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LG Nexus 4 Review

nexus 4 review

The LG Nexus 4 wasn’t much of a secret when Google finally announced it. After appearing in a variety of forms and rumors for weeks ahead of its unveiling, we thought we knew all there was to know about it. That of course, was not true. But once we finally got a hold of it, we wondered if there were enough hidden secrets or highlights to make this ultra-affordable Nexus stand out from a crowded holiday smartphone lineup or if the lack of LTE would be a deal breaker? Let’s talk about it.

The Good:

  • Specs:  When it comes to specs, there are few phones that can compare to the LG Nexus 4. It has the latest and greatest processor (quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro), 2GB RAM, an 8MP camera, wireless charging, NFC, and one of the best displays in the business (4.7″ HD IPS+). It may lack an LTE chip, which could be a deal breaker for some, but if you can live with HSPA+ data speeds (which aren’t slow), then you can’t really go wrong here. The Nexus 4 is essentially a brother to LG’s Optimus G, a device we reviewed a few weeks back, and were very fond of.
  • Display:  The 4.7″ HD IPS+ LCD display on the Nexus 4 is one of the best in the business. If it weren’t for the new 1080p display in the HTC DROID DNA, I’d argue that it is the best in the business (though the Galaxy Note 2’s display is up there as well). Colors and lines are ultra-crisp thanks to the 320 pixels per inch (ppi), the viewing angles are impressive, it gets very bright for use anywhere, and the blacks are black enough. Beyond how it looks, this display has some other tricks up its sleeves. LG and Google designed it to almost bubble up above the outer frame of the device. What I mean, is that it cascades over the edges of the device, so as you brush you finger across it, you don’t feel a sharp edge, but more of a soft finish. The display itself is also great to touch thanks to a G2 Touch Hybrid technology. The responsiveness is as good as any, and your finger seems to glide easily over it during presses, almost as if you are actually touching what you are seeing. Again, it’s an amazing smartphone display.

(Warning: Gmail picture is a large macro shot.)

  • Performance:  Thanks to its quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and Android 4.2, you won’t find hiccups or stutters while using the Nexus 4. Project Butter (in Jelly Bean) combined with the best processor on the planet, makes for one of the best smartphone experiences. With the on-screen navigation keys, you can quickly jump in and out of apps, access Google Now from anywhere, and make full use of Android’s multi-tasking. There also has to be something said for the fact that it runs stock Android. There is no manufacturer skin to get in the way or to potentially slow down the phone. This is how Google meant for Android and a smartphone of theirs to work. And boy does it ever.
  • Android 4.2:  When you buy a brand new Android smartphone, rarely are you running the most current version of the operating system. Well, unless you buy a new Nexus. With the LG Nexus 4, Google launched Android 4.2, the newest and best version of Android to date. It includes all new camera software, improved keyboard, widgets on the lock screen, multi-user support (on tablets), an upgraded Gmail, and a beautiful new clock. Check out the video below to see all of the major highlights.

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  • Price:  At $299 for the 8GB model and $349 for the 16GB model, you won’t find a more reasonably priced phone than the Nexus 4. I already mentioned how impressive this phone is when it comes to specs, but besides that, Google has made it clear that they aren’t fans of the long-standing carrier approach to phone subsidies. Rather than trying to sucker you into a contract by offering you a low price on a phone, Google simply says, “Here is a phone that you can have at a ridiculously low price and that won’t require you to sign a contract. We’re able to offer you this deal because we can recoup the money in the Google Play store, thanks to the content that you’ll consume.” It’s an approach that I hope lives on forever. Think about what Verizon is doing right now with the Motorola RAZR MAXX HD. They want you to spend $299 on it, but in order to get that price, you’ll have to sign a 2-year contract. Google is selling you a phone that bests the RAZR MAXX HD on multiple levels, yet retails at the same $299 price, but then lets you go find a carrier and data plan that fits your needs, while avoiding a contract.
  • Camera:  The stock Android camera software has always been lacking, and it showed in pictures taken with any Nexus device. Thankfully, in Android 4.2, Google decided to re-do the stock Android camera software and make it halfway decent. In my test shots with the Nexus 4’s 8MP shooter, I was able to produce some decent stills. I wouldn’t say the LG Nexus 4 takes as good of pictures as the Galaxy S3, but that’s magic that very few phone manufacturers can figure out. It certainly will do just fine in a pinch. What I really like about this new camera though, is the quick settings that can be accessed by pressing on the viewfinder. You can quickly toggle your flash off or on, change scenes, and manually tweak other settings. Also, the new Photosphere camera feature that Google introduced is incredibly fun to use. Rather than limiting your camera to taking side-sweeping panoramic photos, Google decided that it wanted you to be able to take full 360-degree photos. With Photosphere (an example below), you get to capture entire rooms or scenes. Overall, the new camera software coupled with the 8MP sensor in the Nexus 4 is a giant step forward for Google.

