LG Nexus 4 (T-Mobile) review: Elegant smartphone with a huge flaw

These options include flash, geotagging, and 3.9x digital zooming, five white-balance modes, five scene modes, seven photo sizes, an exposure meter ranging from -2 to +2, and HDR shooting. You also get touch and autofocus. The front-facing camera retains most of these features save for the flash (obviously), and there are only three photo sizes to choose from.

In addition, you can take panoramic pictures and Photo Spheres, a new feature in Android 4.2. Photo Sphere stitches together pictures taken from every angle at a single point, to create expansive 3D-esque photos. Though you need to spend some time to take all the photos, the spheres never fail to impress people, and they're great when you want to record and share an all-encompassing scene, like when hiking or buying a new house. Though I had a little trouble figuring out how to use it in the beginning, the feature works reliably and swiftly. There were a few times, however, when the feature didn't allow me to capture the very bottom and very top of a scene, which resulted in huge black holes of empty space in my photos.

Photo Sphere patches together several pictures and renders them into (nearly) a 360-degree image. Screenshot by Lynn La/CNET

Aside from the exposure meter, rear-facing video features consist of the same options. However, there is an additional time-lapse mode and you can select from three video qualities, the highest being HD 1080p. If you want to record with the front-facing camera, the highest quality you can shoot in is HD 720p.

The photo gallery also went through a makeover. You can browse through photos in a filmstrip view by slightly pinching in on an individual picture. To delete a photo, simply flick it off the screen. To edit an individual image, select the icon of three intertwining circles at the bottom of the display.

Editing options include 10 lens filters, not unlike the ones Instagram offers. You can also overlay seven different types of borders, crop a photo, or adjust sharpness, exposure, contrast, hues and saturation levels, and much more.

Android Jelly Bean includes new photo-editing options that are quite Instagram-esque. Screenshot by Lynn La/CNET

Photo quality: In photo quality the Nexus 4 was very similar to AT&T's Optimus G. In sunny outdoor shots (and even on gloomy, overcast days), images were in focus, with crisp, well-defined edges. Photos didn't necessarily "pop" with saturated hues, but colors were true to life. I found that whites, even on auto white balance, were especially accurate. In low or indoor lighting, pictures understandably fared worse. Dark hues were harder to distinguish from one another, and when zooming in at full resolution, there was more digital noise and pixelation.

In our standard studio shot, objects are in focus and colors are true to life. Josh Miller/CNET

The camera performed well; there was no lag in feedback when I moved it. However, for a handset that performs so speedily in every other aspect -- running games, Web browsing, and the like -- the shutter speed is comparably slower than the iPhone 5's and the Galaxy S3's. Snapping one picture is fine, but when I rapidly and continuously pressed the shutter button, the time it needed to refocus stalled its shutter time.

Video recording was also respectable. Audio picked up well, colors were accurate, and moving objects, like passing cars, remained in constant focus with clean outlines and little pixelation. The refresh rate during playback was high and images rendered smoothly.

Performance
Call quality: We tested the device on T-Mobile's network. Signal quality both indoors and outdoors was great. I didn't hear any audio clipping in and out, no calls were dropped, and I didn't hear any extraneous buzzing.

Call quality, however, was a different matter. Every test call I made was to a landline phone, and for the in-ear speaker, audio volume was too low. There were times, especially outdoors, when I couldn't make out what my friends were saying, even after cranking it up to maximum volume. Switching to speakerphone helped a little, but if I turned the volume too high, voices sounded extremely harsh. This makes sense since sound can only escape through a thin slit in the back of the phone, so my friends sounded really tinny while speaking. The speaker also rendered music flatly. Its small opening strips away much of the depth and body, especially from songs that are instrumentally rich.

Listen now: T-Mobile's LG Nexus 4 call quality sample


Furthermore, even in regular (not speakerphone) calls, voices sounded slightly staticky, and every word I heard was layered with a subtle fuzz. Likewise, a friend reported to me that I sounded too sharp, as if the bass was turned down on my voice while the treble was turned up.

