Mysteries of Google's Nexus 4

In Blade Runner, the Nexus 6 was a potent yet flawed model that was hard to find and caused its maker no end of problems. Google's Nexus 4 may yet replicate that story.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Our reviews guru, Charles McLellan, has been bowled over by LG's Nexus 4, which combines top-notch hardware and unconditional Google love with an unbelievably low price tag of £239 for 8GB ($299 in the US). It would be the must-have phone for the modern Androidista - if you could actually get your hands on it.

The first batch sold out of the Google Play store in moments. There's no date given for the next lot becoming available, nor has Google said how many were or will be on offer at the headline price.

LG's Nexus 4 - the essential phone for the Androidista, if you can get your hands on it.

You can get them, of course - but at nearly double the price - from network operators. Who can blame them? The eBay price for N4s is around that, so the market can bear it, and with the deafening buzz around the device who's going to turn down all that free publicity? For a device that looked as if it was going to thoroughly stick it to the operators by bypassing their plumptious margins and unwelcome flabware habits, it's doing them a lot of good.

The Nexus 4 would be the must-have phone for the modern Androidista - if you could actually get your hands on it

Which is a bit odd. Did Google not know that selling a top-spec smartphone at half price would be popular? If it did, where's the stock? Retail is a dirty business, and it's not unknown for a fabulously attractive offer to be out of stock from day one, so that eager punters can be sold on something a bit richer once they're over their disappointment. But that's sharp practice, and not something which would rebound to Google's advantage in the long run. It can't afford to lose trust, no matter how.

And that's not the only mystery to the Nexus 4. One of the few missing features is the lack of LTE, the 4G standard that isn't quite de rigeur this year but most certainly will be the next. This is understandable on a phone that's had every spare cent of cost shaved off in order to be ultra-competitive, and would certainly be excusable here. Except - it has the LTE hardware built in. The modem chip and the radio amplifier are on the circuit board, just not connected in software, nor to an antenna (which means they won't be switched on through an update later, just in case you were hoping).

Baffling. Either have LTE and sell on it, or save the money and boost your margins. But to have spent the money on the chips and have no way to make it back? Two explanations are possible:

The N4 was going to be an LTE device, the chips were bought and the boards were built, but the feature got pulled at a late stage. Thus, the first batch of products will have the vestigial parts, and LG will swallow the cost. Or, the N4 is a rebadged LG Optimus G, sharing the production line without gutting the G's premium price point. It can be cheaper not to run two production lines and take the pain of over-equipping the discount model. This is especially true if you have over-ordered parts or have them tied to a quantity price break from the suppliers you can't escape.

If the first explanation is true, then future Nexus 4s may be quite different inside - and we may all be waiting for that redesign to come through before Google restocks at the original price point. LTE retailing remains hard to manage, with some 13 international variations to cope with and more to come, and everyone's learning from the experiences of the first wave of LTE smartphones.

Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that you can't get a Nexus 4 at the advertised price and nobody's saying when you next can. That's a major mark against Google, one that needs to be addressed, and an opportunity for its competition to raise questions about the company's integrity and ability to deliver on the demand it creates.

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