Comparing a £529-plus super-smartphone such as the iPhone 5 with an Android handset costing less than half its price might sound a little like comparing apples with oranges. In fact, a key selling point of the Google Nexus 4 is its incredible value: this is a high-end smartphone with a mid-range price tag. It's also the only smartphone available with Google's latest Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system, while an iPhone is your only option if you want to get your hands on Apple iOS 6.
Truth is, whether you choose the Google Nexus 4 or Apple iPhone 5 will likely come down not to your bank balance, but whether you fall into Camp Android or Camp Apple. Keep a clear mind, though and, spec for spec, which smartphone should you buy? Here, we pit Google's Nexus 4 against Apple's iPhone 5 to find out which is the best smartphone.
You can also read our standalone Apple iPhone 5 and Google Nexus 4 expert reviews, or scroll down to view video reviews of these high-end smartphones. Also see: Group test: what's the best smartphone? and Group test: what's the best Android phone?
Google Nexus 4 vs Apple iPhone 5: Price
Let's start with that glaring difference between the iPhone 5 and Nexus 4, then: price. Apple's iPhone 5, available in either black or white, starts at £529 with 16GB of storage, or you can buy a 32GB model for £599 or 64GB for £699. Importantly, you can actually buy this device, too: the Nexus 4 has spent much of its first two months onsale at Google Play sold out. Indeed, it's still sold out. But that doesn't make Apple's handset the winner in this category - Google's Nexus 4 offers unbeatable value.
Like all its Nexus devices, Google's smartphone is said to be subsidised to encourage uptake of the Android platform and content sales at Google Play. Regardless of the reason behind its low price, the Nexus 4 makes available to all users high-end smartphone performance. The 8GB version costs £290 less than the cheapest iPhone 5, at £239, and the 16GB Nexus 4 is still £250 cheaper than the equivalent iPhone 5, at £279.
Meanwhile, if you've got your heart set on an iPhone, but aren't willing to pay such a high premium, Apple sells its old iPhone 4 from £319, and iPhone 4S from £449. Yep, the Nexus 4 is still the cheapest of the bunch. If you would rather buy a smartphone and sign up to a SIM-only contract than pay over the odds on a monthly basis, it's certainly got the edge.
Video: Nexus 4 vs iPhone 5 smartphone comparison review
Google Nexus 4 vs Apple iPhone 5: Dimensions
Don't be fooled with the '4' and '5' in the Nexus and iPhone product names: Google's Nexus 4 is the larger smartphone here, whichever way you look at it. That said, despite packing a significantly larger 4.7in screen than the iPhone 5's 4in panel, the Nexus 4 is only a centimetre taller than Apple's handset, at 133.9mm versus 123.8mm. It's exactly the same amount wider, too, at 68.7mm versus 58.6mm. And it's fatter, at 9.1mm versus the iPhone 5's ultra-thin 7.6mm. Unsurprisingly, then, you're more likely to feel the Nexus 4 in your pocket, with it weighing in at 139g, while the iPhone 5 could more easily slip away unnoticed, at 112g. Apple's smartphone is almost too light.
Google Nexus 4 vs Apple iPhone 5: Build
Apple's products are renowned for their flawless build quality, and one reason iFans have remained so loyal to the brand. The Nexus 4, on the other hand, is cheap - but in its asking price only. Google's smartphone looks and feels great in the hand, both sturdy and attractive - it has a better build than any Android smartphone we've seen, with a screen that sits flush to the bezel. It's a slippery character, mind, although a rubbery finish to the circumference usefully adds grip. As for the iPhone 5, its build quality has been described as jewel-like for good reason. It truly is a stunner.
Google Nexus 4 video review
Google Nexus 4 vs Apple iPhone 5: Screen
The Google Nexus 4 might have the larger, higher-resolution display here, thrusting its 4.7in (1280x768-pixel) panel in the face of Apple's smaller 4in (1136x640-pixel) screen, but that size difference means the iPhone 5 actually packs more pixels per inch than the Nexus 4. There's not a lot in it, with just 6ppi separating the 320ppi Nexus 4 and 326ppi iPhone 5, but a difference there is.
Both panels are of the in-plane switching (IPS) variety. The Nexus 4's screen is stunning, with excellent contrast, rich colours, fantastic viewing angles and good detail. In our tests we found it performed particularly well, and better than most when viewed in direct sunlight. Meanwhile, the iPhone 5's panel is slightly taller, and with even richer - but still natural-looking - colour saturation, than the gorgeous pixel-hiding 'Retina' display we admired in the iPhone 4S. Apple lists an 800:1 contrast ratio and 500cd/m2 brightness rating. The iPhone 5 gets our thumbs-up here, but the Nexus 4 is a close contender.
Google Nexus 4 vs Apple iPhone 5: Processor & performance
Google's Nexus 4 runs a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, clocked at 1.5GHz, which is paired with 2GB of RAM. The iPhone 5, by comparison, has a 1.3GHz Apple A6 chip with 1GB of RAM. You would expect the Nexus 4 to have the lead in performance, right?
Well, of course, you are correct - but the difference isn't as great as you might expect, and both Nexus 4 and iPhone 5 felt incredibly snappy in our subjective tests.
