Google’s Nexus (ten points to anyone who can tell us if Nexi is the correct plural) smartphones have always set the standard when it comes to a pure Google experience.
The first Nexus One was a true geek device. Sold only through Google directly (apart from a brief flirtation with Vodafone), it never achieved massive sales. But it gave the world the true raw power of Android without the bloatware of other variants. As of January 2010, the ball was well and truly rolling.
We’ve had several now – and everyone, it seems, had a go: HTC, Samsung, Asus and LG – though strangely, not Motorola, which is now part of Google itself.
Some handsets we look forward to with much anticipation – only to feel deflated when we actually use them. Others, we wait for with little expectation – and they absolutely blow our socks off.
A stealth surprise. We’ll lay our proverbial cards on the table here from the outset. The Nexus 4 is one of those rare devices.
LG’s not had the best track record of late. Sure, we thought the Optimus 4X HD was a pretty decent offering, but too little, too late compared to what was already out there by the time LG got it to market.
That’s not a dig at the South Koreans – far from it. But just to set the scene to show why we weren’t expecting much from the Nexus 4.
Perhaps the worst kept secret since the iPhone 5, the Nexus 4 even got left in a bar in true cliché style. And from the pictures, we weren’t alone in thinking it looked like a copy of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
The difference is, when we took the Samsung model out of its box this time last year, we thought it was nice. When we took the Nexus 4 out of its box last week, we thought it was beautiful.
Size wise, the Nexus 4 comes in at 133.9 x 68.7 x 9.1 mm – which means it is similar to its predecessor. But it is far more stunning to look at and hold.
The front is all glass in piano black. Extra tough too thanks to the Corning Gorilla Glass 2. Think iPhone 4 territory, but just a little nicer looking (we are aware that is a matter of opinion, iFans!)
The whole front is set within a dull chrome bezel and the shininess even extends to the rear of the handset, which has an attractive, though unusual sparkly pattern adorning it – although newer shipments seem to be shorn of that element now.
Think the glittery kind of jacket that you could see Cilla Black, Joan Rivers or Shirley Bassey in at an awards ceremony, and you catch our drift.
At 139g, the Nexus 4 isn’t the lightest handset in school – but it’s just about solid enough to get away with carrying that extra weight and puts those who say Android devices look like toys firmly in their place.
The screen is invisible when off – but when it lights up, you’re treated to 4.7-inches of True HD IPS Plus beauty. That’s 768 x 1280 pixels with a pixel density of 318. It is razor sharp – blowing Retina out of the water and we’ll venture it is one of the best we’ve seen on a handset.
Another reason for this is because there is such little space between the glass and the display. So where we berated the Optimus 4X HD for leaving enough room here to park a small car, the Nexus 4 leaves no gap at all.
It exudes a clarity that has to be seen to be believed. Colours look beautiful, icons and text are razor sharp and everything floats perfectly.
We find it hard to see how this could be beaten. When you’re looking at icons on a black background (like in the app drawer), you can’t even see the black, if that makes sense. It is so deep, that icons just float. Beneath the screen, in the centre, but hidden until needed, lies a pulsating notification light.
Another element worth pointing out here is the way the phone curves at the sides, from the main panel into the bezel. It seems to make the screen look even more realistic and beautiful. It’s one of those things you really have to experience to appreciate.
Round the edges, you’ll find the usual adornments. A 3.5mm headphone jack on top, volume rocker and micro SIM tray on the left, micro USB port plus a few dubious screws on the bottom, and a perfectly placed lock/unlock/power button on the upper right hand side.
It’s just in that sweet spot where it’s easy to press with the thumb if you’re right handed and not impossible if you’re a leftie.
There’s no way of getting the back off – so you know what that means, peeps. No removable battery and no expandable storage. The former doesn’t faze us too much since the 2,100mAh battery pack is no slouch but the lack of memory card allowance is annoying.
Yes, we know that ever since the Nexus S, expandable memory is out. Google’s said that it doesn’t offer it because it’s confusing. But for those with lots of content who can’t or don’t want to stream, it’s a real pain. We don’t quite buy Google’s argument.
As for the innards, LG has cut no corners here. Make no mistake, this is a premium handset. DC-HSDPA, the very latest iteration of Jelly Bean 4.2, a Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset, quad-core 1.5GHz processor, A-GPS with GLONASS, NFC and so forth.
But what makes this so sweet is the price. Let’s just point out that sim-free, a HTC One X with similar specs will set you back around £399 (around $637/AU$611) – even the 18-month old Samsung Galaxy S2 retails at £329 (around $525/AU$503).
And while last year’s Galaxy Nexus will leave your wallet £299 (around $477/AU$458) lighter, this brand new model, the Nexus 4 is priced – almost unbelievably – at £239 ($299/AU$349) for the 8GB version and £279 ($349/AU$480) for 16GB. Yes, the newer Nexus is cheaper than the year old Nexus. Word!
