Google Nexus 4 Review

Google Nexus 4 Review

First Impressions:  Given that this review is one of which that is retrospective, to give a baseline to more up-to-date reviews, I can’t actually give impressions as they happened.  They happened long, long ago.  Digging deep in the brain archives.  It is a box, a rather nice box much like as is found with most “premium” devices of this nature.  Inside is fairly Spartan, just the typical USB plug and a USB cable/charger.  Nice to see that Google or LG decided that a black phone should have a black cable and charger.  Given that the device went on sale at launch for the grand sum of £280 for the 16GB, however I didn’t order it until it got its price drop to just £200.  At either price at the time it was lauded by all as extremely good value for money, more or less flagship spec but for midrange prices.

The construction of the device is nice, it’s clearly aiming for that all glass feel, lots of glass means “premium” thing.  What it really meant, time showed, is that if you put glass on two sides then you just double the likely hood of breaking the thing.  Still it’s just odd, the way the rear camera covering is the same piece of glass that covers the entire back.  It is just weird.

Speaking of weird how wide is the thing, seems odd being a 16:10 screen.

Hardware:  Clearly it is a nice slab of phone but it really is a slab.  I’ve already spoke about the glass both sides thing, tbh I really don’t think it’s been shown to be a good idea.  What’s done is done but given its great width it just adds to the impression of it being like something out of 2001.  Unlike the film monoliths which are all squared edges the front of the N4 has ever so slightly curved glass edges down the sides.  I confess I never really thought much of it at the time but when I started using something else, my thumb would just catch the edge.  You don’t really get the benefit of that curve however as the stupid glass back means you have to keep the thing in a case.  If you think oh but I’m careful, I don’t need a case, well you do.  Whatever idiot thought putting glass on the back didn’t take note that glass isn’t a very grippy material so the thing slides off every surface.  No really, every surface.  Anyone whos had an N4 knows what I mean, it just magically glides across surfaces.

The screen, is a 1280 x 768 LCD giving us a PPI of 318.  Which is almost the exactly same as the Iphone 5 which launched at almost the same time.  It’s a fair few more pixels but it’s also considerably larger than the Iphone 5.  The screen is nice but I’d rather blacks were blacker, it always feels like it’s trying too hard to just be as bright as possible.  The other specs though are all for the time very good.  It has a quadcore snapdragon CPU, Adreno 320GPU and it has 2GB of RAM.  That all places it right at the very top of what could be had and smashed the Iphone 5.  Throw in dual band Wi-Fi, Qi charging and the rare slimport facility out of its micro USB socket.

The only places where it falls down a bit are the lack of 4G and the camera.  No 4G, well fair enough the thing is stupid cheap so it’s a fair trade.  The camera, well it may be an 8MP but it’s very meh.  I don’t know why but Nexus cameras have always sucked.  I guess it’s because the manufacturers want to keep there being a reason to buy their branded flagships rather than Googles but it’s only a guess.

Lastly, it has Slimport build into its micro USB socket rather than the ubiquitous MHL.

Audio Software:  Android doesn’t really have an internal music player.  Of course there are about 53 millions apps that will do it but Google would rather you use their media service.  Play Music, you can use a subscription service, so something like Spotify, you can play whatever you want from their collection.  However it also offers something radically different too.  You can upload your own music to Google and simply stream it back from them, all for free too.  Granted they limit you to fifty thousand tracks so maybe not all of your music but it’s a hell of a lot.  Not only a lot but did I mention, for free?  So if you have a decent data plan you can have access to your music and have it take up no storage.  Of course if you don’t have a good data plan you can have it locally store music too.  All for free.

If for some reason you don’t fancy Google’s offering you can use whatever else.  So long as you aren’t heavily entrenched in the Itunes world, whatever you have is available for Android, streaming services of all kinds from Pandora, Deezer, Spotify, Soundcloud, Blinkbox, Napster etc etc.  You name it its available.  Naturally if you want to use local storage there must be several thousand music player apps.  That also means whatever format is your preferred, there will be app’s that will play it just fine.

Audio Hardware:  It is no great secret that the audio out of the Nexus 4 is not world class.  In fact its meh, meh in bucket loads.  Sure it works and I’m sure adequate for people who are happy using whatever ear phones they might have laying around, whatever they picked up cheap in Curry’s or somewhere equally mainstream.  It gets the job done.

Lows:  Meh.  Big soft, flabby, you have to crank to volume to get them to come to life.  Still it’s big and slow and flabby and over blown.  It probably isn’t going to be hated by mainstream listeners, they like big, expansive bass.  To my ears though it feels like there is a EQ boost at work.  Some monotone bass that LG have elected to be what all bass turns into.  Than one, heavy bass note just gets in the way repeatedly and after I while I’m starting to find it annoying. Yeah it’s getting annoying.  Sure “mainstream consumers” might love it but I’m not.

Mids:  They are not terrible on their own merits but that bass, yeah it’s getting in the way and suffocating them.  They just seem to constantly be playing a game of hide and seek.  They sound distant or nasally or over focused.  I don’t get it.  It’s not entirely all bad.  Vocals can at times be quite pleasant but it’s not long lived.  It feels like someone has been playing silly buggers with an EQ.

Highs:  The extension isn’t great, they sometimes feel rather muted but they have kept the hard metallic impacts.  From time to time they will leap out at your ears.  Don’t ask me why or how they have done it.  Some treble is just so muted and far back then crash right in your ear.  It really feels like someone has tried to make it wildly dynamic and thrown an EQ sitting that’s WWWWW shaped.  I’m not loving it.  Some would but I want it to sit the F still.

