Google Nexus 4 review

Google Nexus 4 review

Summary: The LG-built Nexus 4 offers terrific value for money, if you don't mind its moderate battery life and lack of LTE support. Shame it's currently sold out at Google's Play store.

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  • Editors' rating:
    8.1
  • User rating:
    7.0
  • RRP:
    £279.00

Pros

  • Excellent value for money
  • Quad-core processor
  • Latest Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) OS
  • Pleasing design and solid construction
  • Wireless charging support

Cons

  • Moderate battery life
  • Lacks LTE support
  • Non-replaceable battery
  • No storage expansion
  • Currently out of stock at Google Play store

If you want an Android smartphone that's unencumbered with vendor or mobile operator skins and bundled apps, and receives timely OS updates, Google's Nexus range has been available to fill this role since January 2010. The latest in a line stretching from the HTC-made Nexus One, through a couple of Samsung devices (Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus), is the Nexus 4. This time, Google has partnered with LG for its showcase Android handset.

The Nexus 4, which runs the latest Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) OS, comes with 8GB or 16GB of internal storage. There's no external expansion, so choose your model carefully. The 8GB version costs UK£239 (inc. VAT) from Google's Play store (US$299, AU$349), while the 16GB version costs UK£279 (US$349 or AU$399).

We were sent the 16GB model for review, and it rapidly turned out to be a hot ticket — Google's UK store sold out within 30 minutes of opening for Nexus 4 business on 13 November (a pattern repeated in other countries). At the time of writing, the store's message remains "We are out of inventory. Please check back soon", although it's still available (at a premium) from O2 and Carphone Warehouse in the UK.

Until now, LG hadn't exactly set the smartphone world alight, although its recent high-end Optimus 4X HD and Optimus G (on which the Nexus 4 is based) handsets were well received. So let's see what the fuss is all about.

Design
The £279 16GB Nexus 4 doesn't look like a device that costs £250 less than Apple's 16GB iPhone 5, or around £120 less than Samsung's 16GB Galaxy S III, but that's because Google makes little or no margin on the device — O2, by contrast, charges £399.99 for the 16GB model on Pay As You Go, for example. Hence the feeding frenzy at the Play store and the thriving eBay market — a quick survey of the UK site showed the 8GB model going for around £371 and the 16GB model fetching around £428 at the time of writing.

nexus-4-1
The 4.7in. Nexus 4 has a 1,280-by-768-pixel IPS screen and front (1.3MP) and rear (8MP) cameras. It's based on LG's Optimus G, but has a more rounded appearance.

This is a classy-looking smartphone, built around a 4.7-inch Gorilla Glass 2-protected screen, measuring 68.7mm wide by 133.9mm deep by 9.1mm thick and weighing 139g (that's 2.7in. by 5.27in. by 0.36in. and 4.9oz in imperial measurements). For those who care about such things, it's 0.5mm thicker than the Galaxy S III and 1.5mm thicker than the iPhone 5. Weight-wise, it's 6g heavier than the S III and all of 27g heavier than the iPhone 5.

It may be thicker and heavier than the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III, but the Nexus 4 — which is slightly rounded at the top and bottom to counteract its otherwise rather angular appearance — feels comfortable in the hand and will fit into most shirt or jacket pockets. The chamfered sides have a rubberised finish that helps with grip, and even the metallic-finish band framing the screen doesn't cheapen the overall look — largely because it's reasonably understated. The back is a flat piece of Gorilla Glass 2 with a near-unique feature (it's also used on LG's Optimus G): Crystal Reflection etching that polarises incident light to give a jewel-like sparkly effect. This sounds as though it could seem tacky, but in fact, like the rest of the design, it's relatively discreet. The back carries the main 8-megapixel camera and an LED flash, Nexus (rather than Google) plus LG branding and a small vertical speaker grille.

nexus-4-crystal
The back of the Nexus 4 is a flat piece of Gorilla Glass, treated with LG's distinctive Crystal Reflection process.

