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Nexus 4: LG finally gets its flagship (hands-on)

After years of forgettable Android phones, LG grabs the latest member of the Android Nexus family with the Jelly Bean-powered Nexus 4.

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LG Nexus 4 back
The LG Nexus 4 Josh Miller/CNET

Even though its New York event was pushed off track by Hurricane Sandy, just as expected, Google announced the fourth-generation Nexus smartphone on Monday. An unlocked device, the LG Nexus 4 will arrive in the Google Play online store on November 13 starting at $299 (8GB). Significantly, the Nexus 4 represents a real opportunity for LG to take some clout away from arch rival Samsung, maker of the previous few Nexus devices. One flaw though is the Nexus 4's lack of fast 4G LTE but that likely won't matter to die-hard Android users who crave the swift upgrade path for Google Nexus products.

Google will also sell an unlocked 16GB model for $349, while T-Mobile will offer its own 16GB version for $199 on November 14.

Design and features
Like the original Nexus One, the LG Nexus 4 delivers the latest version of Google's Android software -- in this case, 4.2 Jelly Bean -- without any manufacturer or carrier skins. Some notable improvements to the operating system include what Google calls the Photo Sphere plus Gesture Typing. Photo Sphere is a feature that lets you stitch multiple images from various directions into a 360-degree super panorama. Gesture Typing, as its name implies, is a text input method that allows users to string letters together by dragging fingers through them on the keyboard similar to Swype.

The expansive 4.7-inch display has a 1,280x760-pixel resolution and it's all driven by a 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor. During our time with the device, the internal speeds were very zippy and tasks were executed smoothly. LTE is a big miss, and the 8-megapixel camera is not as robust as we'd like, but the handset's sizable 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage show that LG has finally found its flagship phone.

LG Nexus 4 Jelly Beans
Yep, this is definitely running Jelly Bean. Josh Miller/CNET

While the Galaxy Nexus showed plenty of curves, the Nexus 4 is all angles and straight lines. Compared to the LG Optimus G, the Nexus 4 does have softer curves at the top, and it's more comfortable to hold. In addition, it's noticeably lighter. Though the design isn't terrible, we were hoping for a little more style and perhaps some originality on a Nexus class device, especially from a premier manufacturer such as LG.

While it does feel luxurious, the design itself is a little uninspiring. The display takes up almost the entire front of the device with three touch controls below. The phone's glossy glass back with embedded sparkles does, however, look distinctive. In the sun, we could really see it shining in all its tetris-Matrix-code-esque glory.

Outlook
The Nexus line has always stood out in Android's immense family and have never failed to win an audience of devoted Android enthusiasts. Starting with the Nexus One and continuing with the Nexus S and the Galaxy Nexus, their biggest draw has always been that they bring the latest flavor of Android without any interference.

As it continues that trend, we have little doubt that the Nexus 4 will prove any different. The design is a little conservative, sparkling back aside, but the bigger concern we have is that the Nexus 4's feature set misses some important points. Unfortunately, that's also been a trend of the Nexus family over the years and it's disappointing that the Nexus 4 couldn't break the mold. Jelly Bean is nice, after all, but Jelly Bean and LTE are even better.

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