It’s that time of the year, and Google has just introduced the Google Nexus 4, a smartphone designed by Google to embody the Android experience, and built in collaboration with LG which used its latest technology and manufacturing know-how which was acquired during the design of the recently launched, and excellent, LG Optimus G.
The Google Nexus 4 is different from other smartphones out there: for one, it comes with Google’s latest and greatest mobile OS: Android 4.2 (4.1 and 4.2 are code named ”Jelly Bean”). Secondly, Google will retail this smartphone as “unlocked” (will work with any carrier with a compatible network) for $299, which is about half of the regular price for comparable unlocked phones. Finally, the Google Nexus 4 is a “world phone” that should run with most GSM/HSPA+ natworks on the planet, including T-Mobile USA, which makes it a de-facto top choice for an out-of-contract smartphone.
Now the question is: how good is it in the real world, and what exciting features does Android 4.2 bring? In this review, we will go over the critical Android 4.2 features, and we will tell you how it feels to use the Google Nexus 4 in the real world.
Display IPS Plus 1280 x 768
Display size 4.7”
Display PPI 320
Processor Snapdragon S4 Pro 1.5GHz (Adreno 320 GPU)
Storage 8GB or 16GB
Battery capacity 2,100 mAH
Rear Camera 8MP BSI sensor – 1080p video
Front Camera 1.3MP
Network Unlocked GSM/UMTS/HSPA+
GSM/EDGE/GPRS (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
3G (850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100 MHz)
HSPA+ 42 Mbps
Height 0.36” (9.1 mm)
Width 2.7” (68.7 mm)
Length 5.27” (133.9 mm)
Weight 4.96 oz (139 g)
We all use smartphones differently, so it’s important that I tell you what I do with my smartphone(s): I typically check email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and reply moderately because typing on the virtual keyboard is tedious. I browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day, if at all.
On the “apps” side, I have a couple of social networks (FB, G+), a receipts manager and random apps (FourSquare and misc…).
The Google Nexus 4 has almost the same chassis than the LG Optimus G, except for the thickness and the curvy lines at the top and bottom that match its predecessor’s shape, the Google Galaxy Nexus. The similarity in the chassis outer shape of both Nexus models makes it easy to recognize the product brand and differentiates it from the LG Optimus G.
The pattern of the texture on the back of the Nexus 4 is different from the diamond-shaped pattern featured on the back of the Korean and AT&T models of the Optimus G (the Sprint version has a different pattern).
Similar to the LG Optimus G patented glass-based finish, labeled Crystal Reflection, the Nexus 4 features a pattern that looks different depending on the viewing angle. Since the texture is placed below a glass-based coating, the backside feels smooth. The rounded-shaped pattern design is quite elegant, and provides a nice and subtle glittery effect when you rotate it at different angles in the light.
The three Android’s virtual buttons (back, home, menu) on the front are unfortunately placed inside the display. which reduces the real estate available for apps on the home screen. I would prefer to have them below the display on the bottom glass band, just like it is done on the Optimus G and other Android handsets.
Buttons, connectors, audio and imaging components are located at the same spots as on the Optimus G body (see pictures). This indicates that the Google Nexus 4 motherboard is probably very similar to all the Optimus G versions (except for the AT&T model that features a micro-SD slot, and Sprint version does not have a micro-SIM tray).
Compared to the previous Galaxy Nexus, the build-quality is much better, consequently, the new Google phone is way more stylish than its predecessor.
Google should pay more attention on how it places the branding: the elegant Crystal Reflection finish is ruined by the large shiny Nexus logo plastered on the back. In my opinion, the visual elements on the back cover – the camera & flash, the Nexus logo, the LG logo – are not very well balanced on the surface. It would be more harmonious to have NEXUS by LG in the middle in a subtle gray on black color and in a smaller size.
The power button is placed on the right side while the volume button is located on the left side above the SIM card slot. At the top left you can plug your earphone in the audio jack. As with most current smartphones, you will find the micro USB connector at the bottom. The
On the front, the edge-to-edge IPS display (horizontally) offers a perfectly black flat surface when the Nexus 4 is off, just like the previous Nexus model. The front facing camera is slightly visible at the top right.On the back, the camera and its flash are positioned on the left side while the speaker is located at the bottom right, just like with the LG Optimus G.
