Review: Nexus 4
The Nexus 4 took its sweet time coming to India. Based on the Optimus G, the Nexus 4 combines LG’s hardware with Google’s software in a powerful combo that Android fans have been waiting to get their hands on. Now that it’s finally here, let’s take a quick look at it.tech reviews Updated: Jul 09, 2013 11:06 IST
The Nexus 4 took its sweet time coming to India. Based on the Optimus G, the Nexus 4 combines LG’s hardware with Google’s software in a powerful combo that Android fans have been waiting to get their hands on. Now that it’s finally here, let’s take a quick look at it.
Although it’s based on the Optimus G, the Nexus 4 looks nothing like it. It’s hard to tell who gets the credit for the design of the Nexus 4, whether it’s LG or Google or both, but whoever it is has done a remarkable job.
The Nexus 4 is easily one of the best looking phones available in the market today. The front and the back are both made from glass, and whereas the front has a completely nondescript, all-black surface, the rear is covered in a beautiful glittering pattern which reflects light in a fascinating pattern and looks amazing.
Around the sides, you have a rubberized plastic strip and a chrome-finished plastic strip around the display bezel. On the left are the volume control keys and the microSIM card tray. On the right is the power button that is placed a bit too far close to the top of the phone. Although it’s probably placed there so you don’t press it when you keep your thumb on the side it is a bit hard to reach when you do actually want to press it. On the top is the headphone jack and a secondary microphone and on the bottom is the microUSB port and the primary microphone.
Although it looks great, the Nexus 4 is a delicate device. Unlike phones that are made primarily from plastic or metal, the Nexus 4’s use of glass on either side makes it twice as vulnerable to damage. The glass as usual is brittle and can shatter easily if it happens to fall directly on it. Moreover, the chrome-finished strip around the display is also delicate and managed to dent with a short two feet fall. As such, a case for the phone is a must if you intend to keep it in pristine condition because it clearly isn’t capable of withstanding rough usage.
Another issue with the design is the positioning of the loudspeaker. It’s placed on the back and loses nearly 80 percent of its efficiency when you keep the phone on a surface. The newer models of the Nexus 4 come with tiny nubs near the bottom edge that raise the phone slightly but don’t do much to improve the performance of the speaker. I had to keep the phone upside down to be able to hear the alarm every morning.
The overall size and weight of the device are quite good. It does have a bit of a heft to it, likely due to the use of glass on the back but it’s not too heavy to be a bother. The size is also quite appropriate, particularly the width, and the Nexus 4 fits perfectly between the lengths of your fingers and the rubberized sides provide good grip.
The Nexus 4 has a 1280 x 768 resolution IPS LCD panel. It is one of the better looking panels on the market but is far from the best. Although the display looks fine at first glance closer inspection reveals slightly washed out colors. The color accuracy itself is a bit off and many colors don’t really look the way they are supposed to. This could either be down to the quality of the panel or the display calibration but out of the box the Nexus 4 doesn’t impress as much as you’d expect a phone with an LG display to.
Other aspects of the display are good, though. The viewing angles are good, sunlight visibility is good and the black levels are okay for an LCD. The 15:10 aspect ratio means you do have tiny black bars at the top and bottom in videos but they are too small to be an annoyance.
Hardware and Software
The Nexus 4 runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, APQ8054 to be precise. It has a quad-core Krait CPU clocked at 1.5GHz and Adreno 320 GPU. Then there is 2GB of RAM and 16GB of flash memory, out of which roughly 13GB is available to the user. There is no support for expandable memory on the Nexus 4 so 13GB is all you get. Fortunately, that’s about the only limitation as the phone has pretty much has every other desirable hardware feature.
In terms of software, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Nexus device: bone stock Android. And of course it’s running the very latest version so it has all the bells and whistles introduced in the last major version, which added features like the notification screen shortcuts, lockscreen widgets, Daydream, Photo Sphere mode in camera, etc.
