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Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Nexus 4 smartphone comparison review: what's the best Android?

Around £500 inc VAT

Manufacturer: Samsung

We compare the Nexus 4 with the Samsung Galaxy S4: which is the best Android phone?

Galaxy S4 vs Nexus 4

The Nexus 4 was our phone of last year. A game-changing super cheap but premium smartphone that offered great features, build and performance at a stunning price. Here we pit the Nexus 4 against Samsung's flagship Galaxy S4. The Galaxy S4 is a brilliant phone - although it's not without flaws. Here we compare the Nexus 4 and Samsung Galaxy S4, feature by feature. The Samsung often comes out on top, but remember that the Nexus 4 is significantly cheaper to buy outright. In fact, it remains an absolute steal at just £239, where the Galaxy S4 is a not unreasonable £450-£500. See also: Group test: What's the best smartphone?

Nexus 4 vs Galaxy S4: Design and build

The Samsung Galaxy S4 looks like a cross between the Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy Note 2. It comes in black and white, for now, and is a stylish handset.

We like the fact that Samsung has managed to put a larger screen into a slightly smaller handset (smaller than the S3, that is). That's pretty clever. This means the Galaxy S4 doesn't feel unwieldy in the hand, being thin and light at 7.9mm and 130g.

In a similar vein the Nexus 4 looks just like the previous Nexus smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The handset is a similar size and the only thing interrupting the glossy black finish is the front-facing camera. Like the Galaxy S4 the Nexus 4 is thin and light at 9.1mm and 139g - but it's not quite as thin nor as light as the phone with the bigger screen. That's a big win for the Galaxy S4.

Like the Galaxy S4, however, the Nexus 4 feels great in the hand. It's a premium smartphone in all but price. You'll find a silver bezel around the Nexus 4's screen. Flip over the Nexus 4 and there's a glossy finish flat back with a finish that's a bit different to the usual.

This compares well with the Galaxy S4, were we have a concern over the plasticky feeling of the handset's back. Also, the front of the handset is interrupted by the front facing camera and three sensors, and the touch sensitive buttons below the screen which sit either side of the physical button are a) difficulty to reach and b) get pressed too easily due their close proximity to the edge of the device – namely the back button if you're right handed.

None of these are big issues, but they do favour the Nexus 4. That phone's black rear has a matrix of tiny silver dots, each reflecting light at different angles. Between the front and back of the phone is a frame with a grippy rubbery finish.

There's no removable cover, however, so the battery is not accessible and the microSIM card tray is located on the side. This is one of the reasons the Nexus 4 feels so good in the hand, but it does mean the Galaxy S4 wins here: because you can remove the S4's 2,600mAh battery.

But the Nexus 4 is the most well-built Android smartphone we've seen. 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. On the flip side the S4's build is such that you would feel comfortable sticking it in your bag with your keys and other detritus. After all, when the finish is plasticky to start with there's not much can go wrong. See also: Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Sony Xperia Z review.

Nexus 4 vs Galaxy S4: Hardware and performance

Galaxy S4We can find little fault with the Galaxy S4's hardware: the UK model comes with a 1.9GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor instead of the Exynos octa-core chip released elsewhere, but the Galaxy S4 is no slouch.

With 2GB of RAM the Galaxy S4 blasted through our benchmarks. It's the new record holder in both Geekbench 2 and GLBenchmark with results of 3227 and 41fps. That makes it the fastest phone we've ever tested.

The Galaxy S4 couldn't quite manage a treble win but still gave us an impressive time of 1092ms in the SunSpider test.

The Nexus 4 competes with, but can't best the Galaxy S4. It packs a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro clocked at a healthy 1.5GHz. And there's 2GB of RAM, too.

Back when we first tested it the Nexus 4 set a new record in the GeekBench 2 test with an average of 2009 - which makes you see just how fast is the Galaxy S4. The Nexus 4 managed a similar frame rate of 39fps in GLBenchmark.

In the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark the Nexus 4 couldn't beat the S4 with a score of 1906ms - almost twice as slow. We didn't find web browsing felt slow at all, however.

Nexus 4The Nexus 4 has a 4.7in, 768 x 1280 display which means a pixel density of 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.

The 5in Full HD screen on the Galaxy S4 is really impressive. The SuperAMOLED technology means colours are vibrant but not over the top like previous models. Its pixel density is 441ppi so in this sense the S4 is significantly better than the Nexus 4, although both screens are great.

Storage has to be the biggest downfall of the Nexus 4. Google offers only 8- and 16GB models with no microSD card slot. Our 16GB sample had around 13GB free after the OS was installed.

On the Galaxy S4 you can choose from 16GB, 32GB and 64GB of storage, plus there's a microSD card slot for expansion. So that's a win for the Galaxy S4.

However, as others have found, the device comes with a large chunk of the storage space already used up. Our 16GB model had just over 8GB of free storage which is much less than we are accustomed to finding. The microSD card helps but you can't install apps on that. The S4 does offer better storage options, however.

