Design and DisplayFrom a short distance, the Nexus 4 looks almost identical to the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. But it's an illusion; instead of the hard plastic sides and back of the Samsung version, the LG model is nicely finished in clear glass on the back, with a lovely sparkling pattern that seems to move as you tilt the handset. The sides are in a grippy soft touch rubber, with a smoked chrome accent ring around the front. The phone measures 5.27 by 2.70 by 0.36 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.9 ounces. It's a beautiful design that befits a Nexus: understated, classy, and without frills.There's not much in the way of hardware controls. The right side features a lone Power button, while the left panel houses a chrome volume rocker and a micro SIM card slot; if you want to switch SIM cards, you open it using a tiny metal key LG provides in the package. A standard-size 3.5mm headphone jack is found up top, while the microUSB port for charging and syncing the phone is at the bottom of the phone.
The 4.7-inch IPS LCD packs 1,280-by-768-pixel resolution, and is covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 2. There's less of a gap between the glass and display than before, which is noticeable when you tilt it on its side. The screen is responsive and feels great to the touch. Whites are significantly brighter than the dim, yellowish ones on the Galaxy Nexus. Web pages on the Apple iPhone 5 still look better, thanks to better viewing angles and a still-brighter screen, and the iPhone 5's fonts are also kerned more closely and are easier to read. But the Nexus 4 display is a tremendous improvement, and it's considerably larger than the iPhone 5's 4 inches. In my tests, typing on the on-screen keyboard was comfortable and responsive in both portrait and landscape modes.
ConnectivityThe Nexus 4 is a quad-band EDGE (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) and quintuple-band HSPA+ 42 (850/900/1700/1900/2100MHz) handset. There's no LTE here, but you get 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. The phone had no problem connecting to our WPA2-encrypted 5GHz corporate network. For this review, I tested the Nexus 4 with a T-Mobile SIM card.
The lack of LTE may sound like a dealbreaker, but it's really not that clear-cut. First, only the subsidized Samsung Galaxy Nexus on Verizon and Sprint had LTE last year; the newer, unlocked Galaxy Nexus never did, and that's the one that this Nexus 4 is replacing. LTE compatibility is fast becoming a given now. Still, T-Mobile doesn't have an LTE network; it maxes out at HSPA+ 42, which is still very fast. I averaged speeds of 10-11Mbps down, which is faster than what I usually see on Verizon's crowded LTE network in Manhattan. Upload speeds were much slower at roughly 1Mbps, since HSPA+ 42 is much more asymmetrical, and ping times were all over the board, so latency isn't great. Nonetheless, this is a fast phone when used on T-Mobile.
On AT&T's network it's a different story. There's no HSPA+ 42, so the Nexus 4 maxes out at HSPA+ 21. Use this phone with an AT&T SIM card, and you'll see much slower speeds than you would with an LTE-equipped phone—usually in the realm of 2-3Mbps down, or much slower than the 30Mbps+ we've seen on AT&T's LTE network. If your heart is set on AT&T LTE, you should look at a subsidized Samsung Galaxy S III $179.99 at Amazon Wireless or an iPhone 5.
We asked AT&T if it prevents unlocked phones from accessing LTE on its network, and a spokesperson said it wouldn't be a problem, so it's going to depend on which bands the unlocked iPhone 5 supports when that version arrives. Still, at $649 for an unlocked iPhone 5 and $549 for a non-carrier Samsung Galaxy S III, you'd have to really want an unlocked phone to spend that kind of cash upfront just to use it on AT&T's network.
Performance, Hardware, and OSIn my tests, voice quality was generally good, even excellent in the earpiece, with plenty of gain, and a crisp, natural tone. Transmissions through the mic were a little thin and robotic sounding, though, and the noise cancelling algorithm seemed to struggle with some moderate construction noise in the background. Reception was solid, and a huge improvement over the spotty reception I experienced with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
Calls sounded clear through a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset, though it was a little unreliable; I had trouble getting calls to stay in the headset, and while I could trigger voice dialing over Bluetooth, Android's built-in voice recognition never understood the number I was trying to dial. The speakerphone gets quite loud, but it has a piercing tone at maximum volume that's uncomfortable to listen to.
We're still testing the Nexus 4's 2100mAh battery and will update this review as soon as we have a result. It's worth noting that the Nexus 4 also supports wireless charging with compatible charging pads; it doesn't come with one, but they're available on the aftermarket for $50 and up, depending on the brand. Wireless charging is useful, but not as perfect as it sounds; you still have to plug the wireless charging mat into the wall. But at least you don't have to plug and unplug the actual phone each time.