The four edges of the chassis are covered with a black soft-touch finish, which makes the Nexus 4 looks less elegant than the Optimus G but offers a better grip. A thin silver metal frame runs around the edges and connects the front Corning Gorilla Glass 2 with the soft-touch. The Power and Volume controls are made of the same silver metal.
As usual with LG, the IPS display is excellent and looks similar to the one found in the LG Optimus G: it features the same 4.7” size, same 1280×768 resolution, same type (True HD IPS Plus) and the same Zerogap Touch Technology. I checked with several photos and they looked the same on both displays.
The display quality is comparable to other high-end smartphones such as the iPhone 5 or the Samsung Galaxy S3. Actually LG provides IPS displays to a number of OEMs, including Apple for its iOS devices.
When compared to the AMOLED and Super AMOLED technology used by Samsung (the maker of the previous Nexus), IPS offers a more natural rendering of colors, while AMOLED and Super AMOLED tends to over-saturates color. As a designer, I personally enjoy over-saturation since it “enhances reality”. However, I can tell that IPS provides a similar quality and delivers a more “realistic” style.
One key advantage of IPS over AMOLED is power consumption, I cannot tell you exactly how much battery life you would save, since it depends of the type of images the smartphone displays: OLED/AMOLED screens consume less power than LCD (or IPS-LCD) when the image is black, however, when the image is bright or white, OLED/AMOLED displays consume way more juice than LCD/IPS-LCD screens.
According to a presentation held by LG at its headquarters after the LG Optimus G launch, the True HD IPS Plus display in the Optimus G consumes 70% less power than AMOLED when displaying a white background.
New Zerogap display technology: thinner, improved touch sensitivity and less reflection
LG introduced its Zerogap Touch technology with the Optimus G, a technology that is offered in the Nexus 4 display as well. According to LG, this eliminates the two ITO films (or glass) sensor and the air gap that were present in previous LCD touch screens. In the Optimus G, the ITO sensor film is directly printed on the cover glass, which removes the air gap between the regular ITO film and the cover glass (see graphic provided by LG).
The key benefits are the increase in thinness, better touch sensitivity and the a less reflective display. Again, that’s according to LG – we can see how that would help thinness.
What’s new in Android 4.2?
The New lock screen can now run widgets. This makes complete sense and we have been waiting for programmable lock screens for a while. Google has implemented it in a cool way: it uses the same home screen widgets, so you can really customize this right away – it is compatible with all the existing Android home screen widgets. While the phone is locked, you can scroll left and right to see more widgets, but you cannot open items like emails and calendar, which require your password.
Android 4.2 supports Wireless Display via MiraCast, a WiFi-based protocol that Google is backing. The idea is simple: none of the previous wireless standards have been able to become a de-facto standard, and Google would like to promote MiraCast in Android so that we can finally get wireless displays going. LG will be among the first display manufacturer to announce MiraCast support in their HDTVs. For older televisions, there is a MiraCast to HDMI adapter that receives the MiraCast stream and converts it into HDMI signal.
The notifications panel has been updated to allow for a quick access to either the notifications, or the settings. This is done by using a one-finger swipe (shows notifications), or a two-finger swipe (shows settings). I use the settings quite a bit, so this is important to me.
The visual accessibility has been improved by a quick magnification option. To quickly zoom and pan, you can triple-tap and hold/drag. Upon release, the screen returns to the normal zoom level. A triple-tap without holding leaves the screen zoomed in until the context changes. This option needs to be enabled in the accessibility settings.
As you may know, we always review the smartphone keyboards because text entry is so critical to the user experience. In Android 4.2, Google has introduced gesture typing, a feature in which you swipe your finger from one letter to the other to form words. It is similar to apps like SWYPE, but it seems faster and better integrated. As you swipe, Android displays its “best guess” as to what you’re trying to type. If the suggestion is correct, just release the swipe and the complete word and a space will be added to the current text. It’s neat.
The current word suggestion follows the finger as you swipe to stay close to the finger that your eyes are tracking. The gestures are completely integrated in the regular keyboard, and surprise – it’s possible to swipe with TWO finger at once. “Making both keyboard modes (normal+gestures) work together was a challenge” says Google.
The Android 4.2 camera has gotten significant user interface improvements and a new Photo Sphere mode that is really cool. More on that later in the Digital Imaging section.
