Nexus 4 Review: A Beautiful Android Phone With a Major Tradeoff

PHOTO: The $299 Nexus 4 is made by LG and Google.

A year ago, I bought the Galaxy Nexus. At the time it was the best Android phone out there – it had a big screen with a very high resolution, a dual-core processor, the brand new Android 4.0 operating system, and Verizon LTE.

Also, like all the Nexus phones – which is a line of phones made with direct input from Google – it didn't have any major software tweaks, like some of the other Android phones made by LG, Samsung, or Motorola. Google also promised that its Nexus phones would get new software updates first.

It was an early adopter and tech addict's dream.

Except it wasn't. The phone while fast at first, got slow in some places, the camera quality was subpar (especially compared to iPhones) and the phone itself wasn't the most durable. And then, when Android 4.1 came out this June, it didn't hit the Verizon version of the phone until September.

Earlier this week, Google announced its Nexus 4 made by LG. And it promises to fix everything wrong with my Nexus -- the camera has been upgraded, it has a faster quad-core processor, a new glass back. But it also loses one of the best parts about the previous phone.

Goodbye Plastic
LG, which makes the phone hardware, took away one of my major complaints I had about the previous Nexus – the plastic and flimsy feel. It's something I mentioned in the Galaxy S 3 review too – Samsung's phones aren't cheap, but the plastic makes them feel cheaper than they are.

The Nexus 4 is covered on the front and back with Gorilla Glass 2, a very durable type of glass that can withstand bumps, bruises, and most drops. The back plate of glass has a slight sparkle to it too. But similar to the Gorilla Glass on the iPhone 4S, the glass on the back of the Nexus picks up more fingerprints than Sherlock Holmes.

The phone is attractive but not as compact as the iPhone 5. Part of that is the larger screen, but part of it is also has a thicker, 9.1mm base.

It also has a slightly better screen than the previous Nexus. The 4.7-inch, 1280 x 768-resolution display looks really crisp and it also felt smoother on my finger than other screens. I also prefer the screen quality to the one on the Galaxy S 3; colors just look truer to form. Still, the phone's screen is big enough for my friend to ask, "Whose big phone is this?"

A Camera With a Wide View
The improvement I appreciate the most is the camera. The 8-megapixel camera takes noticeably better shots than the camera on the previous Nexus and on par with the new Samsung Galaxy S 3. But, unfortunately, it still isn't as good as the one on the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5.

(See a comparison between two photos here with our handy slider tool.)

Shots were crisper, but lower light shots were still a bit dark and it seemed to have a problem adjusting the white balance fast enough. The result was images with a yellowish tint. Other photos I took were really clear; I even uploaded one or two to Instagram without applying a filter!

Google has also tweaked the camera features in the latest version of Android 4.2. Photo Sphere lets you take 360 degree photos. You take a series of photos on a grid and the software stitches them together. You can view them as a panorama on a computer or tablet or view them as an interactive image on Google Plus, similar to how you view Google Maps' Street View. (You can view one of the photos I took using the feature on my Google Plus page.)

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