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 adaptor.

The Nexus 4 offers no support for 4G mobile data in the UK.

As you would expect from a wallet-emptying flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S4 is packed with connectivity – Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC and support for 4G LTE networks. The Galaxy S4 also has two additional sensors than its predecessor, infrared and a barometer. It's a shame the device doesn't have built-in wireless charging, a feature which we would like to see more of in high-end smartphones. So the Galaxy S4 is the better connected phone. See also: Group test: what's the best Android phone?

Nexus 4 vs Galaxy S4: Cameras

The Nexus 4 is equipped with an 8Mp rear facing camera which has an LED flash. Colours look natural and detail is good. The camera app is speedy and is easy to use. New features include an HDR mode and Photo Sphere. 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.

The Galaxy S4 has a 13Mp rear facing camera and a 1.9Mp front facing camera and both images and video footage from each was very impressive with excellent levels of details, good exposure and colour saturation on the default 9.6Mp (16:9) setting.

The Galaxy S4 camera app comes with a number of different modes beyond the likes of burst mode. The main talked about mode is Dual Shot which lets you take a photo with both cameras at once meaning the user is also in the photo, albeit in a small thumbnail. We find this a bit of a gimmick but other modes seem genuinely good.

Sound and Shot takes photo and also records some audio to go with it while Drama mode takes multiple photos and combines them into one – great for capturing moving objects. There are other more regular modes like panorama, night and HDR. In general they work well, but the more complicated ones take a bit of practice before you get the desired results. See also: Samsung Galaxy S4 vs BlackBerry Z10 comparison review

Nexus 4 vs Galaxy S4: Software

The Nexus 4 comes with the latest Android version: 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.

The Galaxy S4 has Jelly Bean plus its own software enhancements. Whether these make things better or simply clog up your smartphone with unwanted bloat will be a question only you can answer.

These extra features include Air View and Air Gesture. The former lets you can preview information by hovering a finger above the screen while the latter means you can scroll through content or answer the phone with a wave of your hand. Smart Scroll and Smart Pause are two new features which utilise the front-facing camera. They allow you to scroll up and down pages and pause video content without touching the screen. One of our favourite features is Multi window. This allows you to use two apps side by side in a similar way to Snap Views in Windows 8. Two key apps which Samsung pre-loads onto the Galaxy S4 are S Translator and S Health. The S Translator helps you communicate either by text or speech recognition with someone who doesn't speak your language. For those into fitness gadgets, the Galaxy S4 is one in itself. With its multiple sensors and S Health app you can keep track of your steps, calories used and other information.

Overall it's a mixed bag when it comes to these software features. Many seem to be there for the sake of it, to have bragging rights but no real day-to-day benefit to the user. However, some are really handy.

So the choice here is between a clean Android install, or the extra storage space required for Samsung's add-ons. (The Google Galaxy S4 comes with just Android, see also: Galaxy S4 vs Google Galaxy S4.)

Nexus 4 vs Galaxy S4: Battery life

The Nexus 4 has a 7.8Wh battery. 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.

We found the whopping 9.8Wh (2600mAh) battery hasn't lasted quite as well as we thought - perhaps because of the extra power the S4 uses. Performance is about on a par with the Nexus 4. During the space of a working day we lost 65 percent of the juice, albeit with a fairly heavy usage pattern.

When not being used so heavily, the Galaxy S4 holds it charge well when in standby so lighter users can expect a couple days use from the phone. We got through 24 hours and lost just over half of the battery, the screen sucked up most of the power. See also: Galaxy S4 vs iPhone 5 review.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Expert Verdict »
Samsung Galaxy S4 Scores 8.7 out of 10 based on 2070 reviews
Display: 5 inch Full HD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080) display, 441 ppi
Processor: 1.9GHz quad-core
OS: Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean)
Camera: Main(Rear): 13 Mega pixel Auto Focus camera with Flash & Zero Shutter Lag, BIS
Sub (Front): 2 Mega pixel camera, Full HD recording @30fps with Zero Shutter Lag, BIS
Video: Codec: MPEG4, H.264, H.263, DivX, DivX3.11, VC-1, VP8, WMV7/8, Sorenson Spark, HEVC
Recording & Playback: Full HD (1080p)
Audio: Codec: MP3, AMR-NB/WB, AAC/AAC?/eAAC?, WMA, OGG, FLAC, AC-3, apt-X
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (HT80), GPS / GLONASS, NFC, Bluetooth® 4.0 (LE), IR LED (Remote Control), MHL 2.0
Sensor: Accelerometer, RGB light, Geomagnetic, Proximity, Gyro, Barometer Temperature & Humidity, Gesture
Memory: 16/ 32/ 64 GB User memory ? microSD slot (up to 64GB), 2GB RAM
Dimension: 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9 mm, 130g
Battery: 2,600 mAh

The Nexus 4 is a great phone, but the Samsung Galaxy S4 is better. Whether is is better enough to cost £200 more is the critical point. The Nexus 4 remains a great bargain.

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