It took ages for us to get one, but given the lack of stock and the fact that there are people still waiting for orders placed in December to be fulfilled, this review hopefully won't come too late for the majority of potential customers.
While you can buy a Nexus 4 from many networks, you'll be either tied to a lengthy contract or made to pay a lot more for going down the SIM-free route.
Google will, when it has some, sell you a 8GB model for £239 or a 16GB model for £279. My advice is to ignore the 8GB one as you're already saving enough money, and you'll see why later on.
Getting the phone SIM-free not only saves you money over a contract, but it also means you can move from one network to another (keeping your number) to get a better deal if one becomes available. If the opportunity is there, why miss a great deal?
Paying less than £300 for a top-end phone, with no contract, is the best option - especially if Google releases another flagship phone later in the year and you want to easily change.
The look of the Nexus 4 is pretty special, with a minimalist frontage common to all Nexus devices coupled with a rear that adds a definite sparkle, in the literal sense. Thanks to the use of glass and an almost holographic effect that reflects light as you change angles, it's a phone that will be noticed.
With the bold Nexus logo, as well as that of the manufacturer, LG, below, the back is a stark contrast to the front. The edging is good to the touch, too, feeling safe in the hand and giving easy access to the 'power' and 'volume' keys.
It's just as well that the phone doesn't feel slippery, as the use of glass on the back might be great from a design point of view (it certainly worked for Apple) but it adds an element of danger. You might not completely shatter the glass, but hairline cracks could be just as devastating - and early reviews have mentioned this as a distinct possibility with even relatively light bumps. The purchase of a case, or protective band (sadly, there's no sign of when these will be back in stock via Google's online store, either, but Amazon have third-party ones) is not just recommended - it's essential.
Back to the front, and the phone has a 4.7-inch 1280x768-pixel display, which is slightly above the usual 1280x720 resolution on other flagship devices, but less than the 1920x1080 screens appearing on many new phones this year. That's still 320 pixels-per-inch, in case you're wondering.
You'll struggle to see the pixels, so unless you're planning to mirror a full-HD phone display on a full-HD television, the screen resolution is more than adequate. In fact, it probably benefits the processor a great deal by not having extra pixels to render that your eye probably can't even make out anyway.
The display is LCD, which means you don't get the same true blacks of an OLED display, but LG has polarised the glass to reduce glare and ensure a better contrast ratio when you look at it straight-on. Only at an angle can you really see the telltale signs of it being a backlit screen. All things considered, the display is excellent with natural colours -another benefit over OLED.
There are a number of features on the Nexus 4 that keep at the top of the tree, despite its incredibly low price. Firstly, there's the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, with Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM. That puts it extremely high up in the performance stakes.
Although there's no LTE (4G) support, the phone does support data speeds over 3G of up to 43.2Mbps using DC-HSPA, an update to 3G now available on most of Three's network and gradually being rolled out by all the others. There's also dual-band wi-fi, NFC support, and even wireless (Qi) charging support, with compatibility for the range of wireless chargers already released for Nokia's Lumia 920. Google is in the process of releasing its own wireless charger for the Nexus 4, although when that will become available is a total mystery. A 2100mAh battery keeps the phone going for a whole day in the right circumstances. I noticed during my review time that this isn't always the case, which I'll explain later on.
Camera/Video Google has kept a lot of the hardware specs of the Nexus 4 pretty quiet, but it's believed the Nexus 4 uses an image sensor from Sony. Certainly, when you take a picture in adequate lighting the results are good - perhaps the best from a Nexus phone to date. The HDR mode also produces good images as long as there's nothing moving, which causes weird artefacts due to two differently exposed photos being merged. The big difference to the camera is the all-new interface and gallery integration, which makes it easy to change settings with one finger, and to jump in and out of the gallery with a flick of a finger. You can even chuck unwanted photos off the screen to delete them (with a useful undo facility for any mistakes).
You can also take panoramic photos, or use the new Photo Sphere mode, a 360 degree shot that - again - requires the surroundings to be static for maximum effect. Simply take your photo in any place and then move around to line the scene up with dots that appear. As you do so, new shots will be taken and stitched together into a StreetView like rotatable image. It will take a while to master, with the trick being to rotate the phone on its axis instead of moving it up, down, left, and right. It's good fun, although it's quite time-consuming to create good results. Video recording is a lot quicker and easier, with full 1080p video on offer and the ability to grab stills while filming. For day-to-day use, the camera is fine but still not quite up with the likes of Nokia, Samsung, and Sony for good, consistent results. Still, with a little practice you'll probably have no reason to be disappointed. Even the LED flash is quite bright - but remember to disable HDR in low-light. Gaming/performance If you're after top performance, the Nexus 4 has all the right credentials, thanks to the S4 Pro chipset. With the 4.7-inch display, it makes for a great choice for games that use on-screen controls. The rear speaker is also pretty loud, adding to the experience.
The benchmark figures also confirm that the performance massively exceeds the expectations you might have for such a cheap device:
- AnTuTu: 16,163
- NenaMark2: 59.6 fps
- Quadrant: 3,897
Good points The performance of the Nexus 4 is undeniable. It's a monster, and with the very latest version of Android (and the knowledge that any new version will be released first on this phone) the user interface is, to quote Google, 'buttery' smooth. There's no lagging, and the new pull-down notification bars now alternate between the usual notifications and quick access to key settings. The screen is bright, clear, and pin-sharp, while you can also enjoy incredibly fast mobile data speeds if your network supports it - without having to wait for 4G to roll out to your neck of the woods. The Nexus 4 is also ready for future televisions integrating support for Miracast, enabling you to wirelessly transmit your phone display and audio to any TV, or third-party box, supporting the new wireless display technology.
Bad points The Nexus 4 doesn't have everything its own way, but few of the flaws are dealbreakers. The camera can sometimes give you disappointing results, and there's no dedicated 'camera' key to easily access the camera at any moment. Battery life was also a problem when it mattered most: on the move. Connected to the internet via wi-fi was fine, but in my case that was primarily at home or somewhere where I'd likely have access to mains power to recharge. Venture out, using data over the network, and the battery drains far more quickly than any other Android phone I've used. The cause appears to be the inability to go into deep sleep in mobile-only mode, and should therefore be an easy fix for Google. Until it does so, however, and with no way to swap out the battery, a portable battery charger is another wise investment to go with that case. The glass back has already been covered, so that leaves storage. 8GB is too little (with just over 5GB available to you) so the only one to go for is 16GB. Even if you aren't going to fill the device with lots of media, preferring to access via the Cloud as Google wants you to, games like Asphalt 7 have data packs of over a gigabyte so it won't take long to run out of space. There's no memory card, nor USB On-the-Go (to add more storage via the USB port) support, so - once again - forget about the 8GB model as you'll definitely regret the decision. Summary: Despite a few bugbears, the Nexus 4 is an almighty performer, and when Google finally sorts out its stock levels and clears the backlog you won't get anything that can come close to this phone for the money. There are compromises (there always are with Nexus devices) but they're manageable. The glass back is a concern, but if you buy a protective case the risk of damage is hugely reduced. And even though the fix for the battery hasn't yet been released, it is fair to say that it will come and then there will be little reason not to consider this over everything else on sale today and in the near future.