Nexus 4 review: Google's instantly obsolete Android smartphone

Besides its lack of LTE, there's nothing horribly wrong -- or particularly compelling -- with Google's 'pure Android' device

Does the world really need another Android smartphone? Not if it's the Nexus 4, the new Google-branded smartphone made by LG. As with its Nexus 10 tablet counterpart, there's nothing terribly wrong with the Nexus 4 -- it does what a smartphone should do. But that's it. The Nexus 4 offers no compelling reason to choose it over another Android smartphone.

However, there's a very good reason not to buy it: It's a 3G-only device (for AT&T and T-Mobile in the United States) without LTE compatibility to take advantage of the 4G networks now coming online. It's instantly obsolete.

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The Nexus 4 is an undistinguished black slate, like Google's Nexus 10. A closer look shows it to be nearly identical in physical shape to the Samsung Galaxy S III, which boasts a more interesting trim, color scheme, and more pleasant material. Unlike the Galaxy S III, the Nexus 4 has no physical Home button, in keeping with Google's desire to showcase the "pure" Android experience in its Nexus line.

Two key benefits of Android 4.2 "Jelly Bean": Lock screen widgets, photo controls
That "pure" Android experience is the Android 4.2 "Jelly Bean" one, which brings a couple welcome features to the already very nice 4.1 "Jelly Bean" operating system: the addition of lock screen widgets such as email and calendar and the enhanced Camera app, which provides the kinds of shooting controls you'd expect in a digital camera, plus a suite of editing controls for the photos you take.

Both work reasonably well, though the selection of lock screen widgets is quite low, and it's not always easy to add them or get to them -- the lock screen's swipe sensitivity seems diminished for some reason. The widgets aren't available if your Exchange server or mobile management server imposes a PIN or password requirement on your device. The Camera app's only (minor) deficit is that the camera controls can be hard to see onscreen in some circumstances, such as over light subjects or in glare situations for outdoor shoots.

Among the shooting controls is one for the Nexus 4's Photo Sphere feature, which ups the ante for the panoramic mode introduced in previous Android versions for compatible devices (nicely copied by iOS 6 in the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5). A regular panorama stitches together multiple images as you move the camera sideways, creating one image from the sequence. Photo Sphere lets you move the camera both sideways and up, so you can stitch together a large section of space, sort of like an Imax movie versus a regular widescreen movie. The Photo Sphere icon helpfully traces your sweep as you move up each level, so you know you've captured the same lateral range in each slice.

The only issue I had with Photo Sphere was that the Nexus 4 often couldn't keep pace with the panorama, even when I panned slowly. It needed to pause periodically, perhaps to process the image data or offload it, resulting in stutters in those parts of the image.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Hardware (10.0%)
Security and management (20.0%)
Business connectivity (20.0%)
Web and Internet support (20.0%)
Usability (15.0%)
Application support (15.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Google Nexus 4 7.0 7.0 8.0 8.0 8.0 8.0 7.7
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