(Click the image below to view it as a Photosphere at Google+.)

  • Design and Build:  If you own a Galaxy Nexus, your first impression of the the Nexus 4 is probably that it looks just like your Galaxy Nexus. And to be honest, it sort of does if you lay them down, face up next to each other. Once you pick up the Nexus 4, though, you’ll immediately realize that it is so much better. The front and back are both made of glass, it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s made of “cheap” plastic, there is a soft touch plastic rim around the outer edge that helps with grip, the rounded edges help it fit perfectly in your hand, and the weight is not too light nor too heavy. It’s one of those phones that you find yourself picking up, spinning around, and smiling at. From the Crystal Reflection backside (more on this in a minute) to the all-black finishes and Nexus logo, I have to admit that I haven’t been this impressed with a smartphone design in some time.
  • “Crystal Reflection” Backside:  During a couple of episodes of The Droid Life Show, we poked a bit of fun at the sparkly “Crystal Reflection” backside of the Nexus 4. For those new, Crystal Reflection is a process that LG invented which allows them to laser etch patterns or prisms onto glass of a smartphone to give it a high-end “jewel-like” appearance. The reference they make to “jewel-like” is why we giggled a bit at it, however, once I got the phone in hand, my opinion changed to a much more favorable one. The sparkles are so subtle, that you won’t even see them 75% of the time. They are only there when you are really looking for them, which is the way it should be. The Crystal Reflection is one of those design ideas that you couldn’t have imagined that you would want or like, but then once you see a metallic reflection, you’ll appreciate every second of it.

LG Nexus 4

  • Unlocked:  Google is selling the Nexus 4 as a SIM unlocked GSM phone that works in over 200 countries. It may not have LTE support for the ultra-fast networks that are taking over the U.S., but the phone should get HSPA+ speeds almost anywhere in the world. It works on T-Mobile and AT&T here, so if you don’t want to sign into a contract with a carrier, you can choose from a variety of prepaid plans that are attached to either of these carriers. It’s smartphone freedom in a time when carriers want nothing more than to lock you up for years on end.
  • Hackability:  Nexus phones are a hacker’s dream device. Google leaves them open, meaning you can unlocked their bootloaders, root them, and toss on custom software with a couple of simple commands. We are starting to see more and more carriers force manufacturers into securing their phones and preventing tinkerer’s from fully enjoying them, but with Google making Nexus phones, there will always be an option.
  • Updates:  When you buy the newest Nexus phone, and as long as it isn’t tied to a carrier, you are going to get Android updates on it before any other phone. With the Nexus 4, you get Android 4.2 first. But not only that, you’ll get Android 4.3 or 5.0 or whichever version comes next as soon as Google makes it available. There is no middle man (carrier) to interfere. That’s the beauty of an unlocked Nexus device.

  • Wireless Charging:  The Nexus 4 has built-in wireless charging. Set to the Qi standard, all you need is a Qi-approved wireless charging pad and you can place the phone down without plugging it in, and it’ll replenish the battery. It’s a technology that has been out for years now, but rather than building the technology into phones, most carriers and manufacturers decided that they should try to make an extra buck by forcing you to buy separate wireless charging backs. With the Nexus 4, Google and LG have gone away from this method and included the technology upfront. Again, all you need is a charging pad and you can wireless charge this phone out of the box.
  • Gaming:  The Nexus 4 is a pleasure to game on. With its Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and Adreno 320 GPU, even the most intense HD games play incredibly well at high frame rates. Combine all that with the beautiful 4.7″ HD display and you have a match made in heaven for mobile gamers.

