Google Nexus 4 Review: An Android Revelation

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Google’s decision of introducing LG to the Nexus brand as came no less than a surprise to everyone. The company, which has struggled to win over consumers with any of its phones until recently was suddenly awarded the responsibility of carrying the Nexus brand forward. LG’s effect can really be seen on the new Nexus 4. Not only has LG managed to manufacture an amazing phone, but it has managed to do so while pricing the phone at a jaw-dropping low — starting at just $299 for the 8 gee-bee model.

Here’s our Google Nexus 4 Review, Starting With The Physical Build

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FEELS SOLID, THANKS TO GLASS AND PLASTIC

The phone feels solid to hold, thanks to LG’s decision of introducing glass to a Nexus phone for the first time, moving away from Samsung’s beloved plastic. The phone features a glass body additionally covered by a layer of Gorilla Glass 2 on the front as well as the back side to protect the body from scratches.

On the sides, the phone is surrounded by a band of non-conductive metallic plastic ring that feels like rubber. It provides a firm grip to hands and further protects the glass body from scratches by giving a slight bump so that the phone rests on the band and not the glass while resting on a flat surface.

Unlike the curved display of its predecessor, the Nexus 4 sports a linear build. While the idea behind having a curved display in the Galaxy Nexus was to match it with our face profile, the Nexus 4’s display is slightly curved inwards on sides to help with swipe gestures. And the result? Gestures are much more enjoyable. The best example I can think of is swiping tabs in Google Chrome (from both the sides) without using a second hand is much more accurate.

neus-4-curved-sides

The transition between the screen and bezel is so seamless that the screen borders are hardly noticeable (unless held very near to eyes). No buttons, no brandings. Just black.

I was so thrilled after receiving the phone that I dedicated it a separate, full post describing the phone’s aesthetics, which you can read here:

Display

CRISP AND VERY BRIGHT

Nexus 4 Display

The Nexus 4 sports a spectacular 4.7 inch IPS display packing in a resolution of 1280 x 768. Unlike other 720p displays, the Nexus 4 offers a wider screen estate by offering 48 extra pixels horizontally and 48 pixels less vertically; occupied by the soft-keys. The result is a much better navigation experience, especially while browsing the web.

While IPS screens cannot match the vibrance of SAMOLED screens, the Nexus 4’s display is nonetheless super stellar. Colors are bright and white levels are amazingly high, pushing out 608nits of luminance on full brightness, which is possibly more than any other Android flagship and very near to the iPhone 5.

nexus-4-display-sunlight-visibility

SUNLIGHT VISIBILITY?

While some reviewers tested its contrast ratio to be of mediocre quality, I actually found it to be more visible against sunlight than the Galaxy S III.

For all the nerds out there, here are the benchmark scores stolen borrowed from GSMArena’s display tests.

black levels

white levels

IS IT WASHED OUT? YES AND NO

No, because the colors appear in their natural form and there’s no saturation of colors like in Super AMOLED displays.

Yes, because the natural form of colors isn’t as gorgeous as they appear in SAMOLED displays. It lacks that strong wow factor that SAMOLED displays have, even though the colors aren’t real.

However, the important thing here is that the display appears to be washed out only when placed next to a SAMOLED display. On day-to-day use, you’re not really going to realize the difference. I got used to the natural colors in just a day.

My only and a major gripe with the screen, however, is its touch response. The screen fails to register light touches and the display driver is to be blamed. A workaround (link) has been discovered on XDA which involves downgrading to an old touch driver and it works perfectly, making the screen’s response buttery smooth. But the task of manually fixing it requires the phone’s bootloader to be unlocked and going through the whole procedure might prove too cumbersome for a majority of Nexus 4 owners. This needs to be addressed by Google immediately.

Android 4.2 & User Experience

Homescreen Quick Settings

(Stock Android doesn’t have toggle buttons for Torch, GPS and orientation lock as shown in the above screenshot. I achieved it by using this mod.)

