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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Where T-Mobile provides 3G service for older iPhones

T-Mobile iPhone 3GT-Mobile announced today that it’s getting the iPhone. But in a practical sense, it’s “had”  that smartphone since it kicked off a network “refarming” effort last year to provide 3G and HSPA+ 4G service on the 1900 MHz frequencies used by the iPhone 5 and older AT&T-specific models, then started marketing itself as a better option for unlocked iPhones. Before today’s news, the carrier said it already had more than two million unlocked iPhones on its network.

T-Mobile’s Web site, however, doesn’t get around to identifying all of these iPhone-friendly markets–an important detail, since without it you’re stuck with slow 2G “EDGE” data service. (6:59 p.m. Engadget reports that new-production iPhones, T-Mobile’s own model included, will support a wider range of frequencies. I’ve revised the title to reflect that.) T-Mobile’s coverage map doesn’t break them out, and a FAQ page only says “Check at your local T-Mobile store for network status in your area.”

(The screen shot above comes from the iPhone of my friend Paul Schreiber, who’s been keeping me updated on where he’s seen 3G service.)

So I asked a company publicist and got this reply:

The following 49 metro areas currently have 4G service in 1900 MHz. This covers 142 million people.

1. Ann Arbor, MI

2. Atlanta, GA

3. Austin, TX

4. Baltimore, MD

5. Boston, MA

6. Cambridge, MA

7. Chicago, IL

8. Dallas, TX

9. Denver, CO

10. Detroit, MI

11. Fort Lauderdale, FL

12. Fort Worth, TX

13. Fresno, CA

14. Houston, TX

15. Kansas City, KS/MO

16. Las Vegas, NV

17. Los Angeles, CA

18. Miami, FL

19. Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN

20. Modesto, CA

21. Napa, CA

22. New York, NY

23. Newark, NJ

24. Oakland, CA

25. Orlando, FL

26. Philadelphia, PA

27. Phoenix, AZ

28. Providence, RI

29. Reno, NV

30. Richmond, VA

31. Sacramento, CA

32. Salinas, CA

33. San Antonio, TX

34. San Diego, CA

35. San Francisco, CA

36. San Jose, CA

37. Santa Ana, CA

38. Santa Cruz, CA

39. Santa Rosa, CA

40. Seattle, WA

41. Springfield, MA

42. St. Cloud, MN

43. Stockton, CA

44. Tampa, FL

45. Tucson, AZ

46. Vallejo, CA

47. Virginia Beach, VA

48. Warren, MI

49. Washington, DC

Does that match your experience? Let me know in the comments.