We can’t overestimate just how revolutionary this is and it leaves us open-mouthed at how Google is doing this. Either it’s selling the Nexus 4 at a loss – or the mark-up on handsets is now shown up as being ridiculously high. Whichever it is, it means the Nexus 4 has a distinct advantage over the competition.
Bizarrely, in the UK Google has promised O2 that it can sell the Nexus 4 as an exclusive for the first month. We can’t understand why – especially because you could end up paying £800 for the device over the course of the contract.
Virgin Mobile has also joined the Nexus 4 brigade by offering LG’s handset on a contract – but with prices starting at £31 a month, it’s not going to be a decent way to get a cheap Google phone in your hand.
Most people with sense (and a bit of spare cash) will buy the Nexus SIM-free and get themselves a cheap as chips SIM-only plan. The only downside is that LG has been a little slow on actually making these devices, despite Google subsidising the cost of the handset to the tune of hundreds of pounds per device.
In fact, a Google exec called the supply ‘scarce and erratic’ and could explain why there are only 400,000 in circulation at the end of December 2012, despite the low price and popularity.
But anyway, with an early November release, that means there’ll still be plenty of networks marketing this heavily pre-Christmas once that month-long deal with O2 expires. And we can see the Nexus 4 being on a lot of Christmas lists.
The key selling point of the Nexus line has always been that it launches with a brand new Android version.
But Google gave Jelly Bean to the Nexus 7 tablet earlier this year and with Android 5.0 Key Lime still Pie in the sky (get it?), there was nothing for Google to do other than stick a few new features onto Jelly Bean 4.1, package it up as Android 4.2 and make the best of it when it came to the Nexus 4.
Differences between the two Beans are subtle, but effective. Google’s introduced a new keyboard which supports swipe functionality, pretty much aping and repackaging the killer quality of Swype.
It’s also taken cues from the likes of Samsung and HTC by adding toggles to the notification bar which allow you to control things like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and brightness without having to faff about going through a million and one menus, although they’re still not as quick and accessible as the others.
Another new addition is something called Daydream. It’s an odd idea – your phone goes into a light sleep mode, playing a screensaver instead before it goes to sleep.
Obviously, most of us will just turn the screen off straight away when the Nexus 4 isn’t being used to save power.
But for when the phone is docked or charging, you can choose between picture albums or colours. It’s one of those things that looks pretty, but in reality, probably only 0.5% of users will ever use it. Those that don’t will forget it’s there.
You can no longer remove – or even move – the Android search bar. It’s firmly fixed at the top of each of your five home screens (you can’t add more home screens unless you go for a third party launcher, unfortunately.)
That’s slightly annoying because even though this is a Google-branded handset, the beauty of Android is its immense customisation options.
Being forced to permanently have a Google search bar present – which could easily be brought up by swiping up from the bottom to engage Google Now anyway – seems a little over the top.
Speaking of Google Now, that’s all present and accounted for. We can’t work out if we’re fans of this technology or not.
If you’re not familiar with it, we’ll elaborate. Google Now integrates with your life, displaying things like the weather and your appointments as ‘cards’ on a special screen.
Fire it up and your most recent search items will appear. It’ll tell you how long it will take you to get home from work, show local movie times, places nearby etc.
The thing is, we’ve also noticed it can be a little slow at times. And this is on high spec devices like the Samsung Galaxy S3 (we’ve used both the official Jelly Bean 4.1 and custom JB ROMS and experienced the same on both).
Whereas searching through the phone for contacts, music and so forth on Ice Cream Sandwich was an absolute delight, on Jelly Bean, it’s not been as pleasurable.
This doesn’t appear to be the case with the Nexus 4 which gave us a really quick and speedy response. You can also view photos of nearby beauty spots and even track parcels online though predictably, some functionality finds its way to the US of A before getting to other regions.
Navigation is conducted via the three on screen soft keys that appear and disappear at the bottom of the display as and when needed.
This was a feature brought in on Ice Cream Sandwich as a way of amalgamating the Android phone OS and Honeycomb, which was found on tablets.
Some manufacturers like Samsung have ignored them, others like HTC have included them but as separate physical buttons instead.
Regardless, this is a Google handset so you’re getting the Google experience. It’s Mountain View’s way. Or it’s the Highway.
The rest of the experience is the same, standard, Android delight we all know about. You can pin apps to your home screen or widgets which will do anything from show you your calendar appointments, to display photos in frames and tell you how many days are left until Christmas.
Widgets are limited by only the developers’ imagination and with the Google Play app store now having hit 700,000 offerings, that’s a lot of widgetry in there.
Apps can be added to folders in the same way that they can with the iPhone – you just simply drop one or more on top of each other and it allows you to seamlessly pop together all different genres of programmes.
The main app selection, though, is through the traditional app drawer where everything you own is kept and beautifully displayed.
You swipe right to left to go through however many pages of apps you own and there is also a tab which allows you to preview widgets before you install them.
It may sound like an obvious idea, but before this was introduced in Ice Cream Sandwich 12 months ago, it used to drive us bonkers. Now, it’s a real pleasure.
