Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Google Nexus 4 review, A killer smartphone

After a long delay of six months,Google Nexus 4 has finally made its way to India. Though it is being sold by LG and remains unavailable on Google Play Store as of now, we are glad that the much-awaited flagship Nexus smartphone of Google is finally retailing in the domestic market.

It is widely known that Nexus 4 has top-notch hardware (at least as per last year's standards, when it was launched) and is priced much more competitively than rivals. We tested the device to see exactly how good it is and whether it is a better option than the likes of Samsung Galaxy S III, HTC One X etc, which fall in the same price band.Hardware
Google Nexus 4 is based on LG Optimus G - launched in India in January this year - and the two share most of the hardware specs. You get a 4.7-inch True HD Plus IPS screen that supports 1280x768p resolution and 318ppi pixel density. Nexus 4 review unit we received runs on Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean), the latest version of the free mobile OS.

Under the hood, it packs a 1.5GHz quad-core CPU with 2GB RAM and 16GB storage; the 8GB variant of the phone has not been launched in India. On the back of the phone is an 8MP camera with LED flash, while a 1.3MP unit graces the front (LG Optimus G in India comes with a 13MP rear camera).

Design
Coming to looks, this handset features the standard design of Nexus smartphone, characterized by curved edges and no hardware keys in the front. The screen is highly reflective and the glass back is a huge fingerprint magnet and you would be well served by applying scratch guards on the front as well as the back. Like LG Optimus G, the Nexus 4 glass back panel has a 3D pattern that shimmers when seen under light. The display is lined with a thin chrome strip, similar to one seen in many other phones.


On the right of the phone is the Power/Lock key, whereas the volume rocker is on the left. The earphone jack and USB port are placed at the top and bottom, respectively. The 2,100mAh battery of the phone is non-removable and the back panel is secured at the bottom. As the phone does not support storage expansion, there is no microSD slot, while the sim-card slot is positioned on the left and opens when the small button on its side is pressed; a small key has been provided in the box for this purpose, just like in the case of Optimus G.

Software
Google Nexus 4 runs on the stock Android 4.2, giving you software devoid of any apps that clutter the OS (Samsung Galaxy S4's gimmicky apps come to mind). We were curious about the features that the latest version of Android brought to the phone and we are glad to say Google has not disappointed us. Though a minor update, it adds a few new functionalities to the software.

You can see the changes starting from the lock screen itself. In lock screen mode, when you swipe to the left (do not drag the lock icon, but swipe from any point on the display), you can open the camera app. Similarly, a swipe to the right will allow you to see mails, calendar, clock, Google+ posts, text messages etc. You can set as many of these as you want on the lock screen and access the respective app from the lock screen mode.

Another new feature is drag-app-to-delete, wherein you just need to long press an app in the menu and drag it upwards to delete it. We feel it is a much simpler way of deleting an app compared to opening another app to perform this task. Google Now has also become more capable in the latest iteration of Android, giving us more accurate data even before we asked for it.

The feature we loved the most in Android 4.2 OS was offline voice typing. Google has included voice typing in its mobile operating system for quite some time, but offline voice typing is new. You do not need constant internet connectivity to make full use of this feature.

While sending SMSs, emails etc, you just need to click on the mic icon on the keyboard and start speaking when prompted to. When we used this function over a reliable Wi-Fi network, it delivered perfect results but became a little patchy when used offline. However, the voice-to-text interpretation was not too far off the mark and was acceptable for a new feature.

Overall, the phone seems extremely smooth and comes only with a few Google apps, such as Chrome browser, Currents, Maps, Messenger, Play Books, YouTube etc.

Camera and audio
An 8MP camera with LED flash is strapped to the back of Nexus 4. This snapper is not the best in its league and loses to Samsung Galaxy S III's shooter on all counts. While colour reproduction is good, the images are a little grainy for our taste, but not so much that you will not want to upload them on social sites. Contrast in the images we took was a little below par and details were a lot less as compared to the excellent camera of Galaxy S III and iPhone 4S. Lowlight photos of the phone were not good and the LED flash, though powerful, does not help its case much.



While the photo quality is certainly not great, the camera UI and features are still worth discussing. The new Camera app interface gives you just a circle that opens up options upon long-press. You can adjust scenes, geotag, picture size etc, adjust flash settings and change front/rear camera mode. The phone allows you to capture HDR images, which enables you to capture contrasting colours more accurately in any photo.

