The Nexus 4 is an incredibly compelling phone - it offers the raw hardware strength of the most powerful Android phones on the market and comes with the very latest version of Android, yet you can buy it sim-free for just £239. That's about half the price of similarly powerful phones, like the Galaxy S III and the One X+.
We were impressed with the Nexus 4 from our initial investigations, although benchmark results were disappointing compared to the LG Optimus G, a phone that should have almost identical hardware. Whether or not that's a function of the new Android 4.2 software, how much does it impact the phone in day-to-day use?
Let's find out in our full review.
Let's begin by having a look at exactly what you'll find if you pick up a Google Nexus 4.
Google have pretty much standardised their Nexus packaging at this point, so if you've picked up a Nexus 7 you'll know what to expect here. There's a nice dark grey cardboard sheath, showing the Nexus 4 at a jaunty angle. Pull this off, and you'll see the thicker black cardboard box inside. On the bottom we'll see the description - you can can see we've got the 'LG-E960' in 16 GB, and this is the UK version as made in Korea.
By cutting through the two stickers on the back and peeling off the top of the black cardboard box, the Nexus 4 is revealed. It's covered in plastic as normal; underneath there are a few compartments with various bits and pieces inside. You get a Quick Start Guide (promptly put back in the box), a micro USB cable, a USB AC adapter with LG branding and a micro-SIM ejection tool. There are no headphones, disappointingly.
2. Physical Features
Now, let's have a look at the phone itself. If you're familiar with the earlier Nexus phone, the Galaxy Nexus, then you have a pretty good idea of what the Nexus 4 looks like, as it has the same basic shape and size. The screen is wider (as it is a 16:10 aspect ratio instead of 16:9) and the bezel curves away on the sides to make swiping a bit easier. On the top centre there's the earpiece, on the top right there is the front-facing camera. It's an attractive if not beautiful design.
The back is quite different from the Galaxy Nexus. Instead of textured Samsung plastic, we have a cool holographic design that shimmers and appears as you tilt it in the light, wrapped in Gorilla Glass just like the front. This makes it a bit slippery to hold, and has been reported to crack fairly easily, so be forewarned! It does look pretty neat, though. On the back we have the loudspeaker in the bottom right and the camera and LED in the top left. I would have preferred centred elements, but this isn't always possible of course.
Now, let's have a look at the various ports and features on display. These are all included on the rubberised band that lies between the two pieces of glass.
On the top, we've got the headphone jack. While I prefer to have the headphone jack on the bottom, it's hardly a deal-breaker. There's also a microphone here. On the bottom we've got another microphone, the micro USB port and two screws which will no doubt reveal the innards of the phone.
On the left hand side, we have the volume rocker in its normal position as well as the micro SIM card tray; you'll need the included ejection tool or a pin to get this out. On the right hand side, we have the lock key again in its normal position. The buttons are easy to find and actuate well.
Overall, it's a pleasing if not revolutionary design.
3. Hardware Specifications
Now that we've had a look at what the phone looks like, let's have a look at what's inside. Overall, it's an impressive spec sheet that meets or exceeds even the top Android handsets, namely the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the HTC One X+. For a more detailed analysis of these specifications, check out the hardware discussion section in our First Impressions piece.
CPU Type: Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro
CPU Speed: Quad-core 1.5 GHz
GPU: Adreno 320
RAM: 2 GB DDR2
Storage: 8 or 16 GB
Display: 4.7" TrueHD 1280 x 768 IPS Plus
Battery: 2100 mAh w/ built-in wireless charging
Front Camera: 1.3 megapixel
Rear Camera: 8 megapixel
Wireless Connectivity: GSM HSDPA, WiFi N, Bluetooth 4, NFC, GPS
Wired Connectivity: Micro USB (w/ USB OTG, MHL)
SIM Card: Micro-SIM
Dimensions: 133.9 x 68.7 x 9.1 mm
Weight: 139 grams
So - a new Nexus phone, a new version of Android. It's what we've come to expect from Google and 4.2 doesn't disappoint. While there aren't sufficient changes to warrant a new name - this one is still called Jelly Bean - the new OS includes a number of new features as well as minor improvements and polish throughout.
My favourite of the new features comes in the camera app. It's a shooting mode called Photo Sphere, in which you create a kind of 360 degree panorama. If you've ever used Google Street View, you'll be familiar with the end result - a near complete sphere around you that you can pan and turn to see the ground or the sky. While constructing one takes a few minutes, it's fairly simple to do. Just keep the camera level and pointed in one area to take the first image. Then, blue circles will appear above, below, to the left and to the right. Move the centre of the viewfinder to any one of them, and that photo will be added to your PhotoSphere.
As you continue to capture these pictures at regular intervals, you'll gradually fill in the sphere. All in all, the process takes about 2 minutes at most; once you're done hit the stop key and the sphere will be rendered. Once it's complete, you'll notice all of the images are nicely stitched together and you'll have one big panoramic photo - viewable as a traditional flat photo, or as a rotatable photo sphere. For really capturing the look of an area, it's fantastic.
The camera app has also been upgraded in another clever way. Now settings are available in a radial menu that is available wherever you press down your finger. It's quite quick to use, and allows one-finger operation to ensure that you don't have to lose your shot.
