed. This is perhaps the Nexus 4’s biggest shortcoming in general.
Google Nexus 4: Connectivity and Storage
Across the pond the Nexus 4 is getting some flack for not packing LTE, but with Everything Everywhere having just launched and 4G services being far from ubiquitous here in the UK, we’re perfectly happy to make do without it. The handset has all the other connectivity options we’d expect from a flagship phone such as 3G, DC-HSPA, Wi-Fi, Android Beam, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 and a GPS. There's also a microUSB port and 3.5mm headphone jack on board.
Thanks to the fact Chrome browser is pre-loaded and it offers such an ample LCD screen, web browsing is a treat and our out and about speeds were on the whole good. Reception wasn’t an issue either, whether browsing the web or making a call. With strong in call voice quality, you won’t be left thinking you’ve got a budget phone.
We’ve mentioned storage as a point of contention thus far and for some, this will make the Nexus 4 unusable. Available with either 8GB (£239) or 16GB (£279) of storage and being non-expandable, it’s gamers who’ll really suffer. In spite of the incredible quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro inside, the smaller version will fit but a couple of high quality 3D games along with all your files and other apps. The 16GB version will likely only fit three or four. Even for anyone who isn’t a power gamer or file horder though - we’d still recommend opting for the larger capacity version.
Google Nexus 4: Performance and Battery
1.5GHz next generation Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 pro. When this phone first landed, benchmarks were middling in spite of incredible performance. Since then, key benchmarking applications have been updated and reflect the sheer oomph inside the Google Nexus 4. Dead trigger works perfectly on max graphical settings, Spiderman swings through the mean streets with smooth frame rates and Modern Combat 3 looks brutal.
Day to day use is much the same - smooth and generally glitch free. Project butter, the silky spread lathered over Jelly Bean 4.1 is present in 4.2 and working to great effect. The Nexus 4 is responsive, frame rates impressive and usability only helped along by performance. There were a couple of small glitches in the UI which Google has already ironed out since we got our hands on the phone, so you can expect to be at the forefront of the search giant’s attention with a Nexus device.
Android is becoming more and more usable with no skins so hopefully some manufacturers will let more stock OS peek through in 2013.
Battery life is considerably better than the original Samsung Galaxy Nexus. We went from the last Nexus straight to this one and were surprised that despite the 4.7-inch HD display, LG’s offering saw us through until 10pm whereas the Galaxy Nexus tapered out shortly after 8pm. This varies depending on use. With the auto-brightness setting being pretty aggressive, this should help you get an extra couple of hours out of your Nexus 4.
Google Nexus 4: Conclusion
Google seems to have struck gold. Next generation quad-core power, cheaper than a last generation flagship. It defies sense.
The design is different to anything we’ve seen from LG or Google before, it’s characteristic and well constructed. The screen matches most current flagships and betters some while the 8-megapixel camera delivers perfectly respectable performance, taken to the next level by additional shooting modes and the best photo editor around.
If you need expandability and a cheaper phone, there are only a couple of options out there that can compete - the Desire X being one that springs to mind. Even then however, you won’t be getting quad-core power or the latest version of Android as and when it comes out.
Storage limitations aside therefore, It’s very, very easy to recommend a Nexus 4.