Movie sequels often don't live up to the hype of the original blockbuster, but the same isn't always true of smartphones -- on the contrary, they typically get even better. The Nexus lineup, initially thought of as a "playground" for Android developers to test their apps on, has continually gotten better at its craft (and popularity). Not only that, it's picking up momentum: in less than five months, Google has crafted two Nexus tablets as well as its latest and greatest smartphone known as the Nexus 4, and the attractively priced devices are now facing more interest than they ever have before.
The Nexus 4 is a veritable dreamboat when it comes to looks and specs. It's a smooth, elegant-looking device that comes with a large, 4.7-inch, HD display, a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and plenty of other appealing components. It exhibits a lot of commonalities to LG's current flagship, the Optimus G. And for a starting price of $299 unlocked, it's sure to attract a whole new demographic that until recently had never even heard of a Nexus. But is this a flagship smartphone that everyone will want to buy, or should the fourth-generation offering just be another target of developers' envy? Stay tuned past the break to find out.
Google Nexus 4 review
Nexus 4 vs. Galaxy Nexus
The Nexus line has always been a solid indicator of the state of the smartphone industry. While these phones aren't guaranteed to have the absolute best components available, they're still highly competitive and, in recent times, have offered some of the best value, dollar for dollar. This leaves us even more impressed, then, that the LG-made Nexus 4 has been endowed with state-of-the-art silicon and is backed up by some of the best components on the market.
Once it's available, Google's newest Android smartphone flagship will be one of the most exquisite devices you can buy. In many respects, it's the lovechild of a Samsung Galaxy Nexus and an LG Optimus G: it features the sleek curves of its predecessor along the edges, along with a unibody back cover and scratch-resistant glass. At 4.9 ounces (139g) and 0.36 inches (9.1mm), it's slightly lighter and thicker than the Optimus G (5.2 ounces and 0.33 inches, respectively), but the difference in these two areas doesn't make it any more or less comfortable -- what does help your hand-holding experience, however, is the tapered edge that adds an extra place for your fingers to naturally rest.
You may be wondering why we've talked so much about the Optimus G already, and it's because it shares many commonalities with the Nexus 4; both use a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset, 2GB RAM and sport the same 4.7-inch True HD IPS PLUS with 1,280 x 768 resolution. They even pack the same 2,100mAh battery. Indeed, a close look at the two devices side by side should be enough to convince someone that the two are blood brothers, perhaps even fraternal twins. If it weren't for the Nexus 4's gentle curves, we'd wager they were born of the same chassis. Keep in mind that this isn't a harsh comparison: we were quite fond of the build quality and materials used in LG's top-of-the-line smartphone, and having a similarly specced device with comparable build and a vanilla version of Android 4.2 sounds like a killer combination. Gracing the front of the phone is the IPS PLUS display mentioned earlier, dressed with a full slab of Gorilla Glass 2. The glass itself curves down a bit as it meets the left and right edges, which certainly adds to the feeling of elegance. The idea here is actually to add more of a natural feel when swiping back and forth on the screen. (HTC did something similar with the One X.) Our only complaint with this is that it's easy for dust and other tiny particles to get stuck between it and the chrome lining the edge. Continuing on, there's a 1.3-megapixel front-facing video cam on the top right and sensors on the top left. Below the screen sits the pulse notification light, which brought back memories of what's found on the Galaxy Nexus, and there are no capacitive buttons since LG added virtual navigation keys to the screen.
The left side houses a volume rocker, while a secondary mic and headphone jack sit up top. Moving over to the right, you'll see the power button just barely above where your index finger naturally rests -- this is nice because you won't accidentally bump it every other second, but it's still within easy reach. The bottom is where you'll find the micro-USB / Slimport socket. Let's talk a little about that last one: Slimport. It appears that Google and LG have chosen to use Slimport for tethered display sharing, rather than standard MHL. Neither company has shared the reasoning behind this decision, but whatever it is, you'll need to buy a special adapter if you want to take advantage of this capability. It's not the only way to mirror your phone's display on your TV -- Android 4.2 has now added native support for Miracast's wireless display standard -- but if you don't have equipment compatible with Miracast, Analogix's $30 Slimport adapter is a cheaper alternative to purchasing Miracast-certified gear.
