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Nexus 4’s Glass Back, the Worst Idea Since the Last Phone With a Glass Back

The LG Nexus 4, Google’s newest Nexus device, such a thing of beauty, isn’t it? That brilliant 4.7″ display on the front, the Crystal Reflection pattern tucked under a piece of glass on the back, those cascading edges, and that soft touch plastic housing, all make up for one of the more interesting smartphone designs of the last couple of years. Unfortunately, for those that purchased one or plan to purchase one, you may have to cover it up with a bumper or case, as it may also be one of the most fragile smartphones ever made. 

Glass, never known to many as the most durable of coverings, blankets the Nexus 4 both front and back. On the front, we have an LCD display that’s covered by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 2, a product promoted for its ability to bring extra toughness to smartphones. On the back, we get the same sort of protection. Well, at least we thought so. After having an LG Optimus G (review) – the phone that laid the groundwork for the Nexus 4 – and now this new Nexus, I can without a doubt in my mind, say that glass on the back of a smartphone is one of the worst design ideas of the decade.

The back glass plate of both of these devices cracked on me within two weeks of having them. Two weeks. But before we get into this, I should probably point out that I take better care of my smartphones than almost anyone you will ever meet. My original DROID looked like it was a week old, a year after having purchased it. I’ve never had to replace a phone via warranty or insurance, as I’ve rarely ever dropped one. In fact, I’m not sure I would even get past one hand if I were to try to count the number of times I’ve dropped a phone. I don’t use cases or screen protectors because I’ve never had to. Again, I baby the hell out my toys.

But back to these two cracked backs – both of which cracked without a drop. Let me say that again – both the Optimus G and Nexus 4 cracked in my possession without ever dropping them. You know what did it? Setting them down gently onto my room temperature stone countertop. That’s it. The temperature change after it went from my warm hand to a room temperature countertop was apparently enough to split both devices’ glass backs almost directly down the middle. To think, that deciding whether or not my device is going to crack just by laying it down gently, is something my mind doesn’t even want to entertain. But that’s where I’ll be should I decide that I want a Nexus 4 that no longer looks this way.

It’s not just me, either. Take a tour through your various Android forums and you’ll find reports left and right of scratches and cracks. Most of these reports also include lines like “I don’t know how it happened, I’ve been super careful with it” and “I pulled it out of my pocket and noticed a crack.”

So why on Earth would LG and Google choose glass? That’s a great question. Since there is an entire industry now dedicated to replacing glass backs of the iPhone 4, I’m not sure I have an answer. All you have to do is Google “iPhone 4 glass back” and you’ll come up with dozens of fix-it shops, stories of lawsuits, and and how-tos on replacing the back of the phone with something other than glass. Since posting up pictures of both devices with broken backs, the first comment I received each time was, “How did they not learn from Apple?” Even Apple learned from Apple, going with an aluminum backside for its new iPhone 5.

Glass is fragile, everyone knows that. Well, apparently not everyone or we wouldn’t have phones with back panels made of the material. I don’t think I need to continue to hammer this point home any longer, so I’ll just say this – if you are buying a Nexus 4, buy a bumper, case, back screen protector or any other protective material that you can find because it’s not safe.

  • Phil Ward

    My screen cracked in the corner from a height of 2’4″, then shattered from a second fall from a height of 2’8″. Both times the phone fell, was caused by the smooth glass backing being so slick that it slid off of cloth surfaces that were apparently greater than 2º angles…

    Why would you design a device with a smooth back? LG is no-doubt going to blame user error for their stupid engineering… I have a feeling they are going to tell me: “I should have protected it with a case” to my rebuttal: “If a phone is designed properly in the first place, it doesn’t need a protective case.”

    Anybody up for a class action?

  • Grabbs

    Today I fell and landed on my Nexus 4 which was in my pocket. ive never felt this stupid before. When I picked upp the phone upp the whole backside was “crushed”, cracks everywhere!