There are no physical buttons on the front of the Nexus 4 — instead, there are on-screen buttons for back, home and a list of recent apps. This not only takes up screen space, but also leaves a fair amount of unused bezel above and below the display (there's just a notification LED in the middle of the bottom bezel). The edges are pretty uncluttered, too. On the left side there's a volume rocker and a slide-out Micro-SIM tray, while the right side has the on/off/sleep button. At the top is a 3.5mm headphone jack and one of the two microphones; the other mic is at the bottom, to the right of the Micro-USB 2.0 charging/PC connection port.

The Micro-USB port can also be used with SlimPort adapter cables to connect to an external display — while simultaneously charging the phone via a second Micro-USB port on the adapter. You can buy an HDMI cable on Amazon for UK£23.95/US$29.95, with VGA, DVI and DisplayPort versions to follow at the end of November.

nexus-4-bottom
The Nexus 4's Micro-USB port can connect the device to an external display, thanks to its support for SlimPort adapters.

Strictly speaking, the battery isn't removable, but if you're determined it's possible to get inside the handset by removing two small Torx screws at the bottom and prising the back off.

We've been carrying the Nexus 4 for a week or so, and found it pretty resistant to scratches and minor bumps. It's not suffered any drops from significant height onto hard surfaces, so we can't comment on its ability to withstand serious mistreatment.

Features
The Nexus 4 is powered by a state-of-the-art SoC — the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro, comprising the quad-core APQ8064 CPU running at 1.5GHz and the Adreno 320 GPU. It's backed by 2GB of RAM and, in our review unit, 16GB of internal, non-expandable, storage. Out of the box, 12.92GB of this storage was available for user apps and data.

The screen, as mentioned above, measures a sizeable 4.7in. across the diagonal and is a 1,280-by-768-pixel IPS unit protected by tough Corning Gorilla Glass 2. The high pixel density (318ppi) makes for sharp images, and the display can go very bright if turned right up — although you'll pay for this in battery life. Contrast is good, colours are reasonably accurate — at least to the naked eye — and the touchscreen is very responsive.

Connectivity is good — with one proviso that may or may not be significant depending on where you live and which mobile operator you use. I refer, of course, to LTE support, which is not enabled on the Nexus 4 — despite the presence on the motherboard of a Qualcomm LTE chip (WTR1605L) and an LTE-compliant modem (MDM9615A). What you do get is quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, penta-band 3G (WCDMA/UMTS) and DC-HSPA+ support (up to 42Mbps download). In the UK (where this review was conducted), the recently launched EE (Everything Everywhere, formed from the merger of T-Mobile and Orange) LTE network has limited coverage and is currently experiencing teething troubles, so the lack of LTE support is unlikely to trouble many users. Elsewhere, things may well be different.

Completing the wireless lineup is dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, NFC (Android Beam) and GPS/GLONASS. There's also support for external monitors via Wireless Display (based on the Wi-Fi Alliance's Miracast standard) and wireless charging via the Qi standard. Unfortunately we were unable to test either of these features as we had neither a Miracast-compliant display nor a Qi-compliant charging station.

Like all high-end smartphones, the Nexus 4 is bristling with sensors — accelerometer, compass, ambient light, gyroscope and barometer (the latter's primary purpose being to deliver altitude data for faster GPS lock-on).

Specifications

General
Weight 139 g
Dimensions (W x H x D) 68.7x9.1x13.39 mm
OS & software
Software included Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean)
Processor & memory
Clock speed 1.5 GHz
Processor model Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro
RAM 2048 MB
Storage
Internal 16000 MB
Display
Display technology TFT touch-screen (active matrix)
Display size 4.7 in
Native resolution 1280x768 pixels
Connections
Ports Micro-USB 2.0 (SlimPort-compatible), audio-out
Networks
2.xG GPRS, EDGE
2G GSM 850, GSM 900, GSM 1800, GSM 1900
3.xG UMTS, HSPA+
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Short range Bluetooth 3.0+HS
GPS technology
GPS receiver GPS + GLONASS
Input devices
Touchscreen Yes
Camera
2nd camera front
Flash Yes
Main camera rear
2nd camera resolution 1.3 megapixels
Main camera resolution 8 megapixels
Power
Removable battery No
Battery capacity 2100 mAh
Number of batteries 1
Miscellaneous
Accessories AC adapter
Expand

Prices

Price
Price AUD 399
Price GBP 279
Price USD 349

Topics: Smartphones, Android, Mobility, Reviews

About

Charles has been in tech publishing since the late 1980s, starting with Reed's Practical Computing, then moving to Ziff-Davis to help launch the UK version of PC Magazine in 1992. ZDNet came looking for a Reviews Editor in 2000, and he's been here ever since.