ANDROID 4.2 = POLISHED VERSION OF ANDROID 4.1

Android 4.2 Jelly Bean is the newest version of Android and is certainly the smallest update Android has ever seen since 2.2 Froyo. It’s so small that Google thought it would be best not to introduce a new name to this update and Android 4.2 is still codenamed Jelly Bean. Apart from Quick Settings, Gesture keyboard, Lock-screen widgets, Photo Spheres and a new Clock app, most of the changes are present under the hood.

Why so small of an update this time, Google? Are you gearing up for something very big for Android 5.0? Methinks so.

One of the most talked about new features is Quick Settings, which finally brings hardware toggle shortcuts natively to Android. Tapping the button present at the right corner of the notification window or by pulling the status bar with two fingers brings up a set of hardware toggles that Google thinks you’ll require the most. Most of the buttons are actually shortcuts to their settings page except for the Brightness and Airplane mode buttons. The brightness button brings up an adjustable slider while the Airplane mode button instantly enables or disables Airplane mode.

Although accessing it requires an extra step against Samsung or CyanogenMod’s solution of having toggles in the notification window, it is a more elegant solution that leaves more space to your valuable notifications.

Redesigned Clock

Android 4.2 Clock (10) Android 4.2 Clock (1)

THE CLOCK’S NEW DESIGN IS MYSTERIOUSLY IMPRESSIVE

Perhaps, the most interesting bit of Android 4.2 is the new Clock app, not for its new features but its new UI design. It has a new color in its scheme — Red. Android has a long history of its love with blue color (teal to be precise) and this new design leaves so many questions unanswered — Is it an indication where Android is heading to? Are we going to see a similar design theme in Android 5.0? Or is it just a small experiment? I have no answers, but the new design is definitely pleasing.

Android 4.2 Clock (9)

The new Clock also features a new number pad for setting up alarms, ditching the old way of scrollable discs which were very similar to Apple’s implementation of drop-down lists. This classy new method is faster for adjusting numbers and I really see this going forward in Android 5.0.

Lock-screen Widgets

Android 4.2 Lockscreen (2) Android 4.2 Lockscreen (1)

Android 4.2 brings improvements to the lock-screen as well. The new update adds the ability to add widgets on lock-screens. The screens can be swiped to both the sides, in a fashion similar to home-screens. Each screen is restricted to only one widget though, no matter how big or small it is in size.

Lock-screen widgets can be seen by anyone though accessing them requires the phone to be unlocked. For example, when you access camera from the lock-screen, photos from your gallery remain locked and only new photos that you take are visible.

Having quick access to widgets such as flash-light, Soundhound music tag, etc. is surely handy, but the mechanism of multiple lock-screens seems to be kinda bloated. It’s like inception, where you’re presented with several screens filled with widgets upon pressing the power button. Unlock the phone and you’re presented with even more screens filled with widgets! A lock-screen is supposed to be simple in my view.

Gesture Keyboard

android-4.2-gesture-keyboard

The new Android 4.2 keyboard has been beefed up with an amazingl new feature for typing — gestures. You can now type by swiping your fingers over keys! Wait… but.. that sounds like Swype, right? Oh of course it does.

But as a person who liked both the stock Android keyboard and Swype, I’m in love with the new keyboard, especially its response time which is slightly better than other keyboards. It predicts the word you’re swiping in real-time and the craziest of all, you can even swipe with two fingers at the same time!

lockscreen comparison

Other changes in Android 4.2 include a redesigned PIN lock pad whose design now finally matches the dialer, bringing in a bit more consistency across Android.

SNAPPIEST VERSION OF ANDROID I’VE EVER EXPERIENCED

Overall, the User Experience has been a revelation for me. The UI is so ridiculously smooth on this phone, that I often keep asking myself the reason for not buying a Nexus for the past two years. Google Search launches faster, transitions are smoother and the best of all, Chrome is lag free — no joking! Trust me, the difference between the experiences of using a Nexus and a non-Nexus phone is worlds apart!

