Google Nexus 4 review

Google LG Nexus 4 smartphone

After previously partnering with HTC and Samsung for its smartphones, Google has turned to LG for the Nexus 4. There's plenty of competition in the smartphone market from Android handsets, not to mention the iPhone so what has the Nexus 4 got to stand out from the crowd? Find out in our Google Nexus 4 review. Check out our Google Nexus 10 review.

Google Nexus 4: Design

From the front, the Nexus 4 looks extremely similar to the previous Nexus smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The handset is pretty much exactly the same size and the only thing obviously interrupting the glossy black finish is the front facing camera. For a smartphone this size, the Nexus 4 is suitable thin and light at 9.1mm and 139g. See also: Google LG Nexus 4 vs Apple iPhone 5 comparison review.

The Nexus 4 feels great in the hand, a true premium smartphone. There's a silver bezel around the screen and flip the phone over and you'll find a unique surprise. Instead of a flimsy plastic cover which the Galaxy Nexus had, there's a glossy finish flat back with a finish that's a bit different to the usual.Google Nexus 4 rear

Read: Google Nexus 7 review.

The black rear has a matrix of tiny silver dots, each reflect light at different angles. Keep the Nexus 4 still and you'll just see certain dots but it comes to life as soon as you move it. On the one hand looking like some kind of holographic screen and on the other looking like it's been painted with glitzy nail polish. Opinions around the PC Advisor office on the finish are very split. Group test: what's the best Android phone?

We were initially a bit worried about the glossy finish of the Nexus 4, making it quite a slippery handset. However, between the front and back of the phone is a frame with a grippy rubbery finish. This doesn't help when you, for example, put the Nexus 4 on the arm of a fabric sofa though – it will slide off unless you balance it perfectly. Group test: what's the best smartphone?

Google Nexus 4: Build quality

Since there's no removable cover the battery is not accessible and the microSIM card tray is located on the side like the iPhone 5. The phone feels much more sturdy and well-built with this method. It's one of the reasons the Nexus 4 feels so good in the hand.

Build quality is nothing short of exceptional. The Nexus 4 is the easily the most well-built Android smartphone we've seen in a long time. The screen sits neatly flush to the bezel, the microSIM card tray slots in perfectly with no gaps and the buttons have a smooth action. It's all these little things that add up to make the Nexus 4 desirable. Our review sample came from O2.

It's already quite astonishing, then, that a phone with a desirable design and excellent build-quality costs just £239 SIM-free. And we haven't even got started on the hardware yet. It makes sense with the Nexus 7, but we don't know exactly why Google has chosen to sell a smartphone this cheap, but then again who cares?

Google Nexus 4: Price

We don't normally give price its own section within a review but the Nexus 4 deserves it. At £239 for 8GB and £279 for 16GB, it's no wonder the Nexus 4 sold out on the Google Play Store within an hour of going on sale.

Getting a phone free on a contract is nice and normally necessary to get your hands on a top-flight smartphone without your bank balance taking a serious hit. The Nexus 4 is a game changer in the sense that it allows consumers to get a high-end smartphone for an affordable price minus the contrast of a lengthy contract. Therefore, you can select a SIM-only deal to suit your needs which can be changed almost whenever you like.

Google Nexus 4: Hardware

At a distinctly mid-range price it would be understandable if the Nexus 4 had a very mid-range set of hardware. However, this smartphone quite simply offers a high-end specification for the price of a phone which would normally cost half as much.

Inside the Nexus 4 is a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro, a quad-core chip clocked at a healthy 1.5GHz. Like a lot of the latest high-end smartphones, there's 2GB of RAM. This is impressive on paper and in our benchmarks.

The Nexus 4 set a new record in the GeekBench 2 test. It is the first smartphone to score over 2,000 points with an average of 2009. This beats the iPhone 5, Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2 which scored 1650, 1659 and 1958.

In the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark the Nexus 4 couldn't beat the aforementioned rivals with a score of 1906ms. However, we didn't find web browsing felt slow at all. In a side-by-side test with the iPhone 5, the Nexus 4 loaded some sites quicker and some sites slightly slower.

On the graphics side of things the Nexus 4 managed an iPhone 5 matching frame rate of 39fps in GLBenchmark – effectively the peak of this test.

Google Nexus 4 NFC WirelessGoogle has stuck with the same screen size as the Galaxy Nexus, 4.7in although the Galaxy was technically 4.65in. The resolution has gone up few pixels to 768 x 1280, almost matching the iPhone 5 for pixel density at 318ppi.

The screen looks stunning with excellent contrast, rich colours and detail.  We found it performed particularly well and better than most when outdoors in sunlight. Viewing angles are incredible too, thanks to the in-plane switching (IPS) panel.

Storage has to be the biggest downfall of the Nexus 4. Google only offers 8GB and 16GB models with no microSD card slot. You also need to bear in mind that not all of this capacity will be available since the operating system and pre-loaded apps inevitably require a chunk of it. Our 16GB sample had around 13GB free.

However, internal storage is becoming less of a problem these days. For example music fans can access their entire collections via the cloud with services like Amazon Cloud Player and now, Google Play Music. The obvious drawback is the need for a good data connection so if you require more storage than 16GB then you'll need to look elsewhere.

The Nexus 4 is jammed with connectivity including dual-band Wi-Fi (with support for Wi-Fi Direct), Bluetooth 4.0, an NFC (near-field communications) chip and wireless charging. You can also connect the handset to an external display a SlimPort HDMI adapter.

