When Google bought Motorola, Android makers collectively worried. "Is it getting into hardware?" they asked. You see, there was an unwritten deal -- they make the phones, Google develops the software to give to them for free. In return, Google gets to dominate mobile and embed its products -- like search, maps and Gmail -- on millions of devices.
It worked. And Android, Google and hardware makers prospered.
"Any hardware projects we do will be to push the ecosystem forward," said Sundar Pichai, Google's Android boss. That's not exactly the reassurance its partners were looking for. In truth, Google has far greater ambitions -- its own brand of phones, the Nexus -- if it needs to pick up the slack. After all, it's something Microsoft learned the hard way: sometimes you can't rely on partners.
Enter the Nexus 4. It's a worthy successor to the Galaxy Nexus and comes with several standout features, namely Jelly Bean. Developed with LG, it looks a lot like the Optimus G, but on steroids and beauty treatments. Overall, it's a sight to behold and a pleasure to use.
The Nexus is beautifully constructed. The sleek 0.4-inch profile is elegant and rounded edges make it easy to hold. From afar, it looks like a few older models, but up-close, you'll notice a few differences. For one, the shell, including the back, is made almost entirely of glass. Maybe it's a bite from Apple, but the high-end look and feel is unmatched. Take note, Samsung -- even high-grade plastic is cheap. The glass, of course, attracts fingerprints like mad, but if you take time from wiping it, you'll notice a subtle sparkle pattern peeking through, depending on the angle.
The 4.7-inch screen is 20 percent bigger than the iPhone 5, and a third larger than the 4S. If you're coming from either, the Nexus 4 will feel a bit big. But if you've used a behemoth like the Galaxy Note, it'll seem a small. I thought it was just right.
The clarity is fantastic, and on par with the best devices on the market. IPS gives you eye-popping colors -- a hair below the vibrancy on the iPhone and One X+, but still top-tier. It's simply impressive, and an ideal canvas to watch movies on.
The 8-megapixel camera, meanwhile, captures every detail. Similar to the Optimus G, the f/2.4 auto-focus lens produces crisp and color photos and 1080p videos. The standout feature, though, is Google's "Photo Sphere." If you think you've seen a panorama, you haven't seen anything yet. Like the iPhone, but better, it stitches photos -- up and down, as well as side to side -- for a 360-degree view. The software is simple to use, even with just one hand, but it quickly saps the battery. Don't forget to close it.
The Nexus 4 runs the latest version of Android, dubbed "Jelly Bean," giving it a big leg up on rivals. If you've used Android before, you've probably waited for a software update. You'll hear rumblings of a roll out, of course, yet you continue to wait. Not so with the Nexus 4. Since Google developed it, it runs on stock software. That means you'll enjoy a cleaner interface, faster performance and be the first to get Android upgrades, while those poor Android souls are stuck in update purgatory.
Jelly Bean has an improved typing system, using gesture, which combines Swype and predictive text. Instead of tapping, you glide. The software then uses some wizardry to understand those movements to predict what you're saying and going to say next. It's twice as fast with fewer mistakes -- a win-win.
The iPhone has Siri, but Google has "Now." The app scours your phone, including Gmail, to pull up requests. Want to make a hotel reservation? Done. How about to book a flight? Done. Mow your lawn? Do... well, not quite, but you get the point. It's good at pulling up what you ask, and unlike earlier versions, you can customize it for better results.
With NFC, you can beam files to friends and check out groceries at stores. But is still new, so good luck finding places that take e-wallets. Everything runs smoothly thanks to a 1.5-gigahertz chip. A generous battery will also power you through a full day, as long as you're not on a Photo Sphere-ing binge. Like the iPhone, you can't remove the battery, so you'd be smart to pick up a charger, perhaps the wireless one. Choose the 16-gigabytes model instead of the 8- -- neither have a microSD slot. Cloud storage eases the pain a bit, but the memory shortage is a serious issue. Beware: there's no 4G LTE, either. If you feel a need for speed, 3.5G HSPA-plus is as fast as it gets.
If you're allergic to long-term contracts, or simply want a high-end device without paying a high-end price, the Nexus 4 is for you -- it's actually cheaper than the iPhone. For what you get, it's a fantastic deal.