And don’t forget the Android notification centre, which has always been this operating system’s killer feature. So much so, that even Apple copied it when iOS 5 came along.
A simple pull down from the top brings down a screen giving you easy access to all of your important info – like texts, emails, notifications, missed calls and so forth. Jelly Bean extended that even more by allowing pinch and zoom to give more or less, depending on your preference.
All in all, it’s an intuitive, fluid, beautiful system to use. Yes, Android is a little easier to get lost in because of the various menus which is also its strength. But it’s also incredibly simple if you don’t want to dig around too much.
And because Jelly Bean also includes the Project Butter element (which just makes things even faster), there was little – if anything – we could find fault with.
In fact, the only quirk we encountered was that despite having a full mobile signal which worked for calls and over 3G, when we pulled the notification bar down, it said ‘No Service’ where the network’s name should have been.
But it’s hardly anything to lose sleep over and we are sure it’ll be corrected with a software update.
Anyway, ‘No Service’ is a much better name than ‘Everything Everywhere’.
Contacts and calling
Android’s contacts system has always been one of the best out there. And it’s just as good here.
Getting names and details onto the Nexus 4 is as easy as pie. As is the way for most manufacturers now, contacts can be installed from the cloud within seconds and it’s all done for you automatically when you first log into the phone.
They come from your mandatory Gmail account, which is free to set up. This isn’t Google jumping on the bandwagon here.
They have always done it this way – ever since we got the very first Android handset, the HTC G1 exactly four years ago.
Getting into your contacts can be done several ways. Firstly, you can just jump straight in by tapping the telephone icon in the dock at the bottom of your home screen which brings up the phone app.
You can’t smart dial – as in you can’t start typing names using the number of the keypad like you can in some older handsets – but then again, that’s not a problem because you can either tap the magnifying glass at the foot of the app and just type your contact’s name or you can go into the phone book using a tab at the top of the screen and select from there.
Your two most commonly contacted peeps are displayed at the top, followed by the most recent ones and then, your phone book is below that.
Names are displayed beautifully with contact photos brought in which is a real cosmetic plus.
It goes to show just how basic iOS’ contact offering is here with faces displayed in list view here – while Apple users have to go into an individual contact to see what they look like.
Alas, Android doesn’t bring them across in high res so when you get a call, your contact can look rather pixelated, which ruins an otherwise beautiful appearance.
We’ve been complaining about this for a year so are surprised it hasn’t been rectified yet.
The other way of accessing a contact is to just start typing their name into that compulsory search bar at the top. This is something we’ve always loved – Google doesn’t just search the internet but also your phone.
So if you start typing in, say, ‘Harry’, the Nexus 4 not only comes up with internet suggestions, but also will list your mate Harry, music by Debbie Harry that you have stored on your handset, contact appointments with him and anything else ‘Harry’ related in your life.
This is by far the easiest way of getting hold of Harry – unless you add a widget with his details to your home screen, which you can, because there are several versions of that available. Google gives you Android’s own ones – and there are several third party versions too.
If you don’t have any Harrys in your life – but want to add some, putting contact names in the Nexus 4 couldn’t be easier.
Just bring the keypad up and type the number and hit ‘save.’ You can also add details ranging from their birthday to who their spouse is.
Social networking isn’t supported by default. Well, aside from Google+ (which nobody seems to use!) If you buy, say, an HTC handset, it is.
That means that when you log in, all of your networks are pulled together by HTC Sense and you get a brilliant experience.
Whereas, standard Android ignores any networks you haven’t installed. That said, it takes seconds to download official apps for Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook etc and then you’ll find you can hook everything up. It’s not a big deal. Though this is an area where Windows Phone wipes the floor with Android.
Calling a contact is as easy as tapping the person’s name. We found the performance on calls to be more than excellent.
We sometimes lose track of the fact that a smartphone is a phone and call quality can range from the brilliant to the unacceptable.
We had absolutely no issues with the Nexus 4 and found that not only did calls connect easily but they stayed connected even in places where we’d expect them to drop.
Getting into the lift in the office is a classic example of this. We suffered no dropped calls. And the sound quality was, quite frankly, brilliant. Again, you need to experience this to believe it.
Audio volume was loud enough for us when talking to buddies and they reported no issues hearing us. The Nexus 4 comes with noise cancelling built in and we were told we sounded clear enough.
At one point, we stood underneath Wellington Arch in Central London where we had a lot of traffic noise and wind going on. We still managed to arrange a night out which kept us happy.
One thing we did miss was the ability to bring up notes as we typed. Yes, you can always go to the home screen and fire up Evernote or something similar but there is a lovely addition on the Samsung Galaxy S3 which allows you to actually bring up a note-taking app as you talk to someone.
It certainly reduces the amount of times we have to say "hang on while we get a pen" but, as we stated before, this is a PURE Google experience so you won’t get those added extras.
We’d also like the ability to record calls. This is something we’ve managed to employ using custom ROMS on other handsets but unsurprisingly, it’s not a feature of standard Android, no doubt for legal reasons.