Google Voice Search has been updated too. with this feature, you can ask any question using natural language. Google Search will try to find a consensus of replies on the Internet by crawling search results page and will tell you what the answer is with a synthetic voice. The beauty of this is that it is not “baked”. Google is simply smart enough to understand the question and extract a result from the best search results. Here are a few questions that we tried live: “Who invented Linux?”, “What country’s capital is Baku?”, “Who was the second man on the moon?” — all answered vocally and properly by Google Search. More: ”when does the Hobbit come out… This new version of Google Voice Search is going to be released this week.
Google Now has been getting some love too: for instance, the “Photo Spot Nearby” feature lets you review nice photos taken near your current location. If you are visiting a new place, you may find interesting places to visit so that you don’t miss out on the trip. The service can also remind you of Movies as it knows when you tend to go to the movies, thanks to past movie time searches… Package tracking: by crawling your emails, Google Now knows that you’re waiting for a package and creates a reminder card. Flight status: and Hotel reservation also work in the same way.
Email: The email app has not changed much since Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0), so there’s not much to report. It’s certainly good enough for heavy email users like us, so it should work for most people. It is possible to quickly “flag” and multi-select emails for deletion or transfer to another folder. There’s nothing else to report, really.
Facebook for Android is pretty decent on smartphones. With the HSPA+ network, things aren’t as fast as they are on LTE, but other than that the experience is good. Facebook for mobile has been one of the app that benefited the most from faster hardware. If a fast Facebook is a high priority for you, I would suggest looking at the iPhone 5 because the Facebook app experience is faster than with the Nexus 4.
Google Maps: what can we say? Google Maps is the best mapping system for mobile right now, especially since Apple shot itself (and its users) in the foot by releasing Apple maps. Nokia would be the closest competitor, but their new phones are not yet on the market and we have yet to review them, so we’ll mention them but we can’t compare quite yet. As it stands, Android is the best mapping platform.
Video playback (Excellent): The video playback is excellent both on the fluidity side and on the image-quality side, thanks to the awesome display and the powerful graphics processor. We tried HD trailers in streaming over WiFi from YouTube and video files stored locally accessible in the Gallery application.
Gaming (very good): Equipped with a fast Adreno 320 (vs Adreno 225 for the Galaxy S3) graphics processor and four custom-designed Cortex A9 CPUs (vs. two CPUs) which each have more powerful floating-point units than Tegra 3, the Nexus 4 should run games at high speed.
However, when we ran the Riptide GP game, it delivered between 30FPS and 60FPS in the first level – When we played the same game on the Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone, it ran at a solid 60FPS.
We’re not sure what’s going on because the hardware should be faster, so we suspect that the software may need a bit more time to fully mature, we bumped into the same issue with the LG Optimus G playing Riptide. For instance, the OpenGL drivers may need more work, or may be the game itself needs tweaking, it’s hard to tell from the outside.
Speaker-quality (good): When watching a video,the audio quality delivered via the speaker is good although it could need a little more power – it is largely sufficient in a quiet environment. The iPhone 5 certainly delivers the most powerful sound while the Galaxy S3 gets the right amount of audio quality and power.
Digital Imaging (excellent UI and functionality)
Camera UI and functionality (excellent)
The camera app gets a new minimalist design which is extremely clean and focuses on snapping photos. Yet, it is quick and easy to access many options. I have seen this type of user interface in 3D modeling software like Maya. It is very efficient at shortening the fingers movements, reducing the number of taps, and displaying a lot of useful information at once – it’s a proven concept. After capturing photos, it’s also very easy to sort them and discarding a photo is as easy as a swipe up.
The camera also gets a featured called Photo Sphere which allows users to snap 360 degrees panoramas by stitching photos taken all around you. It is similar to Microsoft PhotoSynth. After capturing the photos, the Camera app can work in the background to stitch them. In the meantime, you are free to use your phone in whichever way you like. When it’s done, you can look at your 360 degrees photos.
Photo (excellent): When compared to the iPhone 5, the 8 MP camera in the nexus 4 provide a similar image quality. The low light performance are similar, the contrasts are slightly stronger in the iPhone 5 than in the Nexus 4 photos, however they were not like that in the reality. Cameras always have a dominant color, the iPhone 5 photos (see below) are slightly yellow while the Nexus 4 images are a little bit red-ish.
