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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.