Moving on to the back, we already mentioned briefly that it's covered by scratch-resistant glass. It's not a removable cover, which means you won't be getting access to your battery unless you're willing to be adventurous and start removing screws. On the top left you'll see the 8MP rear camera and LED flash aligned vertically, with the famous Nexus logo sitting just below. LG added its own stamp to the bottom of the back, right next to a speaker grille on the right side. But the most interesting part of the whole thing is its checkerboard-like decor that looks like a cross between "The Matrix" and the iconic tile-like live wallpaper made famous by the Nexus One. When we first saw the device in leaked photos, we worried that it might look too tacky -- on the contrary, it not only adds to the subtle aesthetics, but it helps the Nexus 4 stand apart from all those other bland, rectangular phones.
With all of our praise about the phone's design and build, there is one potential hazard: that glass-laden back. We haven't had any terrible luck in that department yet, but it's worth noting that this part of your phone -- while sleek and gorgeous -- should probably avoid the concrete at all costs. Now, onto the portion of the review that you'll either love or hate, depending on where you live and what network you use. The Nexus 4, like the Galaxy Nexus before it, is a penta-band (850/900/1700/1900/2100) HSPA+ device, but this one goes up a step by offering 42Mbps speeds. It's also quad-band (850/900/1800/1900) GSM / EDGE, which means this phone will work with virtually every GSM and HSPA carrier in the world. Unfortunately, the one thing truly missing from the Nexus is LTE compatibility. In many parts of the world, this won't be an issue; people using a carrier with LTE service may feel frustrated, however. We'd love to see a special edition come out down the road, but we're not going to hold our breath for it.
Finally, the Nexus 4 also fully supports the Qi wireless charging standard, which means you can use any Qi-capable charging pad to refill your battery -- we even took it for a spin on the Fatboy recharging pillow sold by Nokia, and it worked like a charm. So what else does this beauty have, and how does it compare with last year's model? Check out the table below for all the details.
|Nexus 4||LG Optimus G (Korean version)||Samsung Galaxy Nexus (HSPA+ version)|
|Dimensions||5.27 x 2.7 x 0.36 inches (133.9 x 68.7 x 9.1mm)||5.19 x 2.71 x 0.33 inches (131.9 x 68.9 x 8.5mm)||5.33 x 2.67 x 0.35 inches (135.5 x 67.9 x 8.9mm)|
|Weight||4.9 oz. (139g)||5.11 oz. (145g)||4.76 oz. (135g)|
|Screen size||4.7 inches||4.7 inches||4.65 inches|
|Screen resolution||1,280 x 768 pixels (320ppi)||1,280 x 768 pixels (320ppi)||1,280 x 720 pixels (316ppi)|
|Screen type||True HD IPS Plus||True HD IPS Plus||Super AMOLED HD (PenTile)|
|Internal storage||8 or 16GB||32GB||16GB|
|External storage||No microSD slot||No microSD slot||No microSD|
|Rear camera||8MP, AF, LED flash||13MP, AF, LED flash||5MP, AF, LED flash|
|Radios||HSPA+ 42 / UMTS: 850/900/1700/1900/2100; GSM / EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900||GSM / GPRS 850/900/1800/1900; UMTS/HSPA+ 900/2100; LTE band 3||HSPA+ 21 / UMTS: 850/900/1700/1900/2100; GSM / EDGE 850/900/1800/1900|
|SoC||Qualcomm APQ8064 Snapdragon S4 Pro||Qualcomm APQ8064 Snapdragon S4 Pro||TI OMAP 4460|
|CPU||1.5GHz quad-core||1.5GHz quad-core||1.2GHz dual-core|
|GPU||Adreno 320||Adreno 320||PowerVR SGX540|
|HDMI options||Slimport (wired) / Miracast (wireless)||MHL (wired) / Miracast (wireless)||MHL|
|WiFi||802.11 b/g/n dual-band||802.11 a/b/g/n||802.11 a/b/g/n dual-band|
|Operating system||Android 4.2 Jelly Bean||Android 4.0.4 ICS||Android 4.1 Jelly Bean|
A quick review of the above spec list should indicate that the display is essentially identical to the one used on the recently released LG Optimus G, the Nexus 4's close sibling. Looking backward, it's also better than the HD panel the Galaxy Nexus bears. What we're looking at (literally) is a 4.7-inch, 1,280 x 768 True HD IPS PLUS display, with a sheet of Gorilla Glass 2 covering it. With the Nexus 4, however, the Corning-furnished glass plays a much more critical role than it does on other smartphones. LG has developed a technology that integrates the display's touch sensor into the outer layer of the glass. This not only makes for a thinner phone, it brings the pixels closer to the display itself. (If this sounds familiar, it's because Apple has done something similar to this with the iPhone 5 and Microsoft's Surface for Windows RT.)