See for yourself and check carefully the pictures below, to access the HD versions go to our Flickr account.
Photo Sphere (excellent): The new panoramic feature delivered by Android 4.2 is awesome! When shooting, it provides easy-to-operate guides to make sure the next shot is spatially well aligned with the previous one and the result can be viewed as a “360 degrees cube map”. See below the 2 D version, you will need to view it in the Nexus 4 to experience the “cube map” effect.
Video (good): I shot a video at sunset, in low light conditions, and the iPhone 5 delivered a slightly better result than the Nexus 4, the video is less dark. Additionally, the color balance in the Nexus 4 is not smart enough in low light conditions and I had to manually switch to “night mode” to get proper colors. In regular light condition the video quality is good. The camera captures 1080p video at 22 frames per second.
Antutu is an overall system performance benchmark (CPU, graphics, storage), and what it shows is that overall, most recent phones land in a comparable performance footprint. This means that unless you do something very specific (like “gaming” or “downloads”), those phones should provide a similar overall performance.
Not surprisingly, the Antutu score is close from what we have seen with the LG Optimus G previously. The Google Nexus 4 uses the same hardware, so the performance is nearly identical.
In Geekbench, we’re seeing the same thing. The Google Nexus 4 has a slight advantage, but overall it is comparable with its LG cousin. Geekbench tends to focus more on floating point calculation performance rather than multi-core scalability. This is a good measure for computations like physics in games.
GLBenchmark Egypt, offscreen 1080p: this test has been designed to “stress” the graphics processor (GPU) by running a game-like demo which features a fight between various characters in many different environments (indoors, outdoors…).
In this graphics test, the Google Nexus 4 does very well, and right now, only the iPhone 5 commands a narrow lead in the group of phones that we have benchmarked.
“Perceived performance”: Synthetic benchmarks can only carry us so far. What they don’t show for example is the user experience is smooth and responsive (responsiveness is not always solved with brute-force processor power). In the end, what good is raw performance if you can’t perceive it?
Since the original release of Jelly Bean (Android 4.1), the user interface has been extremely fluid. The Nexus 4 feels significantly faster than the Galaxy Nexus, and that should be fast enough for enthusiast users to see and feel. App loading is reasonably fast, and overall, this smartphone feels very fast.
We are still running some battery tests, but overall, we expect the battery of the Google Nexus 4 to be similar to the Optimus G, but the HSPA+ connectivity may give it a slight edge when compared to LTE devices. Ultimately, this is a device that you will probably have to charge on a daily basis or at least once every two days. We’ll be back for more details in a few hours…
Keep in mind that battery life varies a lot depending on the apps that run in the background, your network reception, your local network density and the amount of time that the: display is ON. You can always refer to the Android battery report to see what is consuming the power. Finally, keep in mind that network transactions generated by apps can appear as “Android” as it is ultimately the OS that handles those transactions.
Battery life – regular and low intensity usage (good):
When I used the Nexus 4 moderately, replying to emails on the go, checking maps here and there, no video playback, snapping a few photos, with the GPS mostly off and not too many apps with push notifications activated, the Nexus 4 lasted for one day and 21hours.
Battery life – High Intensity usage (regular):
I played a video stored locally non-stop for 1 hour and 10 minutes and the battery dropped by 25%. It means that the battery will last roughly 4 hours 40 minutes with intense usage.
Battery overnight depletion (regular):
With an overnight (8hrs) 13% drop in battery life the battery life is what we expected, knowing it is similar than what we tested on the LG Optimus G – the Samsung Galaxy S3 gets a similar battery depletion with 13% drop in 8 hours.
The wireless charger that Google will offer is not yet available and although we saw it at the briefing it was not included in the review unit kit, so we could not try that feature. The Nexus 4 supports the Qi wireless standard so it should work with Qi chargers commercially available.
The Nexus 4 is an excellent smartphone that delivers top performance and features a stylish design for a sweet price.
Getting the unlocked version at $299 is certainly the best value proposition of the new Google phone, especially if you take into account that some smartphones are being priced the same with a 2 year contract.
Google is not releasing the Nexus 4 to compete with its OEM partners, but rather to promote the Android 4.2 experience in a pure form which means that there are no carriers and handset customizations.
The Nexus devices are typically the ones that receive the fastest OS updates so this is particularly attractive for users eager to get their hands on the latest from Google.