Short of sending smoke signals or recruiting carrier pigeons, you can pretty much engage with contacts in every conceivable way using the Nexus 4.
Android doesn’t close apps off from each other in the way the other operating systems do. Which means that there are so many different forms of messaging that can be downloaded, and they should, in theory, play nicely together.
The obvious ones are there – like text messaging and email. The messaging app is the standard Android app which does the job well but is pretty unremarkable. You can send text messages and MMS messages through it.
Messages are laid out in a list format with photos of the sender or recipient, which looks nice.
They’re all threaded too – something, again, we all take for granted but a few years ago, it was oh so different.
If you don’t like the UI, there are third party options available like GO SMS, Handcent or Chomp – all of which do the same thing but allow you to customise the experience even more with third party themes.
And such is the beauty of Android, you can even set these third party apps as the default. Big thumbs up for that.
Email gives you two options: Gmail and everything else.
The Gmail app has been updated again. It’s not a huge step forward – certainly not on the scale we experienced between Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwich – but it does offer some nice new tweaks like label colours which now match your Gmail web preferences and the ability to swipe left and right to delete and archive messages.
As before, the search facility is unmatched and can pick out the most basic detail from thousands and thousands of messages.
But there is still no formatting of HTML emails to fit the screen. This is ludicrous. For heaven’s sake, Google – Apple have been doing this since the first iPhone.
Why the hell do you make us pan across a webpage? We know it can be done because we’ve been using a custom Jelly Bean ROM on the Samsung Galaxy S3 in recent weeks and developers have managed to include this feature.
So if they can do it, why can the company which owns Android not do it too? We presume it is through choice – but we’re stumped. Either that or Google spends so much time looking at the bigger picture, it forgets the simple things.
Also, you are not given the ability to automatically download images in HTML emails, which slows down the whole experience.
Again, you can do this on the iPhone. But Google just won’t give here. It’s hardly enough to make you want to stick the Nexus 4 in the cheese grater, but it is disappointing.
If you’re not a Gmail lover, don’t fret because the standard Email app is there.
It supports pretty much every POP3/IMAP and Exchange account you need to use. Aside from a few minor points, it’s pretty much the same as the Gmail app and can be set to push or pull.
It’s functional, if a little unremarkable. And we miss the split screen view you get on other Android handsets when you turn the handset on its side.
One thing we must mention is input. We’ve never been overwhelmed by the Android keyboard, finding it passable but not something we’d like to spend all our time with.
We’re pleased to say this has changed. Android has adopted the Swype method now so you can either type on your screen the old fashioned way, or you can swipe between letters and allow the Nexus 4 to guess what you’re saying.
The principle is simple. You keep your finger on the screen and move from letter to letter. When you take your digit off the glass, it begins a new word.
The way this predicts your prose is scarily accurate. It left friends open mouthed, even if it is not a new technique. It’s actually been around on Android for a few years via third party means or HTC’s keyboard on the HTC One X.
Is it faster? In most circumstances, yes. Although there were times when we found it quicker to just type the old fashioned way.
If nothing else, it looks great, with an electric blue pulse following your finger as it traces from letter to letter. It’s much easier to use in portrait rather than landscape mode though, as the latter squashes the keyboard down slightly, making it harder to hit the correct keys.
Google’s voice dictation has also received a boost and now recognises more dialects than before. We love the way that words appear as you speak, rather than you having to wait until the end of your sentence and stop and wait.
Unfortunately, Siri still has the edge on actually matching words accurately, which is odd because Google has been offering voice functionality on its handsets since the Nexus One (even if you did have to feign an American accent to get anything done.)
It replaces the already pretty fantastic browser app we’ve been enjoying since day one of Android.
We found Chrome to be very fast although if we closed all tabs and then opened new ones, sometimes we experienced a little bit of lag.
Not from the Nexus 4, but, it seemed, from the actual rendering of the page.
Examples of this were few and far between. We must have loaded more than 300 web pages in our time with the Nexus 4, yet it happened on only about four occasions. We are being ultra picky here, if only because we need to find something about the Nexus 4 that doesn’t excite us!
Web speeds are fast. Not only do you get 3G, but also HSDPA+, which is, pretty much perfect for browsing. If your network supports it, you’ll also be able to tune into DC-HSDPA which we’ll go into later.
The sad thing here is that there is no 4G LTE support – kind of. If you’re lucky enough to live in Canada then you may be able to coax 4G out of the Nexus 4, as it uses the same motherboard as the LTE-enabled LG Optimus G, meaning that there is in fact a 4G chip inside the device.
The chip is only capable of working on the 1700MHz frequency, which useless in most countries but Canada is one of the exceptions.
You’ll need to route around in the settings to enable the 4G capability, but look hard enough and you may be rewarded.
We know that 4G is stil new in some countries, but considering the average contract length is now 24 months, it seems a pity to make a handset that is not future-proof, especially when the Nexus 4 excels in so many other ways.
