Google's Nexus 4: To buy or not to buy?

In the world of Android, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the number of new phones we see launching every month. Let's face it: While a few of them manage to make lasting impressions, the vast majority get lost in a sea of silicone, glass, plastic, and metal.

Above any other, the Nexus 4 is not Just Another Android Phone.

Google Nexus 4

As Google's new flagship phone, the latest Nexus stands in a league of its own -- and will likely be as relevant in 10 months as it is today.

I've been using the device full-time for the past week, and aside from being Google's best hardware effort to date, the Nexus 4 is hands-down the best overall Android smartphone experience and value you can get your hands on right now. The phone isn't without its drawbacks, of course -- but in terms of overall user experience, it's simply unmatched.

Let's tackle a few things right off the bat. First, the LG factor: I know a lot of people have written this phone off before even touching it just because LG's the manufacturer. I can certainly understand the skepticism; there's no denying that LG has delivered some subpar Android experiences in the past. I had similar thoughts when I first heard the rumors of this device.

Having now extensively used the phone, though, I'd suggest holding off on judgment and approaching it with an open mind. First and foremost, remember that LG's past smartphone problems have revolved largely around software integration and upgrades (oh God, the upgrades). With the Nexus 4, all that stuff is handled completely by Google.

That aside, LG has actually made some pretty impressive strides lately. Its Optimus G, the phone upon which the Nexus 4 is based, is very much a standout device in terms of hardware and performance. (The software isn't half-bad, either, though it's a little over the top for my tastes and could very well present familiar upgrade delays in the future.)

With the Nexus 4, Google has taken the best parts of the Optimus G and polished them to near-perfection. As I wrote in my initial impressions, this phone is truly a melding of LG's basic hardware and Google's sense of design.

You have an awesome display -- quite possibly the best available on any phone at the moment -- along with absurdly fast performance, a great camera, and a distinctive and cool-looking design that's Nexus through and through.

Nexus 4 Android 4.2

Then, of course, what really makes the Nexus 4 a Nexus: its pure Google Android 4.2 software, with guaranteed fast and frequent updates directly from Google in the future.

Here's the real kicker: You get all of that for $300 to $350, unlocked and off-contract. That kind of pricing is unheard of for this caliber of device; we're talking barely more than what you'd pay for a carrier-subsidized phone that'd tie you down to inflated rates and insane restrictions for a full two years. The Nexus 4 is 100-percent your property from the day you buy it; you can use it with whatever company you want and even take it to a prepaid provider for 30 to 50 bucks a month, commitment-free. This is market-shifting stuff we're talking about here, folks.

[Google's Nexus 4: Understanding your carrier options]

So what about that whole "no LTE" thing some people have been getting hung up on? If you ask me, it's being blown way out of proportion. I willfully dropped LTE when I ditched the Verizon Galaxy Nexus and moved to an unlocked HSPA+ phone with T-Mobile prepaid service some months back, and I haven't looked back once. Maximum HSPA+ speeds in the States -- via T-Mobile's or AT&T's network -- run from 21 Mbps to 42 Mbps, depending on your connection. With the Nexus 4, I'm regularly hitting speeds around the 18 Mbps mark.

LG Nexus 4

In real-world smartphone usage, it's tough to tell much noticeable difference between that and LTE; in fact, even the mid-level HSPA+ speeds I see are faster than what a lot of people get with LTE. As far as I'm concerned, the benefits of the non-LTE configuration -- getting an actual Google Nexus experience with untouched Android software, instant upgrades, and no carrier meddling; enjoying better battery life; and being able to pay a fraction of what the big carriers charge for the same basic service -- far outweigh the loss of theoretically higher data speeds.

Like I said, though, the Nexus 4 does have some drawbacks. The biggest is probably its limited on-board storage: The phone comes only with 8 or 16GB of internal space and offers no SD slot for external expansion. For some people, that may be a deal-breaker.

For me, even with its limiting factors, the phone's outstanding hardware and first-class Android experience make it the optimal handset to own right now. If I were to make a generalized recommendation to any of my own friends or family members, the Nexus 4 would definitely be it.

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So is it the right device for you? Ultimately, that's a decision only you can make -- but I can help. Read over my in-depth review to get a complete picture of the Nexus 4-using experience. By the time you're done, I suspect you'll know your answer.


Nexus 4 vs. Galaxy Nexus: Worth the upgrade?

Nexus 4 revisited: Detailed thoughts after 3 months with the phone

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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