Nexus 4 long-term evaluation

About seven months ago, I turned on a new Android phone and started installing and configuring my usual apps. That’s not an unusual event for me, except this time it was a phone I’d bought for the sum of $327.94. I’ve been using this Nexus 4 every day since, so I’ve gotten to know this device a little better than the average review model. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Nexus 4 backBattery: This was my number-one concern–a loaner model had tested poorly in this area, and it was only after I found a loaner Nexus 4′s battery life workable during Mobile World Congress that I decided to go ahead with the purchase. Seven months later, I’m surprised by how rarely the phone’s battery has gotten into the red.

I’ve learned to put this phone on WiFi whenever possible (that extends its battery life considerably) and I’m more careful about recharging it if I’m sitting down than I once was. But this experience has me a little more skeptical about relying too much on any one battery-life benchmark. I mean, if a phone can make it through SXSW without dying or needing a recharge every few hours, its battery life can’t be that bad.

Android: I love using the stock Android interface, without any spackled-on layers of interface from a phone vendor and without any bloatware locked in place unless I root the device. I also love not having to wait more than a few days for an Android update to land on the phone. I’m trying to think of what would get me to buy a non-Nexus Android phone… still thinking… let me get back to you on that.

Camera: This is the weakest part of the phone, even if it’s not enough to induce  buyer’s remorse. The lack of optical image stabilization makes this 8-megapixel camera clumsy at most outdoor photos after dark, and its shutter lag is just bad enough to make taking pictures of our toddler or any other fidgety subject (like, say, a monkey) a trying task.

In this camera’s favor, it can take some great photos, and not just with the sun overhead. One of my favorite shots involved early-morning sunlight streaming into the National Airport; I suspect the aging Canon point-and-shoot I had with me would have had trouble balancing that exposure. The Nexus 4′s also done well with food porn, sunsets, panoramas and photo spheres.

Bandwidth: The Nexus 4 doesn’t have LTE, and I don’t care. T-Mobile’s HSPA+ routinely hits 15-Mbps download speeds in the Speedtest.net app. LTE can run faster still, but when my phone’s mobile broadband matches my home’s Fios access I’m not going to mope about the difference. (Those mean things I wrote about carriers marketing HSPA+ as “4G”? Maybe not so much.)

T-Mobile’s coverage is not what I’d get with Verizon. It can also be frustrating to have the phone lose a signal inside a not-large building. But I’m saving about $50 a month compared to what VzW charges. And since this phone is an unlocked GSM phone, I can also pop in any other GSM carrier’s micro-SIM card–as I did when I went to Berlin last month for IFA.

Storage: As the price I mentioned should have indicated, I cheaped out and got only the 8-gigabyte version. So far, that hasn’t been an issue–I still have almost a fifth of the 5.76 GB of user-available space free–but at some point I may have to delete some of the apps I’ve installed and then forgotten about. If I could pop in a microSD card, I wouldn’t have that concern. But I can’t.

Durability: Considering how beat up my older phones have gotten, I worried a little about buying a phone with a glass front and back. But I’ve babied this thing (I never put it in a pocket with change or keys) and after seven months it still looks pretty sharp. You need to hold it up to the light, as in the photo above, to see any faint scratches. I remain paranoid about dropping it–which may explain why I haven’t. Should I buy Google’s bumper case anyway?

Extras: You may not be surprised to read that after seven months, I have yet to buy anything with the Nexus 4′s NFC wireless. I have, however, used that feature to install apps, look up data and stage quick Android Beam file transfers. This phone’s Qi cordless charging has also gone unused at home, although I’ve verified that it works at a couple of trade-show exhibits.

Any other questions? I’ll take them in the comments.

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Weekly output: Android updates, opening Works files, PDF export

Baseball distracted me from work for a good chunk of this week. The good news–by which I mean, the lousy news–is that I won’t have to worry about that again until the spring.

10/13/2012: With Android Phones, The Future’s Still On Hold, Discovery News

I thought that a post inventorying the versions of Android on the current hardware sold by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon would make for a quick post on a busy week. Wrong: Most of their sites (aside from Sprint’s) require multiple clicks to check that basic detail, and none of them seem to list clearly what phones have downloadable software updates available or promised. Fortunately, the extra work this required seems to have been rewarded with an unusual level of reader interest for a Saturday-morning post, including a long iOS-versus-Android comments thread I’m too tired to read through at the moment.

10/14/2012: It’s time to retire that Microsoft Works file, USA Today

I might not have believed this report of somebody sending out a .wps Microsoft Works document had I not known the recipient who asked about it. I figured that meant there were enough other people who had run into the same problem–or would at least be interested in general advice about how to deal with an odd file attachment–but the lack of reader feedback suggests I could be wrong. The post also suggests one way to get PDF copies of your important files for long-term archiving.

