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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Fortnightly output: Google and ITA, Android APIs, digital-TV converter boxes, cable-box power use, NFC, Android File Transfer

I had originally thought I’d post my usual weekly summary last Sunday, but then I remembered that I was on vacation–and besides, it would have been a short list then. So instead you get a two-for-one special, and I get a chance to use “fortnightly” for the first time on this blog.

6/4/2013: Remember When Google Was Going To Annex The Travel-Search Industry?, Disruptive Competition Project

One of the first ideas I pitched to the DisCo people was a look back at the predictions of doom that we all heard–and that I found somewhat credible–when Google proposed to buy the travel-search firm ITA Software. When I finally got around to writing it, I was surprised to see how little of a dent Google has made in the market for airfare queries.

SmartBear Android APIs report6/5/2013: Google I/O Android News: Location, Location, Location (Plus Cloud Messaging and Bluetooth), Software Quality Matters

A friend edits this blog, hosted by the software-testing firm SmartBear, and was looking for a report about the new Android application programming interfaces Google had unveiled at I/O. This was a lot more technical than I usually get, but I’m glad I did it. And I’m looking forward to seeing apps built on these new APIs, in particular those involving location services.

6/9/2013: How to get an analog TV set back on the air, USA Today

A friend on Facebook had bought a flat-panel set just before they all started shipping with digital tuners and wanted to know what her options were. And so, once again, I wrote a how-to piece about tuning in digital signals. I didn’t want to leave out cable subscribers, so I added a tip about a new initiative by major cable and satellite providers to ship boxes that use less electricity–which won’t help existing subscribers unless they ask for an upgrade.

6/16/2013: What exactly is ‘NFC’ wireless?, USA Today

My phone includes a Near Field Communication transmitter, and I’m still waiting for a chance to use it outside of specialty environments like tech trade shows. This column explains why, and adds a tip about Google’s Android File Transfer app for Macs that is really a plea for Google to update the thing so it doesn’t fit in so poorly with OS X.

I didn’t post anything on Sulia while I was out (thought about it, decided not having a work obligation outweighed passing up a week’s worth of stipend). But before and after my travel, I summed up a briefing about that cable-box efficiency program, compared the AT&T and Sprint versions of the Galaxy S 4, explained how car2go was more useful to me in Portland and Seattle than back home in D.C., and reviewed an Android app that can get a GPS fix on your position from 32,000 feet up and at 550 miles an hour.

Conference badge design best practices

I spend an unhealthy amount of my time walking around strange places with a piece of paper suspended from my neck by a lanyard, courtesy of all of the conferences on my schedule. A partial selection from the last 12 months: CES, CTIADemoGoogle I/O, IFA, Mobile World Congress, ONASXSW, Tech Policy Summit and TechCrunch Disrupt.

Conference badges

This experience bothers me more than it should, because almost everybody screws up the basic job of designing a conference badge. And it shouldn’t be that hard–these things only have to perform three functions:

  • Tell other people who we are.
  • Store relevant information we’d need to know throughout the event.
  • Give us a place to stash business cards.

And yet. At most conferences, you’ll immediately see people whose badges have anonymized their wearers by flipping around to show the reverse side. You can fix this by printing the same information on both sides of the badge (see, for instance, SXSW), but it’s easier to have the lanyard attach to both sides of the badge instead of leaving it dangling from the center (something Macworld badges got right).

The design of the front of the badge should also be easy to solve, but many events botch that job too: first name in large type, last name in smaller type, organizational affiliation. Adding your city and Twitter handle helps but isn’t always essential.

What about the back? Too many badges just leave this valuable real estate blank. At a minimum, it should list the event’s WiFi network and, if necessary, password. And if the schedule is compact enough to fit on one page, why not add that as well? But if that requires turning the badge into a booklet–like at last year’s I/O–you should think about just posting the schedule in a lot of places around the venue.

Some badges now embed NFC tags. At this year’s I/O, for instance, tapping mine with my Android phone opened up a link in the Play Store to Google’s I/O attendee app; when event staff did the same, their phones would bring up my registration information. That’s not a bad feature to have, but don’t make it mandatory to participate in some parts of the event.

Finally, what contains the badge? The multiple-pocket, wallet-esque badge holders some events provide are overkill–too big, too many spots to misplace a card or a receipt–and usually eliminate the informational utility of the reverse side. A simple clear vinyl holder should provide sufficient room to hold a bunch of business cards to hand out to other people.

Thank you for your attention to this, event planners of the world.

Weekly output: WebKit, Mobile World Congress (x3), Tech Night Owl, Facebook scams, e-mail nags

This has been a really good week. Tiring (courtesy of a few days of walking around Barcelona for Mobile World Congress and well over 24 hours spent in airplanes and airports), but good.

2/25/2013: In Mobile, It’s A WebKit World And We Just Browse In It. Is That Okay?, Disruptive Competition Project

I wrote a long, wonky piece on the state of competition in mobile-browser layout engines, in which the open-source WebKit code used by Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome has pretty much locked up the market. Is an open-source monopoly okay? At first, I thought it might be–then I changed my mind.

