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Nexus 4

My wife has had a LG Nexus 4 for about 4 months now so it’s time for me to review it and compare it to my Samsung Galaxy S3.

A Sealed Case

The first thing to note about the Nexus 4 is that it doesn’t support changing a battery or using micro-SD storage. The advantage of these design choices is that it allows reduced weight and greater strength compared to what the phone might otherwise be. Such choices would also allow the phone to be slightly cheaper which is a massive advantage, it’s worth noting that the Nexus 4 is significantly cheaper than any other device I can buy with comparable specs. My wife’s phone has 8G of storage (not RAM – thanks Robin) and cost $369 at the start of the year while the current price is $349 for the 8G version and $399 for the 16G version. Of course one down-side of this is that if you need 16G of storage then you need to spend an extra $50 on the 16G phone instead of buying a phone with 8G of storage and inserting a 16GB micro-SD card which costs $19 from OfficeWorks. Also there’s no option of using a 32G SD card (which costs less than $50) or a 64G SD card.

Battery etc

The battery on the Nexus 4 isn’t nearly big enough, when playing Ingress it lasts about half as long as my Galaxy S3, about 90 minutes to fully discharge. If it was possible to buy a bigger battery from a company like Mugan Power then the lack of battery capacity wouldn’t be such a problem. But as it’s impossible to buy a bigger battery (unless you are willing to do some soldering) the only option is an external battery.

I was unable to find a Nexus 4 case which includes a battery (which is probably because the Nexus 4 is a lot less common than the Galaxy S3) so my wife had to buy an external battery. If you are serious about playing Ingress with a Nexus 4 then you will end up with a battery in your pocket and cable going to your phone from the battery, this is a real annoyance. While being a cheap fast phone with a clear screen makes it well suited to Ingress the issue of having a cable permanently attached is a real down-side.

One significant feature of the Nexus 4 is that it supports wireless charging. I have no immediate plans to use that feature and the wireless charger isn’t even on sale in Australia. But if the USB connector was to break then I could buy a wireless charger from the US and keep using the phone, while for every other phone I own a broken connector would render the phone entirely useless.

Screen Brightness

I have problems with my Galaxy S3 not being bright enough at midday when on “auto” brightness. I have problems with my wife’s Nexus 4 being too bright in most situations other than use at midday. Sometimes at night it’s painfully bright. The brightness of the display probably contributes to the excessive battery use. I don’t know whether all Nexus 4 devices are like this or whether there is some variance. In any case it would be nice if the automatic screen brightness could be tuned so I could make it brighter on my phone and less bright on my wife’s.

According to AndroSensor my Galaxy S3 thinks that the ambient light in my computer room is 28 lux while my wife’s Nexus 4 claims it’s 4 lux. So I guess that part of the problem is the accuracy of the light sensors in the phones.

On-Screen Buttons

I am a big fan of hardware buttons. Hardware buttons work reliably when your fingers are damp and can be used by feel at night. My first Android phone the Sony-Ericsson Xperia X10 had three hardware buttons for settings, home, and back as well as buttons for power, changing volume, and taking a photo which I found very convenient. My Galaxy S3 has hardware buttons for power, home, and volume control. I think that Android phones should have more hardware buttons not less. Unfortunately it seems that Google and the phone manufacturers disagree with me and the trend is towards less buttons. Now the Nexus 4 only has hardware buttons for power, and volume control.

One significant advantage of the Galaxy S3 over the Nexus 4 is that the S3′s settings and back buttons while not implemented in hardware are outside the usable screen area. So the 4.8″ 1280*720 display is all for application data while the buttons for home, settings, and back on the Nexus 4 take up space on the screen so only a subset of the 4.7″ 1280*768 is usable by applications. While according to specs the Nexus 4 has a screen almost as big as the Galaxy S3 and a slightly higher resolution in practice it has an obviously smaller screen with fewer usable pixels.

Also one of the changes related to having the buttons on-screen means that the “settings” button is often in the top right corner which I find annoying. I didn’t like that aspect of the GUI the first time I used a tablet running Android 3.0 and I still don’t like it now.

GPS

My wife’s Nexus 4 seems to be much less accurate than my Galaxy S3 for GPS. I don’t know how much of this is due to phone design and how much is due to random factors in manufacturing. I presume that a large portion of it is due to random manufacturing issues because other people aren’t complaining about it. Maybe she just got unlucky with an inaccurate phone.