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Talkback

28 comments
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  • Fastest smartphone out there

    7.0

    The Geekbench score for this Nexus 4 phone is 1950, making it the fastest phone out there to date. That's even higher than the iPad 4's benchmark result.
    eMJayy
  • Fastest smartphone out there

    7.0

    The Geekbench score for this Nexus 4 phone is 1950, making it the fastest phone out there to date. That's even higher than the iPad 4's benchmark result.
    eMJayy
  • Out of stock

    Why would out of stock be a con for this phone. how is that the fault of the phone, not saying I will buy the phone, I will not. However saying it is a con makes it sound like a flaw with the phone.
    schultzycom
  • Nexus products are so much better

    8.0

    The Nexus S was my third Android phone and I decided then that I'd only buy Nexus devices in future, no junkware (that often can't be removed), no OEM modifications (that aren't as good as the original functionality they replace) and prompt updates (usually). I think widening the Nexus line is the right thing for Google to do because the phone manufacturers have been ruining Android by trying to 'differentiate' their products.

    I still have the Nexus S and it was updated to Android 4.0 then 4.1 just after the Galaxy Nexus was released, I also own a Galaxy Nexus and a Nexus 7 tablet, both of which are excellent. I'll buy the Nexus 4 when the Google Play store has some stock, I'm not impatient enough to pay a premium.

    Anyone considering an Android phone for the first time should seriously consider buying a Nexus device, everything else is inferior.
    johnafish
  • Shame

    1.0

    Shame it has poor battery life and no LTE support.
    I guess that is good unless it was a RIM phone. I'm sure he will be all over them because they don't have octocore processors.
    Susan Antony
  • Best Smart Phone - Today

    9.0

    ** Note that I currently roll with iOS, Android, WP and RIM devices for my day job.

    The Nexus 4 is on par with the iPhone 5 and gets the nod due to the price - if you can actually find one. While it lacks LTE, side by side comparisons with the iPhone 5 (AT&T) found that the speed is only slightly slower on bandwidth speed tests. Outside of that, the software side is astounding. This is the first Android device that appears purpose-built to get things done. No slow downs, everything connects smoothly - it even has a Google link where it knows when packages are being delivered to you, your favorite team sports scores (no college yet, though), weather, recent searches. Known quirks in iPhone land such as maps, Wi-Fi connectivity and the unfulfilled Passbook are all non-issues, and Wallet worked nicely on the one NFC shopping visit I have made so far.

    Only complaints are that they are difficult to find and the official Nexus wireless charging pod is not available yet. Those issues will correct themselves with time, however.
    monteith
    • the only significant software update

      over jellybean is multiple accounts. the other stuff you list is part of google now, and is on all 4.1+ devices, and can also be loaded onto 4.0 devices.
      theoilman
  • ...

    5.0

    No SD card slot .... no deal !
    Built-in battery ? That is just silly !
    NO THANKS ! ! !
    peanut88
    • ...

      No SD card slot is truly necessary nowadays. 16GB is plenty considering all the cloud storage(25,000 songs on google music for FREE, dropbox, etc) 16gb for apps is almost too much, but at least on android, you can have as many apps as will fit.(the iphone has a set number of apps that will display due to limited number of home screens. You could put everything in a folder, but that is just silly)

      Battery is not glued in, or hard attached in any way, to replace you simply remove 2 screws on the bottom of the phone. Not even crazy pentalobe screws at that! While you cannot swap in a spare battery when it dies, there are numerous solutions. The lack of removable battery was due to NFC and wireless charging, together tightening the tolerances of battery location.
      lord_xaero
      • cloud storage does not replace internal storage

        cloud storage wastes battery life (which is already soso on this phone), uses up data for those without unlimited plans, and is useless in areas where you don't have signal.
        theoilman
      • I disagree

        First, the OS itself resides on part of the 16 gigs of storage, leaving something around 11 available to the user. Had there been a full 16 gigs of user storage, I would agree that it would largely be enough in most cases. Not all, but most. But 11 gigs is cutting it a little close.

