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Hands-on with the Nexus 4

We get our hands-on Google's Nexus 4 smartphone

You can't order Google's new Nexus 4 until next week, but we've managed to get some hands-on time with the company's latest flagship Android smartphone. We sat down with hardware manufacturer LG this morning for a brief look at the Nexus 4 and some insights into how it came about. Here's our initial thoughts and impressions.

What we like

The first thing you'll notice about the Nexus 4 is how it feels in your hand. It's weighty without being too heavy. It's very solid. It also has impressive ergonomics. The phone itself is only slightly smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S III, but it feels more comfortable to hold single-handedly. The bezel around the screen is thin, so Google has maximised the screen without compromising on sheer size. The power/lock key and volume buttons are well positioned and comfortable to access.

More impressive than just the design, however, is the fact that the Nexus 4 feels much more expensive than its hugely competitive $349 entry level price tag suggests. This phone offers a huge amount of bang for your buck.

The Nexus 4's hardware is essentially based on the LG Optimus G, which will be released in Australia early next year. There are a few differences between these two models but one interesting point to note is that the Nexus 4 was actually designed solely by Google. LG obviously manufactures the phone and supplies the internals, but Google designed the phone, which is why it has a similar shape to the Galaxy Nexus.

The Nexus 4 was designed by Google, with LG obviously manufacturing the handset phone and supplying the internals.

"Google designed it actually, so basically Google say to the manufacturer 'this is what we want', so that's why it is very similar to the Galaxy Nexus and so forth," explained LG Australia's mobile product manager, Josh Corbin. "The basic design and shape would have been them [Google] but it's obviously refined based on our teams working together and this is what we've come up with."

One of Google's distinctive touches is the glass back of the Nexus 4, which has a holographic like pattern when viewed in certain light. The laser etched pattern effect is actually rather subtle and can only be seen at all certain angles, depending on the ambient light. If you were worried that this effect might be over the top, we can assure you it's nicely implemented. It appears black most of the time and when the pattern does appear it certainly isn't distasteful.

LG's senior mobile marketing manager, Brad Reed, explained that LG already had the technology to deliver the etched graphics for the back but the actual pattern would have been Google's design.

"We would have already had the technology to develop the graphics for the back and Google would have then said 'OK, well we want it tweaked a bit so the products are not identical,' he said. "The actual pattern that is etched into there would have been they're [Google's] input."

Another impressive point to note about the Nexus 4 is its time to market. LG told us that the project took six months to come to fruition, which is a very short period of time compared to most other smartphones on the market.

One of Google's distinctive touches is the glass back of the Nexus 4, which has a holographic, etched pattern.

"The Nexus 4 has been pulled together in a very short time frame, it's been a six month project, explained Reed. That's the R&D team working dedicated day and night to bring that to market, which is actually a very short period of time to bring any handset model to market."

What we don't like

The Nexus 4 uses a true HD IPS display that promises better battery efficiency and better whites than competing super AMOLED screens. We did notice, however, that when we directly compared the Nexus 4 with a Galaxy S III, the latter appeared to offer more vibrant colours. The display itself was just as bright and whites don't have the same blue tinge that's common on the Galaxy S III, but at full brightness the Nexus 4's colours didn't pop out at us as much as we expected. To users with a keen eye, however, the more natural colour reproduction will probably be a positive.

The other negatives have been well documented. The Nexus 4 is sold in 8GB and 16GB variants but there's no microSD card to expand that memory. LG did make mention of Google's cloud services like Drive, but many users still want more storage space on the actual phone itself.

The other big omission is a lack of 4G connectivity. The Nexus 4 will work on all of Australia's 3G networks but no LTE means data speeds will be slower than those offered by competing devices like the iPhone 5, the Galaxy S III 4G, the Motorola RAZR HD and the HTC One XL. If you live or work in an area where you're not serviced by Telstra or Optus 4G coverage then you won't be too fussed, but those who are desperate for the fastest mobile data connection will be left disappointed.

We expect to receive a review unit of the Google Nexus 4 in the near future, so we'll be able to bring you a more detailed look and a full review then. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the Nexus 4, let us know in the comments below!


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