Shape and Appearance

One feature that I really like in the Samsung Galaxy S is that it has a significant ridge surrounding the screen. If you place a Galaxy S face-down on a desk that makes it a lot less likely to get a scratch on the screen. The LG U990 Viewty also had a similar ridge. Of course the gel case I have bought for every Android phone has solved this problem, but it would really be nice to have a phone that I consider usable without needing to buy such a case. The Nexus 4 has a screen that curves at the edges which if anything makes the problem worse than merely lacking a ridge around the edge. On the up-side the Nexus 4 looks and feels nice before you use it.

The back of the Nexus 4 sparkles, that’s nice but when you buy a gel case (which doesn’t seem to be optional with modern design trends) you don’t get to see it.

The Nexus 4 is a very attractive package, it’s really a pity that they didn’t design it to be usable without a gel case.

Conclusion

Kogan is currently selling the Galaxy S3 with 16G of storage for $429. When comparing that to the 16G version of the Nexus 4 at $399 that means there’s a price of $30 to get a SD socket, the option of replacing a battery, one more hardware button, and more screen space. So when comparing the Google offers for the Nexus 4 with the Kogan offer on the Galaxy S3 or the Galaxy Note which also has 16G of storage and sells for $429 the Google offer doesn’t seem appealing to me.

The Nexus 4 is still a good phone and is working well for my wife, but she doesn’t need as much storage as I do. Also when she got her phone the Galaxy S3 was much more expensive than it is now.

Also Kogan offer the 16G version of the Nexus 4 for $389 which makes it more appealing when compared to the Galaxy S3. It’s surprising that they can beat Google on price.

Generally I recommend the Nexus 4 without hesitation to anyone who wants a very capable phone for less than $400 and doesn’t need a lot of storage. If you need more storage then the Galaxy S3 is more appealing. Also if you need to use a phone a lot then a Galaxy S3 with a power case works well in situations where the Nexus 4 performs poorly.

15 comments to Nexus 4

  • Jon

    Looking at comparison videos on Youtube, the camera on the Galaxy produces a much better image. Nexus’s video looks muddy and lifeless.

  • Robin

    > My wife’s phone has 8G of RAM and cost [..]

    It has 8GB of storage and 2GB of RAM, see http://www.google.com/nexus/4/specs/

  • I’ve had my Nexus 4 for a few months now and it’s the longest lasting phone on a single charge I’ve ever had. I don’t play games, but do use the GPS, 3G and bluetooth a lot (which I leave on all the time) every day. I think the record is 3 days with 15% charge left. For me, that’s unheard of in a smart phone.

    I saw a video on the Nexus 4 from Google before it came out and I seem to recall them saying it was specifically designed to be able to place face down without scratching. I need to try and find that again, but I think it was something to do with the raised edges at the top and bottom…

    The other point you missed (unless _I_ missed it) is that the Nexus 4 comes with vanilla Android software and updates for the foreseeable future. You’ll be waiting with Samsung (and always playing catch up). For ex-iPhone users who want the “iPhone” experience, I think Nexus device is the only way to go.

    -c

  • etbe

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light-field_photography
    http://www.kogan.com/au/shop/cameras/

    Jon: Fair point, and camera quality is something I’d like. But it seems that the design of modern phones prohibits it. To get quality you need either a long focal length to allow a wider lens and more light per pixel (IE something that’s a lot more than 9mm thick) or possibly something using Light-Field technology (which according to my understanding theoretically allows a wide flat camera even though the the Lytro devices that Kogan is selling for $469 are very long).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nokia_808_PureView

    The Nokia 808 PureView is apparently only 13.9mm thick at it’s thickest point and that’s enough to make a higher quality picture possible with traditional techniques (IE not Light Field or anything else computationally intense). I’d like to see a phone that’s 13mm thick all the way (lots of space for a big battery) and which also has a bulge for a longer camera focal length.

    Robin: Thanks, updates.

    Chris: 3 days is really good. My experience with Android phones is that they won’t survive 3 days of being mostly idle. If a phone is left alone to do nothing but check email and wait for calls then I’d expect it to be at 50% charge by the end of the day.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorilla_Glass

    The Nexus 4 is documented as having Gorilla Glass 2 which was released in 2012. I expect that the video referenced the fact that the Nexus 4 had harder glass than most phones in existence. I’ve just done a quick test and there are no raised edges to stop it touching.

    You are correct that the Nexus 4 has stock Android which is generally a good thing.

    For the iPhone experience you want a reliable full backup that can be restored to a newer phone and I’m not aware of any good solution to that problem on Android.

  • What do you mean by reliable full backup? Like if you lose your phone, buy a new one and log in, then everything is there? I don’t know much about iPhone but does it sync your photos back down to your iPhone and restore your app data? AFAIK if you use Google sync, your photos, app data, contacts, calendar, email, everything will come back down with the exception of sms’s.