  • Rebecka

    I wonder if both the front and back have Gorilla Glass 2, why you just crack the back but not the front? Should not both sides be equally sensitive? I mean in general. Those who will break the back of the Nexus 4 and earlier iPhones, why they are not breaking the front as easily?

    Did I understand correctly that your Nexus 4 cracked on the back as a result of the temperature difference (from hand to countertop)? Sounds strange! I know that someone dropped it on the basement floor and then I can understand it cracks (do not remember if it was front or back).

  • Trisha

    I have had my Nexus 4 for two weeks & guess what, the glass back has a hairline crack, I have noticed it gets quite hot with use & then I lay it on the kitchen worktop to charge it & the crack appeared, I got in touch with LG who said its nothing to do with us !!! So I phoned Google & was told to send it back & they’ll decide if its been dropped, , well I can imagine they’ll decide it has, but I can’t honestly say I’ve looked after it, I even keep it in my glasses case in my handbag, whilst I’m waiting for a decent flip case to be designed, Oh & if I do send it back they will send a new one, but if they decide I’ve damaged it I’ll end up paying for two !!!

  • eaglerare

    just dropped my nexus 4. broken front screen and now the touchscreen wont work. unlike other phones ive seen work with a broken screen i can even unlock the homescreen. I plan on sending to LG for repair

  • 456

    Glass not fragile, cheap glass does

  • http://www.facebook.com/dean.fergie Dean Fergie

    Yep, dropped mine last night and have a small crack in the glass. Whilst waiting for my bumper to arrive from Google too. Annoying

  • http://twitter.com/mindexit SquiDinK

    i’ve hardly heard of anyone breaking the glass on ANY forum. only Josh
    Topolsky from the verge and here. If it was a wide spread issue I would
    have heard about it by now… all over the place. just like apple has all it’s problems which go viral in hours. it hasn’t, the phone has been out for almost a month now…

  • http://twitter.com/mike_obermeyer mike obermeyer

    Please Tweet Otter Box to build a case.
    https://twitter.com/OtterBoxCS/status/271286126894014465

  • hans007

    i’ve dropped my galaxy nexus, literally 100s of times. because i go to the gym with it in my pocket and shoot baskets it falls out a lot onto a hardwood floor.

    granted thats not concrete or something, but it hasnt broken, and barely looks used . most of the scratches on the casing are from it sometimes touching coins or keys in my pockets. yes its not the best feeling phone in hand, and theres a lot of things that aren’t perfect about it (liek the earpiece sucking, the battery life being horrible even for its generation phone, the google provided OS image randomly rebooting etc). but durable is one thing it has been.

    Im hoping my razr m that is coming is anywhere close to this durable (and at least the m can have the entire case replace pretty cheaply and easily ,…. unlike say any iphone)

  • unearthen

    Then please don’t buy one. I enjoy being the only one around that I’ve seen with the new nexus =)

  • Ravynmagi

    Don’t drop your glass phone on a hard metal surface.

  • CharlieHorse

    Why didn’t he learn is lesson the first time? Why set both phones on the counter? why not put them in cases? Unless they were both set on the counter at the same exact time and both cracked at the same time as well.

    • http://www.pcprocare.com/ Barry Taylor

      Because more than likely, he thought it was a fluke w/that phone, and possibly had a doubt about how it got cracked.. Then, when the exact same thing happened to a totally different phone, he realized that it was due to temperature shock, not misuse/abuse.. Just my thoughts.

      • http://www.droid-life.com Kellex B

        You are exactly right. I didn’t know what happened with the Optimus G. Then found out the hard way with the Nexus 4.

        • http://www.pcprocare.com/ Barry Taylor

          I usually am.. :) Ha.

  • Noel

    I love this device and i will still buy one with a bumper and down the road hope an Otterbox Commuter series case. But i have a few Questions for Google and LG

    1) Didn’t they learn from the iPhone debacle with glass backs.

