Google Nexus 4 review: first look

Reviews Damien McFerran 15:46, 16 Nov 2012

We go hands-on with Google’s insanely popular new smartphone, the Nexus 4

Pros: 
Well built,Distinctive design,Hybrid functionality, Decent overall performance and battery
Cons: 
Interface controls are awful, Meagre app ecosystem, Slow app load speed, Camera poor compared to competitors

You would have thought that somebody at Google would have realised that when you release a top-tier smartphone with a quad-core processor and 4.7-inch screen for under £300, it’s going to be a little bit popular, and you might need to ensure a large amount of stock is available before releasing it into the wild. 

Clearly that thought didn’t cross anyone’s mind at the company’s Mountain View HQ, and last week the Nexus 4 was launched worldwide on the Google Play store. It sold out in minutes.

However, that hasn’t prevented us from getting our hands on one of them, and we’re going to bless you with our initial impressions of Google’s new Android hero. Are you sitting comfortably?

Packaged in a small box which boasts a similar design to the one which housed the Nexus 7 tablet, the Nexus 4 doesn’t give any hint of its superstar status when caged in cardboard. 

There’s very little inside the box aside from the charger and data cable - there isn’t even a pair of bundled headphones. While this might seem a bit mean-spirited on Google’s part, you have to ask yourself how often you actually use the headphones provided with each phone you purchase?

Once released from its box, the Nexus 4 wastes no time whatsoever in blowing your socks off. 

For starters, the build quality is far superior to its forerunner, the Samsung-made Galaxy Nexus. Those of you who had concerns about LG’s suitability as a Nexus manufacturer (that includes us) should quickly abandon your doubts – the Nexus 4 feels solid and - most pleasingly - expensive. 

The Gorilla Glass front and back panels lend the device a sense of class, which calls to mind the similarly clad iPhone 4 and 4S, while the attractive glitter-like pattern on the rear catches the light beautifully. Around the edge of the phone you’ll find the only weak part of the design – a ring made of plastic that has ugly visible screws.

The 4.7-inch IPS screen is another revelation. While it lacks the boldness and high contrast of a Super AMOLED panel, it has a more faithful replication of colour and is absolutely pin sharp. With a resolution of 768x1280 pixels and a pixel density of 318 ppi, you’re unlikely to have any problems with the quality of this screen.

Google has a habit of combining hardware and software launches, but with the Nexus 4, it’s not quite the step forward you might have imagined. Android 4.2 is still classed as Jelly Bean, and appears largely unchanged from version 4.1, which made its debut on the aforementioned Nexus 7. 

Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll notice some impressive enhancements. Lock-screen widgets are one such example. You can access emails, update calendar appointments and even send a text message without unlocking the device. 

Another fantastic addition is the trace-to-type keyboard. While this isn’t a new feature for Android - Swype has been around for ages, and even Sony Ericsson has its own version built into its OS - but typically, Google has handled it much better than its rivals. 

You can type words by drawing a line from letter to letter, and it even tells you what word you’re going to spell on the fly. Once you’ve experienced this way of inputting text, going back to the old-fashioned ‘tap tap’ method is going to be very hard indeed.

In terms of raw power, the Nexus 4’s quad-core Snapdragon S4 CPU is a real monster. Navigating around the phone is a stutter-free affair, and applications load amazingly fast. 

When browsing the web through the pre-installed Chrome browser (the default Android browser has now been consigned to history), things move with equally impressive pace.

It’s not an entirely perfect experience - we’ve noticed a few unexpected pauses here and there and we’re sure that the more time we spend with the phone the more little quirks we’ll find, but based on first impressions, this is unquestionably the most robust performance we’ve yet witnessed from Android.

Other features - such as the 360-degree camera, wireless charging and NFC support - will have to wait for the full review, but it goes without saying that the standard for Android has been raised. 

Google has once again proved that stock Android is the way forward for seasoned smartphone veterans, and has delivered an awe-inspiring device - and all for as little as £239.99.

 

Specifications

Typical Price From £399

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