There's no support for 4G mobile data in the UK, but with 4G barley off the ground and currently overpriced this isn't too much of a big deal. We wouldn't be surprised if Google released a 4G version of the Nexus 4 next year.

NEXT PAGE: the Nexus 4's cameras, software and battery life >>

We continue our Nexus 4 review with a look at the cameras, the software and how the battery life shapes up.

Google Nexus 4: Cameras

Buying a Nexus smartphone has always meant having a middle of the road camera, until now. The Nexus 4 is primarily equipped with an 8Mp rear facing camera which has an LED flash – now a typical setup for a premium smartphone.

Colours look much more natural than the Galaxy Nexus' camera and the extra resolution makes a big difference in terms of detail.

Android 4.2 Jelly Bean Photo Sphere

The camera app is speedy and is easy to use. New features include an HDR mode and Photo Sphere. The latter enables you to take 360 degree panoramic photos of whatever is around you. The regular panoramic feature remains.

A 1.3Mp front facing webcam provides a perfectly decent image for video calls with the usual graining on flat white objects like walls and ceilings.

Google Nexus 4: Software

An advantage of getting a Nexus smartphone is you're guaranteed to get the latest version of Android. Then when a new version is available you'll be among, if not the first to receive an upgrade.

The Nexus 4 comes with the latest version of Jelly Bean, 4.2. The interface is just as slick as the previous version noticeable improvements include apps opening a little faster. Since 4.1 Jelly Bean hasn't been around for long not a great deal has changed but there are a few notable additions to the operating system. See also: Android 4.1 Jelly Bean review.

Android 4.2 Jelly Bean Quick Settings

Firstly, there's a quick settings section to the notifications bar. This gives you access to things like brightness, Bluetooth, aeroplane mode and more. Many vendors have included these settings here for a while in their interface overlays. A quicker way of getting to many of these settings is to use the 'power control' widget.

Talking of widgets, you can now place them on the lockscreen to give you quicker access to key information such as messages, emails and calendar. By default you can access the camera app by swiping left. While this is a nice idea, if you use a security PIN or lock pattern anyone who picks up your phone can see the widgets you've selected. If you don't bother with any security measures to get into your phone then you may as well just put these widgets on the homescreen.

There are more cards on offer in Google Now such as package tracking and movie information while a new Daydream mode can display content like photos when the Nexus 4 is docked or charging. Other small changes include a new clock interface and an extra column of apps in the app menu.

However, the best improvement to Android is the keyboard. There's really no major need to install a third party keyboard any longer. The standard Android keyboard now has gesture typing so you can key a word in by simply dragging one finger around the keyboard to the letters of the word with one touch.

Google Nexus 4: Battery life

The Galaxy Nexus was a disappointment on the battery front, struggling to last a full day with moderate use. The Nexus 4 has a larger 7.8Wh battery, the same capacity as the Galaxy S3. We comfortably got through a day using the Nexus 4 with plenty of battery life left over for the next day.

Of course any long periods of intensive use like gaming or video watching with drain the battery much quicker. Lighter users should get through a couple of days with the Nexus 4. Your experience will depend on your personal usage.

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Google Nexus 4: Specs

  • SCREEN: 4.7" diagonal,768 x 1280 pixel resolution (320 ppi),WXGA IPS,Corning(R) Gorilla(R) Glass 2,MEMORY:16 GB internal storage (actual formatted capacity will be less),2 GB RAM
  • OS: Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean)
  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon(TM) S4 Pro
  • CAMERAS: 8 MP (main),1.3 MP (front)
  • BATTERY: 2,100 mAh Lithium polymer,CONNECTIVITY: Micro USB,SlimPort HDMI,3.5mm headphone jack
  • WIRELESS: Wireless charging,WiFi 802.11 b/g/n,NFC (Android Beam),Bluetooth
  • SENSORS: Microphone,Accelerometer,Compass,Ambient light,Gyroscope,Barometer,GPS
  • NETWORK: Unlocked GSM/UMTS/HSPA+,GSM/EDGE/GPRS (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz),3G (850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100 MHz),HSPA+ 21
  • SIZE: 133.9 x 68.7 x 9.1 mm
  • WEIGHT: 139g
  • SCREEN: 4.7" diagonal,768 x 1280 pixel resolution (320 ppi),WXGA IPS,Corning(R) Gorilla(R) Glass 2,MEMORY:16 GB internal storage (actual formatted capacity will be less),2 GB RAM
  • OS: Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean)
  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon(TM) S4 Pro
  • CAMERAS: 8 MP (main),1.3 MP (front)
  • BATTERY: 2,100 mAh Lithium polymer,CONNECTIVITY: Micro USB,SlimPort HDMI,3.5mm headphone jack
  • WIRELESS: Wireless charging,WiFi 802.11 b/g/n,NFC (Android Beam),Bluetooth
  • SENSORS: Microphone,Accelerometer,Compass,Ambient light,Gyroscope,Barometer,GPS
  • NETWORK: Unlocked GSM/UMTS/HSPA+,GSM/EDGE/GPRS (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz),3G (850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100 MHz),HSPA+ 21
  • SIZE: 133.9 x 68.7 x 9.1 mm
  • WEIGHT: 139g

OUR VERDICT

As long as the storage capacities suffice, the Nexus 4 is the definition of a bargain. You quite simply get the performance and features of a high-end smartphone for half the price you would expect to pay. Unless you're set on an iPhone, the Nexus 4 is an unbeatable deal.

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