While Panorama feature has been around since Android 4.0, we now also get a pretty neat functionality called Photo Sphere. In this mode, you can take panorama images not just in one direction but from all sides - up, down, right, left, et al. The final image was patchy at times, but once we got hang of it, the results were great.

Audio performance of the phone was within the acceptable range, with decent audio output. Songs were crisp and clear, but of course, you cannot enjoy music with bass on the phone's speaker.
Performance
Running on stock Android 4.2, Google Nexus 4 is extremely smooth and we did not experience the unit hanging even once, or lost frames in videos. Having discussed the software above, let's discuss the hardware of the phone here. It has an IPS display that offers wide viewing angles, but sunlight legibility of the screen is extremely poor. In fact, we had to keep brightness at least at 30% all the time, since it became nearly impossible to identify text at lower level.

To test its CPU performance and assess the same against that of rivals, we ran it through Antutu benchmark test. This test rates devices based on their CPU, storage, display etc. In our tests, our Nexus 4 review unit got an average score of 17254, which is slightly higher than the figure secured by a Galaxy S III we got hold of for the comparison.

Nexus 4 comes in only a 16GB storage variant in India, of which 13GB is user accessible. Many might consider the absence of a microSD card a deal-breaker, but 13GB should be sufficient for most purposes. With 1.4GB RAM (out of 2GB) at your disposal, you will not have to be worried about the phone hanging at all. Battery performance of the phone is good, delivering around 15 hours on a single charge.

Rivals
Google Nexus 4 has a lot of strong rivals in India, namely Samsung Galaxy S III, LG Optimus G, HTC One X+. By far, the LG phone comes closest to Nexus 4 in terms of performance, but going by the popularity of Galaxy S III in India, it is the gadget to beat.

Nexus 4 has an advantage of pricing on its side, of course, being at least Rs 3,000 cheaper than the nearest rivals (Galaxy S III and One X+). It has more RAM and more powerful processor than all other phones, barring Optimus G. We already said above that the benchmark performance of Nexus 4 is slightly higher than that of Galaxy S III's and this can be said about the scores delivered by its other competitors. The rather disappointing camera is the only chink in Nexus 4's armour.

Thus, it can be safely be said that Nexus 4 is a better option than the likes of Samsung Galaxy S III, LG Optimus G, HTC One X+ on most counts, including brand value.

Now that we have covered Android devices, let's move to handsets running on Windows Phone 8 and iOS; we did not feel the need to include BlackBerry devices as only one smartphone runs on the new BB10 OS.

Apple iPhone 4 is placed in the price bracket of Nexus 4, and it is a three year old phone. Though it is a good smartphone on all counts, it is certainly not better than the Google phone, except when it comes to camera quality. Nexus 4, on the other hand, has a much bigger screen, faster processor and a highly evolved operating system on its side. iOS 6 is a good operating system, of course, but it lacks the functionalities that make Android 4.2 so useful, be it accessing apps from home screen or widget support (also available in older Android versions).

Apple's mobile operating system is buttery smooth to navigate, but has a few things that are unlikely to be of use in India, such as Passbook and the dreaded Apple Maps.

Coming to Windows Phone 8 platform, we feel that it is relatively new and needs more time before it can truly match up to the standards set by the latest iterations of Android and iOS. The biggest issue, of course, is the lack of apps, but also limited functionalities in contact management, patchy multitasking support etc. Nokia Lumia 820 falls in the price band of Nexus 4 and the latter is the better of the two by any yardstick.

Verdict Nexus 4 has loads of things going in its favour, except the camera. We liked its screen (though brightness is a bit of concern), processor and uncluttered software.

Better than Samsung Galaxy S III? Both of them are evenly matched on most counts, though Nexus 4 wins when it comes to CPU and RAM, while Galaxy S III takes the points in terms of camera performance.

Worth Rs 25,999? Yes, it certainly is, especially considering that it offers double the amount of RAM than the nearest rival.

What we like:
CPU performance; Design;
Battery life;
Price tag

What we don't like:
Rather disappointing camera performance;
Brightness and sunlight legibility of screen

Price: Rs 25,999

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