    -c

  • etbe

    Chris: From what the iPhone owners tell me it backs up everything, apps, config settings, contact list, photos, etc. You connect your new phone to your iTunes connected PC and then everything is there, it just works like the old one. That’s what I’ve been told anyway, I’ve never watched it being done.

  • Ahh, so similar to what Android does, but without the iTunes.

    -c

  • For what it’s worth, found it here (4min 30sec) referencing the centre frame which is supposed to protect the glass (face up, not down as I thought)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=66-4uMQqerA#t=9s

    Not that that means it actually _does_ protect it, mind you, and it will depend how big the bits of grit are that are sitting under your phone of course..

    Cheers,
    -c

  • Darik Horn

    The Nexus 4 is also best quad band phone for the price. It can get full speed access on all GSM networks in North America, including AWS providers like T-Mobile and Wind Mobile.

    In comparison, the Samsung phones that we can buy here are usually Band II or Band IV, but not both, and usually carrier locked.

  • Andrew Malcolmson

    Re: screen too bright on auto-brightness. Cyanogenmod has an extra adjustment in the Brightness setting screen for adjustment sensitivity which might help.

    Re GPS accurancy: I’ve found that under Jelly Bean GPS does not lock unless wifi is turned on. Wifi does’t have to be connected.

  • etbe

    Chris: Do you have a good reference for how to backup Android phones?

    Regarding the center frame, my interpretation of the video is that it’s talking about protecting the glass on the back. That’s very nice, but the front glass is more important. Also sometimes you want to block the status LED so putting it face down is convenient.

    Darik: Yes the situation with locked phones in the US is quite bad. I think that you need legislation similar to the EU has to force carriers to sell unlocked phones.

    Andrew: Thanks for the suggestion about CyanogenMod. I’ve used it in the past and it’s very nice. But sometimes I just want to use a device and not hack on it. If upgrading a phone from stock Android to CyanogenMod was as easy as changing Linux distributions on a PC then I’d definitely do it.

    As for GPS accuracy, the Wifi settings didn’t change things, it was always inaccurate. Also the accuracy of the phone has decreased significantly over the last few days, I’m not sure why.

  • Adrian

    I have had my Nexus 4 since release and also own ad GS3, the N4 has far superior battery life then the GS3. The GS3 is lucky to last a day with mild use, where as the N4 will last about a day and a half with the same amount of use. It seems battery life is really hit and miss with any device, no idea why that is. My N4 backs up everything to Google, all settings even the wallpaper is still there if i reflash the rom and start from scratch. Once i sign in it downloads everything i had before it was fresh , i don’t have to go looking for anything, so not sure why yours does not?

  • Good reference for how to backup Android phones? Well I guess it depends what you mean by backup, as in, your files or “everything”? I’m assuming you don’t want to use android debug-bridge to pull files off the device the developer way, but you can always mount the device and rsync them off[1] (or any OS that supports MTP).

    However as we were talking about the “iPhone” experience then I guess you mean, just like, everything.

    So that’s built into Android. If you go to Settings, Accounts and click on your Google account you have options to sync whatever you want (and don’t want). For example:
    * App Data
    * Browser
    * Calendar
    * Contacts
    * Drive (all your files)
    * Gmail
    * Photos
    * Books
    * Music
    * Google +

    And I’m sure there are others but I don’t have whatever app installed that uses it. I think Google Music plays and syncs from the cloud all the time, although you can “download” whatever songs you want to the device so it’s not streaming (you can import all your existing collection up to 20,000 I think, and then buy more from Google, or import more from wherever). I don’t use it though.

    The only things I sync are gmail, calendar and contacts. However as Adrian has mentioned, if you lose your phone you just put in your gmail account details and it asks you if you want to sync your device. If you say yes, then all you apps, app data, calendars, photos, etc all come back. As I mentioned before the only thing missing I think is sms’s although there are apps that can easily back that up.

    Is this not the sort of thing you’re after? Or is there something more?

    [1] http://blog.christophersmart.com/2013/05/30/rsync-and-a-nexus-device/

  • Andrew Malcolmson

    Chris: On my Android 4.2.2 GNex photos don’t get backed up unless you have the Google Plus app installed. The Photos option in the sync settings can be turned on but photos taken on the camera don’t get backed up anywhere I can find. It’s actually good that this doesn’t work because there’s no option to not sync on cellular data. With the Google Plus app, a new option Auto-Backup is added to the settings but the feature is really managed from the app.

  • @Andrew Ahh yes, well on my Nexus 4 Google+ comes with the stock image so maybe in future all android phones will include it by default, or Google will change the way it works. Either way, full photo backup is supported via the build in app. When I opened it for the first time it asked me if I want to backup photos, and whether to do that via wifi or any data connection (I disabled it).

    -c