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

Google Nexus 4

After months of embarrassingly scarce supply, Google's Nexus 4 phone is finally back on sale in the Google Play Store (for U.S. customers, at least). The reviews were glowing when the phone launched last November -- so three months later, how has the device held up?

I was among the lucky minority who managed to purchase the Nexus 4 during its first sales run in the fall. I've been using the phone as my daily driver ever since. Since impressions can sometimes evolve after owning a device for a matter of months, I thought I'd share some updated thoughts on the Nexus 4 now -- from the perspective of someone who's lived with it for a full three months.

Here we go:

• First and foremost, I'm no less impressed with the LG-made Nexus now than I was when I reviewed it in November. As far as I'm concerned, the Nexus 4 still provides the best overall Android smartphone experience and value you can get your hands on today. Different people have different needs, and this device won't be the right choice for everyone -- but when I make a general phone-purchasing recommendation to a friend or family member, the Nexus 4 is almost always what I suggest. 

• In terms of performance, the Nexus 4 is still smokin' fast. No complaints whatsoever.

Google Android 4.2

• Software continues to be where the Nexus 4 really shines. Pure Google Android is a joy to use and makes you resent the arbitrary UI changes so many manufacturers insist on making to the operating system.

• Similarly, knowing that you're always running the most current Android software, with ongoing instant upgrades directly from Google, is a fantastic feeling. The Nexus 4 is still part of a small group of devices to utilize the latest Android release -- the Android 4.2 version of Jelly Bean, which includes the supercool 360-degree image-capturing Photo Sphere tool, a new quick-settings panel, native screensavers, lock screen widgets, and lots of subtle polish to the platform.

• Having cutting-edge software does sometimes have drawbacks. With the Android 4.2 lock screen widgets, for instance, some users have experienced occasional random reboots on their devices. The reboots appear to be tied to specific system processes initiated by certain third-party apps. Google is aware of the issue and is working on a universal fix -- and in the meantime, developers have found workarounds to avoid triggering the problematic processes -- but as that instance has taught us, these types of things can occasionally come up.

• One common talking point is the Nexus 4's lack of LTE. My perspective on that remains the same: As far as I'm concerned, the issue's been blown way out of proportion. I use the Nexus 4 with one of T-Mobile's Monthly 4G plans, which provides HSPA+ data speeds up to 21 or 42 Mbps, depending on your location.

On my Nexus 4, I regularly hit speeds around the 18 Mbps mark. That's equal to or faster than what you're gonna get with LTE in a lot of places. And even if you do manage to clock in at a higher speed with an LTE device, you probably aren't going to notice much difference between that level and the HSPA+-level speed when it comes to real-world smartphone usage. Plain and simple, HSPA+ is not 3G.

• One thing you will notice is a difference in your monthly bill. With the Nexus 4's direct-from-Google unlocked sales model, the phone is a perfect fit for prepaid plans like the one I just mentioned. You can get a solid setup utilizing T-Mobile's or AT&T's network for as little as 30 to 45 bucks a month. And basic tax aside, that's actually what you pay -- no 911 fees, no "universal service charges," no "regulatory charges," and no "administrative charges." Also, no contracts or one-sided commitments. After years of getting screwed by the big carriers, it's a revelation.

Nexus 4 Back

• The Nexus 4's glass-backed design is a bit of a double-edged sword. It's distinctive and striking from a visual standpoint, but -- as I noted when reviewing the device initially -- having extra glass on a phone is obviously going to increase the risk of breakage. The glass also makes the Nexus 4 somewhat prone to slipping on smooth surfaces; I've seen my phone start to subtly slide when it's sitting flat on a magazine, for instance, or on a particularly shiny table.

Despite the fact that I'm absurdly careful with my devices -- and haven't ever dropped my Nexus 4 -- I recently noticed a couple of ever-so-small hairline scratches on the phone's back glass panel. They're the types of things most people probably wouldn't notice (even after I pointed them out to my fiancée, she struggled to see them or understand why I cared), but they absolutely bug the hell out of me.

If you want to keep your phone in a pristine state, it may be worth picking up a bumper for the Nexus 4 -- they're finally available in the Play Store now, too -- as that would keep the glass back from coming into direct contact with hard surfaces, which is what I suspect led to my minor (but irritating) damage.

• Speaking of cases and such, there's still a baffling lack of accessories for the Nexus 4. The bumper case is thankfully back, but the wireless charging "orb" shown off prior to the phone's launch? No sign of it. Desktop or car dock? Still MIA. If that stuff is important to you, that's something to consider.

All said and told, the Nexus 4 isn't without its downsides, but it's still in a league of its own when it comes to overall user experience. And even with all the exciting new Android launches on the horizon, this phone -- as a flagship Google Nexus device -- is guaranteed to remain relevant and ahead of the curve for months to come.

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Still not sure whether the Nexus 4 is the right device for you? Check out my original in-depth coverage of the phone and its software, and one way or another, I suspect you'll have your answer.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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