I have always had mixed feelings about stock Android. Although in the latest version it looks and works great, it is still missing some of the conveniences that you find in custom skins, especially in Samsung’s TouchWiz and for that you have to spend extra time finding third party apps that would plug those holes. Also, the quality of the stock apps, such as messages, camera, gallery, phone, etc. is still below par and the choice of going with Google Chrome as the default browser is particularly annoying as it still doesn’t perform as well as the stock Android browser, which is no longer provided. A lot of people, however, clearly don’t mind this and stock Android remains a popular choice for Android fans. Those who think rationally may want to disagree, however.
In terms of UI performance, the Nexus 4 performs quite well. Apps open and close promptly and the scrolling is fairly smooth. Note, I’m only talking in comparison to other Android phones as the performance on Nexus 4 still lags behind iOS on the iPhone 5 and even the cheapest Windows Phone device. But if you’re upgrading from a slower Android handset then you would be quite satisfied with the performance on the Nexus 4. Being someone who has used better, I continue to await the day when Android and the apps on it will perform with the same fluidity and urgency as they do on iOS.
In terms of multimedia performance, the default video player, which is nothing but the Gallery app, is terrible for anything other than watching videos recorded from the camera and you have to install a third party player. Once you do that, the experience is quite decent. The music player is a lot better but the latest version is a bit too fancy for someone who just wants to play locally stored music and its focus on online music streaming is a waste in India as the service is not available here. Once again, I ended up installing a third party app for playing music.
The audio quality is quite impressive, both over the headphones and the loudspeaker. The speaker on particular is surprisingly loud and sounds good as well but the awkward positioning means it fires away from you and as mentioned before gets blocked when you put the phone on a surface. It’s best to use the headphones then. Surprisingly, LG does not provide any sort of headset with the phone so you’re on your own for this one.
The Nexus 4 has an 8 megapixel camera on the back with an LED flash and capable of 1080p video recording. The Nexus 4 has received a lot of flak for having a terrible camera but in my experience it wasn’t as bad as it is often made out to be. During daylight or in sufficiently lit environment, the results are perfectly usable and in line with several other 8 megapixel cameras on the market. Closer inspection reveals higher than acceptable noise levels and a hint of over sharpening but unless you are viewing the images at 100 percent zoom these things aren’t a major concern.
In lowlight, the image quality takes a big hit and this is where you’d see most of the complaints. The noise levels increase and the image becomes quite soft. Still, the results are once again comparable to other phones in this price range and particularly bad as such.
Where the Nexus 4 really disappoints is in the camera software department. The actual camera hardware to me seems fine but it’s Google’s software that lets it down. Google has put in only the absolute basic features such as flash settings, white balance and exposure adjustment. You don’t get ISO settings, metering settings, macro mode, burst mode, grid lines and several other options found on almost every other Android phone. The only fancy features here is the HDR mode, panorama mode and Photo Sphere.
The HDR mode actually works quite well and subtly but effectively adjusts the dynamic range of the image to produce a more evenly lit image. In lowlight, it can help produce a slightly better image with less noise, provided you can hold the phone still enough. Unfortunately, HDR images take about two seconds to process after you shoot and reduce the shot to shot time considerably.
Photo Sphere mode is like an advanced panorama, allowing you to move the camera in multiple directions and forming a 360 degree image. Unfortunately, the stitching is far from perfect and only works relatively well in open spaces with objects at a distance. Close by objects produce bigger discrepancies in the stitched images and the whole thing just looks odd then. It’s an interesting feature but one that needs more tuning and better implementation.
The battery life on the Nexus 4 is acceptable at best. It’s not the longest running phone I’ve used but with nominal usage tends to get you through a day without too much trouble.
The Nexus 4 is currently priced in India at Rs. 25,990, which is pretty good and in line with other similarly specced phones on the market, such as the Samsung Galaxy S III.
The Nexus 4 has a lot of things going for it. The design is simple yet elegant, the hardware is powerful and being a Nexus device means you get the coveted stock Android experience along with assurance of quick software updates from Google. The less than stellar camera performance, washed-out colors on the display and the limited storage capacity mar the overall experience but for the price the Nexus 4 is still a very good smartphone.