The software and camera are cutting-edge, but the lack of storage and missing LTE is disappointing. If you're sticking to Android, the One X+ is a superb device with 4G and a microSD slot. Of course, there's always the iPhone, which has camera apps that mimic Photo Sphere, and then some. Both are well-rounded 4G devices that are built for multimedia -- but come at a higher cost. Android makers are worried for a reason. ♦
Other Reviews From Around the Web
First, to the haters who gripe about the lack of 4G or the lack of an expansion slot: I haven't had any problems with either. T-Mobile's HSPA-plus network plenty fast where I live. Does it match Verizon or AT&T's LTE? No. But it's fast enough. The difference is mere seconds. Plus, I'm usually on Wi-Fi if there's a connection available -- which is pretty often. It's not like you're playing games or watch movies all day. Most of the time is spent sending messages, checking up on Facebook or browsing the Web -- hardly data intensive.
As for the storage, that's what cloud is for. There are several services you can choose from for free. Will you be able to store your whole music library on it? No. But then again who listens to their whole catalogue? Most likely, you'll cycle through a handful of albums anyways.
Now that the main issues are out in the open, we can move on.
The camera is fantastic. Not only do photos come out vibrant and detailed, but the small things, like the intuitive interface, make it a joy to use. I did notice that one out of every handful of photos, the colors will be a little off. Nothing a quick fix won't solve -- the built-in editing options do a nice job correcting it, so you don't even need Photoshop. If you're not a photog, you may not even notice.
As for the battery life, I use it heavily and I can last the day. If you're expecting anything more, you're living in 1999. Aside from the Droid Maxx, you're not getting more than a day and a half out of most smartphones. Remember: it's a computer in your pocket now. You can definitely prolong your battery life by managing your power. Lowering the brightness level will squeeze you an extra hour or two.
The one issue I have is the design of the back. When I play music and lay the phone on its back, the speaker is flat to the surface, so the sound is muffled. Of course, you can just turn it around, but then I don't see any alerts on the screen.
Anyway, that's my one small gripe. I can't recommend this phone enough. It's elegant, powerful and durable. And you'll never have to worry about when you'll get the latest Google updates. Fantastic phone.Was this review helpful to you?
The design of this phone is absolutely stunning, the processor makes the performance simply blazing and the touch screen is as vibrant as it comes. It's the best all-around phone I've ever had, and I've owned them all.
On the software front, Jelly Bean 4.2 is incredible -- so smooth, like butter. Google Now is really useful too, and I really like the feature that lets you see your commute times. I use it to track me from home to work and vice versa.
Google outdid itself on the Nexus 4 -- and you can't beat the great price. I recommend this phone to anyone who wants the complete package, but doesn't want to pay and arm and a leg.
The only negative I can see is the lack of an expandable memory slot and the non-removable battery. Also there's a bit of a wait period. I had to wait about two months for mine, but it was well worth it.Was this review helpful to you?
Having bought the G1 and G2x, the Nexus 4 is my third Google phone. And it's the one I've been looking for. Due to the collaborative nature of Android, some phones have a tendency to feel like a patchwork of hardware and software components, but not the Nexus 4. Jelly Bean 4.2.1 is ridiculously smooth and speedy for a polished and refined feel on par with the iPhone.
The style is stunning. The glass panels really make it look elegant. Does it steal a page from Apple? Sure. It looks different, but nonetheless beautiful and premium feel. Don't worry about the fragility though; it's Gorilla glass so it can take a few bumps.
The processor is quite a workhorse. Every app loads quickly, every transition is flawless, everything works without hesitation.
Overall, this is the best Google phone -- nay, best phone, period -- I've owned. And I highly recommend it.
I sort of wish it had a microSD slot, since you can use up the 16-gigabytes of storage pretty quickly if you have a lot of music or download a lot of movies. While the camera is brilliant, the flash has a tendency to wash out the color -- I guess flashes bleach everything, but the Nexus 4 does it more so than others.Was this review helpful to you?
I ordered the Nexus 4 from Google Play on Monday and it arrived by Thursday. After a week with it, I have to say that it was definitely worth the two week backorder.
I've owned the HTC One X, my sister had the Galaxy S3 and my mom uses the iPhone 4 -- so I know a thing or two about smartphones. And the Nexus 4 beats them all. The iPhone does have one thing over Android -- that's simplicity. So if you don't want to relearn Android, you might want to stick with the iPhone.
But other than that, the Nexus 4 has an amazing display. It beats the One X and S3 -- hands down. I sort of miss my X though, the Nexus lacks Beats Audio, and the design isn't as sleek. But it's not cheap either -- except for the price. You also get all of Google's updates first, which is very nice.
The Nexus 4's camera is pretty good -- but some shots can turn out grainy. It's about on par with the One X, but not as good as the lens on the S3.
Overall, if you factor price into the equation, the Nexus wins hands down. You can't go wrong with this device, but if the camera is more important to you, go with the S3, and if music is what you like, the One X. Out of the three, Android is on track to beat the iPhone.Was this review helpful to you?