        Second, cloud storage should never be relied on for user files. It's a nice option, but it's use should be completely optional. Cloud storage drains the battery, it's unavailable if you're outside network coverage, and when within coverage, it uses up bandwidth. When unlimited data was the norm, that was one thing, but it's not the case anymore and the thought of having to pay a higher monthly bill for more data to make up for limited on-board storage just doesn't sit well with me.

        I don't care what the reasoning is, there's no justification for not including an SD card slot. Don't populate it, fine, but the slot itself should be there for those who want/need it. If it's not included, there should be *ample* on-board storage - a minimum of 32 gigs *user* storage. 16 total (11 user) is surprising, and 8 total is a joke.
        PC987
        • 13.6

          For me, 13.6 GB is available as opposed to your 11 GB.
          ashwinipn
          • Ok, but you still end up with less.

            Ok, so 13.6 instead of 11... the fact is that it's still less than what's available from previous phones with SD card slots and 16 gig cards.

            Also, user apps will come out of that 13.6 gigs, where previously they were stored on internal system memory, leaving the SD card free for user files.

            Again, none of the explanations I've heard justify the ditching of expandable storage, especially when internal storage isn't exceeding what was typically previously available. It's not like they're saying "look, we've studied this and the vast majority of people never fill up their 16 gig SD cards, so we're giving you the same space internally". It's more "Hey, we're giving you less than you had previously, but we'll give you tons of cloud storage. Yea, it'll cost you more each month for the bandwidth, but the carriers LOVE it!!"
            PC987
  • Galaxy Nexus

    10.0

    This is the best phone currently available. Review after review confirm this.
    Van Der
  • Great specs and great price

    6.0

    ruined by mediocre battery life with a non replaceable battery, and more importantly, unworkably low internal memory with no way to expand it. what use is a mega fast phone when you can hardly put anything on it?
    theoilman
  • The Nexus 4 does have LTE.

    8.0

    Yes, you read the title correctly. The Nexus 4 does have LTE, you just have to know how to enable it. Watch this video on YouTube, which shows you how: http://youtu.be/GXOY9EVZ4vA
    Tony U.
  • This phone is weaksauce

    3.0

    - No HD screen (other phones are coming out with 1920x1080 resolution)
    - No user-replaceable battery
    - No SD card support
    - No 32 GB option
    - No LTE

    Not the evolutionary upgrade over my Gnex that Google should be bringing out at this time. Very disappointed that this phone should even bare the "Nexus" name.
    Oldsmobile_Mike
    • Kind of agree.

      6.0

      There is only one 1080p phone, and it also is limited to 16 GB with no SD slot. It also has a truly unremovable battery, while the Nexus 4 can be removed with a screwdriver. LTE can be enabled on the Nexus 4, too, but I'm not sure why it wouldn't be by default though.

      At first I thought the exact same as you, but as time has gone on, I've found some of those deal-breakers to just be untrue. The no 32 GB option and no SD slot obviously still hold up though.
      BigMagoo
  • I am enjoying my Nexus 4

    9.0

    So far its great I love it. It gets a bit hot when its working hard and I managed to run down the battery when using it to navigate and listen to pod-casts on my bluetooth earphones. Now I plug it into a car charger.
    Artist111111
  • Dirty business

    "The £279 16GB Nexus 4 doesn't look like a device that costs £250 less than Apple's 16GB iPhone 5, or around £120 less than Samsung's 16GB Galaxy S III, but that's because Google makes little or no margin on the device"

    - So google trying to sabotage other companies businesses, by giving the software and hardware for free...
    owlllnet