The Not-so-Good

  • No LTE:  Andy Rubin made it clear during the unveiling of the Nexus 4 that they could have included LTE connectivity, but that they weren’t convinced that the user experience would have been optimal. After the battery life disaster that was the LTE Galaxy Nexus, Google decided to put their resources in making an amazing phone that had everything the market had to offer, outside of LTE. While they wait for LTE networks to mature, we’re going to be left wondering if this was the correct move or not. Global networks are not as advanced in the LTE department as they are here, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t disappointed. LTE is the future and so is the U.S. wireless market. Part of buying a smartphone is deciding whether or not this phone is going to take you into the future. While most of us can live with HSPA+ speeds, a lack of LTE makes the Nexus 4 feel a step behind, when it shouldn’t. Oh, and let’s also not forget that the phone actually does have an LTE chip inside, but it isn’t active.

  • Glass Backside:  If you read my review of the Optimus G, the device the Nexus 4 is built off of, you probably saw the cracked backside. I still cannot figure out how I managed to crack that device, which is why the glass back on the Nexus 4 concerns me. One reviewer of this phone simply knocked his unit off his desk and was able to crack it. What other everyday wear and tear is going to ruin this beautiful backside? After dealing with numerous reports of broken glass backs on the iPhone 4 and 4S, even Apple decided against them. Hopefully, Google has done something extra special here to try and preserve these. I’m already dreading the moment that readers tip us to a forum thread somewhere with 50 pages of users complaining about cracked backs.
  • Battery Life:  Look, the battery life on the Nexus 4 isn’t atrocious by any means, but it’s also not all that impressive. With Google’s head honchos telling us that they left out LTE because they wanted to have a phone with exceptional battery life, I expected better. Below, I have screenshots that show a wide range of battery life, none of which were able to get me through more than 15 hours. And that 15 hour day, was all WiFi. Once I switched over to all HSPA+, it was a struggle to get the 2100mAh battery through 10 hours, especially if I took a few minutes out of my day to play a game or two.

(Click to enlarge.)

  • Headphone Jack:  The headphone jack on the Nexus 4 is placed at the top of the device and it drives me nuts. In the past, Google has moved headphone jacks to the bottoms of their phones, so I’m not sure why this phone is different. I know this seems like something not worthy of an entire bullet, but as someone that uses a headphone jack on a daily basis, it is a big deal. I’ve ranted about this subject before, so I’ll keep this short. I just wish we could get some sort of a standard going here. Try riding in a car and connecting your phone to both a USB cable to charge and 3.5mm cable which are on opposite sides of the phone – it’s a tangled mess of cords.


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The Verdict:

The LG Nexus 4 is  an impressive smartphone. It packs top-of-the-line specs and is directly supported by Google, which means you get speed and performance along with the latest and greatest version of Android. The camera is much improved, the design highlights are gorgeous, and it comes in at a price that no one in the smartphone game has approached until now. For $299 or $349, you get a phone with arguably the best specs on the planet, but the feeling of freedom from carrier contracts.

It’s not all amazing, though. The battery life isn’t the best, I have some concerns about the durability of the glass backside, and the lack of LTE connectivity is a major disappointment.

Still, the Nexus 4 is probably my favorite phone to date. It stands for all that I believe in when it comes to a smartphone. It’s beautiful, powerful, new, open, and up-to-date. Oh, and it’s incredibly affordable.

  • G8KeaPoR

    So why are you using headphones while driving? Aside from being illegal have you ever heard of a bluetooth radio device? My GNex with 4.2.1 (OTA update from google. I have the unlocked version.) streams music on My Passat SEL’s factory radio unit. Who needs headphones?

  • Nexus4Luver

    Battery life is really dependent on how you use the phone. I have to admit, if you’re just using as a phone and don’t use the screen too much it’s fricken amazing! I scored over 2 days on it with stock 4.2.1, see below.

  • Sobr0801

    You know the best thing about this phone. Its not a Samsung!

    • G8KeaPoR

      Yeah but the worst thing about it is it’s an LG.