    2) Glass = break what were they thinking..the glitter looks nice an all but it is not a trade off for a cracked glass back plate.

    3) Didn’t they put this device thru all kind of stress test, drop test and also with real testers to realize this will happen.

    4) Since the device in some cases like that of the writer of this article just cracks due to temperature changes, who is responsible for repairs…Google or LG??

    5) If both front and back glass are made of the same material…why is just the back glass cracking…will we eventually see the front glass panel also cracking for no reason?

    6) Could the heat generated by the battery be responsible for the cracking?

    Maybe a clear thin resistant plastic could be used instead..if they are so kin to keeping the glitter back. But it is a problem that need prompt attention by Google and LG if the glass just cracks by itself.

  • http://twitter.com/noneedtotweet noneedtotweet

    nty not getting that huge devie with a bumper

  • Josh

    Glass on the front of a phone is a necessary evil (at least until companies like Samsung perfect flexible screen technology). Glass on the back is sheer idiocy. What possible justification is there to making the back of a phone unnecessarily fragile? When I heard the iPhone 4 had a glass back, I initially thought it was a joke. Upon learning it was true, I was incredulous, but found it believable as Apple had made it clear for years that they value form over function. But for Google to allow their flagship phone to include not just a blatantly stupid design design choice, but the same blatantly stupid design choice made by their biggest competitor, is shocking and sickening beyond words. If I were an executive at Google, I would have had the designer who suggested this fired on the spot, and would personally see to it that this moron never held a job title elsewhere above “fry cook”. If this is the direction Google is going with Android, ignoring common sense in favor of some vague “oooh… shiny!” factor, I seriously fear for the future of the platform.

    • Josh

      I should add that, despite this baffling and foolish design decision, the Nexus 4 is still a great phone. The rest of the hardware is top-notch, the screen is great, Jelly Bean is superb, and the price is unbeatable. My fear is that the philosophy behind having a glass back will bleed into other aspects of Android, which would be a disaster for the platform as a whole. I just hope for the Nexus 5, Google actually listens to Android users and to common sense: a removable, NON-GLASS back, replaceable battery, and more storage.

  • kane

    The best thing you can do is not get drunk and lose it in a bar

  • http://profiles.google.com/chuckg73 Charles Gallagher

    Kevlar does not crack either. The Droid Razr Maxx HD is the best feeling phone I have held in my hand.

  • Jeremiah Burns

    I’m not being controversial, and I’m not being a fanboy.

    I’ve got an iPhone 4 which I’ve had for a couple of years. No case. None. Dropped it several times. It looks great.

    That said, I’m ordering a Nexus 4 this week (see? Not a fanboy). And I’m not concerned.

  • Jim Vitatoe

    Glass that is stressed in any way will break if you just look at it wrong.

  • Martin Nilsson

    I think we have a case of “new Coca Cola” here. Everyone hates Coke, but love Pepsi, so you make a new Coke. Now everyone will bitchat about this being crazy and then you can re-launch your old product and everyone will be more then happy.

  • Adam Trudeau

    Should have been a Samsung

  • http://profiles.google.com/rhumen Jake Zachariah

    I have a glass backed phone and have dropped it several times without any damage. I disagree with your post.

    • Robert Johnson

      But do you have a room-temperature stone countertop, sir?

      • http://profiles.google.com/rhumen Jake Zachariah

        No, i stone, tile and concrete floors.

  • CharlesJorgenson

    now is when an aftermarket company needs to step up and sell a plastic or metal back

    • Luxferro

      That’s what I’m waiting for. It’s a simple thing to make, and easy profits for which ever company does it first, and does it right.

    • Lucas_W

      Or sell glass backs by the dozen.

    • Robert Johnson

      Problem is that there are four antennae integrated into the back. It’s not just a pop-off battery cover.

  • Bionic

    Worst. Nexus. Ever.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000372600312 Joseph Pojunis

      Out of all four of them?

