With its recent history of mediocre handsets, LG needs something other than the Optimus G to be its Hail Mary that can carry it to the top. Unfortunately, the Nexus 4 isn't quite it.
Don't get me wrong, the device itself performs excellently, and some of the specs are certainly impressive: the quad-core CPU is swift, the Jelly Bean Android OS runs as smooth as butter, and all the subtle new features work well without being too unintuitive or burdensome.
But Google's flagship phone is missing one huge feature that caught us all off guard. The Nexus, which is supposed to represent Android in its most modern, so-high-tech-that-it's-on-the-bleeding-edge form, isn't 4G LTE-enabled.
Instead, it operates on "4G-ish" technology (GSM/HSPA+), and comes unlocked from Google (starting on November 13, the 8GB and 16GB versions will be $299 and $349, respectively) or on T-Mobile (after signing a carrier agreement, the 16GB model will be $199 and will begin selling the day after). If your carrier is T-Mobile you won't care much, since the network runs on HSPA+ anyway. But for those who had been planning on buying the unlocked model and using it on, say, AT&T's 4G LTE network, the news is truly a downer.
Truth is, while HSPA+ can be as fast as LTE, for the average consumer LTE is expected on high-end phones. Jelly Bean and the pure Android experience will be important for OS enthusiasts, but this phone should have had both. And yes, I know the Galaxy Nexus didn't have LTE, either, when the technology was available. I was disappointed then, too, even though the network wasn't as robust. But now that LTE is so widespread, the Nexus 4 shouldn't get a pass. A handset this high-caliber should have LTE capability, especially these days, when so much time has passed since LTE's launch and even midrange devices come with it.
If I were to sum up my impression of the LG Nexus 4's look in one sentence, it'd be this: even though the smartphone has LG's logo slapped on its back, it has Google written all over it.
Don't get me wrong, you won't see Andy anywhere on the handset, nor will you see any blue, red, yellow, and green lettering. But the device's design noticeably lacks LG's past aesthetic.
Gone are the bezel hot keys that light up when in use, and there's no physical home button. Instead, the shortcut keys for back, home, and recent apps appear on the screen itself, just like they do on the previous Nexus. Also gone is the straight-edged touch screen. In its place is a display that softly curves into the bezel, which adds that luxurious extra oomph, and it's something I'm a huge fan of.
Lastly, the top and bottom edges of the Nexus 4 curve outward, giving the device gently rounded corners. This is a welcome departure from LG's recent string of mid- to high-end smartphones that were sharply rectangular and austere.
Not everything looks great, however. The phone's edges are coated with a matte plastic, rubbery material, and they turn inward at a sharp, jagged angle. And if you want to access the inside, you'll need to use a tiny screwdriver, which will be inconvenient for some.
Overall, the design is nothing we all haven't seen before. Yes, the Nexus 4 does look and feel like a premium handset, but it's uninspiring. It measures about the same as most big, 4.7-inch phones (5.27 inches by 2.7 inches by 0.36 inch), so it'll be a tight squeeze in small jean pockets. It's a wide fit in the hand but is comfortable to hold, and while it's only 0.1 ounce heavier than the Samsung Galaxy S3, it feels noticeably denser and sturdier.
|LG Nexus 4 (T-Mobile)||5.27 inches||2.7 inches||0.36 inch||4.7 inches||4.8 ounces|
|LG Optimus G (AT&T)||5.01 inches||2.8 inches||0.37 inch||4.7 inches||5.44 ounces|
|LG Optimus G (Sprint)||5.2 inches||2.7 inches||0.33 inch||4.7 inches||5.12 ounces|
|Samsung GS3 (Verizon)||5.4 inches||2.8 inches||0.34 inch||4.8 inches||4.7 ounces|
On the left is a volume rocker and up top is a 3.5mm headphone jack. The sleep/power button is on the right spine, and the Micro-USB port is on the bottom edge. Above the display in the top right corner is a 1.3-megapixel camera and below the screen is an LED notification light. The back of the phone houses an 8-megapixel camera and an LED flash.
Now, about that distinctive sparkling back plate: personally, I don't mind it. You can only really see it in the light, and it reminds me of either Tetris or "The Matrix" (two things I'm fond of). There are others, however, who don't like it and say it makes the phone look like a "Sailor Moon" sticker card.
