Designed as a pure Android experience, it’s part of the family of Google devices principally pitched at Android developers, but also popular with consumers.
Why is it popular? Because the Nexus devices are free from the blot of manufacturer skins and customisations, so the focus remains on the core experience, rather than something slathered over the top. The Nexus devices are also the first in line to get Android updates, so benefit from Google’s tweaks before the rest.
The Nexus 4, therefore, should be an Android lovers’ phone of choice. A pure, unfettered Google experience as it was intended to be. But does this LG manufactured handset stack up against the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy S III or HTC’s One X+? Simply put, is the Nexus 4 out of this world?
Without hesitation, I’d say that the Nexus 4 is the best-looking LG phone of recent years. There is a wonderful simplicity to the design of the Nexus 4 from the front that recent LG phones, like the Optimus 4X, simply lacked.
Like the Galaxy Nexus before it, the front of the handset is free from buttons and clutter: it’s just a black face. With the display off, it’s just a deep inky black; it’s unspoilt, there are no logos or fussy details. It’s simply a smartphone. There’s the front-facing camera and ear speaker, but that’s it.
There’s a curve to the edges of the display, which means there’s no hard edge. Your thumb just coasts from side to side on its beautifully smooth Corning Gorilla Glass 2 surface.
The rear of the Nexus is a sheet of toughened glass too, so has the same silky smooth touch. This is inlaid with holographic patterning that shimmers as you move the phone. It’s a great effect and gives the Nexus 4 a premium finish.
It’s all held together with a tactile waistband that’s nicely shaped to provide plenty of grip when holding the phone. The sides fit neatly into the hands to keep things secure. With a back that’s on the lower side of low-friction, the Nexus 4 slipped a couple of times, but it wasn’t especially problematic.
Around the edges you’ll find the Micro-USB and 3.5mm connections; there’s a volume rocker on the left and a power/standby button on the right, in the same conveniently location that Samsung chooses for its top-tier smartphones. There’s a tray for the micro SIM on the left-hand side.
I can’t help thinking it’s an extraordinarily good-looking phone, the rear detailing, with the prominent Nexus lettering, and slightly less prominent LG logo, means there’s no mistaking that this is a Nexus 4.
Wake up the display and you’ll spot perhaps the only oddity in the design. Where most 4.7-inch (ish) devices give you the full screen to play with, the Nexus 4 pinches some of the pixels off the bottom of the display for the touch controls – back, home, recent apps as the Galaxy Nexus does.
With the controls in the display itself, the space beneath feels a little empty, almost as though it doesn’t need to be there; perhaps it could have been trimmed a little. This area is used to house the notification light just like the Galaxy Nexus before it.
The handset is fairly standard in size measureing 133.9 x 68.7 x 9.1mm with a typical weight of 139.5g. That puts it on a par with devices like the HTC and Samsung rivals. It’s a sealed unit however, so there’s no access to the 2100mAh battery or a microSD slot, but that’s the norm for recent Nexus devices.
All eyes turn to the 4.7-inch LCD display on the Nexus 4 and rightly so, as it’s magnificent and certainly one of the best displays currently out there. LG calls it the True HD IPS Plus, but the important points are the 1280 x 768 pixels it offers and the IPS part.
Most displays at this size are 1280 x 720, 16:9, but the Nexus 4 is 5:3. The extra width you get is noticeable at first glance as the display looks squarer and less elongated. You might have fractionally more empty space when watching a movie, but we’re talking about millimetres.
The display offers you 317ppi, so it’s nice and sharp, but it’s the bright whites and rich, natural, colour renditions that impress.
LG is pushing the Zerogap Touch technology in the display. Like the iPhone 5, and most other premium handsets, LG has reduced the gap between the touch surface and the actual display pixels. This gives the display real punch, because it’s right there, rather than looking slightly recessed. It’s not unique, but it’s great that LG’s display in Google’s phone can compete with, and possibly beat, the best.
Aside from the impressive design and stunning display, the Nexus 4 doesn’t scrimp on the hardware it offers either. Sitting at the heart of the phone is the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro chip, clocked at 1.5GHz. This is backed with 2GB of RAM, making this a hugely powerful handset.
That power is obvious as you set the phone to task. The Nexus 4 effortlessly moves around Android 4.2’s buttery smooth interface. Apps open in a flash, Chrome is blisteringly fast and there’s no sign of lag as you set about your daily business. The result is an Android experience that’s difficult to beat, it’s fast, it’s fluid and everything about the core experience feels right.
That experience isn’t just limited to basic apps. I fired up Grand Theift Auto III and found it ran smoothly and looked fantastic. The same applies to HD video: it looks stunning and plays smoothly.
The Nexus 4 comes in two storage options, 8GB and 16GB, but there’s no expansion. That might be a little restrictive for some, but it’s the same problem you’ll find with the iPhone 5 or top HTC phones. Google wants to push cloud services instead.
When it comes to wireless connectivity there’s no support for 4G networks, but it supports up to HSPA+. You get dual-band Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth and support for Miracast, a wireless display technology that uses Wi-Fi Direct to move the phone’s display to a compatible device, like your HDTV. As you’d expect, you also get the usual bag full of sensors.
The external speaker is of moderate quality, exhibiting distortion when at max volume and its placement on the back of the phone means it is muffled when you lay the phone flat on a table, but I found it perfectly usable as a speakerphone.
When it comes to calling, the Nexus 4 is a comfortable phone to make calls with and I found that calls were clean on both ends, with enough volume to hear callers without a problem.
The 8 Megapixel camera is the down fall of this phone. Sometimes slow to focus and the pictures lack definition and colour making them look soft.
On paper the 2100mAh battery is a monster but with the power the Nexus 4 packs and the large display this falls just a little short of a full days use when under a light to medium load.
All in all there is a lot to be excited about the Nexus 4. It’s equipped like a flagship Android handset, but priced like a mid-range phone. This is a huge point for anyone who wants to buy this smartphone outright, rather than taking a contract.
What you get is a handset that’s been exquisitely designed, fully loaded with hardware and an excellent display, yet remains uncluttered with apps and features you might never use. There are some holes, certainly, but it’s a wonderful experience in day-to-day use.
The weakness for me comes in with the camera. It’s just not as much fun to use and feels slow even compared to the Galaxy Nexus: I just want it to perform better. The battery life could be better and should be, but for a phone of this size and power, it’s a common problem.