      • Bionic

        Yes

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000372600312 Joseph Pojunis

          It’s a change. I’m happy for that. At least they’re trying new things

  • Eric Coffman

    I don’t believe that it is glass. Feels and sounds like plastic.

  • TylerChappell

    And to think of all of the obnoxious people that downvoted for me complaining how having glass on both front and back was a poor design choice that didn’t stray far enough away from Apple’s design. Seriously, this is ridiculous, I am glad I will be passing this phone up. I was actually tempted to switch from Verizon to get a Nexus 4, but the maximum 16GB storage, glass backing, and no LTE are huge red flags. I’ll have to pass up on the Droid DNA also, so I guess I just have to wait until CES and MWC and hopefully by then SOMEONE will be intelligent enough to properly design a high-end device.

  • be careful

    Absurd article… Take better care of your things and they won’t break!

    • http://www.droid-life.com Kellex B

      Clearly did not read the article.

  • ray01000101010101

    Get a case and protect your investment.

    • http://www.gizmoninja.com/ Tabe

      Why even make phones look nice if everybody should be covering them up with cases? Make phones durable.. ie no extra glass…

  • YoSaintLaurent

    I hate to be the voice of reason but granite and glass don’t mix well. That is actually one of the major downsides of having granite counter tops. I am sure if you had placed it face down the screen would have broke(though it would probably take a little longer). Mixing warm glass with cool granite is a little like spraying water on a hot light bulb.

  • http://twitter.com/reggie1225 Reginald Jefferson

    Why is anyone surprised by this? The phone’s were made by LG. That should have sent up warning flares even if one of the phones was a Nexus. I haven’t liked LG’s quality since the flip phone days.

    • http://www.facebook.com/cameron.e.nelson Cameron E Nelson

      My first phone was an LG flip phone and it was unbreakable! Literally couldn’t break it if I tried. Dropped it about 100 feet onto tar and all the happened was the back popped off and battery came out. May not have been a luxury flip phone but those don’t exist.

      • http://www.gizmoninja.com/ Tabe

        All flip phones are unbreakable…

  • kixofmyg0t

    I’d just like to point out that my RAZR M flew put of my ACU jacket as I was getting out of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and slammed onto the concrete face down and didn’t break……

    You gently set the N4 on a table and it cracked.

    Not saying if one is better than the other just pointing out two truths.

  • Ryan de Medeiros

    Do you think a bumper would have made a difference?

    • Robert Johnson

      Due to the lip that the bumper provides on the back, most probably.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Hill/1566015169 James Hill

    That’s what you get for having LG design your phone.

  • enob

    I’m wondering if it’s gorilla glass on the back too. It seems like they put stronger glass on the front, then cheap out on the back

  • Chris Hollenbeck

    Chicks dig scars.

  • Dain Laguna

    am i the only one who remembers how non-babying kellen is with phones in video reviews? not saying thats indicative of how he treats them all the time but it seems like since so many are butthurt about sd cards and the like, any opportunity to bash the n4 is taken advantage of.

    i like cases personally. but i also dont see how its feesible to not have wear and tear on a totally unprotected device. i had an iphone and was just accepting of the needing protection thing. its my personal preference, but ill take a more delicate but gorgeous looking and feeling phone over a more utilitarian one if the price i have to pay is a case.

    but still…glass isnt a good idea for a material to cover a smartphone with.

    • http://www.droid-life.com Kellex B

      I’ve never broken a phone in my life. Never used a case or screen protector. All of them look brand new all of the time. These two phones, with the same glass back, are the only two I’ve ever had an issues with. I do baby my phones.

  • Ibrick

    Life is indeed not good.

  • chris125

    Everyone can hate on samsung and their “cheap plastic” but you dont see posts like this popping up with their devices.

  • Bobknows

    This is super disappointing. With my current phone in disrepair, I’m planned on getting the Nexus 4. Should i just grab the HTC One V for $50 via Virgin Mobile and wait for the next Nexus or should I spring for the Galaxy S3 unlocked to use on T-Mobile? I want a phone that lasts at least a couple of years (maybe more), and it looks like I can either grab a cheap device to hold me over or grab a solid phone now.