That gripe aside, loading pages is still a quick affair. We brought up the Daily Mail website because it is quite a heavy page and watched how long it took to load.
First of all, we tried it over 3G with one bar of signal and it took eight seconds. This was for the full page to load although we were able to navigate after five seconds.
We then treated ourselves to a full signal and shaved a second off that. Once we were in Wi-Fi territory, that went down to four seconds to load the entire homepage, which we could zip around in after about two seconds.
That aside, if you’re not keen on Chrome, you can always replace it. Remember how we talked about being able to use different apps as your defaults?
You’ve got Firefox, Maxthon, Opera, Dolphin HD.. the list goes on and on and on. They all have their own pluses and minuses.
With that screen being so sharp, pages zoomed out look incredible. And you can zoom right in but you’ll struggle to see a single pixel with the naked eye even at the most extreme level.
Double tap your screen and the Nexus 4 will zoom in to what you’re reading, but there is an unfortunate lack of text reflow. This may be one of the issues that drives you to another browser if it bothers you.
We also have to say a big farewell to Flash. Adobe announced it wouldn’t be supported from Jelly Bean onwards and it’s stuck to its word.
Technically, it’s possible to get on board but that involves installing apps from unverified sources and using a different browser. Easy if you know how, not so easy if you don’t.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we’re a bit sad about this. We know Flash had to go, but as we’ve said before, the internet is awash with it – buggy as it may be – and by taking it off the Nexus 4, it just means that lots of older sites become inaccessible.
Technology has created its own walled garden to force the older generation out – but it’s users who’ll be inconvenienced in the meantime and we wonder if that’s a good thing.
Then again, that’s a whole different argument. And we appreciate there’s little alternative.
At least navigating is smooth and fast and you can even swipe between pages by just quickly flicking your finger across the screen.
When it comes to bookmarks, we’re massive fans of the Chrome way. All of your desktop faves are synchronised with your Google account (so long as you use Chrome on your desktop, of course) and appear on your handset. To coin a competitor’s phrase: "It just works."
The Nexus 4 comes with two cameras – an 8MP job around the back and a 1.3MP snapper on the front.
8MP seems to be the industry standard at the moment – but as we’re constantly reminded, it’s not about the megapixels but so much more. Elements including the aperture, the compression and all that stuff have a part to play. Brains vs brawn and so on.
The camera is super quick to load. From the home screen, we had it up within a second ready to shoot. It can also be fired up very quickly from the lock screen by swiping to the camera symbol.
We found it to be good in a variety of situations. It won’t blow your socks off – but as long as you don’t go into this expecting a miniature DSLR, you’ll not be disappointed. If you want an excellent camera phone take a look at the Nokia Lumia 920.
In good light, you get fantastic reproduction and the HDR mode can on occasion make that even better. In lower light, the LED gave us pleasing results though it was unable to match the intensity of the light on the Samsung Galaxy S3. That said, few phones have been able to.
You can alter the focus of a shot, simply by tapping on it. If you don’t, the Nexus 4 will focus all by itself for you. And it will even pick out faces, surrounding them with a circle.
We love how you bring up the options. Hold your finger down on the screen and it’ll bring up a circular dial and you just drag your finger to the setting you want to access. The likes of flash toggling or auto white balance and so on.
However, it really does take some getting used to, and you’ll initially find yourself angry when you want to focus and instead whack the exposure up by two notches instead.
In low light, the Nexus 4 really doesn’t perform well, and while HDR mode on the Galaxy S3 or iPhone 5 is strong enough to fix these situations, the Nexus isn’t blessed with the same skill; in fact, it usually comes out totally blurred.
Shutter speed won’t blow your mind and there did seem to be a bit of a bug in that we’d press the on screen button to take a snap and it wouldn’t shoot.
We’d press it three or four times and nothing would happen, then it would take several snaps in succession. Normally, we’d assume that was because the handset had frozen but the Nexus 4’s viewfinder was still moving about. THe issue resolved itself with an update, but compared to the competition the Nexus 4 remains painfully slow at snapping and focusing.
If you’re a fan of panorama shoots, you’ll find yourself in heaven here because you get two different varieties. Firstly, there’s the standard panorama mode that was first introduced last year with Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s what you expect. You hold the Nexus 4 up and move it across and it automatically stitches your photos together.
But the real excitement relates to the new Photo Sphere addition that’s been included on the Nexus 4. If you’ve ever used an app on the iPhone or other Android handsets called 360Panorama, you’ll know where we’re coming from. This is panorama on steroids because not only can you move left and right but up and down and complete a circle.
Sadly, the excitement doesn’t last long. In theory, it should work well. In practise, we were disappointed with the results.
We’ve used 360Panorama lots and it does a very good job of stitching pictures together. You can then move your phone around and the picture moves as well – as if it would if you were looking through a viewfinder, taking advantage of both the accelerometer and gyroscope.
Unfortunately, the Nexus 4 version didn’t seem as good to us. Despite having little guides on screen to help ensure you shoot in the right place, it just seemed to make a mess of the image.
