PHOENIX - Google Android smartphones are everywhere. LG, Samsung, Motorola and a mountain of other companies all sell multiple phones that run the Android operating system. There is only 1 Android phone designed and sold by Google itself. It's called the Google Nexus 4.
I explained in detail what the Nexus program is all about in an earlier article but it's essentially Google's idea of what an Android phone should be. They make the software so obviously they have some ideas on what the hardware should be like. The Nexus 4 is the 4th version and it's built by LG. Google's engineers work hand in hand with the experts at LG to put together the phone.
Gorilla glass on the front and on the back, the Nexus 4 feels high-end when you hold it. The front glass has rounded edges on the left and right sides of the screen. On the back you'll see the Nexus logo on top of a slick shiny pixel design. The screen is 4.7" diagonal packing a 1280x768 resolution. This boils down to 320ppi (pixels per inch), just a hair below the iPhone 5's 326ppi. It's a beautiful screen. Colors pop and it's crystal clear. There are no buttons on the front of the Nexus 4. In fact, the only buttons on the entire phone are the power button and the volume up/down rocker. It's uber clean when it comes to hardware design.
Inside, the Nexus 4 is running a quad core Snapdragon processor. This thing is smooth. Super smooth. You would be hard-pressed to find an app that stutters or a game that hesitates. Android runs like a champ on the Nexus 4. After all, the phone is designed for Android by the same people who make the Android software.
The Nexus 4 comes with two storage options, 8GB and 16GB. The model I tested was 16GB. 8 seems like a small amount of storage by today's standard but I think Google's focus is on streaming your content as well as keeping the price of the Nexus 4 down. I'd spend the extra $50 and go for the 16GB if I were buying the Nexus but that might not be worth it to everyone. These small storage options are a bit of a sore spot for the Nexus 4. Power users expect and demand much more storage space.
Speaking of sore spots, the Nexus 4 doesn't support LTE 4G. Like the storage options, many power users expect LTE. Some would argue that LTE is a power hog and HSDPA+ (which the Nexus 4 does support) is plenty fast in most areas. Nonetheless, the LTE option would be nice in the Nexus 4.
On the back, you'll find an 8 Megapixel camera. Most new smartphones are packing 13 Megapixel monsters so this is a bit disappointing. With that said, I'm not sure you'd really notice the difference. The pictures and video on the Nexus 4 look amazing. There is also a 1.3 Megapixel camera on the front for making video calls. It works as expected but isn't designed for taking high-quality pictures or video.
The beauty of every Nexus device is that they run Google Android exactly as Google designed it. There is no extra software added on top of Android. It's "pure Android." Some of the new features that really sing on the Nexus 4 are Photosphere and Google Now.
Photosphere lets you take a 360 degree photo. It's super easy to use and the results are downright impressive. Check out this photo I took of our newsroom and posted to Google+.
Google Now is to Android what Siri is to the iPhone. It's a matter of preference but some would argue that Google Now goes a step further. It tries to anticipate your life. For example, after a while it knows that you leave the office every day around 5:00 p.m. so it'll pop up an alert to let you know what the traffic situation is between your office and your home and tell you how long it's going to take. Cool, right?
If you have an appointment off-site it'll pop up an alert warning you that you need to leave within X minutes to make it on time based on the address in your calendar and the current traffic. If you search for your favorite sports team it'll remember it and keep you updated on future games and scores. The list goes on and on. It's pretty impressive. Sometimes Google Now is overzealous. Just because I searched New York Yankees doesn't mean I want an update every time the team is playing a game. Seriously, does anyone actually like the Yankees? Perhaps I searched "I hate the New York Yankees?" The good thing is, Google Now gets better and smarter all the time and you can always tell it to stop updating you on specific things.
The most amazing feature
The price! Somehow, Google is packing all of this power, gloss and glitz into a product that they sell for $299 (8GB) and $349 (16GB). This is unsubsidized, no contract, no carrier. That's amazing! The Galaxy SIII, for example, sells for $517 on Amazon without a contract. The price for the Nexus 4 is unheard of. You can buy the Nexus 4, sign up for one of the many contract free cell phone services, pop in the SIM card and have a top-tier smartphone with unlimited service for less than $50 per month with no contract attached. This is a big win for consumers.
The Nexus 4 is one of the best smartphones on the market right now. Spec for spec, the Samsung Galaxy SIII, the LG Optimus G and the HTC One X+ may be better phones but I would argue the Nexus 4 easily plays in the same class. The low storage options, lack of LTE and 8 Megapixel camera may be "dealbreakers" for some people but most of us can look past those faults. It's fast, slick and provides a pure Google experience that you won't find on those other models. Best of all, it's hundreds of dollars less than any high-end smartphone from Samsung, LG or HTC without a contract. Now that Google has sorted out early inventory problems with the Nexus 4, it's one of the best on the market. Wanna go contract free? This is the best option out there. End of story!
The Google Nexus 4 is available on Google's Play Store starting at $299.