  • Dom

    Oregon yeah buddy, I got excited when I noticed the photos of my neighborhood Autzen Stadium :). Any who I’m very excited to throwing my money at google for this phone, it just has to become available…

  • CrazyMac10

    While the LG Nexus 4 is indeed technically compatible with the AT&T network, company policy will not allow you to get full hspa+ speeds out of their network using this device. The device in fact reports phone status that looks like hspa+ switching between the two hspa+ modes, however AT&T throttles the N4 speeds at the 2g/edge data rate or even lower. I bought and received my N4 and had it for a week before I just had to return it because of this disconnect between what could work technically and what AT&T would not allow by policy on their network. I could indeed talk on the phone and I did get a data connection, but the speeds were way below what they were for my 3g “real” AT&T phone(Captivate), no better than the 7kbps range. I setup and tried all of the APN settings and combinations available in various blogs for phone, pta, 3g, 4g, hspa+, etc. nothing would or even could as I found out change the state of the AT&T backend throttling. I therefore returned this otherwise great phone for a refund.

    • G8KeaPoR

      Thats why you buy the unlocked phone. Sadly carrier phones tend to have restriction phones placed on them especially Jelly Bean phones.

  • RoadsterHD1

    8 gigs is ridiculous and 16 is ok if you’re not gong save anything like pictures and forget movies. No SD, No sale.

  • As so many people complaining the battery life, here is my opinion of penny. You just need some twist to get more juice. As an example, I got 4 days battery life on one charge. How? Of course, I did not play video all the time. Just install some battery saving apps to turn off some background update and you will be fine. Here is the screen shot: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/bNn3J4b4DItScVydSrSnCOswjAcj7SauedMN6XuxeoY?feat=directlink

  • eazyean1

    hows the battery compared to the gnex??

  • Ray

    Love my Nexus 4. Wouldn’t trade it for 2 GS3’s.

  • karlo coronel

    where did you get your wallpaper?

  • I dont get his battery tests on this thing…..I get 3+ hours of use on mine, with 15-18 hours unplugged everyday. Whether I’m on hspa+ or wifi, my battery is still just awesome! I’m a pretty heavy user…. Along with tons of twitter, texts, Chrome, I also download a new theme build about 8 times a day and install it, and reboot. Weird… Lol

  • background pleasE ?

    what wallpaper is that

  • You can activate the LTE if you want. Google it.
    Headphone jack at the top is where it should be. “Tangled mess”, how useless are you?.

  • Guapo

    Where did you get that black and gold wallpaper?

  • potatomaster

    The back of mine already cracked in a similar manner. I left it to charge and came back to find it shattered. The concerns over the durability of the glass back are real.

  • Uriah Romero

    I have already ordered a Nexus 4, so it should be here soon. I am
    sticking with T-Mobile since they are the only carrier to offer unlimited data
    with actual speed. In many cases, the 4G on my current phone is faster than the
    LTE phone that one of my DISH coworkers has. We use the DISH Remote Access app
    on our phones to stream live and recorded shows through the Sling Adapter that
    we have on our receivers. With how much his phone buffers, it hardly seems
    worth paying extra for LTE. It will be nice being able to stream as much as I
    want without hitting a cap which makes no sense for a smartphone.

  • So is it possible to activate the lte chip?

  • The Not-so-Good : Storage

  • cmoG

    I mean….it’s cool, but I don’t see any need to leave my 32GB Nexus. No LTE or anything, so no cloud options for me. I don’t know, it doesn’t impress me. I’ll wait for the next one…given the economy doesn’t collapse by then.

  • JPXA

    – haha, I have the N4 and it doesn’t come with the stock launcher.

  • I’m on verizon at the moment, but I’m considering about leaving to go off contract with Tmobile next month. I’m torn between either the Galaxy Nexus or the Nexus 4 as my new phone. I’m not concerned about space since I use the cloud for nearly everything, but I don’t know how much longer Google will continue to support updates the the GNex while the N4 gets a fresh start.

  • Lyn Scott

    <3 that phone..

  • awesome.. too bad about battery life, but i think i am getting one because i love it.

  • Mike Weatherby

    I need a phone that you can charge with a portable battery charger since I spend time out in the wilds. What is the charging requirements for this phone in amps and watts?