Additionally, its WXGA resolution translates into a pixel density of 320ppi, but its RGB subpixel arrangement means it actually packs more of a visual punch than the PenTile Super AMOLED HD screen on last year's Nexus. There's less pixelation -- if that's even possible -- and the viewing angles are fantastic, providing us better opportunities to read articles and watch movies than most other devices we've used. Also, it's one of the nicest displays we've ever viewed in the midday sun. We could see everything clearly at right around 50 percent brightness, and it was still at least relatively easy to read with the settings down to about 30 percent. This panel is one of the best you can get right now, and is on par with the 720p displays we've played with on the One X and Samsung Galaxy S III. It ranks in between those two competitors when it comes to color saturation. The darks are as dark as you'll see on the One X (but less than the GS3), and the whites are brighter than on either rival phone. We also noticed that the Nexus shows off the darkest reds and magentas, as well as the lightest greens and yellows. As a result, your viewing experience may differ slightly from other 720p displays, but we've been very pleased with what we've seen on the Nexus 4.
Aside from the inaugural Nexus (the HTC-made Nexus One), each subsequent version of the Nexus has ushered in a new era of Android firmware along with it -- Gingerbread for the Nexus S, Honeycomb for the Motorola Xoom, ICS on the Galaxy Nexus and Jelly Bean on the Nexus 7. And as we've come to expect from this precedent, the Nexus 4 comes loaded with Android 4.2. But there's something drastically different this time around: despite the new version number, this upgrade is still considered Jelly Bean. This is the first time we've seen such a move since Eclair was bumped up from 2.0 to 2.1. An incremental ".X" update without a new dessert-themed codename typically indicates a small refresh with just a few enhancements. We think there's enough of a change to justify jumping up to a treat that begins with "K," but most of the significant design shifts have to do with the tablet experience; in contrast, there have been few drastic changes on the phone side. We wonder if many of the features added to the Nexus 4 and Nexus 10 were already on the drawing board alongside the rest of Jelly Bean and just weren't ready in time, but none of that really matters. What's important is that we have some new things to enjoy at the present time. Here's what you can expect to see in Jelly Bean, part deux.
First, we mentioned briefly that you'll see a larger difference on the tablet side than on the phone. This is because the Nexus 10 sheds both the settings box in the lower-right corner and app menu access in the top right. Instead, it offers two pull-down menus on the top: the left side acts as your standard notifications menu, while the right side features the new Quick Settings menu (more on that shortly). It also uses the standard set of three virtual navigation buttons that you'll find on the Nexus 7 and Galaxy Nexus.
Android 4.2 screenshots
Lastly, Android 4.2 also brings multi-user capabilities to the tablet, in which different members of the family can have their own private set of apps, settings and files -- in other words, the same experience you can have on a standard PC or Mac. Unfortunately, this isn't available for smartphones, so the Nexus 4 doesn't get to take advantage of this. (We have a hunch this feature may be added to phones at some point, but we have no inside information to confirm this.) Let's dive into the improvements that you can take advantage of on the Nexus 4. The Quick Settings menu is exactly what it sounds like -- a panel full of access points such as brightness, WiFi, battery life, airplane mode, Bluetooth and data usage. It also includes a direct link into the settings menu. The concept is incredibly similar to what you would find on a TouchWiz or LG device (amongst other custom skins), but it uses up its very own space rather than co-habitating on the same menu as the notifications. Fortunately, it's just as easy to get to: pull down from the status bar with two fingers instead of one, and presto -- you're in. It can be accessed from the Lock Screen and the notifications menu as well. Sound familiar? If so, it's likely because you can find a very similar concept in Motorola's latest series of devices, such as the RAZR M and RAZR HD. Given Moto's new role, it sure seems like a very interesting coincidence, doesn't it?