Whether the lack of LTE matters: If you're a T-Mobile customer, the answer is no. T-Mobile's "4G" was always based on HSPA+ technology and it never offered LTE, anyway (though the carrier does plan on launching it next year). So for those of you who belong to the carrier now, this handset is one of the best phones T-Mobile is offering.

On average, it loaded our CNET mobile site in 6 seconds and our full desktop site in 8 seconds. The New York Times mobile and desktop sites took 7 and 14 seconds to load, respectively. ESPN's mobile site downloaded in 7 seconds, and the phone took 15 seconds to load the full site. It took a mere 50 seconds on average to download the 22MB game Temple Run. And the Ookla speed-test app showed me an average of 8.15Mbps down and 0.5Mbps up.

Performance: LG Nexus 4 (T-Mobile)    
Average "4G" download speed 8.15Mpbs
Average "4G" upload speed 0.5Mbps
App download (Temple Run) 22MB in 50 seconds    
CNET mobile site load 6 seconds
CNET desktop site load 8 seconds
Boot time 23 seconds
Camera boot time 1.82 seconds

However, if you buy the phone unlocked, you won't be able to use any carrier's 4G LTE network. As I stated before, LTE has become a staple in mid- to high-end phones and the technology is no longer in its infancy. And while some surmise that operating on GSM/HSPA will make the Nexus 4 a more global device, it's still a letdown for the U.S. market.

Processor and battery: Though the Nexus 4's data speeds might not be blazingly fast, the 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro quad-core CPU makes its internal speed swift and smooth. Graphics-intense games like Riptide GP and Asphalt 7 played extremely well, launching and running with no stalls or hiccups. The games both displayed high frame rates with high-resolution graphics.

LG Nexus 4
Because of the phone's ultrafast CPU, gameplay was crisp, smooth, and fast. Josh Miller/CNET

In addition, average start time for the handset was about 23 seconds, and it took about 1.82 seconds to launch the camera. Browsing on Chrome was a lot smoother on this device than on the Optimus G for some reason. For instance, scrolling down Web pages was executed much more swiftly.

During our battery drain tests for video playback, the device lasted 8.1 hours. Anecdotally the handset had short battery life. Though it's powered by a 2,100mAh battery, the screen takes much of its reserves. I needed a few good charges to get me through the day, and playing a 22-minute show drained about 10 percent of the battery's power. According to FCC radiation standards, phone has a a digital SAR rating of 0.56W/kg.

Conclusion
In general, the device is excellent and reliable -- its internal speeds are zippy and smooth, the camera is packed with new features, and Android 4.2 is indeed sleek. The Nexus 4 is one of the best LG phones out there alongside the Optimus G, and for such a recognizable phone, it's extremely affordable. In addition, if you're already a T-Mobile user, the Nexus 4 is the carrier's best offering next to the Galaxy S3.

But aside from natively sporting Android Jelly Bean, the Nexus 4 doesn't offer up anything significantly new. If you ask yourself, what does this phone do to expand and progress the Nexus brand? The answer is, nothing much.

Though it's fast, the Optimus G also has a quad-core CPU and the AT&T model is 4G LTE-capable to boot. Compared with the Samsung Galaxy S3's design, the Nexus 4 looks all too common. And if you're concerned about what Google said about LTE and battery life , look no further than the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD. Plainly put, while the Nexus 4's HSPA+ speeds are respectable, its lack of LTE capabilities will definitely leave users feeling behind or slighted.

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

LG Nexus 4

Part Number: 610214631732 Released: Nov. 13, 2012

MSRP: $549.99

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Nov. 13, 2012
  • Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
  • Service Provider T-Mobile
  • Weight 4.9 oz
  • Diagonal Size 4.7 in
  • Sensor Resolution 8 pixels
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