  • trophynuts

    so much for the hype about the new quad core processors being more battery efficient. This is sad. Could you imagine what it would be WITH LTE? good greif. Since the ifixit photos leaked showing LTE radios they probably originally had planned for it and then saw the battery life and said F that. Guess what? I know you guys don’t want to hear this but here it is. The iphone 5 has LTE and GSM radios in it and you can leave LTE on all day and easily go 24 hours on a single charge.

    • Dain Laguna

      well thats a bit of a stretch. i have 2 folks who i work with who have iphone5’s and were initially scared of what lte would do to their battery life. with lte on, they get a good 12 to 13 hours, which is impressive to me (neither one shuts data or wifi off), but its not the 24 hours you are claiming. battery life is different for everyone. i know after looking at kellex’s usage, id get much more battery life outta an n4 than him.

  • Dain Laguna

    I’m going to play devils advocate here.

    I dont really think the battery life is ALL that bad. personally, keeping spare batteries and switching them out isnt something that the vast majority of folks do, so if having a phone that has a removable battery is important to you, well, we’ll just accept we are two different people, and you’ll (eventually, though not through the internet) accept that not everyone is like you and willing to tote around extra crap with him/her throughout the day.

    having said that, this phone, beats my gnex on battery life, pretty significantly. i get maybe (maybe) 12-13 hours a day on my Vzw Gnex, and i have a pretty solid ‘schedule’ as far as my usage is concerned.

    i unplug my phone at 8 in the morning, drive 25 min to work. wifi is on, as is auto brightness, pull notifications and gps. i turn data on when i leave from home, and stream google music until i get to work. then data goes off, and i’m on my works wifi for the majority of the day.

    mind you, i’m streaming over 3g, i leave lte totally off.

    i get texts, a phone call or two, maybe a youtube vid or two during lunch, and very rarely some gaming (i have an n7, so more robust activities happen on that device). my total onscreen time at work is probably only about a half hour.

    after that, back home, streaming gmusic, turn data off once i’m in the driveway. (and yes wifi is on this entire time) there is my 11-12 hours of battery life. the extended battery basically allowed me to get home without the battery already being in the yellow. after a youtube vid or two to appease my daughter while we watch tv, its down to about 14 percent, and still in the 12hour range (on a good day, maybe 13)

    so if googles new offering has a MASSIVELY bettery screen, top of the line and much improved processing and gaming capabilities, a notably better camera, and no carriers to get in the way of my updates, ALL while offering 2-4 more hours of battery life with much better data speeds than i’m using now? Thats a win in my book guys.

  • lilmoe2002

    Google Now is a POWER HOG. I could easily get 2 days out of my SGS3, but barely a day when Goolge Now is enabled.

    I wonder what the battery life would be on the Nexus 4 if Google Now is disabled. Also, might as well disable NFC and other services/peripherals that consume battery.

    Anyway, this IS a Nexus. I’m pretty sure lots of devs out there will nail the reason behind that battery life and most probably fix it.

    This is my next phone, it’s the only one out there that’ll make a Galaxy S fanboy ditch his Galaxy S3 even without a removable battery and an SD card slot (GOD I wish it had those, guess nothing’s perfect). Also, I LOVE stock Android.

  • Nick Letsom

    I’ve been getting 4-5 hours of screen-on time if connected to wifi, and about 3 hours if on HSPA+. And this is real, actual use. Constantly browsing with Chrome and such.

  • C-Law

    I get 3 to 3.5 hours screen on time with my gnex and 2100mah battery. Damn never thought I’d see a phone a year later with worse battery life

    • zurginator

      Custom ROM?

      It’s also worth asking wtf he was doing with his test unit…. I get near 5 hours of screen on time for 12 hours of life, and during the work week got 36 hours of battery life with 1.5 hours of screen on.

      That’s no Wifi either. Can’t wait to see the optimizations custom ROMs make….

  • Ravi

    Nice.. he didn’t even review the important bit.. the PHONE?? ie. call quality, speakerphone.. shakes head. waste.

    • People make calls? 😛

      Speaker is clear. Calls are clear. Holds signal well.

      • Dain Laguna

        to be fair kellen, i was hoping for some signal issue addressing as well, given the colossal issues folks had in some areas with the reception on their gnex.

        and the speakerphone. even you hated the gnex’s right? i was almost expecting a huge section on that alone 😉