The new and improved Jelly Bean also features native widget support on the Lock Screen and even offers multiple panels for additional widgets. Our units didn't come with the feature, as it likely won't be available until the Nexus devices start shipping out, but this may very well be one of our favorite additions to Android. We love the idea of being able to view emails, calendar appointments and other notifications without entering the home panel -- it may sound like we're too lazy to take an extra step and unlock the screen to see our widgets, but the ability to quickly glance at crucial information without entering your phone should not be underestimated. You can expect to see more cards popping up in Google Now. The service has been given more powers, such as the ability to find local events and concerts, nearby attractions and Photo Spots (places for photo opps). The card for Photo Spots shows a grid of thumbnails, each of which can be clicked for a larger picture, details and directions. There's a whole new series of cards that digs into your Gmail inbox and finds relevant information: when you get a flight or hotel confirmation email, Now will automatically pick it up and remind you about it. The same goes for packages, event bookings and restaurants.
Voice search, which we used with mixed results in 4.1, has been bestowed with an improved set of queries. You're now able to schedule meetings, check to see your next appointment and launch apps ("open app [name of app]" will do the trick). Google also says that when you ask questions that may not have a definitive answer, the service will do a comprehensive search for your inquiry, see what the general consensus is and provide you with an answer based on what it found. Additionally, we found that it was able to pull up more information than before. For instance, we asked what year "Back to the Future" came out, and were given the specific release date as well as a card with information about the movie. Indeed, Google's made a decent amount of effort to make the voice search experience more of a natural interaction, rather than let it feel like a machine dictating search results. By the way, Jelly Bean users don't have to wait for the Android 4.2 update to come out to enjoy a lot of the same things -- most of these new features in Now are now available for Android 4.1 users, thanks to an update to the Google Search app in the Play Store.
Google has also thrown in "Gesture Typing" to the stock keyboard which makes it much easier -- and appealing -- to use. Taking a page out of Swype's book (and, perhaps, some of the wind out of its sails), 4.2 now lets you swipe from one letter to another, rather than using the traditional hunt-and-peck method of typing. It's incredibly accurate, too, as the keyboard rarely had a hard time understanding what we were trying to type. It's even capable of predicting which word you're attempting to type via the swipe gesture. As you start spelling your word, a box will appear next to your finger with a word prediction. If you lift your hand off the screen, that predicted word will pop right into place and you can continue with the rest of your message. The experience is now much more intuitive and enjoyable to use. Gmail also received a small facelift, now boasting pinch-to-zoom and automatic formatting so the entire message can fit on the screen. You can also swipe left or right on a message in your inbox to quickly archive it. Next, you can magnify whatever is on the screen by triple-tapping it. From there you can pan around by using two fingers or even pinch-to-zoom to adjust the amount of magnification viewed on the display.
The Daydreams feature is also new to the stock Android experience. This is the smartphone equivalent of screen savers. It displays content on your screen when the phone is docked or charging. You can view a selection of images as they float around, check out the latest feeds coming through Currents or even burn time by flicking around jelly beans. (Unfortunately you won't find any flying toasters. Yet.) It adds very little in the way of functionality, but it's a clever trick if you aren't using your handset and want to have something to peek at while it sits on the coffee table.
We briefly mentioned earlier that Miracast is now natively supported in Android 4.2, which means you'll now be able to wirelessly stream movies and music from your phone to the TV or other Miracast-certified device. Here comes the tricky part: if your TV or monitor isn't certified for the standard, you'll need to make sure you grab a Miracast adapter, which isn't super cheap -- a brief Amazon search brings up one result that costs $70. Still, if you can find one or if you already have equipment capable of picking it up, you'll at least have one more solid reason to pick up a Nexus 4.