We use three benchmarks to measure smartphone speed: Geekbench, GLBenchmark and SunSpider, for overall, graphics and web-browsing performance respectively.
In Geekbench the iPhone 5 managed 1,650 points, while the Nexus 4 delivered the best performance we've seen from a smartphone, with 2,009 points.
In GLBenchmark we saw identical gaming framerates from the Nexus 4 and iPhone 5, with both handsets capable of 39fps.
Google Nexus 4 vs Apple iPhone 5: Storage
It's important to choose the storage capacity that best fits your needs when you buy either the Nexus 4 or iPhone 5, since neither have removable memory slots for expansion. If your needs are great, and your pockets deep, the iPhone has up to 64GB of storage. Meanwhile, the Nexus 4 maxes out at 16GB.
There are ways around storage limits, of course. Both Android and iOS platforms actively push the cloud as an everyday medium for storage and streaming - Apple with its iTunes and iCloud, and Google with its Play Movies & TV, Books, Magazines, Music and more. But the cloud is accessible only while you're within range of a Wi-Fi hotspot or the constraints of your cellular download limit. At other times, you could consider carrying a Wi-Fi-enabled portable hard drive, such as the Kingston Wi-Drive.
Streaming is made all the more accessible in the iPhone 5 with 4G LTE connectivity in the UK. However, early 4G tariffs are expensive, and available in select cities only.
Video: iPhone 5 review
Google Nexus 4 vs Apple iPhone 5: Cameras
The two smartphones are evenly matched in the camera department, both equipped with an 8Mp snapper and LED flash, also capable of full-HD (1080p) video recording at 30fps. The Nexus' front-facing camera supports a slightly higher 1.3Mp resolution than the iPhone's 1.2Mp 'FaceTime' equivalent for video chat, although the iPhone also boasts Wideband audio in this regard (note that both caller and callee must have compatible handsets). You'll find features such as HDR and panoramic modes in each handset.
Google Nexus 4 vs Apple iPhone 5: Connectivity
Dual-band wireless and Bluetooth 4.0 are offered by both Google and Apple phones, while the Nexus 4 also supports NFC and the iPhone 5 4G LTE (where available). A SlimPort HDMI adaptor lets you hook up the Nexus 4 to an external display, and there's also support for wireless charging.
Perhaps the more important difference is the Nexus 4's offering of the universal Micro-USB port for charging and data transfer, whereas the iPhone 5 has a proprietary Lightning dock. The latter differs from the 30-pin port found on previous iPhones and iDevices, meaning existing accessories will be accessible only with an adaptor cable (not supplied).
One other small difference in connectivity terms is the iPhone 5's use of a Nano-SIM in place of the Micro-SIM now seen in most smartphones, including the Nexus 4. You'll need to contact your mobile operator to request such a SIM - things are getting a little too small here to risk it with a pair of scissors or craft knife.
Google Nexus 4 vs Apple iPhone 5: Software
With either smartphone, you will get the latest version of iOS or Android preinstalled - not always a given for Android handsets. You'll also be the first to get an upgrade when future versions are released. We won't go into great detail over the main differences between Apple iOS 6.1 and Android Jelly Bean 4.2 here, suffice to say that with Jelly Bean Google finally has a true rival to iOS. You can read more about each OS in our Apple iOS 6 and Android Jelly Bean reviews.
Thousands of apps are available on either platform but, while this situation is changing as Android increases in popularity, many still become available for iOS long before they make their way to Google Play. Although you'll be charged for many of the apps in Apple's App Store that are free in Google Play, with iOS you get some additional reassurances in terms of security.
By default, Android won't let you install apps from anywhere other than Google Play, although changing this is simply a matter of disabling an option in the Settings menu; with iOS, you can't install apps found elsewhere, period. And while all the apps found in Apple's App Store are rigorously screened, with developers having to jump through several hoops to get their wares instore, with Android the process is a lot easier. This means rogue and malicious apps more easily find their way into Google Play - not that you should be unnecessarily alarmed, since mobile malware is still largely unheard of, but it will pay to keep your wits about you. In the end, whether you prioritise freedom or security is your choice.
Google Nexus 4 vs Apple iPhone 5: Battery
Neither smartphone has a removable battery, so swapping in a spare when you've run out of juice on the road isn't an option. In our informal tests we found both handsets would stretch to a couple of days with normal use.
Google Nexus 4 vs Apple iPhone 5: which is the best smartphone?
We still haven't got over the incredible value offered by the Nexus 4; anyone who goes by that old adage that if you count the pennies the pounds will look after themselves will surely plump for Google's handset. But price isn't the number-one criteria for many buyers, particularly those picking a smartphone on an 18- or 24-month contract.
Both handsets possess exceptional build quality, and there's little difference in their sizing. The iPhone 5 has the better (but smaller) screen, faster web-browsing (but slower overall) performance, more useful available storage capacities, support for 4G LTE connectivity as and when it becomes available in your area, and wins in the apps department, too. But the Nexus 4 is staggeringly fast, supports universal Micro-USB for charging and data transfer, plus it runs a more 'open' OS.
NEXT PAGE: our original comparison of the Nexus 4 and iPhone 5, from December 2012, by Chris Martin >>