Google Nexus smartphones are usually somewhat special in their own way. Not only do they ship with the latest and greatest Android has to offer, but they also usually offer a glimpse into the future of the Android platform. Take the Galaxy Nexus for example. Not only was it among the first phones to ship with a large, 720p display but it also did away with physical buttons in exchange for virtual keys and brought a new interface to the table as well. Fast-forward to today and we have the all new Google Nexus 4, with similar looks but some major updates under the hood.
With a single unbroken piece of Gorilla Glass up front, the Nexus 4 looks very clean and it offers a nice change from the buttons and branding you'll see on most other smartphones. It has a unique finish on the back side of its casing. The phone has a series of dots below the glass surface which reflect light randomly and displays a beautiful, sleek aesthetic. On the other hand, you do need to be mindful that there is an awful lot of glass all over the Nexus 4.
We had no issues with scratches or cracks, but it probably wouldn't take much of a drop to cause damage. At 9.1mm thick it's not the thinnest phone out there, but with soft touch plastic running around the edge, the phone feels good in the hand. It's slightly wider and shorter than most phones of this size which gives you a bit more width to the keyboard while still allowing you to watch full HD 720p videos. There's no MicroSD card slot, which is a bit of a disappointment, as the Nexus 4 is only available with 8GB and 16GB of storage. With a few high-end games and an HD movie or two, available space will go fast.
The Nexus 4 is launching with Android 4.2, which retains the Jelly Bean name but still gets some welcome improvements. The camera app has been totally redesigned with a much simpler interface that allows you to change settings by tapping then moving your finger over any of the options. It's a bit confusing at first but once you get the hang of it, it's a much faster way of doing things. You'll also find a new Gesture Keyboard that works like Swype and can speed up your typing, a Quick Settings menu to give you quick access to enable Wi-Fi, airplane mode, GPS and a redesigned lock screen. The new lock screen gives you quick access to the camera, as well as allowing you to add widgets to check things at a glance without unlocking your phone. As a relatively minor update to the OS, one of the more surprising things is just how fast the Nexus 4 is. No matter how fast you fly through the interface, you'll rarely, if ever, run into any lag or slowdowns.
Its screen is a 4.7" IPS panel with a native resolution of 1280x768. It lacks some of the saturation of the AMOLED screen on the Galaxy Nexus but it's still among the best smartphone displays out there, with good viewing angles and improved brightness. There's no Pentile layout to worry about here, so text and images remain nice and sharp. You do lose some screen real estate most of the time, however, thanks to the on-screen Android keys. That said, at least they disappear at times when they're not needed; for example when watching video.
Under the hood you'll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz with Adreno 320 graphics and 2GB of RAM along with either 8GB or 16GB of storage and a 2100mAh battery.
To test the CPU we used Linpack, which gave us some interesting results. As the S4 Pro is basically a quad-core version of the dual-core Snapdragon S4 that's found in most of the highest performing phones like the Galaxy S3 and DROID RAZR HD, the Nexus 4 should have done better here.
Thanks to the Adreno 320 graphics, the Nexus 4 delivers the best results we've seen yet in GLBenchmark. As a complex graphical benchmark that simulates a high end game running at 1080p, the Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC in the Nexus 4 easily pulls away from other Android phones and narrowly edges out the iPhone 5.
For the HotHardware Battery Test we set the phone to refresh a webpage with a mix of graphics, text and Flash media every three minutes, with the display at 50% brightness and Wi-Fi turned off, leaving the phone to rely on mobile data for the entire test. Here, the Nexus 4 does reasonably well but lands solidly in the middle of the pack. In real world usage, the phone was able to make it through a moderate day of mixed media consumption and communications, watching a few YouTube videos, checking email and Twitter frequently and making a few phone calls and texts. It would have been nice to see a larger capacity battery included but for most people, the Nexus 4 should get you through the day.
The Nexus 4 sports an 8 megapixel camera capable of 1080p video along with an LED flash. This is a huge improvement over the Galaxy Nexus and right on par with most high end smartphones. You'll find good saturation and nicely detailed images. However, low light performance is far behind what you'll find on the Nokia Lumia 920.
The Google Nexus 4 delivers excellent performance, the latest stock Android 4.2 OS and solid build quality, all at an unbeatable off-contract price. The lack of official LTE will be an issue for some people, but on the whole, the Nexus 4 stands among the best smartphones on the market right now.