We'll admit that we always hold Nexus devices up to the highest of expectations -- each one carries the burden of being the latest Android flagship, and they're held up by Google as an example for other Android manufacturers. That's why we were extremely disappointed in Samsung's decision last year to include a paltry 5-megapixel sensor in the Galaxy Nexus. A year later, LG made sure to stick an 8-megapixel camera into the Nexus 4. On the spec sheet, it's not the best in the market -- but remember, megapixel count never tells the full story. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, though, let's discuss the user interface in the camera app. Even if you've used Android devices in the past, the Nexus 4's UI might throw you for a loop at first. It's very basic at first glance, consisting only of a viewfinder and a sidebar with a shutter button, settings button and a toggle for camera modes. When you choose settings (which can also be selected by long-pressing the viewfinder), you'll be shown a large circle with various choices lining its outside. Just drag your finger up to each one and you'll be shown more options; you can also pinch-to-zoom up to 4x on the viewfinder. You may also be thrown by the lack of a gallery thumbnail, but don't panic -- just swipe to the left and your gallery will show up, a gesture similar to iOS or Windows Phone, which allows you to swipe to the right for the same result. Exposure and focus lock are also available by tapping and holding the screen. We wish we could say the Nexus 4's camera was decked out with all of the trimmings (think of the list of settings you get on a Galaxy S III), but the selection is pretty limited here: HDR is now natively supported, and you can also adjust white balance, select one of four scene modes and change the resolution and flash setting. Panorama mode makes a return appearance as well. Yep, that's about it. If you crave any other clever filters for your Nexus, you'll want to start checking out what options are available in the Play Store -- fortunately, there are plenty to choose from.
There is one other neat camera mode you can take advantage of with Android 4.2, and that's Photo Sphere. You could call it a type of "Panoramic Mode 2.0" -- instead of simply snapping images horizontally, you can add another dimension by going vertically as well. Then, after a minute or two of stitching, your picture is ready for viewing and it shows up with a natural sphere-like curvature; when looking at the finished product, you get a sense that you're actually looking from left to right as if you're really there -- often, you'll need to scroll around the entire image in order to see the whole thing, which adds a stunning amount of depth to our pictures of scenic vistas. And, for an even nicer touch, the phone is capable of doing the scrolling for you so you can just sit back and enjoy the scenery. There's only one concern: we noticed that the phone had some problems stitching photos together. In one shot, the right half of a window was noticeably higher (and had more reasonable exposure) than the left half, a picture frame looked as if it had been sawed in half and one side of the bookshelf had far more exposure than the other. This issue is more with the firmware itself, most likely, as we noticed similar problems on the Samsung-crafted Nexus 10. We hope to see this resolved in a future 4.2.x update. Now let's turn our attention away from the software and dig into the performance of the camera itself. As we mentioned before, the last Nexus wasn't exactly what we would call a stunner in the imagery department, so would this year's model be any different? The quick answer is yes -- and in a good way.
Google Nexus 4 sample shots
LG Optimus G (13MP) sample shots
Samsung Galaxy S III sample shots
We did some comparison tests with the Nexus 4 and the Galaxy S III, one of the best 8-megapixel mobile cameras we've had the pleasure of using. There are a few areas in which the Nexus 4 bests the GS3, and others in which it's still very good, but loses to its Samsung competitor. The Nexus appears to be slightly better in close-ups and when zooming in at full strength. We also prefer HDR on the Nexus. Colors, however, seem to be more naturally saturated on the GS3 and the sky shows a more realistic blue hue. The LED flash on the Nexus 4 is bright -- in fact, it's almost too bright. This is a rare problem to have on a smartphone, no doubt, but many of our shots taken with the flash on end up washing some of the color out. The GS3's flash, by comparison, is softer, but at least we were able to see all of the colors the way they're supposed to look. In general, low-light performance was acceptable on the Nexus, but we noticed more noise and less light than on the GS3.
Lastly, the shutter speed seems to vary, depending on if it needs to focus before the shot is taken, but it still comes in under less than two seconds most of the time. There were a few occasions in which our subjects came out blurry because they moved before we could finish taking the shot.