Though the LG Optimus G and the Nexus 4 have the same 4.7-inch True HD IPS+ touch screen with the same 1,280x768-pixel resolution, and both are made out of Corning Gorilla Glass 2, the usable screen space on the Nexus 4 is actually smaller because of the onscreen hot keys. Sure, the icons move out of the way when you're watching videos or playing games, but that third of an inch of lost screen space (especially given that the two devices are nearly the same size) is noticeable when browsing the home screen or surfing the Web.
Having said that, however, the screen is still impressive -- it's bright, text renders crisply, colors are true to life and vivid, and it's sensitive to touch input. Something about swiping my fingers across it and letting them fall off the edges felt incredibly slick. Even the slightest touch will register, without being inaccurate, and typing with Gesture Touch (more on that later) was exceptionally smooth.
Understandably, on the Optimus G and and the Nexus 4, photos and videos looked practically identical. There were a few times when colors on the Nexus 4 had warmer tones and less contrast, but these instances happened so rarely that it's difficult to make a call between the two.
On the other hand, differences compared with the Samsung Galaxy S3 were much more prominent. Colors on the Galaxy S3 were more saturated, greens looked deeply green, and whites had a subtle blue hue to them. Dark colors, like black and brown, were harder to distinguish from one another. Though there were times when the richer palette made photos and videos look better on the S3, the Nexus 4 displayed colors that were truer to life without being muted.
Interface and basic features
Unlike the overhaul that was the change from Android Gingerbread to Honeycomb to Ice Cream Sandwich, the change from ICS to Jelly Bean is subtler. In general, the aesthetics of the UI remain about the same: Roboto is still the dominant font, menus and icons keep the same minimalistic look, and the elegant simplicity of ICS is retained overall. In fact, only hard-core Android devotees would be able to tell it wasn't ICS even after spending a few minutes with it.
However, the minor changes that are present are welcome, such as resizable widgets; a more expansive notifications bar that lets you see more information about things like e-mails, texts, and screenshots; offline voice dictation; more wallpapers; updates to Google Play; and updates to Android Beam, which now allows you to transfer more-complex files like photos and movies over NFC.
Another feature is Google Now, which is closely tied into Google Search and Voice Search. Because Google Now isn't technically a voice recognition service, it's not like iOS' Siri. But it does have voice assistant-style abilities. For instance, it can suggest local restaurants and estimate your commute time.
For more information, read our review of Jelly Bean.
Basic features include a calculator, a calendar, a clock with alarm functions (with an extremely beautiful interface, I must say), an e-mail client, a movie-editing app, and a news and weather app. And all the Google apps you come to expect are preloaded: Chrome, Currents, Earth, Plus, Search, Local, Maps with Navigation, Messenger, Talk, Voice Search, YouTube, and the Google Play Books, Magazines, Movies and TV, Music, and Store portals.
Android 4.2: What's new for Jelly Bean?
Right when I turned on the handset, it prompted me for an update to version 4.2. This brought a few more features, most of which involve the camera (I'll expand on that later). Another feature is Gesture Typing, a typing input method that's similar to Swype. Swype is a third-party app that allows users to swipe through the letters to form the words they're typing out, instead of hitting individual keys. It's a faster, more convenient way of typing that's rightly loved by Android users. Gesture Typing is a native feature that works in the same way.
There's also Daydreams, a sort of screensaver sleep mode for your phone whenever it's docked or charging. Options include a graphic of floating jelly beans you can interact with through touch, a mural of headlines gathered from your Google Current subscriptions, or a shifting color gradient. In addition, photos from your albums can be displayed, either individually or piled on one another like a stack of physical pictures.
Camera and video
Shooting options and editing: The LG Nexus 4's 8-megapixel camera sports a new user interface that is now even more minimalist than the previous Nexus iteration's. Photo options can be reached through a radial dial that you can access by either tapping on the circle on the right-hand corner, or tapping anywhere on the viewfinder itself.
These options include flash, geotagging, and 3.9x digital zooming, five white-balance modes, five scene modes, seven photo sizes, an exposure meter ranging from -2 to +2, and HDR shooting. You also get touch and autofocus. The front-facing camera retains most of these features save for the flash (obviously), and there are only three photo sizes to choose from.