But can it hold a candle to the Samsung Galaxy S3, the most successful Android phone of the year? We’ve taken apart each phone piece-by-piece to find out which of these Android mammoths you should buy.
Price and Deals
Google Nexus 4 – From £239 SIM-free, £36 a month on contract
Samsung Galaxy S3 – From £400 SIM-free, £30-odd a month on contract
The fantastic thing about the Google Nexus 4 is that it’s super-cheap, if you go to the right place. Buy direct from Google and it costs just £239 for the 8GB edition or £279 for the 16GB version. That’s around half the price of the Samsung Galaxy S3, making it a wee bit of a bargain, and something that should get many a mid-range phone running scared.
SIM-free, the Samsung Galaxy S3 will set you back around £400. It has gotten a little cheaper since its launch in May, but not by a great deal.
If you want a contract deal, the price difference is much less significant. Compared to the price the Nexus 4 sells at direct from Google, contract deals at present are poor. You’re looking at around £36 a month to get the phone free from O2, which is the price of a top-end phone like the Galaxy S3.
Google Nexus 4 – glass rear, plastic sides, black sparkly finish
Samsung Galaxy S3 – plastic removable battery cover, white/blue/black/red finishes
One of the most common criticisms levelled at the Samsung Galaxy S3 is that it doesn’t feel all that swanky because it uses a pretty unimpressive, thin, glossy plastic battery cover. It’s a classic Samsung design move – one seen in both previous Galaxy flagship phones.
The LG-made Google Nexus 4 doesn’t go plastic fantastic, topping the rear of the phone with a layer of glass. However, it doesn’t feel quite as high-end as something like the iPhone 4S. You could quite easily mistake the glass layer for a sheet of transparent plastic. This may be in part down to the plastic sides, robbing the phone of that cool-to-the-touch feel.
The Google Nexus 4 has an unusual spangly finish, with a disco ball-style shiny pattern on its rear. However, it doesn’t look as garish in person as it does in pictures. It’s less “1970s” in the flesh, thankfully, and it comes in black only at present.
At launch the Samsung Galaxy S3 was available in white and pebble blue finishes. The blue version had a brushed metal effect look, which turned off a few prospective buyers. Since then, a couple of extra editions have surfaced. There are now black and red versions, both using the metallic-look finish of the pebble blue handset. Neither phone is perfect, but the Galaxy wins out with a slightly higher-end feel, in spite of the plastic construction.
Thanks to their huge screens, both phones are quite large, and we recommend getting your mitts on a phone this size before buying, to check it’s simply not too big for your paws.
Google Nexus 4 – True IPS 4.7 inches, 768 x 1,280 pixels
Samsung Galaxy S3 – Super AMOLED 4.8 inches, 720 x 1,280 pixels
The Google Nexus 4 screen is a smidge smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S3’s display, 4.7 inches instead of 4.8. Resolution is roughly the same, the Google Nexus 4 having just a few extra horizontal pixels beyond the Samsung’s 720p resolution.
Aside from the similar numbers, the tech used in the displays is completely different. The Samsung Galaxy S3 has an AMOLED screen, and the Google Nexus 4 a variant of IPS.
AMOLED screens supply superb contrast as they don’t use a universal backlight, which tends to make blacks look a little grey or blueish when in a dark environment, or when held at an angle. IPS screens like the Google Nexus 4 tend to supply more natural-looking colours and higher brightness, though.
There’s an additional downside to the Galaxy S3’s display. It uses a Pentile subpixel layout. Instead of teeny, tinny red, green and blue subpixels (RGB), as seen in the Google Nexus 4, the S3 has a RGBG (red-green-blue-green) array. To see this directly, you’d have to use a pretty strong macro camera lens, but it has a negative effect on general image quality, reducing sharpness – especially in text.
The Google Nexus 4 screen is sharper, has generally more relaxed-looking colours and higher top brightness, but the Galaxy S3 brings unbeatable contrast to the table. We tend to favour IPS over AMOLED.
Google Nexus 4 – Qualcomm APQ8064 Snapdragon Quad-core 1.5 GHz Krait, 1GB RAM
Samsung Galaxy S3 – Exynos 4412 Quad-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A9, 2GB
Six months is a long time in the world of tech, and the time gap shows up in the specs of these two phones – the S3 was released around half a year before the Google phone. The Qualcomm quad-core chip in the Google Nexus 4 comfortable outperforms the Samsung Galaxy S3’s chip in some benchmarks, including Geekbench. However, it’s not a winner across the board and the Exynos pips the Qualcomm in the Sunspider java benchmark. In summary, both phones are highly-specced powerhouses.
The RAM situation is much easier to call – the Google Nexus 4 has 2GB, where the Samsung Galaxy S3 has just 1GB. 2GB is a whole lotta RAM for a phone, and it ensures that the Google Nexus 4 will be able to hack new versions of Google Android for a long time to come.
In practice, though, both phones are extremely quick and there’s nothing on the Google Play app store they can’t handle. It’s more a case of future proofing rather than a boost in power that’s going to dramatically change what the phones are like to use. That said, the Google Nexus 4 is a tiny bit faster as it isn’t weighed down by any additional software beyond vanilla Android.