In my opinion, the Nexus 4 is the first Android phone that's on par with the iPhone. The design, build quality and materials are on par with the iPhone -- and the front and back are sandwiched between panels of glass. Despite looking fragile, it feels pretty durable -- though I wouldn't drop it to find out.
I won't lie, it's a rather big phone, but that seems to be the trend these days. Still, it's not unbearable, and LG did a nice job crafting the Nexus 4 to fit comfortably in your hand.
The screen, meanwhile, is so bright and clear -- to me, it only trails behind the iPhone. The camera is decent and fully-stacked -- nothing to say that hasn't been said in other reviews. You'll be satisfied with the photos that come out.
On the software side, you'll get the latest version of Android -- in this case Jelly Bean 4.2.1. Coupled with the speedy processor, the Nexus 4 can power through virtually anything -- it's so smooth and speedy. You can throw any or all of the third-party apps on Google Play. It's blazingly fast.
The Nexus 4 is one of the best phones on the market. It has all the top-tier features you'd expect from a high-end phone at a price you can't beat.
If I had to complain, I'd be the lack of 4G. And the mediocre battery life -- it's decent, but not great. My advice is to buy another charger to keep around in the car or the office.Was this review helpful to you?
This phone has everything you'd expect -- a great, well-rounded device to watch videos, listen to music, send e-mails and browse the Web. The touch screen is responsive and the size is ideal -- not too big, not too small, just right. Since it's a Google phone, you'll get the latest Jelly Bean software and updates first. And the call quality is outstanding -- people always overlook this.
Overall, I'm very happy with my purchase. It's amazing how cheap Google can sell this for, and the price is a big advantage over competing phones. I had to wait a few weeks, but it was well worth it.
The lack of LTE is a big negative. In addition, I've noticed sometimes, when I'm on a call, the screen won't shut off. I'm not sure if this is a software issue, but it's there nonetheless. Hope it gets fixed.Was this review helpful to you?
I've owned the G1 and G2, so I'm a Google loyalist. I came to the Nexus 4 with some reservations, though. But that was quickly quelled by the great features. Rather than say the how great the display, camera and software are, I'll address a few lesser said issues.
I'd like to mention that this phone has a battery reserve for some handy fail safe systems built-in. A few times I've run the battery down to nothing, and the phone can still make short calls or receive small bursts of data when my old G2 just stopped working on one touch of the display.
The other thing, people complain about the limited storage, but even though it doesn't have a microSD slot, a lot of Google products run on the cloud. I load and watch movies and shows from memory, but for everything else, I run it online.
I would have liked a physical keyboard, but then it wouldn't be such a great looking phone. Also HSPA-plus is speedy, but LTE would have been better. Blame T-Mobile, I guess.Was this review helpful to you?
The Nexus 4 is simply awesome. The speed of this phone is just mind-blowing. I feel sorry for Android users that aren't on Jelly Bean 4.2, the additions are just wonderful.
As far as the design goes, the glass panels are gorgeous -- more than a few people have stopped me on the street to ask what phone I was using. The quality of the display is great too -- just the right size and resolution. There's a reason this phone is always sold out. The touch screen, camera, display and operating system are one of the best.
The only negative is the price and the lack of LTE.Was this review helpful to you?
The Nexus 4 is nothing short of spectacular. It's one of the best Android devices -- no, smartphone -- that I've ever seen. LG did a great job designing it with Google. The design is stunning, the touch display is just gorgeous, the camera snaps bright and sharp photos and the quad-core chip is simply a beast -- there's no lag whatsoever, zip, zilch.
Add to that Jelly Bean 4.2.1 and a respectable battery life and you've got an unbeatable package. I used to have the iPhone 4S, and the difference is like night and day. Everything is so much smoother and faster.
The only drawback is the lack of an expansion slot, though there's cloud storage.Was this review helpful to you?
The design is nice, the size is great and the software is the fastest version of Android you'll find. The hardware and software are some of the best out there. But...
The Nexus is good only if you live in an area without LTE. Frankly, for a device so great on features, the missing 4G is baffling to me -- a fast connection is the backbone to so many features -- streaming video and music, Web browsing, gaming, etc. If you buy the Nexus 4, chances are you'll also have to sign up to a two-year contract. Personally, I wouldn't be able to last two more years on 3.5G. You may like it now, by see if you'll still love it in a year, with a year left.
Don't get me wrong, the specs on this phone are amazing. But in this day and age, to forget the 4G, is unforgiveable.Was this review helpful to you?