Our photo sphere looked a mess and moving about the sphere was limited to finger navigation. The only saving grace is that you can still download the third party app from the Google Play Store and use that instead.
Something else worth a special mention – filters! When you’ve taken photos, your Nexus 4 allows you to manipulate them and make them look older or funkier.
It’s all very Instagramish – and it seems everyone is getting in on the action – but there are actually a lot of effects in there to choose from. The only problem is that you have to apply them after you’ve taken your photo – you can’t apply them as you snap.
Videos are shot in full HD by default – that is 1080p, but you can also switch to 720p or even 480p if you’re really feeling cheap.
Full HD files are large, obviously, which can be a pain if you’re running low on storage space, but they do look beautiful on that screen and also when played back on a bigger device.
Accessing the video camera is not so much a convoluted affair, but Google has streamlined it so that you have to go in through the camera app and then change the input method which takes an extra second or two.
There’s no Video Recorder app in the app drawer that takes you straight in which you get with some other handsets. It’s not a massive issue but it may slow you down if you’re trying to shoot a movie in a hurry.
When taking a movie, tap the screen and it’ll snap a photo too. We thought this was an ace feature when it was first unveiled on the HTC One X earlier this year, but now, every man and his dog seems to have copied.
And since you can’t access the camera menu unless you touch the screen, that means that you can’t do anything apart from snap a photo when shooting a video.
So, if you suddenly plunge into darkness, you can’t turn your light on during the film. You have to stop and create a new clip. This is one of our pet hates – and yet it’s something that none of the OEMs seem to want to fix.
Options are a little more limited than they are with the standard camera – but you can still amend things like the automatic white balance.
There is one fun tweak which allows you to shoot videos in time lapse. Though it obviously takes forever to shoot because of the nature of what it’s doing. We stood out there in the freezing, Baltic cold with no gloves shooting for about 60 seconds to get a two second clip.
Where the Nexus 4 excels is moving between extreme light situations. We did the standard test where we went from pitch black to really bright light, courtesy of our nuclear strength spotlights in our very own kitchen. The Nexus 4 was one of the fastest devices we’ve seen when it came to adjusting and put in a textbook performance.
YouTube : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9f_DAdlRq8
We’d love to tell you that media is one of the big priorities for the Nexus 4 – after all, that amazing screen lends itself to it, right?
Well, yes and no. Yes, because videos, photos and everything else do look phenomenal. The problem is that there’s not that much space to store them with the memory capped at either 8GB or 16GB.
It’s a real shame because you have to constantly watch what you’re loading into your device. We get Google’s argument about wanting to keep it simple, but if that’s the case, why doesn’t it remove SD card support completely from Android?
Something doesn’t add up here and we’d venture it has more to do with Mountain View trying to force people into the cloud. It’s not very fair.
Non removable storage is something we berate the iPhone for but at least with an iDevice, you can shell our more dollar and bag yourself a 32GB or 64GB model if you have a large library.
You can’t do that with the Nexus 4 and that’s annoying because there are some who’d be happy to pay an extra £50 and get a bit more space.
We’ll keep our fingers crossed that Google might release a 32GB version of the Nexus 4, as it did with the Nexus 7 while getting rid of the 8GB option completely.
For those with lots of music, it means you can either subscribe to a service like Spotify and pay to basically rent your tunes, or you can spend God knows how long uploading your (in our case 50GB worth of) music to the cloud and then stream it back.
Who does that serve? Certainly not the end user. And considering Google’s Music streaming service is a US-only affair for now, it’s just a real pain for anyone outside the States.
Not everybody has the time or inclination to start looking through how to get a fake US IP addresss – and it’s a dubious process anyway, just to be able to use a standard feature on your shiny new toy. Bad Google!
The Nexus 4 gives you its standard Play Music app which is pleasant enough.
It covers the basics well but you’re far better investing in a third party app if you really want to listen to music.
A couple of quid will get you something like Player Pro or Winamp which will give you a better experience. And don’t forget that you’ll also get more widgets to add to your home screen to play your music from. Whoop.
We had no issues with music formats. All of the obvious ones are there and again, such is the nature of Android that you can add codecs and various players if you find something that the OS struggles with.
Indeed, this also the case with movie files although certain .mov ones did throw up a few issues.
Sound quality isn’t bad at all. Playing music over the loudspeaker led to mixed results – we would have preferred a bit more bass and volume. It’s not helped by the fact there is just one speaker and it’s on the back so when the phone is face up, it’s muffled a bit.
Still, apart from 15 year olds, who listens to music through the loudspeaker? Get yourself a good pair of cans and you’ll have nothing to worry about other than the fact that you couldn’t fit your music collection on the Nexus 4 because of the rubbish memory limitations.
Sadly, there’s no FM radio bundled but this can be easily rectified by streaming from an app like Tunein. Google loves people to stream anyway. As do the networks, for obvious reasons.
