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3/11/2013
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Google Nexus 4 Phone Slick, But Limited

Google's flagship Nexus 4 phone is a compelling entry in a crowded marketplace. During my testing the Nexus 4 proved a reliable, capable piece of hardware. The display is great, and its size and weight make it easy to slip into a pocket. But, there are some hardware limitations that will likely deter people from buying it — the 3G only, no micro SD expansion, most notably.

The Nexus 4, Google's latest entry into a market with a dizzying number of options, proved to be a quality device with few drawbacks. At the $300 price point, it's hard to imagine a device that can beat the Nexus 4 in terms of hardware and software.

My first impression after opening the box: The Nexus 4 has a gorgeous display and is extremely light. Next, I spent a few minutes logging into to my Google account. Unlike my Nexus 10, which came pre-programmed with my Google login already inputted — but not password — I had to set up the Nexus 4 from scratch. Once I inputted my login information many of the settings and apps on my Nexus 10 quickly appeared on the device. But, I still didn't have cellular service.

Selecting a carrier was pretty straightforward since I already have a pre-paid T-Mobile plan, and the Nexus 4 ships unlocked. Changing the SIM card from one phone to the other, however, was not straightforward. My old SIM didn't fit into the Nexus, and after some Google-ing, and a trip to Radio Shack around the corner, I discovered that I actually had to go into a T-Mobile store and have them cut my SIM card to fit the Nexus 4 slot. I wouldn't be complaining about all of that except Google didn't print the micro SIM card requirement anywhere on the product page. With that done, I was finally able to use my new Nexus 4.

In the few days I've been testing it, I like what I've seen. The device is fast and responsive, scoring a very impressive 18,122 on AnTutTu's mobile benchmark software (click for some comparison scores). What that number meant for me was that all the productivity apps I use — email, Twitter, Skype, SMS messages, web browsing, etc. — were fast and responsive. And I was also able to play 3D games like Wind-up Knight, a favorite of mine for testing gameplay on mobile devices. The Nexus 4 shipped with the latest version of Android 4.2.2 and so far is a significant improvement over my old Samsung Galaxy S (the first version), which was a bug-ridden nightmare that I had problems with simple operations like making calls.

As I mentioned before the 4.7 inches seems large for a phone, which is a good thing. It's capable of 720p HD video playback, and I thought that was plenty for the size of the device. Netflix looked good, but with my Nexus 10 at arm's length, I didn't watch much streaming video. The display in reality is smaller than it sounds because of the software navigation bar, and notification bar. On my Nexus 10, I don't mind those bars taking up space, but that display is enormous in comparison. On the Nexus 4, though, I was perplexed that Google/LG didn't build hardware buttons into the phone as it would add about an inch without them. As I suspected when I reviewed Paranoid Android 3, the custom ROM makes a difference in terms of reclaimed screen real estate.

The phone is made of mostly either plastic or glass. Glass is an obvious choice for a display but I was puzzled LG selected the material for the back of the phone as well. I read reports of the back of the phone cracking if dropped, which is a shame. I suspect the glass is to support the wireless charging function, but neither Google or LG responded when I tried to get an answer for curious BYTE readers. The obvious solution is to buy a case for the back, but it's annoying to discover an out-of-the-box design flaw.

A few words about the under-the-hood hardware. The battery life is good. Without sustained use I got about a day out of the device on a single charge. Unfortunately, the battery isn't removable and if something goes wrong, it has to go back to the manufacturer, or Google.

The Nexus 4 is not for you if your priority is storage. Google offers two options the 8GB and 16GB models. My 8GB phone, after installing about 500MB of apps, and downloading some pictures has about 4.7GB remaining. Since there's no micro SD card slot, that's all the space I'm going to get. For me that's not a problem and I've never understood the need for 16+ GB of storage on a phone type device. Sure, there's an argument for long flights and travel times, but 16GB is large enough to hold about 10-12 hours of HD video, as well as countless books and magazines.

The last knock I have is the cellular modem. It's 3G, and there's no LTE option. I wondered about the reasoning especially given that the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus S both were LTE/WiMax enabled. But, as it turned out lack of LTE didn't make much difference to me. Most of the time I'm either at home or at my office — both Wi-Fi enabled — and when I'm traveling I'm able to live with slightly slower data speeds. LTE would have been nice, but for less than half the cost of an iPhone 5 it's hard to expect a Cadillac. But, hey, it does have a barometer.

Name: Google Nexus 4

Google's flagship Nexus 4 phone is a compelling entry in a crowded marketplace. During my testing the Nexus 4 proved a reliable, capable piece of hardware. The display is great, and its size and weight make it easy to slip into a pocket. But, there are some hardware options that will likely deter people from buying it — the 3G only, no micro SD expansion, most notably.
Price: $299 (8GB), $349.00 (16GB)
Pros:
  • Low price
  • Hardware and software are fast and relatively bug free
  • Good size and weight
Cons:
  • 3G only
  • Limited storage capacity

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