USAT MWC report2/27/2013: Plus-sized phones dominate wireless trade show, USA Today

I like filing from a new dateline. Here, circumstances found me writing this Android-centric overview of Mobile World Congress for USAT’s site. Note the inevitable Android-versus-iPhone flame war in the comments–and a couple of futile attempts by me to restore some perspective there.

2/27/2013: My Fellow Americans, We Really Do Have A Strange Wireless Market, Disruptive Competition Project

Ten years ago, I was tired of hearing people yammer on about how the U.S. should have called it a day and adopted the same GSM wireless standard as Europe and most of the rest of the world. Here, I explain how I got that wrong–and how the peculiarly carrier-driven market here does not serve customers well. Big oversight in the piece: not mentioning the controversy over the recriminalization of phone unlocking in the States.

2/28/2013: The Wide, Wild World Of Phones, Discovery News

A higher-level recap of MWC for Discovery News that objects to some of the more dubious trends the show spotlighted in the wireless industry. I really don’t know where some Android vendors are coming from these days.

3/2/2013: March 2, 2013 — Chrysta Olson, Rob Griffiths, Jeff Erwin, Lysa Myers, and Rob Pegoraro Tech Night Owl Live

Tune in to hear me discuss the state of the wireless business as seen before, during and after MWC. Bonus: host Gene Steinberg’s confused silence after my lame attempt at dropping a comedic reference to the Gadsden Purchase.

3/3/2013: Q&A: How to avoid Facebook scams? Be a skeptic, USA Today

A friend fell for an old Facebook scam, then made up for spamming me with a bogus ad by documenting how it seemed to work. My column wraps up with a tip about minimizing noisy notifications from social networks that I might have credited to Clay Johnson’s book The Information Diet, except that my own info-diet has not yet granted me the time to read it.

I used most of this week’s updates on Sulia to share observations from MWC, many of which wound up being ingredients in later stories about the show–for instance, first impressions of the enormous Asus Fonepad and the open-source Firefox and Ubuntu mobile operating systems. I also related PayPal president David Marcus’s skeptical view of Near Field Communication smartphone payments and how the Washington Nationals are blowing off NFC with their new electronic season-ticketing system.

Weekly output: Microsoft Surface (x2), Kojo Nnamdi Show, soundbars, NFC payments, This Week in Law, HDMI DRM, remote-control apps

Microphones played almost as big of a role in my work this week as keyboards usually do.

6/19/2012: Microsoft’s Tablet: No Depth Below The Surface, Discovery News

I wasn’t invited to Microsoft’s Monday-afternoon event in Los Angeles to unveil its Surface tablets (not that I would have been too keen to fly across the country on four days’ notice), but I didn’t mind that much after learning how attendees didn’t actually get to use the display units in any meaningful way.

6/19/2012: New Microsoft Tablet Is Unveiled, Fox 5 News

The local Fox station’s Will Thomas interviewed me about Surface on its morning-news show. As I did in the Discovery post, I noted what Microsoft left out of its introduction of the two Surface tablets: a price, a ship date and even vague promises about battery life.

(Update, 5:53 p.m. Oh, one other thing… the next guest on the show was rapper Ice-T. That does not make me his opening act, but it did result in a photo of me with the gentleman and his wife.)

6/19/2012: Personal Tech Advice, The Kojo Nnamdi Show

About three hours later and half a mile south on Wisconsin Avenue, I talked about cell-phone pricing, iOS 6′s maps app, password security, car2go, and, yes, Surface with two old friends: veteran tech journalist Wayne Rash and guest host Marc Fisher, who remains one of my favorite people at the Washington Post.

6/22/2022: No Soundbar To Mass Adoption, CEA Digital Dialogue

This week’s CEA post chronicles my evolution from a set of what I’ve called Single Guy Speakers to a far more compact soundbar system and discusses how many other people seem to have decided to trade some sonic fidelity for a less bulky (and more baby-proof) setup.

6/22/2012: The High Cost Of Paying By Phone, Discovery News

My first attempt to buy something with the Google Wallet app on the Evo 4G LTE phone I reviewed last month was a flop. The second one worked–and then the entire Wallet app stopped working. I don’t know if I’ll have a chance for a third try before I have to return this loaner phone.

6/22/2012: Episode 167: Are You Game?, This Week in Law

I talked about politicians on Twitter, privacy rights in an age of ubiquitous cameras, how “quantified self” apps might push us to do dangerous things, and the latest DMCA anti-circumvention debate with host Evan Brown and fellow guests Joseph Gratz (a San Francisco-based lawyer) and Sherwin Siy (a vice president at Public Knowledge). I look forward to my next spot on TWiL–one of a series of podcasts produced by TWiT.TV, a Petaluma, Calif.-based network–and hope that it won’t feature Skype locking up and crashing with about 10 minutes to go.

6/24/2012: TiVo ‘viewing error’ a rights issue, USA Today

You may recall me venting on Twitter two weeks ago about an annoying HDMI failure on a Samsung HDTV; this column is the result of that failed troubleshooting session. It also includes a tip about using smartphone or tablet apps as remote controls that I explored at greater length on CEA’s blog last month.