Watching videos is great because of that screen but since video files are larger, you’ll find yourself unable to store your entire James Bond back catalogue on it.
Google’s big pet project here is getting us all to stream. Whereas the emphasis with Apple is on buying content, with Android, it’s renting and streaming it.
Which is fine until you take your Nexus 4 onto a plane and then realise you can’t watch the rest of The Hunger Games unless the plane operator has it on their entertainment system.
Holding the Nexus 4 to watch movies on may also lead to a few issues. Not because it is too heavy – although it may feel that way if you hold it in one hand for half an hour – but because it is such a glossy, shiny, premium device and there is the dropability factor.
LG has very cleverly introduced what feels like a very small, dark amount of rubber around the back edges. You don’t really notice it but it makes gripping the Nexus 4 in the hand easier.
Yet if you don’t hold it in the right way, this glass beauty is likely to fall onto the floor. This is obviously magnified if you’re holding it for long periods of time and watching a flick. Invest in a case, for the love of God.
We were also pleased to see the inclusion of the Movie Studio app. This allows some basic editing of your videos to add music etc. It’s hardly up there with iMovie or Final Cut Pro, but it’s nice to have as a freebie.
Google obviously includes a YouTube client since that is part of its stable and it works well. We’ve always been fans of the YouTube experience on Android and still are.
Accessing photographs is done via the standard Android gallery. All of your albums are there and present – even the ones you don’t want.
Photos from various redundant blogs we no longer maintained seemed to pop up here thanks to Picasa and there is definitely this policy of throwing everything in, rather than giving you the option to select what you want. But we can live with that.
When you access an album, you can choose whether to view it in grid format, which is the defacto standard for most phones, or filmstrip. We really like the latter – if only because it’s different.
Battery life and connectivity
This is where we’d normally moan about the fact that the power pack is sealed into the unit. It’s becoming more and more popular for handset manufacturers to do this.
Normally, we’re told it is to keep the size down and the aesthetics to a high standard. But the result is always the same: looks nice, but battery is rubbish.
Gladly, we can say that’s not the case with the Nexus 4. Of course, individual usage will vary wildly, but we found it to put in a competent enough performance.
We took our review unit off charge at 7am. We did the obligatory check of emails, tweets, facebook messages and SMS.
Over the course of the day, we made just under half an hour’s worth of calls, browsed the web for about 40 mins between 3G and Wi-Fi, checked Twitter and Facebook half a dozen times each, took 10 photos and three videos and listened to music for about half an hour.
By the time we got home at 5pm, the Nexus 4 had told us the charge was hitting 15% but then we managed to keep it going with minimal use until we went to bed at 9pm.
We must also point out that much of the day was spent in a basement office with poor signal, so the Nexus 4 was constantly searching.
We’d call that a good result and with frugal use, you’ll squeeze at least another few hours out of this. For a modern handset, it’s impressive and we are really pleased.
It’s most definitely an improvement on the HTC One X and even trumps the Samsung Galaxy S3 which is, itself, no slouch in that department. The thing is that it is so dependent on what Android apps you have installed and what they’re doing in the background.
It’s even more of a bonus because despite Jelly Bean having brought performance enhancements, one thing that has degraded is battery life.
We’ve heard nothing but complaints from people who’ve upgraded from Ice Cream Sandwich that ICS was better. Turning off Google Now appears to make a difference, but only a minor one.
The Nexus 4 is a connectivity powerhouse. When we said this handset hadn’t cut any corners, we weren’t kidding.
So many elements we’ve come to expect as standard – for example, GPS. We remember squealing with delight when we got the Nokia N95 in our mitts back in the day and having GPS in our pockets (even if it didn’t work very well.) Now, we feel hard done by without it. Not that we need to on the Nexus 4.
Not only do we have full GPS, but GLONASS support which means that it is not only super quick to get a lock on, but also accurate as hell.
We’ve mentioned already how fast the internet browser and this is not just because of the processor, but the Wi-Fi chip itself. With support for 802.11 a/b/g/n, you’ll be whizzing around like a penguin on ice.
And the HSDPA+ is also of the DC-HSDPA variety – which is not as good as 4G but better than 3G. It’s kinda like a halfway house of speed. Anyway, it’s fast! If your network supports it, that is. Bluetooth is also great at streaming sound.
DLNA is supported and we had success sending music to our PS3 to stream. We also managed to successfully send clips to our Apple TV, though that came after we invested in a little third party software.
Part of the new Jelly Bean 4.2 is the ability to transmit to wireless devices but we couldn’t get it to see our Samsung Smart TV. It did notice the AllShare Cast Dongle but wouldn’t connect.
Hooking up to a computer is a mixed bag. We’ve bemoaned this before but since recent changes, making a connection with a Mac is no longer the seamless experience it used to be.
Android now uses the MTP protocol which is great for Windows owners who make up the majority of users. But Mac lovers have to download an official software add-on which is a bit of a pain and doesn’t work brilliantly.
There are ways around this though and you can download apps like iSyncr which make iTunes playlists sync and play well together with your Nexus 4. Windows users won’t have any problems though.
