When Google released the Nexus 4 16GB for $349, it’s a no-brainer for a gadget geek like me. I have blogged my rant about Apple’s iPhone 5 pricing. Getting the Nexus 4 seems a perfect follow up.
I have had the Nexus 4 for a couple of weeks now. The device is made by LG a glass back (reminds me of the iPhone 4/4S). It makes the device feel substantial, even luxurious. It makes the Galaxy Nexus feel cheap. Of course, having a glass back has its own downfalls, mainly fragility. Some online reviewers have theirs cracked. I would think it’s similar to the iPhone 4/4S, and since my iPhone 4 is still pristine, I think I can handle the Nexus 4.
Unlike the Galaxy Nexus, the Nexus 4 has a built-in battery and an external tray for the micro SIM. Yes, it uses a micro SIM. Not a big deal nowadays as plenty of phones use micro SIM now (eg. Nokia Lumia phones). The tray design is vaguely familiar, like the ones on iPhones. Except, the hole is a lot smaller, so you cannot use the iPhone’s SIM eject tool, nor a paper clip. YES, LG DECIDED TO MAKE A SUPER TINY HOLE TO EJECT THE SIM, SO YOU HAVE TO CARRY ANOTHER TINY SIM EJECT TOOL. Yes. this is incredibly frustrating. Seriously, why? The hole is so tiny that when you use the included SIM eject tool, you feel that you might bent/break it. I mean come on Google, you didn’t do this on the Nexus 7 (made by Asus). Stupid LG. This is by far my biggest problem with the Nexus 4. It doesn’t have a microSD slot either, but this is nothing new as Google has eliminated SD card slot since the Nexus S. Your option will be 8GB or 16GB on-board.
Okay, setting that tiny hole aside, the phone feels really nice, again thanks to the materials used. The form factor is wider than the Galaxy Nexus. While the Galaxy Nexus has 720p screen resolution, the Nexus 4 extended the width to 1280 x 768. Google took advantage of this, cramming more apps in the app drawer, 5 apps per row. It feels very tight though. Another thing to consider with the wider resolution is the wallpaper. If you have Google restore your phone, you might find your old wallpaper cropped to fit the wider resolution.
Physical buttons follow the Galaxy Nexus design. Power button on the right side, volume on the left. Micro USB on the bottom and headphone jack on the top. The power button seems a bit recessed though, and coupled with the wider body, sometimes it’s not easy to press the button with one hand. Having a case that covers the power button may worsen the condition.
The Nexus 4 runs Android 4.2. The lock screen allows widgets, and I am seeing more and more apps supporting this. Careful though, having your emails right on the lock screen means anybody can read them too. Swiping the screen to the left turns on the camera. This is a very useful feature, giving Android a similar capability to iOS and Windows Phone. Speaking about the camera, 4.2 gives you 360-degree panorama feature, called Photo Sphere. So far, I find it to be so so, with resulting picture having plenty of stitching errors and distortions. Can’t comment enough about the camera quality, but so far, it seems so so too (not something you would brag against an iPhone 5 or Lumia 920 users).
Usability wise, the Nexus 4 is smooth. If you think the Galaxy Nexus is smooth, well, this is better. The wider screen may take time to get used to, but it makes typing a bit more comfortable. The Nexus 4 really is the benchmark of Android experience as intended by Google. If you have a Galaxy Nexus or a Nexus 7, you are probably already familiar with the 4.2 features. The Nexus 4 doesn’t really bring any extras on 4.2 that you won’t get on the Galaxy Nexus, other than maybe HDR photo. What you get from the Nexus 4 is a better processor and GPU (running the latest Krait CPU and Adreno 320 GPU). Oh, and it has better support of 5GHz Wifi n. The Galaxy Nexus supports this, but only on a very narrow group of channels. The Nexus 4 fares better. In addition to penta-band HSDPA, the Nexus 4 also supports dual-carrier HSDPA. No official LTE support, although the tinkerers online found out that it supports one LTE band with a hack (not going to be useful for practical purposes).
I am a fan of the Nexus lineup, owning the Nexus One, Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 7, and now the Nexus 4. I am a fan of phones that are unlocked and not carrier controlled. At its price, the Nexus 4 is right. I do have to say though, skip the 8GB version. 8GB is not enough with modern usage, unless you don’t have any content on your phone. 16GB is the bare minimum.
Now, let’s move to the iPhone 5, Apple’s latest and greatest money maker. I had the chance to observe the new iPhone 5 unboxing, and using it long enough to have an impression. I will make comparison with the Nexus 4 along the way.
First of all, build quality. Yes, the scuffgate you read online is real. The white iPhone 5 I observed had a big scratch/dent on its side out of the box. This is ridiculous, especially if you are paying $$$ for it. I have owned many Apple and other consumer electronic products, and I have yet to have one that have a physical damage out of the box. Good thing Apple knows this and having it replaced with a new one is easy, but still, it’s ridiculous, considering a company like Apple. One thing though, the iPhone 5 feels very light, which is kinda amazing considering what Apple packs in it. My iPhone 4 feels like a brick compared to the 5.
Other than that, the iPhone 5 is, well, an iPhone. I have the iPhone 4, and although it remains smooth enough under iOS6, the iPhone 5 feels a lot snappier thanks to its A6 processor. Apps launch almost immediately compared to the iPhone 4. The smoothness feels so great that even my Nexus 4 feels “laggy.” This is what I like about iOS. Android is trying to catch up with Project Butter, but it has quite a bit way to go (not helped by 4.2 that seems to make my Nexus 7, the poster child for smoothness, laggy). While the Nexus 4 is wider than the Galaxy Nexus, the iPhone 5 is taller than the iPhone 4. So adjust your wallpapers. The extra height gives you an extra row on the home screen for apps. Compared to my Nexus 4, however, the keyboard on the iPhone 5 feels cramped. Yes, it has the same width as the iPhone 4, but the taller screen adds the cramped feeling as the body looks narrower now.
As for iOS6, my iPhone 4 does not get many of its new features. Apple introduced its own Maps app in iOS6, but since the iPhone 4 doesn’t have Siri, it doesn’t have turn-by-turn navigation either (thank goodness for Google Maps app). Another feature that my iPhone 4 doesn’t get is panorama. Just like previous iPhones, tethering on the iPhone 5 is carrier controlled, even if you buy an unlocked version. Hardware wise, the iPhone 5 supports LTE, dual-carrier HSDPA, and 5GHz wifi n, a clear advantage over my iPhone 4. However, I’ll take my Nexus 4’s penta-band HSDPA anytime. I was ranting about the new lightning connector, but I kinda like it now. It’s very compact, and the design makes it much easier to plug the connector in and out, without worrying about whether you do it right or upside down. The only problem is for people that have invested a lot of money in the 30-pin dock connector accessories (including me).
In the end, the iPhone 5 is an iPhone. If you managed to get one that didn’t self-scuff in its box, it’s a very nice phone. It is very light and snappy to use. After looking at the Nexus 4, however, the unlocked iPhone 5’s price is a jaw-dropper.
Both phones represent the latest and greatest form the perspective of the platform, pure Android vs iOS. The Nexus 4 is definitely the best bang for the buck. At $349, the 16GB model is still cheaper than even the iPhone 4. The only challenge is trying to get one. However, the iPhone 5 does carry the strength of iOS. Apple’s ecosystem and walled-garden is a very nice place, if you can afford it.