At least for now, Google produces only one phone, the Nexus 4, which is made by LG. And, sadly, that phone didn’t score well across multiple categories, leading Google to the very bottom of the barrel in terms of smartphone brands for 2013. Also, now that you can get a pure Android experience from Google Play Editions of the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, the Nexus line is less relevant. Here’s hoping Google does better next time around.
The only Google phone to hit the market in the last year was the Nexus 4, so Google’s grade is based on one phone alone. However, the Nexus 4, made by LG, was a strong effort. Featuring a 1.5-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU, a bright and sharp 4.7-inch HD screen and an 8-megapixel camera, it toed the line between big and not too big. However, its short battery life, lack of LTE support, and so-so audio kept the Nexus 4 at 3.5 stars, and kept Google in sixth place.
Google’s Nexus phones are the only ones on the market that offer a pure Android experience. You won’t find any fancy skins such as Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense here. And that can be good or bad depending on your preference. On the plus side, features such as Google Now are front and center, available right from the lockscreen. And, if you buy the Nexus 4, you’ll never have to wait for a carrier to make operating system updates available. On the other hand, manufacturer skins can add significant functionality to Android.
Google’s Nexus 4 phone lasted a paltry 4 hours and 36 minutes on our battery test. Even worse, you can’t replace the battery on this LG-manufactured phone. Users looking for a pure Android experience would probably be better off with the Google Play Edition of the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4.
The Nexus 4 offers a pure Android features. Google Now is a great personal assistant that learns from your searches and presents information you want at a glance. And a new gesture-based keyboard makes it easier to type fast. However, you can get these features on any recent Android handset. Google Wallet is fairly unique, though, which lets you use your phone as a wallet at more than 200,000 U.S. stores. The best feature of Google Nexus phones is that you get the latest OS updates fast.
At 4.7 inches, the Nexus 4’s 1280 x 768-pixel IPS Plus display provided rich colors and sharp details, but it trails 1080p screens from newer competitors. Its 399 lux brightness rating meant we could easily view content both inside and in direct sunlight. Likewise, colors appeared rich and fine details were clearly visible.
Overall, the Nexus 4’s camera delivered mediocre performance. The Google-branded smartphone dominated the competition when it came to flash-intensive scenarios in our Smartphone Camera Shootout, but didn’t perform well in any other category. The end result was a seventh place finish out of nine brands. The Nexus 4 is also lacking when it comes to specialized features. The only standout perk is Photo Sphere for capturing 360-degree shots.
From the rounded edges to the slight curvature along the top and bottom of the Google Nexus 4, one thing is clear: curves are in at Google. The company is also big on subtlety, adding delicate touches like a holographic pattern to the phone’s back panel. Overall, the Nexus 4 leaves Google in the middle of the pack. We’re hoping for something more inspired next time.
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The speaker on the Nexus 4 is loud, but sound quality is lacking when it comes to the highest and lowest notes. In particular, Google’s smartphone produced tinny high notes. However, it was the speaker’s backside location that really relegated this brand to the bottom third of the pack. As soon as you put down the Nexus 4, sound immediately muffles. We also found volume a bit weak through headphones. On the plus side, call quality was crisp and clear on both ends.
While Google’s previous-generation Galaxy Nexus phone hit all the major carriers and supported LTE in the process, its Nexus 4 took a huge step backward. The handset lacks 4G LTE support and is only sold by T-Mobile and through Google’s store. However, an unlocked version will run on AT&T’s network.