NFC is on board but isn’t much use other than for bragging. Not until it gets major buy in anyway. We can verify that it works for the simple reason that everytime we placed it on top of our wallet, it buzzed and made a noise due to various NFC cards we carry.
We managed to transfer files with another Android handset using Android beam. This is a technology that we really think could take off one day. Tap and Go. It’s the future. Maybe.
Charging should also be fun. Not plugging it into the wall – that’s boring. But wireless charging. First seen on the Palm Pre (although it didn’t really take off because of the extra cost for the mat), Google and LG have adopted that method for the Nexus 4.
We couldn’t test it because the mat wasn’t included in the box we got. And we suspect it won’t come with final retail units, though for such a cheap price for the handset, we wouldn’t expect to get extras. We didn’t even get a pair of headphones in ours.
Maps and apps
Maps is super exciting – even more so when you compare it to what’s happening with the Apple debacle.
Google has spent years perfecting this offering and is almost as famous for its mapping these days as it is for search and email.
We can’t emphasise enough just how fond we are of Google Maps. Not only is it a great mapping piece of code, but it links into Navigation which gives you a full, free, GPS satnav solution complete with traffic reports and satellite view in your pocket.
And there’s no catch. Because the GPS locks on really, really quickly thanks to the GLONASS support. Whatsmore, Google Maps lets you save huge chunks of areas for offline viewing. It really is top notch and world class. We love it.
Since you’re getting a ‘pure’ Google experience, you’re also getting a suite of pure Google apps. We’re talking some really useful ones like Gmail, YouTube, Google Earth and Play Store.
We’re also excited to see Currents which is a news aggregator app and downloads issues of your favourite newspapers and magazines every morning.
We’ve loved using this on the Nexus 7 tablet and it translates just as well onto the Nexus 4 smartphone.
As you’d imagine, Google has kept things simple here. Clearly, it believes less is more.
So rather than shoving a load of bloatware on there, it just gives you the basics that make the experience top notch and then leaves you to download any more that you want from its Play Store.
Perhaps the best Google app though, is the Play Store – because it allows you to expand your portfolio with even more apps to enhance your life.
Android has spent a long time playing catch-up with Apple but now claims to sit at the same number of apps. Despite all of the banter between the two operating systems, they tend to have the same apps.
It is rare you’ll find one in Apple’s App Store yet no equivalent on Android or vice versa. And Android’s apps tend to typically be a little edgier. Because there are fewer limitations on what they’re allowed to do, developers will be a little more daring.
For entertainment nuts, there is access to both Google Play movies and Play Books. Our unit came with several book samples pre-loaded.
We’re unsure if it’ll ever beat a Kindle though for the simple reason that too much of looking at a backlit screen can tire the eyes, no matter how great the display.
Hands on gallery
Google and LG have worked together to bring to market a fantastic offering. We showed it to two friends who are both Apple fans. The kind of people who shower in holy water if they’re exposed to Android. Both of them were smitten.
The fact of the matter is that this is a handset with world class specs – yet it’s at a price you’d expect to get a budget phone for. Sure, there are a few things that could have been done better, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.
The Nexus 4 is beautifully designed with a stunning display and rocking the latest version of Android. It has more connectivity than a BT Telephone Exchange and even excels in the simple matter of making telephone calls.
The fact that it comes running with Android as Google intended it will please the purists, but the OS has come on leaps and bounds since its early incarnations, so no longer is it a daunting prospect for first time users.
The screen is great, the power under the hood is more than enough and it feels every inch a top-end handset – that is until you look at the price tag and get one of the most pleasant surprises known to man, value for money.
You’re probably thinking now, why on earth would I NOT want this handset? And it’s difficult to say as there are very few failings with the Nexus 4, but it’s by no means perfect.
It’s not the lightest of handsets, and it is slightly crippled by the lack of removable storage. Plus, the lack of LTE makes it far from future-proof and we don’t understand why Google has given exclusivity deals to carriers in some countries.
The camera is good, but it doesn’t excel itself and the photo sphere feature needs more work before its true potentially can be fully realised.
Giving a handset on TechRadar a full five star rating is almost impossible. You could have the best phone in the world that can solve famine, pick the kids up from school and decipher Mandarin Chinese in a millisecond.
But it’s not just about specs – value plays a huge part to play. A five star rating is reserved for a phone that we would say you should go out and buy pronto. Right now. Immediately.
The Nexus 4 comes SO close to that, it’s unreal. This phone has some of the best specs around but it’s not just great value, it’s fantastic value. Almost too good to be true.
Had it not been crippled by silly things like a paltry memory allowance and not-quite-there camera, we’d have recommended it immediately and given it a five star rating. Alas, it’s fallen just short of that.
But make no mistake – this is the best Nexus handset so far by a long shot. We love it and can’t recommend it highly enough. It could seriously be a contender for our best smartphone of 2012. If you’re due a new phone, you should check the Google Nexus 4 out without delay.