Another good addition is gesture typing. Like the earlier Swype Android keyboard replacement, you form words by quickly gliding from one letter to another. A very clever auto-complete will figure out which word you mean an astonishing amount of the time. Thanks to the lack of tapping, you can write much more quickly than you would do normally, making even long emails a breeze to complete. While PhotoSphere is a beautiful and exciting addition to Android, it's this gesture typing that you'll really miss on other phones.
The clock app has also been updated. We can only hope this is what Andoid 5 will look like; bold typography and a sensible layout make this one of the best looking apps on Android. The clock app now includes support for multiple timezones (see the time in your favourite cities) as well as alarms and timers. While these aren't hooked up as well to Google Now as they could be, they're welcome additions.
Finally, Google Now has been improved. While it was always eerily prescient before, now it can read your emails too. Of course, it's for good reason - now Google Now will automatically track packages, monitor your flights, save your check-in details and generally get about its business more freely. While I haven't had much cause to use any of the new features (the last parcel I got was the Nexus 4 itself), they certainly look good. And if you don't want Google looking through your Gmail, then you don't have to use 'em.
The Android 4.2 software is as expected the best version of Android yet. If you're not a fan of Samsung or HTC's excessive skinning then you should find it really refreshing to use a vanilla version of Android with nice looking icons, a sensible start menu arrangement and no random programs.
The whole experience has been as fast and fluid as you'd expect from this combination of bleeding edge hardware and up-to-date software, apart from that whole 'not-having-December' debacle that was recently patched.
Each of the features above have continued to prove useful - PhotoSphere, gesture typing, the new clock and Google Now, but gesture typing takes the crown as 'most essential feature from Android 4.2'.
Quadrant is the standard comprehensive benchmarking software for Android, looking at CPU, Memory, I/O, 2D and 3D performance. This generally gives a good idea of a phone's overall power, while also providing subscores in each of these categories that can explain a lot.
Here we see benchmarking results far below what we'd expect. The Optimus G, which has the same hardware as the Nexus 4, scores 7,600 points here and the Galaxy Note II scores 6,800. Hopefully this is a software issue related to 4.2 that can be fixed by Google.
Vellamo is a popular web benchmark developed by Qualcomm, who make the S4 Pro that the Nexus 4 runs on. Generally they test their processors on this benchmark themselves, so I expect the S4 to have a pretty strong result here. Vellamo's latest version also includes a 'Metal' benchmark that looks at more general hardware performance as well, so we'll be able to look at that too.
Again, for the HTML5 benchmark we see troubling performance - The Nexus 4 score pales in comparison to the Optimus G (1700) and the Note II (2480). Again, this may be down to Android 4.2 but it does speak poorly to the phone's performance.
GLBenchmark is a popular graphical benchmark that offers a good look at a phone's performance in a graphically demanding situation, like a 3D game.
We'll be running both on-screen and off-screen benchmarks; the former looks at realistic performance given the 1280 x 768 screen resolution of the Nexus 4, while the latter will render to a uniformly sized offscreen buffer, which will give results that are more easily comparable to other phones regardless of their resolution.
We're using version 2.5.1 of the benchmark, which includes the new Egypt HD benchmark for new phones with a 1080p offscreen resolution and the old Egypt benchmark, which uses a 720p off-screen resolution.
Here we see performance more in line what we're expecting. The Optimus G goes slightly higher at 31 fps in the off-screen 1080p benchmark, but the Note II can barely put up 17 fps. A result more in line with what we'd expect considering the identical hardware between the Optimus G and the Nexus 4.
As a brief measure of CPU performance, we'll look at the single and multi-threaded Linpack results.
This is ridiculously far behind the Optimus G's results, which are 197 and 483 for single threaded and multi-threaded, respectively.
Overall, the benchmark results for the Nexus 4 are confusing - is there some difference in the hardware that is causing the issue, or is it a software problem that can be resolved? At the moment, we still don't know the answers to these questions.
As mentioned in the software section, the camera software is quite powerful, but how does the actual camera itself compare? I'd say that it's about on par with that in the Motorola Razr i or Galaxy S2, while not being quite as good as the Galaxy S III, Nokia Lumia 920 or iPhone 5. It's certainly serviceable in day to day use, but the real lead here is the software, not the hardware.
7. Battery Life
While there were some initial reports of terrible battery life with the Nexus 4 on pre-production units, these seem to have been fixed by the 4.2 update that was released on the same day as the phone itself. I've found battery life to be good if not excessive, somewhere between the Galaxy Nexus and the Motorola Razr i (albeit without that phone's amazing standby time). I regularly got about a day and a half of usage out of the Nexus 4, which is about in-line with my expectations.
The Google Nexus 4 is without a doubt the best smartphone for the money right now. While its storage is limited and its benchmark results are off-putting, in every other area this smartphone excels. For giffgaff it seems quite perfect - this is a phone that you can afford to get sim-free, then get a giffgaff sim card for it instead of having to commit to an expensive 24 month contract. If you're an Android fan, this is the phone to get - once it's back in stock, at least!
Thanks for reading as always, and I hope you have a good evening. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments below and I'll be happy to answer them.
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