Forget all those specifications — they don’t matter anymore and those benchmark scores too — they will only fool you. It’s the experience that matters at the end and let me tell you, there’s no phone that can match Nexus 4’s level of smoothness, not even the specifications juggernaut Galaxy S III or the Galaxy Note II. I’m yet to see a single stutter or lag of any sort in my course of more than a week of using this phone. It’s just better.

Camera

image

The Nexus 4 sports an 8 mega-pixel rear and a 1.3 mega-pixel front camera. Technically speaking, the rear camera CMOS is a Sony IMX111 BSI (back-side illuminated) sensor that supports HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode with 1.1 um pixel pitch behind a lens of f/2.4 aperture and a focal length of 4.6mm.

Unlike other phones, the Nexus 4’s rear camera has been placed under the glass plate. So, Nexus owners will have to be more careful in handling the phone or else any damage to that portion will render the camera useless.

The distance between the center of adjacent pixels (i.e., the pixel pitch) in photos taken by the Nexus 4 is 1.1 um. The lower the pixel pitch value is, sharper are the photos. On a contrast note,the camera CMOS of Lumia 920, Galaxy S III, HTC One X and even the iPhone 5 are all of 1.4 micron pixels. So technically, the camera is capable of shooting sharper photos.

Photos taken by the Nexus 4’s camera are very much on par with the Galaxy S III in terms of quality. Below are some sample photographs.

Sample Photos

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IMG_20121215_152950---100%zoom

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IMG_20121207_163622 - 100% zoom

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IMG_20121215_171230 100% zoom

Nexus 4 front camera quality

The camera, however, has two weird problems while shooting with HDR mode enabled. First, the view finder (i.e., photo preview) is of very low resolution. Second, it usually fails to focus on any area no matter how hard you try. The only workaround to this issue is to point your camera elsewhere, focus and return to your original subject.

Camera App

Moving on with Google’s love with minimalism, the camera app has also been redesigned to a lot simpler user interface. Stripping out most of the customization buttons from view, the new camera app presents you with just the camera-view and a set of three buttons that include the shutter, settings and camera mode. Tapping and holding anywhere also brings up the settings menu in a radial fashion whose elements can be chosen by dragging your finger to the respective settings.

Below is a comparison of the Camera app in Android 4.1 and Android 4.2.

Camera App Comparison: Android 4.2 vs Android 4.1

Photo Spheres

Photo Spheres is Google’s newest invention that ups the game that started with Panorama. Unlike Panorama mode that lets you take 180 degree horizontal shots, Photo Sphere lets you take a full 360 degree snapshot in a 3D view. The process requires taking photos in every direction around you and finally letting the software stitching them into a Photo Sphere by some serious processing.

You can read my detailed review of Photo Spheres here.

Tip: If you can take Photo Spheres on your Androids, make sure you do it in portrait mode for best results. Doing so will let you avoid those black circles that appear at poles in Photo Spheres taken in landscape mode.

Multimedia Capabilities

Starting with the phone’s audio output quality the Nexus 4’s audio capabilities are no short of awesome. Noise levels are lower than the Galaxy S III and audio output is really crisp. I compared audio samples using a set of earphones manufactured from JBL since the Nexus 4, like any other Nexus device, ships without earphones.

Some reports have been flowing on the web about some constant buzzing sound coming from the ear-piece, but I’m yet to experience any such sound. Maybe the problem was limited to certain batch of units only.

Nexus-4-speaker-quality

The speaker is loud and clear too, but I hate its placement. In fact, I hate the placement of speakers in pretty much every Android phone. Why do OEMs place the speakers on the back-plate, which gets muted whenever the phone is placed on a flat surface. Kudos to Apple for doing it right with the iPhone 5 by placing the speaker grille at the bottom. It’ll never get muted.