Overall, it may not be the best performer among its peers, but the camera is still an asset to the Nexus 4, whereas it was a detriment to the phone's predecessor. And that's exactly what we were hoping to see. While we always prefer to have the best possible performance -- we're just picky that way -- it's nice to at least see more love and attention being paid to this aspect of the Nexus lineup.
The camcorder is capable of taking 1080p movies in MPEG-4 format, and records footage at an average of 22 fps with a 9 Mbps bit rate. This resulted in noisy, slightly choppy videos that didn't really convince us that what we were watching was of true HD quality. One positive takeaway is that you're still able to take images as the same time you record video, much like you could on the Galaxy Nexus.
Performance and battery life
The performance of the Nexus 4 is a curious thing. The phone has a complete beast of a chipset running things behind the scenes: it's the same 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro (APQ8064) as we saw in the LG Optimus G, paired with an Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM. In our initial tests between the aforementioned LG flagship and the Samsung Galaxy Note II (which sports a 1.6GHz quad-core Exynos chip), the S4 Pro comes out on top. And in our real-world use tests, we were satisfied with the zippiness of the Nexus. For the most part, it was responsive and fast, multitasking was smooth and we only rarely had any lag. In side-by-side use, it does feel slightly slower than the Optimus G, but it's faster than the Galaxy Nexus by leaps and bounds. LG's Nexus was able to handle all of our needs with ease.
|Google Nexus 4||LG Optimus G||Samsung Galaxy Note II|
|Vellamo (v2.0 HTML5)||1,236||1,710||2,482|
|SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms)||1,975||1,283||1,023|
|GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt 1080p Offscreen (fps)||30||31||17|
|SunSpider: lower scores are better|
Before we dive into the benchmark results you see above, we'll get one thing out of the way: benchmarks don't always tell the full story, and we understand that they often don't replicate real-world usage. We offer a standard suite of benchmarks because we feel that it's helpful to have a quantitative measurement when comparing devices. Since the Nexus 4 and the Optimus G are so similar in their chipsets and other components, the two's metrics should be easily comparable -- or at least in the same neighborhood as each other. But as you can see in the table above, some of the numbers are the complete opposite of what we expected. In fact, some of these results (most notably, Quadrant and Vellamo) are even lower than what we typically get out of dual-core Snapdragon S4 processors. To be fair, CF-Bench and GLBench didn't veer as far away from our expectations, and were quite respectable, but in general we were left scratching our heads. (Update: we believe the skewed results are a by-product of optimizations in stock Android 4.2 that improve perceived speed and user experience but negatively affect benchmarks. We hope this concern gets resolved in a future firmware update.)
We would be tempted to shrug it off and choose not to give this concern much thought, but we also ran into the same exact problem with another Nexus 4 review unit and multiple Nexus 10 devices as well. It's also easy to blame the benchmarks for not being optimized on Android 4.2, but we've never seen these tests exhibit this same problem with other versions of the mobile OS when they were brand new. That said, our units may very well have been loaded with a non-final firmware build that could be contributing to our dilemma somewhat. We'll receive a final pre-launch update that will enable lock screen widgets, so we're keeping our fingers crossed that a few more optimizations are included. (We'll update our review if we notice any uptick in performance or test results.) Still, you're going to get a pretty nice bang for your buck, and we doubt power users will come away disappointed.
We ran Riptide through its paces and it didn't skip a beat; the graphics were fantastic and we didn't have any problem. When we played Need for Speed: Most Wanted, an even more graphically intensive game, we saw a few frame skips and stutters throughout each level we played. These issues didn't interrupt the flow of the game, but they were still noticeable. Aside from these hiccups everything worked well, as there weren't any problems in rendering all of the details, such as the reflections cast onto the car and the fine quality in the surrounding buildings and other landmarks within the game. Battery life is yet another segment of the performance that's confused us. Since the Nexus 4 uses the same 2,100mAh battery (and power-friendly Krait chip) as the Optimus G, we expected to record essentially the same runtime. Much to our surprise, however, it was considerably worse in both our tests and our real-life use. Our standard video rundown test, which consists of looping a movie at 50 percent brightness with WiFi on (but not connected) and normal pull notifications for email and social media, lasted for five hours and 18 minutes before the battery died. Our anecdotal tests -- in which we do a moderate amount of email, social media, messaging, web surfing and take a few pictures and make some phone calls -- almost got us a full day of use, but your overall result will definitely depend on how bright you set that display. Regardless, the experience we had with both of our review units is still a stark contrast to the Optimus G, which lasted over eight hours in the video rundown test and 20 hours with moderate use.
