Like all of Google's smartphones, the Nexus 4 is the only handset on the market that comes with the latest version of the brand's Android operating system—here, version 4.2 Jelly Bean. It will also be getting all the latest updates immediately as they come out, whereas many other Droid handsets will have to wait weeks, if not months.
The Nexus 4 has a 4.7-inch IPS Plus screen with LG's Zerogap technology and 1280 x 768 resolution, a 1.5 GHz Krait Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, a backlit 8-Megapixel camera sensor and a 2,100 mAh battery.
Design & Handling
At first sight the Nexus 4 looks... well, like a Nexus. Google obviously wants to give its phones a recognisable touch, a point they've driven home with the not-so-discreet logo on the back.
Sober and minimalist with nice curves, the design suggests good handling despite the large size of the phone. The standout design feature is an all-black glass back with a grid-like pattern of copper-coloured pixels that change depending which way you hold the phone and the ambient lighting. The back is a love-it-or-leave-it kind of thing; not everybody here at the office is into it.
As for the finishing, what can we say? It's impeccable. After spending several days at the bottom of a handbag it hasn't shown the slightest blemish. However, like the iPhone 4, 4S and 5, fancy materials like these mean that any big fall could spell danger for part or all of your phone.
There's no microSD card reader, so the memory you see is the memory you get. Which means that anyone who opts for the less expensive of the two sizes could rue the day he bought it once he reaches that 8 GB capacity. It's really a shame given that the gorgeous, spacious screen just makes you itch to consume HD movies and games with awesome graphics, two of the luxuries that demand the most memory on a smartphone. The 16 GB version obviously provides a bit more elbow room.
The Nexus 4 features the same 4.7-inch IPS panel as the LG Optimus G, which is set to be released in 2013, with similar resolution at 318 dots per inch. In other words, it's a great display with tons of detail. And don't bother looking for the pixels, because you won't see them. Text is displayed with perfect clarity and is entirely legible without zooming.
Tip: no matter where you are in the phone (the homescreen, a web page, even in an app), you can instantly enlarge the font size by tapping three times anywhere on the screen. That's a great feature for anyone who wears glasses, although here Android's just catching up with Windows Phone and iOS.
Blacks aren't quite as deep on this IPS display as they are on AMOLED and Super AMOLED screens. However, the contrast is an excellent 1432:1 and the colours are fairly neutral to the eye. We measured a Delta E of 5.9 (the closer to zero, the more accurate the colours). A Delta E of 5.9 is good, but could be better. The latest AMOLED screens to hit the market generally have more neutral colours than last year's models, with excellent Delta E's—better than the Nexus 4's IPS display. Nonetheless, LG has somehow created quite a superb screen here. It's comfortable to look at and bright enough (up to 390 cd/m²) to be easy to read in sunlight.
The screen uses LG' Zerogap technology, which essentially consists in removing the space between the touch-sensitive layer and the surface of the screen. This improves the screen's responsiveness to touch commands (as well it should) and drops a few precious fractions of a millimetre from the phone's overall thickness.
Interface & Navigation
Buying a Google Nexus smartphone or tablet is synonymous with acquiring the device with the most advanced version of Android on the market. In this case, this means Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. Among the mass of updates included in Google's latest operating system are: a more extensive version of Google Now with new dynamic interactions (places and points of interest in your vicinity, with photos); Photo Sphere, which takes 360° photos; a Swype-style "Gesture Typing" keyboard where you drag your finger from letter to letter to form words; Google Voice Search has become a bit smarter (and it works!); and there's the welcome addition of a "quick settings" menu for managing connections and settings.
The quick settings menu comes months after Google's partners (HTC, Samsung, & co.) already began offering their own equivalent in their software overlays. It's simple to use, with easily recognisable icons, all in keeping with the sober, geeky style that permeates the Nexus product line.
The Gesture Typing keyboard is incredibly effective. Every time you touch one letter and drag to the next a blue line follows the path traced by your finger. It recognises words quickly and effectively and the whole operation is extremely smooth.
As always you can launch apps straight from the lock screen, but now you can also access widgets. All you do is swipe left or right to bring up dynamic windows (after having already set which widgets you want to access from the lock screen, of course).
Now for performance. If we had to judge the Nexus 4 based solely on the raw results obtained with benchmarks, it clearly wouldn't be at the top of the ladder in terms of processing (CPU) and graphics (GPU). Benchmarks are not one of the Nexus 4's strong points. Maybe LG had trouble optimising its hardware for the OS... That's certainly a possibility, especially given that two smartphones with the exact same hardware, the Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC 8X, fare much better in benchmarks.
However. When it comes to actual usage—ultimately the part that matters most—the Nexus 4 simply runs with exemplary fluidity. It's flawlessly responsive. From opening apps and flipping between menus to downloading stuff from Google Play and scrolling through web pages, after a good full week of testing we didn't hit a single snag on this phone.
With Jelly Bean Google has revised and enhanced the camera interface, and added Photo Sphere (in addition to the now to-be-expected panorama mode). Photo Sphere takes 360° photos, somewhat like a fish-eye lens. This a neat idea, but it requires a lot of practice (and a good deal of patience) to successfully pull off a 360° image.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the quality of the photos the Nexus 4 is no home run. The pictures are inconsistently rendered: the centre of the shot will be clear and detailed, but the further away from centre you go, the less sharp the image becomes. There's a good deal of noise and while in low lighting the photos come out slightly better than most smartphones, it still can't rival the Lumia 920 or iPhone 5.
The headphone output is decent with quality audio rendering and not a trace of distortion. The volume could be higher, but it shouldn't ruin the listening experience. The speaker, however, isn't particularly loud in the first place and the fact that it's located on the back of the phone doesn't help matters when you lay it down on a table!
To share the phone's image with a TV screen you can buy a SlimPort micro-USB adapter that allows you to charge your phone at the same time. Yes, this technology is different from the MHL you may already know. Another solution for the near future is making a wireless connection with Miracast, a mirror display protocol that Google is launching along with the Nexus 4 and that LG—surprise, surprise—will be including in its upcoming TV sets. Expect more brands to follow soon.
The 2,100 mAh battery provides satisfactory battery life, lasting a full day with fairly intensive use. This is also what the benchmarks tell us. In our standard battery testing app (Battery Benchmark, which employs Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Internet, multimedia content and varying levels of brightness to produce a solid stress test that matches the results we obtain in practice) the Nexus 4 gets four out of five. The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and Motorola Razr i out-battery the Nexus 4, but it's still in the Top 10 longest-lasting phones on the market.
- Design and finish
- IPS display with high contrast and brightness
- Good resolution and legibility
- Latest version of Android (4.2 Jelly Bean)
- Gesture Typing keyboard
- Non-expandable memory
- No 4G
- Location of the speaker
- Mediocre camera sensor
- Photo Sphere impractical to use
Rock-bottom price aside, the Nexus 4 is an excellent smartphone. You just have to like Android without any of the sometimes-useful extras that you get with the competition's software overlays. The Nexus 4 is LG's triumphant return to the mobile race with a sober, elegant and effective smartphone. The only major issues that could turn off certain consumers are the inconsistent camera rendering and non-expandable memory. That said, you won't find better value for your money anywhere else in the Android universe.