Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nexus 4, Worth It?

A month or so back I was reading about how great the Nexus 4 was and feeling like somebody had punched me in the stomach. I'd planned on being one of the first "in line" but got distracted at work and ended up missing out. When the second batch went on sale I was determined I would emerge victorious. Little did I know how difficult and frustrating the next several hours would be. Everything started out fine. I added one of the 16GB models to my cart and clicked the Proceed link. That is where the first part of this story should have ended. When I clicked the proceed button I was informed my cart was empty. Then I was informed Google was out of stock.

I'll cut this part of the story short and jump ahead three hours when I finally managed the nearly impossible task of getting one into my cart and convincing Google to let me give them my money. I was exhausted, pissed and relieved. After that experience I had very high expectations. 

My previous Android phone was a first generation Droid X. I remember hearing a lot of people question why anyone would want a phone that large. It turns out a lot of people did in fact want a larger phone which lead to the iPhone 5 being about the same size as the Droid X. 

The Nexus 4 is a bit longer and a bit wider than the Droid X, but still very manageable. Here's a picture of the two phones side by side for comparison.

Front: Droid X and Nexus 4

Other than the size the thing that strikes me the most about the Nexus 4 is the lack of ornamentation on the front. This simplicity is in large part due to Google's decision to not sign an exclusive selling agreement with any carrier. Maybe Google also discouraged LG from putting their logo on the front. Honestly I wouldn't have minded a little ornamentation to help visually differentiate the top from the bottom when the phone is in its case because if the notification light isn't flashing it can be difficult.

The back of the Nexus 4 is a lot more interesting with both the Nexus logo and LG making an appearance.

Back: Droid X and Nexus 4

I almost bought the even larger Galaxy Note 2 but changed my mind when Verizon's online ordering system told me I'd lose my unlimited data plan. Worse still it tried to push me towards a 2GB plan for only ten dollars a month less than I'm currently paying. This was enough for me to lose my last bit of loyalty to Verizon.

Pros and Cons

Resolution wise the state of the art in phone cameras hasn't advanced much in the past two and a half years as both the Droid X and the Nexus 4 sport 8 megapixel cameras. Picture quality on the Nexus is better in my limited testing but not profoundly so. Where the Nexus 4 really wins over the X is Video quality. 1080p versus 720p is a big jump in quality.

Comparing these two phone in any area other than camera resolution would be a bit of a joke. The X was a great phone in its day but the state of the art hardware and software wise has advanced significantly and its would be a bit like comparing a horse to a 1964 and a half Mustang. Both are elegant and functional in their own way but the Mustang will get you to your destination faster and more smoothly.

The first thing I noticed about the Nexus was how fast it is. It loads apps up almost instantly and scrolling is essentially real time all the time. I can't think of any other way to describe the experience other than to say its "Apple like". 

The screen is clear and sharp with excellent viewing from almost any angle.

Battery life is good with a single charge lasting me comfortably through a day of moderate use with plenty to spare. 

There are some things I don't particularly like but they've all been discussed at length elsewhere so I won't spend much time on them here other than to note that in a phone this inexpensive some compromises are going to be made. The one thing I will mention is the glass back. Sure, the sparkles are kind of cool but they don't justify going with a design feature makes the phone more fragile. I'll also say that the complaints about the lack of LTE don't make much sense to me. Based on the bandwidth I get at my house I could burn through my entire 5GB monthly data plan in a bit over an hour. LTE certainly has some advantages over HSPA+ but they aren't all that significant right now given the limited availability of LTE and the additional battery drain.

The biggest non phone bonus is having the freedom to pick my carrier and move at will. Right now I'm using the T-Mobile $30 plan which gives me unlimited text, 5GB of data and 100 minutes of voice. Tacking on taxes and tethering would bring the total to about $50 which is way below what Verizon and the other carriers in the US charge for similar plans.


I've had the Nexus 4 about a week and a half now and so far I'm loving it. It's not only a great value price wise it also compares well with any other phone on the market right now including Apple's latest offering. The only downside? Good luck getting one. Google is sold out again with not indication of when more units might be made available. Apparently neither LG nor Google had a clue that this thing would be such a big hit. 

My only big concern long term is hardware support. What happens if my phone has some sort of failure? When you buy and iPhone you know the answer to that question. 

To be fair the Nexus 4 is just over half the price of an equivalent unlocked iPhone 5. That kind of savings doesn't come without something being lost. I'm basically gambling I never need that platinum support that I didn't pay for.

So in summary and to answer the question posed in the title of this post the Nexus 4 is an excellent phone that would be a great deal if you could buy one and based on my early impressions it was even worth the three hours of frustration I went through to buy mine.  Fret not though if you didn't get one because the way these things work there will be a new Android phone out in the next few months that will match or surpass the Nexus 4. 
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  1. You say Apple is sold out of them when you mean to say Google is sold out.