Google Nexus 4 review: Google Nexus 4

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent

Average User Rating

4.5 stars 98 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Powerful hardware. Fantastic 4.7-inch IPS display. The latest version of Android. Cheap as chips.

The Bad Glass on the back gets hot during use. Non-expandable memory. No HDMI.

The Bottom Line Whether you want the latest Android updates first, or you just want a really powerful phone for a comparatively low price, the Nexus 4 is for you.

CNET Editors' Choice Nov '12

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Design

It might be manufactured by LG, but the Nexus 4 doesn't look like any LG phone we've ever seen before. Its symmetrical curved bezel is strongly reminiscent of the Galaxy Nexus we saw in Australia earlier this year, but its glass front and back give the Nexus 4 a more premium feel than its predecessor.

As the iPhone 4S proved, glass on the back of phones isn't always a good idea. Google and LG have opted for Gorilla Glass 2 for both the screen and battery cover, but, even still, you might want to pick up one of the Nexus 4 rubber bumpers for that extra piece of mind. Also — something that we didn't expect — the handset can get really hot during use, and the glass conducts this heat. After playing Angry Birds Star Wars for 15 minutes, we found that holding the Nexus 4 was like holding a cup of coffee without a handle.

The glass on the back of the phone has a lovely sparkle to it, but it gets hot during use and is a magnet for fingerprints.
(Credit: CBSi)

The glass on the front is the real showstopper, though. Many will wonder why Google chose LG to partner with on the Nexus 4, and, if we could guess, we'd say it's because of the company's display pedigree. The Nexus 4 gets the best of this, with a 4.7-inch IPS LCD panel with a 1280x768-pixel 720p resolution. This really is one of the best smartphone displays we've seen, on par with Apple's Retina display for clarity and colour, and with far better white display than Samsung's AMOLED panels. The screen is impressively responsive to touch input, too, with as much credit going to Google's performance tweaking of the Android platform as to the hardware.

The exterior of the phone is pretty minimalist, however, especially without a microSD card slot on any of the edges. There are other common slots and ports missing, too. We'd have loved a micro-HDMI socket, but, without it, you will have to learn about Miracast and how to use it in order to connect your phone to your monitor or TV.

This micro-USB port is the only port available on the Nexus 4.
(Credit: CBSi)

Jelly Bean Plus

Great hardware is only half of the story in the Nexus 4. The handset is, don't forget, the Android reference device for Google; the one for all others to aspire to. As such, it comes with the absolute latest version of the Android platform, numbered 4.2 and referred to by some as Jelly Bean Plus. It brings a host of performance improvements, according to Google's official literature on the subject, but most of this is difficult to perceive. It is easy to see that this phone is silky smooth in operation, but you'd need a high-speed camera to tell by how much.

It's far easier to spot some of the handy new interface tweaks that Google has added since the previous major update. The lock screen is now several pages of space where the user can display specially coded widgets. Our review unit allows us to install calendar, clock, messaging and Gmail widgets, but this list may grow as third-parties recode their widgets to live in this new environment. You can also swipe from right to left on the default home screen to launch the camera.

Google has also added a Quick Settings panel, which you pull down from the top of the screen in the same way you'd access the notifications curtain. To launch the settings window, though, you use two fingers to swipe down the screen, rather than one.

You access the new Quick Settings menu by swiping down from the top with two fingers.
(Credit: Screenshot by CBSi)

Camera

The primary focus of this camera is pretty obviously speed, and LG does a good job of delivering a very fast camera, even if the final result isn't always spot on. The speed works well to remove most of the focus problems associated with hands moving while a photo is being taken, but we still found that our photos were just slightly out of focus all the same. Of course, these are fine for photos you will share online, but they won't look so great if you decide to have an impromptu photo-slide night using your 50-inch TV.

(Credit: CBSi)

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Where to Buy

Google Nexus 4

Part Number: CNETGoogle Nexus 4

Typical Price: $399.00

See manufacturer website for availability.