With Nexus devices famed for whipping up some smartphone and tablet excitement by launching the latest iteration of Google’s mobile OS, the Google Nexus 4 is no different, lining up as the first device to come pre-installed with the revised Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system.
Despite being more of a minor revision than a grand refresh, the latest Android system, which builds on the Google Nexus 7 launched Android 4.1 Jelly Bean offering, Android 4.2 remains a joy to use and one which transforms a collection of high-end hardware into a consumer appeasing, user experience defining option that, thanks in part to its staggeringly impressive £239 price tag, is sure to rejuvenate the smartphone sector.
Whilst in the future, smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung, HTC and Sony will no doubt skin the new Android 4.2 OS in their custom UI’s, for the Google Nexus 4, the system is at its raw best. With a Google search bar locked in place front and centre, Google has made its presence felt in the Nexus 4, filling the device with the full collection of Google branded applications from the standard and extremely useful Gmail and Google Maps, to the increasingly present but still little used Google Plus.
Although the new features introduced in Android 4.2 do not feature front and centre on the Google Nexus 4, such as the new keyboard with swipe input or the Photo Sphere camera option, core Android values such as heavy customisation certainly do. Customisation of the Google Nexus 4 is, as always with Android handsets, a breeze with apps and widgets easily pinned and moved across the collection of side scrolling homescreens.
Disappointingly stifling these customisation options somewhat, however, the Google Nexus 4 offers up just five homescreens, down on some Android handsets and a space that can quickly become limiting when setting up your device to offer instant widget-based access to the likes of email, Twitter feeds, music playback and more.
With the 1.5GHz quad-core CPU once again ensuring a zippy and hitch free experience, opening applications is met with little fuss or fanfare, just speedy, efficient launching. A similar level of hassle-free speed can be found when switching between applications using Android’s multitasking features, jumping back to the homescreen or when riffling between the multiple menus and homescreens.
Enhancing usability with a smoother, more fluid user experience, Android’s drag down notification bar remains in 4.2 Jelly Bean, with the interface addition offering, instant app-free access to a whole raft of important information from incoming messages and emails to download alerts. What’s more in the Google Nexus 4 launching OS, Google has taken note of manufacturer’s UIs and made a selection of handset settings such as Wi-Fi setup available at will, a welcome and time saving addition.
Despite the recent influx of increasingly advanced smartphone bells and whistles, from Full HD video recording capabilities to integrated MP3 players, the ability for a handset to simply and successfully make and receive calls is still its most core and fundamental ability, yet one that is being increasingly overlooked by manufacturers as specs sheet defining features take increasing precedence.
Call quality on the Google Nexus 4, however, is extremely impressive with LG and Google clearly making an effort to ensure than the handset’s bread and butter is not an oversight that suffers at the expense of more luxurious inclusions. With strong, easy to alter volume controls, the Google Nexus 4 boasts noise cancelling features ensuring that you can be heard, and hear the other end of the conversation, even when in load, busy, bustling areas.
Not just an impressive on-paper addition, the handset’s noise cancelling abilities worked exceptionally well in practice, allowing us to conduct conversations next to a busy road, in a noisy pub and even at a football ground with minimal disruption.
As with virtually all Android handsets, the Google Nexus 4 contact features are a simplistic joy to use with contacts stored on your Google account seamlessly pulled through whilst others can be added manually or via the likes of Facebook integration. Well laid out and easy to navigate, the contacts menus allows for multiple means of communication from the standard call or SMS to email or even via social streams including of course Google Plus.
Constructing messages using the Google Nexus 4, be they SMS or email is a hit and miss affair. Whilst the newly introduced keyboard with swipe functionality, a feature that will be pleasingly familiar to users of the Samsung packed Swype service, is a sure fire hit, the voice dictate service is a little less efficient. Struggling with multi-syllable words, the auto dictate services quickly become more of a frustrating hindrance than a time saving help. In contrast, however, the swipe feature, which allows you to drag your finger across the QWERTY offering to spell your desired words, is a joy to use. Offering a quicker input method for longer SMS messages, emails and note taking, swipe proves impressively accurate in practice, with highly impressive predictive capabilities.
Turning to the browser and, unsurprisingly, Google has opted to fill the Google Nexus 4 with its own branded Chome offering. This is far from a bad thing though with Chrome offering one of the most pleasing and easy to use browser options around, be it from a desktop or mobile device.
With multi-tabbed browsing ensuring you can view, and jump between multiple windows with little fuss, the Chrome browser is still not the perfect option. Whilst those looking to access Flash content might be a little disappointed, as mentioned previously, we, on occasion, had issues with the browser accepting our input options, a slight issues that with time could become quite the irritant.
The Google Nexus 4 camera collection made up of two parts, with a 1.3-megapixel forward facing snapper partnered with the now seemingly industry standard 8-megapixel camera on the rear. Although smartphone integrated cameras are still a long way from being a true replacement to a dedicated compact in terms of performance, following the strong showing of its other key elements, the Google Nexus 4 camera can’t help but disappoint.
On the whole, the 8-megapixel rear-mounted camera found on the Google Nexus 4 is somewhat lacklustre. Whilst focus speeds and shutter speeds are impressive, and you can quickly open the camera app direct from the lock screen, ensuring you will always be supported when trying to capture that fleeting magic moment, in terms of overall results, images frequently prove below expectations. With snaps appearing excessively flat, contrast ratios leave much to be desired with block colours offering little gradient or subtlety in shading.
Whilst the integrated LED flash struggles with levelling, often whiting out content when in use, as with most smartphone cameras, sampling the Nexus 4’s digital zoom is a recipe for disaster, causing snaps to come out excessively graining and with lifeless, block colours.
Thanks to the handset’s Android 4.2 Jelly Bean innards, the Google Nexus 4 plays host to the operating system’s new feature Photo Sphere. An exaggerated version of a panorama shot, the new Photo Sphere functionality lets you take 360-degree snaps in all directions, stitching together a collection of stills into a single scrollable image that offers an immersive and rounded picture.
Despite being one of the most high-profile additions to Android 4.2 Jelly Bean over its 4.1 sibling, Photo Sphere is far from a new service with similar features having been made available for some time via a selection of downloadable apps such as 360Panorama by Occipital. Easy to use and with largely strong results, assuming you have a steady hand and considerable patience, it is possible to create some quite impressive and enjoyable shots that can be explored on screen.
Further enhancing the Google Nexus 4 camera capabilities, the LG manufactured handset comes pre-loaded with a selection of editing features including a host of post-production filters and a raft of tools allowing you to alter expose levels, effect levels and of course, crop images to desired content and sizes. All relatively standard fare but a welcome addition nonetheless.
As with the stills offering the Google Nexus 4 video recording capabilities are acceptable without setting the world alight. Capable of capturing 1080p Full HD content, the Google Nexus 4 is once again rivalling the top-end handsets such as the HTC One X and iPhone 5 with the handset’s video recorder also offering the option of capturing stills images whilst in the midst of recording video.
This judgement of the Google Nexus 4 camera offering is made overly critical by the handset’s strong performances across the board. On any other handset priced at the mid-range market, this 8-megapixel would be more than satisfactory, on the Nexus 4, however, it feels like a small chink in an otherwise all-encompassing and impressively strong armour.