Review: Nexus 4 · December 7, 2012

I was 100% certain this day would never come, but, as they say, “Never say never.” As you may have guessed from the title of this post, I’ve purchased an Android phone. As it might happen, for various reasons (read: $$$) I jumped ship from Verizon over to T-Mobile with an unlocked iPhone 4. Unfortunately, the iPhone 4 is getting a bit long in the tooth, and while I wanted something newer, spending $650 for an unsubsidized iPhone 5 wasn’t looking too appealing. I wasn’t having much luck finding a used iPhone 4S, either.

So, my thoughts turned to Android. Since I was running on prepaid GSM, my previous problems with Android phones (specifically the Nexus line) were somewhat mitigated. Plus, having a taste of Android 4.1 with my Nexus 7 was somewhat encouraging. The HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus at $350 new looked good, but I wasn’t keen on buying a year-old phone. As luck would have it, Google and LG partnered together to release an update to the Nexus line, the Nexus 4, sold unlocked for $350 ($300 for the 8 GB version).

I’ve always been a fan of the iPhone, but the Nexus 4 seemed to hit enough of the sweet spots for me to give it a shot. First of all, it’s an inexpensive, unlocked phone, perfect for prepaid service. Second of all, it supports the AWS frequencies that T-Mobile use for 3G, as opposed to the glacial EDGE speeds you get with an iPhone. Another plus is the larger screen… I’ve been feeling that the 3.5 inches of the iPhone is just a bit tiny for really doing any sort of web browsing or reading.

So, having owned the phone for about a week, what are my thoughts?

First of all, the Nexus 4 is noticeably larger than an iPhone. In fact, it’s about the maximum size I’d ever want in a phone. It’s not quite as thin as an iPhone 5, but feels thin since the screen is so much larger. It fits in a pocket without too much trouble, but don’t try to pocket it while wearing skinny jeans. The screen is suitably high resolution; I’ve actually been reading on it using the Kindle Android app, and it’s not bad.

The design of the phone is quite appealing. It’s two glass pieces sandwiched together with rubberized plastic. It’s very grippy, and feels good the way the back of the Nexus 7 feels good (i.e. even though it’s plastic). Underneath the back of the phone there’s a pseudo-holographic pattern of dots that appears when light hits it at just the right angle. It adds a touch of personality to what would otherwise be a black slab. Unfortunately, the back also contains the most annoying hardware elements as well. The phone’s speaker is flush on the back of the phone, which means that if it’s lying flat (which it will be 99% of the time) the speaker will be incredibly muffled. I can’t hear SMS alerts, even when the phone is right in front of me, when the volume is set at 50%. So be sure to turn vibration on, or else jack the volume way up. The other annoying element on the back of the phone is simply aesthetic, but annoying nonetheless. The LED camera flash is ringed with plastic, and is slightly recessed from the rest of the glass back. It is incredibly ugly; seriously it bugs me just to look at it. I’m not sure why LG decided to do this, but it mars the design of the phone.

There’s a little LED that sits in the bezel below the screen that lights up whenever you have a notification pending. Apparently BlackBerry phones have something similar (never owned a BlackBerry), but now I can see the appeal: it’s super easy to just glance at your phone to see if anything has happened since you put it down. Of course, that might be a downside in your book if you’re addicted to checking your phone.

The HSPA+ network connection on T-Mobile is killer. One of the first things I did was download the SpeetTest.net app to test the data connection. I get about 2.5 MBps/second on my Time-Warner cable connection (sad, I know), while the Nexus 4 was able to pull down 20 MBps/second. That being said, I’m still not sure in what situations you’d need such a fast connection, aside from using your phone as a mobile hotspot (which requires an additional fee). I guess if you really need that 200 MB app while out and about, you’ll be able to snag it relatively quickly.

Battery life is an area that the Nexus 4 falls a bit short, in my opinion. It charges slowly, and discharges quickly. You’ll have to get used to plugging it in for at least a few minutes every day. The Nexus 4 does support wireless charging, however, and I could definitely see myself plunking down some cash for the Nexus-branded charging orb… whenever it eventually is released.

As I mentioned in my Nexus 7 review, I feel that the Android 4 OS is basically on par with iOS in terms of functionality, and even ahead in some areas. For example, even though iOS took inspiration from Android’s notification pulldown, the Android version is clearly superior. App updates are also much less annoying in Android; you’ll never have to see the alert badge that always hovers over the App Store icon in iOS. Speaking of badges, they don’t exist in Android, which is totally awesome. Although some people hate Android’s “back,” “home,” and “apps” buttons, I actually really like them. While the “back” button doesn’t always work consistently, many times it saves you from having to scan the UI of a particular app in order to return to the preview screen (although that may be saying something about Android UI design). The Android app switcher is also a bit nicer than its’ iOS counterpart (and more discoverable). All that being said, there are a few things I’ll definitely miss about iOS. iMessage is simply great as an SMS replacement that “just works,” and unfortunately there isn’t a ubiquitous game-centered (see what I did there) social network on Android.

After having used the Nexus 4 for a while, I have to say that I’m pretty satisfied. It’s not perfect, but for half the price of competing smartphones, I’m willing to overlook a few quibbles.

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