Moving on, while the audio capabilities of the Nexus 4 are excellent, the list of media file formats unsupported by the phone’s hardware decoder includes some common video formats:

  • MKV
  • MPEG
  • RMVB
  • DivX and XviD codecs

Using a third party app (my favorite is MX Player) that uses its own software decoder will solve this problem.

It confuses me how the stock video player has remain unchanged for so long except for a few cosmetic changes. I wonder why on earth Google is not interested in improving it, like adding support for sub-titles, resuming from last played location, gestures, etc. Heck, it doesn’t even have a dedicated app and so, searching for video files is a messy process.

Battery Life

Google Nexus 4 battery life

The battery life is the ugliest story of the Nexus 4. It’s just.. bad. Although LG has fitted it with a 2100mAh battery, the Nexus 4 just refuses to operate for more than 15 hours on moderate usage (Make that 5-6 on heavy usage). On a comparison note, I could easily squeeze out around 20-24 hours on my Galaxy S III with the same amount of usage.

Seriously Google, how on earth could you ignore the battery life? It may be better than the Galaxy Nexus as folks over various discussion boards are reporting, but it’s very bad as compared to other phones such as my previous phone, the Galaxy S3, which has a battery of the same capacity.

Battery Life Tests

battery life tests

(Screen On Time was tested by playing a movie in a loop until the battery drained out. Brightness was set at 50% and phone was in airplane mode. Overnight Battery Drain was also tested while in airplane mode.)

Why Is It So Bad?

Three reasons:

1. Screen: It’s totally a battery hogger. Every time I use the phone, the battery status starts diving downwards. I believe the screen technology (IPS in this case) is to be blamed here.

Although I was unable to find any good comparison of display technologies in terms of power consumptions, I’m pretty sure IPS screens are not very good at it given my previous experiences with phones having AMOLED displays.

2. Software Issue: Secondly, some apps on this phone occasionally go berserk and start draining battery like anything. The list of apps include Dolphin Browser (Jetpack), Facebook, Google Maps, Reddit Sync, etc. Either these apps are yet to be optimized properly for Android 4.2 or it’s an Android 4.2 problem in general.

nexus-4-mediaserver-battery-drain-problem

Further adding to the problem, the Mediaserver process that is responsible for handling media on Android is always present among the list of top 5 battery life consuming processes even if I don’t play any song/video. It is a huge battery drainer that often causes wake locks, not allowing the phone to go into sleep mode. I never had this problem in any of my previous Android phones.

I’m pretty sure the folks over at Mountain View are already aware of this issue and they must be working on fixing them. But Google, please do it fast.

GLASS HAS SOME DISADVANTAGES TOO

3. Glass: The Nexus 4 has a problem which causes the reception of 3G signal to get reduced when held by the left side — a very common scenario. Blame glass for this. This is not really a big cause of the phone’s tenuous battery life, but making the network signal weak certainly amounts to an increased amount of battery usage.

Wrap Up

nexus-4-wrap-up

In a Nutshell

THE GOOD

  • Phone’s build is amazing
  • Screen is bright, sharp and colors are accurate
  • Camera shots are at par with other high-end flagships
  • Snappiest experience of Android on any device
  • Android 4.2 is even more polished
  • Audio output is loud and crisp

THE BAD

  • Screen isn’t very vibrant
  • Lack of LTE, non-removable battery and 16GB of storage space might be a bummer for some
  • HDR camera mode needs to be worked upon
  • Antenna gate Issue is present, thanks to glass

AND THE UGLY

  • Battery life is very short

nexus-4-wrap-up-back-plateThe Nexus 4 has an amazing hardware, but that’s only one part of the story. The biggest advantage of this phone is its software — Android in its purest form. No carrier brandings, no OEM skins, no pre-installed apps, just pure Google experience. And the best part of all, the Nexus 4 will always be the first phone to receive any new updates to Android. So if you’re an old Android user sick of waiting for several months to receive an update from your carrier/OEM, it’s time to upgrade to a Nexus now.

The Google Nexus 4 isn’t the perfect Android smartphone, but it’s the closest you can find.

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