With no 4G LTE support, new Nexus devices irk early adopters

The decision to forgo support for LTE could alienate consumers who like to be on the cutting edge. But despite Google's claim, is battery life the real reason?

Scott Webster
Scott Webster has spent the better part of his adult life playing with cell phones and gadgets. When not looking for the latest Android news and rumors, he relaxes with his wife and son. Scott also is the senior editor for AndroidGuys. E-mail Scott.
Scott Webster
3 min read
Can you spot the missing feature? Google

For all the wonderful hardware and software that comes with the new Nexus 4 and the rejiggered Nexus 7, there's one glaring feature that keeps them from being truly leading-edge: lack of 4G LTE support.

That means that as of today, early adopters who want the latest and greatest in Android will have to be content with an HSPA+ network. Yes, T-Mobile's HSPA+ can sometimes be as fast as LTE, but unlike with the iPhone, Android has always been good about including cutting-edge features. That's why this one hurts. Cue snickering from the Apple crowd.

Google did exactly the same thing with the Galaxy Nexus even if LTE networks were somewhat less robust a year ago. What's more, it would be months before Verizon Wireless or Sprint would offer the "Pure Google" handset with LTE support (though at the time, Sprint's network wasn't active). Why the delay then? And more importantly, why no 4G LTE love now? In a nutshell, battery life.

Power play
It's something that plagued the Galaxy Nexus and many other phones with the data connectivity standard: LTE depletes battery much quicker than users would like. In fact, it's one of the very reasons Apple cited for not including it in the previous generation of iPhone. Well, that, and a lack of 4G LTE footprint by any major carrier. Nevertheless, in the age of increasingly slimmer phones, hardware makers struggle to find a way to offer high-speed 4G LTE data and an all-day battery.

Citing both cost and user experience, Google's Andy Rubin told The Verge that the decision to leave 4G LTE out of the Nexus 4 was a "tactical issue." He added that many carriers building out 4G LTE networks have not fully scaled as yet.

In other words, there's not a large enough potential market for a device that cannot balance long-lasting batteries and cutting-edge quad-core hardware. Sure...just as long as you don't count the Optimus G, Droid Razr Maxx HD, or devices coming around the corner. I can't be the only one who finds it ironic that the Optimus G, which is the basis of the Nexus 4, is designed to handle such demands.

More carrier love
In all fairness, the Nexus smartphones have never been top-selling devices. Google has long struggled with selling its own handsets and except for the Galaxy Nexus, T-Mobile was the preferred carrier of choice for Day One support. While I'm sure Google appreciates T-Mobile's willingness to play ball, the fourth-place provider is not going to deliver the desired impact. In a related note, the Nexus 4 that T-Mobile is offering is touted as 42Mbps-capable, whereas the one listed in Google Play is 21Mbps.

It's worth noting that just because AT&T supports the new phone doesn't necessarily mean it will advertise the fact. All this in mind, Google will be shooting itself in the foot if it doesn't ultimately offer a Verizon or Sprint version of the Nexus 4. That is, provided, if it ever hopes to see large-scale adoption of its Nexus line.

It's the same issue with the new Nexus 7 with data connectivity. At $299, the no-contract 32GB tablet is a good pickup to be sure. Just think, though, how much more appealing it would be if it was 4G LTE support instead of the 3.5G speeds of HSPA+.

I'm trying to justify Google's decision to skip 4G LTE for the Nexus 4, but the best I can come up with a "lesser of two evils" analogy. It seems Google would rather see hard-core fans and early adopters grumble about not getting access instead of potentially larger crowd moan about poor battery life. It's a bitter pill, and I don't want to swallow it.

Instead, I have the answer: Google is thinking globally here. We should consider that the Nexus 4 is being released to a number of markets on November 13, not just in the United States. Factor in that many of said markets operate on fully deployed GSM/HSPA networks and it makes more sense. At $299 unlocked and without a contract, this is going to be the handset to beat, even without 4G LTE.

Well, that is until CES arrives in a little over two months.