(Update: we received a fresh Nexus 4 review unit from Google and found better luck with battery life. After using it for several days in multiple situations, we managed to see an average of 13 hours with moderate usage. Higher doses of steady use yielded around 9-10 hours of life, while less extensive usage easily got us over 15 hours.) We loved making calls on the Nexus, as our friends came through loud and clear. It was static-free and neither side of the conversation had any difficulty hearing each other. It's at this point that the plot continues to thicken. While we were satisfied with how loud and crisp our calls were, the external speaker was a completely different story. With both voice calls and music playback, it was substantially softer than on most comparable phones we've tested recently, and on several occasions we found ourselves double-checking the settings to make sure we had it as loud as it could possibly go. Additionally, the external speaker grille is flush with the phone's back, which causes the sound to be extraordinarily muffled when you rest the phone on a flat surface with the display facing up. We also tested the Nexus 4 with Klipsch Image S4A in-ear reference headphones and found the volume to be adequate, but it's definitely not the loudest we've heard. On the flip side, we didn't have any concerns with its clarity or being able to hear the highs, mids and lows. Speaking of multimedia, we should also mention that the display and chipset contributed to a flawless movie-watching experience.
Pricing and availability
The LG-made Nexus 4 will be available as an unlocked device in the Play Store beginning November 13, and it will come in two flavors: 8GB for $299 and 16GB for $349. We're not looking to sound like Crazy Eddie when we say this, but it's hard to dispute. This is an incredible price for a brand new quad-core HD device, especially when the least expensive phone on the market with similar specs will be the Huawei Ascend D1 Quad XL at $450 (and that's not even available in most major markets). It'll be on sale in the US, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Spain and Australia to start off with, but because it's penta-band, you'll easily be able to stick in a micro-SIM card from virtually any GSM carrier in the world and roam at your leisure. Stateside Nexus fans will have one other option: buy the 16GB model for $199 on T-Mobile with a two-year contract, starting November 14th. (It's also offered at the same price on the company's Value Plan.) We have a difficult time recommending this particular route -- you save $150 up front, but you're locked into a plan for two years and may likely pay more on a monthly basis as a result. There's no other differentiation between the two: no branding, no bloatware or special apps. WiFi calling isn't supported, and both versions are confirmed to include DC-HSPA+ 42Mbps speeds.
The idea that a Nexus quad-core smartphone is hitting the market with a starting price one dollar shy of $300 is simply stunning. Even more so is that it's available without any contract or carrier locks, which means you can use it virtually anywhere in the world. Adding yet another layer of amazement is the fact that this particular device will always be among the first (if not the first) to get the latest version of Android for the foreseeable future. What once was a smartphone series designed for developers has been decked out with top-notch features and priced so attractively that consumers will take notice of it; there's nothing comparable that comes close to it in that price range. This is a smartphone that we'd normally expect to be much more expensive unlocked, but Google set a precedent by lowering the cost of the Galaxy Nexus, keeping the Nexus 7 at $200 and is now continuing the trend with the Nexus 4. The price of freedom has never been more reasonable. Sure, the Nexus 4 is not without its hiccups, but none of its predecessors have been perfect, either. And given the boost in real-world performance, the better camera and various other new features, it's even more tempting than all those previous devices whose shoes it's trying to fill. In a case like this... you have our permission not to resist.
(This review was updated on November 26th to reflect new insight on battery life and benchmarks.)
Myriam Joire contributed to this report.
- Beautiful and vibrant 720p display
- Very affordable price
- Pentaband HSPA+
- Android 4.2 delivers new features
- Solid performance
- Doesn't support LTE
It may not be the best phone on the planet, but its high-end specs, elegant build and incredibly affordable price make it worth throwing your money at.