Soundstage/Instrument separation:  Weird.  Sometimes feels big and open then crashes are right in your face.

Battery Life:  This was the first Nexus to seal in the battery, makers seem to think that because Apple do it it must be fine.  Well, I like Android because I can have everything running and that takes a toll on the battery.  The battery is marginally able to get through a day, usually.  Thankfully Qi charging makes liking it despite a sealed battery easier but still, you start streaming music or god forbid, video then don’t expect the battery to last long.

Build Quality:  It’s pretty good.  I’m not sure the glass back is a great idea and that so many broke I’m quite justified there.  However it does feel like a heavy, solidly constructed device.

UI:  By default it being a Nexus comes with the stock launcher.  If you don’t know the “launcher” is the bit you interact with and this can be changed.   Samsung use their Touchwiz launcher, HTC use Sence etc etc.  Most device makers have their own launchers that they use to customise things.  Google however makes its own.  It, well, I don’t use it.  I use Nova so my use of the stock launcher is minimal.  This is one of the best features about Android.  If you don’t like how it looks or operates then you can just change the launcher and get a completely different experience.  Yey!

In The Hand:  Physically I mostly like it.  The phone is rather wide for my hands which makes it harder to hold and hit anything but…… its otherwise rather nice.  I especially like that the screen is rounded at the sides so when flicking sideways your finger can smoothly slide off the screen.  It’s so smooth and silky to use.  Of course if you put it in a case that vanishes.  Still it’s nice to the touch.

Format Support:  You name it, it can do it.  Googles own Play Music app mostly wants to stream stuff at up to 320kbit mp3.  That’s better than the phones output can manage anyway so I’d stick to that.  Remember no SD card storage.  If you do want to fill the on board storage, any formant you want there will be 50 app’s that can play them all, knock yourself out.

Volume:  Output wise it’s fairly good.  It’s not up to the volume levels of some amps but should be sufficiently loud for pretty much anything its connected to.  Though quite tracks with hard to drive headphones you are likely looking to be towards its max volume range.

Accessories:  Erm, charger, a micro USB cable and the little key to eject the sim tray.  Official accessories are stupid cheap but with it being a well-known device eBay can furnish you with a good selection of cheap Chinese bits and bobs.

Speaker:  It’s on the back, lifted just slightly by a couple of little prongs so its not completely muffled.  It can go reasonably loud so should be okay fro video watching if you need.

Camera:  Err well its weird.  There is a little raised square that you would instinctively thing is the camera, its not.  That raised bit is the flash, the actual camera lens is the same piece of glass that makes up the entire back cover.  Yes that’s right, if you break the rear glass you break the camera too.  What design genius thought that up?  Anyway it is a Nexus camera and therefore its rubbish.  Don’t ask me why but Nexus cameras have always been rubbish, while this being an 8MP camera, the lens clearly is poo.  The front is a 1.3MP and while it works fine, it’s still rather meh.

The Good:  There is a fair amount to love about the Nexus 4.  The most obvious was its price, when it launched it was practically top end phone spec for mid-range money.  Its spec was as good as any top of the range handset, well android handset.  The 16GB version was just £280 at launch, that caused a massive stir at the time.  The screen was also one of the better at the time, being 1280 x 768 was as good at it got, not to mention a top of the range cpu and a massive 2GB of RAM.  Even now 2GB of RAM is pretty good.  In every respect the N4 at launch was pretty fantastic stuff, it’s still a very usable handset today so given its launch price you were getting an uber bargain.

The Bad:  The camera is meh, there is no micro SD card slot and the battery life is very so so.  Sure if you turn stuff off and the battery improves but as the first Nexus with a sealed battery it’s just asking to be criticised for it.  I personally hate non removable batteries and no SD cards.  So screw you Google.  Storage is an issue.  It came in 8 or 16GB and frankly you put on a couple of films, a couple of games and that could easily be eaten.  The camera, well yes all Nexus cameras have been rubbish.  Personally I think it’s to appease makers so there is a reason to buy their more costly handsets.  Then we have the audio.  It like the camera, sucks.  The N4 is to date, the worst sounding phone I’ve ever used.  It’s just so lifeless and meh.

Value:  Yes the N4 is flawed but it was easily half the price of its nearest competitors.  When it went on sale it instantly sold out and every time it came back into stock it sold out immediately.  Yes it was very good value.

Conclusion:  As a phone the N4 is great.  As a game playing machine, great.  As a video playing machine, hmm great so long as your streaming it, not so much if you have to use the limited local storage. As a camera, meh.  As a DAP, meh.  It really depends what you want to do with the N4.  Its CPU, RAM and screen are all great and it being a Nexus you get your software from Google.  You get the OS updates instantly, for a couple of years, you also get fantastic ROM support.

If you are someone who want to tinker with a phone, truly customize it to your own tastes then Nexus devices are the way to go.  If you want to unlock the bootloader, it’s easy as pie.  If you want to install a completely custom ROM, the most well know being from CyanogenMod.  There are plenty of others however and they can completely change the look and feel of your device.  In the same way you get people rolling opamps in their amps you can effectively do the same to a Nexus with ROM’s.  You can change anything and everything.

So as a phone and as a toy to tinker with the N4 is awesome.  Awesome value to boot as well.  As a DAP and a PMP, not so much.  Sure if you are streaming Netflix it’s alright but the local storage is limited to 8 or 16GB.  Video will eat up that space very quickly especially if it’s in HD.   Music too would get eaten up quickly but it’s at least small enough to stream over 3G.  While you could, this wouldn’t be my first choice to do so.  Its audio out is pretty poor but it’s functional and you could use it, many ordinary people are probably do and are quite happy with it.  I however would not be.

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