Weekly output: Nexus 7, mobile-ized desktop interfaces, Yahoo passwords, HTTPS always

I ended this week with two more stories filed beyond those listed below, so next week’s version of this post should make me look busier.

7/10/2012: Nexus 7 Writes New Chapter In Android Tablets, Discovery News

I finally found an Android tablet I like–and, indeed, will probably buy. (Like everybody else who attended Google’s I/O developer conference, I got a Nexus 7 for free, along with a  Nexus Q media player and an unlocked Galaxy Nexus phone; as a journalist, however, I had to sign an agreement confirming that all these products are loans due back Dec. 31, and I will honor that commitment.) This review has one error I’ve since corrected: The Nexus 7 includes the Google Wallet app, even though a search for that app in the Play Store didn’t show any results and I stupidly didn’t think to check the apps list on the device itself.

Since this post went up, I’ve seen a few reports on Twitter from other tech journalists who say their Nexus 7 review units won’t charge, or won’t charge over anything but the tablet’s own charger. I didn’t have that experience–having seen how an iPad can slowly replenish itself off a generic USB charger even when it says it’s not charging, I figured that the Nexus 7 would follow that pattern and saw that it did. But should I have spelled that out explicitly in the review? Should I add that detail now?

7/13/2012: What Your Phone Owes Your Next Computer, CEA Digital Dialogue

My not-entirely-pleasant experiences trying out an advance version of Windows 8 and living with Apple’s OS X Lion led me to write this reassessment of the wisdom of making our desktop operating systems more like the software running our phones and tablets. I see some clear-cut improvements–app stores, for example–but also serious downgrades (touch-first interfaces). And even the positive steps can be undermined by other things OS and third-party software vendors do (see, for instance, the extra steps Mac developers have to take to meet the Mac App Store’s “sandboxing” security requirement).

7/15/2012: Give your passwords a security check-up, USA Today

Last week’s massive breach of user-account credentials at Yahoo’s Yahoo Voices site gave me an excuse to revisit older advice on generating and saving passwords that both resist guessing and cracking attempts but can also be memorized by normal human beings. The column wraps up with a reminder to enable the site-wide encryption option offered by Facebook and Hotmail, but not yet the default at either site.

Weekly output: Google I/O (x3), buying or renting media, Verizon Share Everything, Google Maps offline

The next time I’m getting ready to head out of town for a few days on business–especially if I’m looking at an 8 a.m. departure–will somebody please smack me in the head if I start to install a preview release of an upcoming Microsoft operating system on my work laptop? Thank you. That would have saved me a lot of Windows-inflicted misery on a night I needed to go to bed early.

6/27/2012: New tablet and video-enabled glasses, WTOP

This week’s travels took me (again) to San Francisco, where Google hosted its I/O 2012 developers conference from Wednesday through Friday. I did a quick interview with Washington’s WTOP news-radio station about the opening-day keynote; a streaming copy of my spot is a little down the page on the above link, or you can download the MP3 directly.

(Pro tip: If a radio station is going to call your phone, make sure you know what direct dial to call back if your phone doesn’t ring or pick up for some reason.)

6/28/2012: The Future of Media: Buyers Or Renters?, CEA Digital Dialogue

The weekly CEA column revisited an old argument in the music business–would you need to actually own music if you had reliable, on-demand access to everything you’d want to listen to? I like how this post turned out, but having it land an hour or two before the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Affordable Care Act probably didn’t help it win readers.

6/28/2012: Google Demos ‘Glass’ With Crazy Skydiving Stunt, Discovery News

So about that day-one keynote: I’ve seen some enthusiastic audiences at Apple product launches, but nothing quite like the response to Google having four people jump out of an airship over San Francisco, livestream their descent via Google Glass eyewear, and then land on the roof of the Moscone West convention center. This post provides some details about how Google pulled off this stunt (it’s the first time I’ve  had to quiz a Federal Aviation Administration rep for a story) and the Glasses themselves (Google vice president Vic Gundotra mentioned that his prototype model doesn’t last as long on a charge as his phone).

6/29/2012: Google Launches 5 Major Products, Discovery News

This follow-up post recapped Google’s five major consumer-focused product debuts at I/O 2012: the Jelly Bean version of Android possibly coming, possibly soon, to an Android phone near you; the Nexus 7 tablet; the made-in-the-USA Nexus Q media streamer; Google+ Events; and Google Docs offline editing.

7/1/2012: How Verizon’s service plans stack up, USA Today

The weekly Q&A unpacks Verizon’s new “Share Everything” smartphone plans and offers a first-look review of the offline mode Google added to its Maps program for Android. Note that if you read this story Sunday morning, it’s since been changed to fix two errors that readers e-mailed about: I had AT&T’s $20 data option including 200 megabytes of use, not 300 MB, and I wrote that Google Maps offline availability required Android 3.0 or newer when the far more widely-used 2.3 release will suffice.