  • fixxmyhead

    i blame all u fanboys for demanding “better materials” in use for smartphones. i dont see 60in led tvs made of aluminum or metal casings. i prefer the samsung way. NOT once in my life has someone said that my phone “looks good” ala the HTC fanboy way but they have said its thin and fast

  • snowglyder

    I think it adds character.

  • chris125

    haha must be that great lg build quality. Even the iphone 4 back didn’t break that easily.

  • http://twitter.com/A2Eric Eric S

    Last night my N4 took a dive from the counter top down to a hardwood floor, falling behind the couch. Not a scratch, this time. I, like Kellex, baby my devices. My GNexus is scratch free and in great shape, one year later. I’m waiting for two cases for the N4, bumper and a Cruzerlite case. Hope they hurry before it’s too late!!

  • Milo

    These Nexus phones are getting worse and worse.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jorge.jonathan Jonathan Jorge

    Three words: Buy a Case. And if you’re one of the type that hates to cover up your phone because it’s beauty needs to be displayed you’re a jackass. My main reasons to always have a case on my phone is because 1. I will drop it (not sure when but it WILL HAPPEN) and 2. I resell ALL my phones within the span of 8 months so I want them to look immaculate with no scratches or dents in case it was dropped and 3. with a case on the damn thing it’s less likely to ever get damaged; the case will take all the

    So many pros to having a case. Stop worrying about how durable the phone is and enjoy the beauty of it’s software and affordable price. People really love to find something to complain about. If it’s not thin enough it’s too heavy and if it’s not made of titanium steel then it’s too cheap or the battery isn’t removable or the dog has cancer…blah blah blah….GTFO

    • Dain Laguna

      hahah i wish i could upvote this more

    • http://twitter.com/J0ESK0 J0ESK0

      You do understand that putting a case/bumper on the phone completely negates the entire design/innovation/thinness of said phone. So yes, it may make it more durable now.. but the whole beauty and design that you’re paying for is now destroyed. So, using your theory.. you might as well just make the phone out of concrete and put Android 4.2 on it cause its durable. Dude.. NO. You buy a phone like this because it’s thin and beautiful to look at, hardware and software alike. Excusing a glass back by saying “just throw a case/bumper on it” destroys the entire point of having said phone. Period.

    • http://www.gizmoninja.com/ Tabe

      I don’t get the case thing… Why even make the phones look like anything if you’re just going to cover them with cases?! According to the pro-case people all phones should look the same, dull with no differing features, with the only differences being the screen and innards.

  • MrSteve920

    Not trying to justify the use of glass on the back of the Nexus 4, but a stone counter top is generally colder than just about any other table you could own. A stone counter top does not absorb a lot of heat so even though everything in the room was room temperature I guarantee if you measured the temperature of the stone it would be significantly cooler.

    • Atomdrift

      I think it has less to do with the temperature and more to do with the simple fact it was a stone countertop. Granite countertops are the death of wineglasses – not that a phone should be as fragile as that…

  • MooleyBooleyTroll

    I’m not sure if I will get this phone or not but if I do it will get a tpu and I won’t care if the back cracks… Front cracks and I might be a little peaved…

  • roberthenderson

    There are also tons of cheap replacement backs for the GS3 on eBay. From carbon fiber to leather to bling, there are tons of options.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/MMcCraryNJ Michael McCrary

    I don’t think you can really say “I baby the hell out of my devices” and “I’ve never used a case or screen protector ever” in the same breath. All glass, not just Gorilla Glass (or even Gorilla Glass 2) will scratch if the right dirt particle comes into contact with it. GG is meant to protect your screen from common objects you might have in your pocket – keys, pens, pencils, that sort of thing. Fine dirt particles (especially sand) have a higher grit level than those objects.

    That’s just my opinion though.