A Week with the Nexus 4

I happen to be one of the lucky few who managed to grab a Nexus 4 soon after its release. As you might already know, Google is having a huge contraction when it comes to keeping these babies in stock, and I had to pay a sizable premium on top of the retail price to get my hands on one by Christmas. We all know by now that Google dropped the ball when it comes to churning these out at a rate required to meet demand, so I will spare myself the trouble of elaborating on that. I have now been using the device for over a week as my primary phone, and thought it would be a good time to share my thoughts on the device.

Hardware

Construction

Plenty has already been said and I am simply reiterating that the hardware is top notch. The phone is looks absolutely stunning to behold and feels great in the hands. It is enclosed by slabs of glass in the front and the back, which are held together by a rubberised frame. The rubberised frame greatly aids in operating the phone with one hand.

The power button is on the right and the volume keys are on the left. I found this setup rather inconvenient, as I am used to having the volume keys on the right side of the handset on my pervious phone (Xperia Arc) and also on the Nexus 7, but I guess Google wanted to keep things consistent with the previous Nexus phones.

The speaker is located behind the back of the phone and is exposed by a thin slit in the back glass. While this looks great, it caused a lot of missed calls and notifications, as the speakers are completely covered up when the phone is placed with its back facing down on a desk or matterss. However, this problem is easily solved by using the bumper case that Google is selling with the phone, if you can find one that is.

Another neat feature is the hidden notification LED, which is located below the screen and in line with the Home button. The LED only supports one color by default(white), but other apps such as K9-Mail seem to be able to make it flash in just about any colour you would like. Instead of flashing boringly, the LED pulses in a fashion somewhat akin to the charging indicator on the MacBook Pro.

The front glass is tapered at the edges, which makes it a lot easier to swipe from the edge of the screen. For example, in the Chrome browser app, swiping anywhere on the screen scrolls the page horizontally, whereas swiping from either edge cycles between adjacent open tabs. The tapered glass makes it easy to distinguish between the two gestures. The edges of the front glass however does not fit snugly with the outer silver bezel, and instead leaves a tiny gap about the width of a hair. I’ve noticed that this gap tends to collect dust that could be extremely hard to clean. Hopefully none of them find their way into the display itself.

Ports & HDMI

The Nexus 4 includes a standard 3.5mm jack on top and a MicroUSB port on the bottom. While it lacks a dedicated HDMI port, it is one of the first handsets to support the Slimport HDMI adapter. The adapter hooks up to the micro USB port on the phone and can be plugged into the HDMI port of a TV or projector on the other end via a regular HDMI cable. I’ve ordered mine on Amazon but it hasn’t shown up yet. I will update this post when I’ve had a chance to play with it.

Camera

The camera is recessed into the frame and is protected by the back cover itself, instead of protruding out or sitting flush with it as found on various other phones. This is great as it protects the lens from scratches, and also makes it easy to clean, by simply wiping the back glass. The Nexus 4 is unlikely to win any awards for the quality of its camera, but it is certainly a big improvement from the one that was on the Galaxy Nexus.

The Nexus 4 is the first phone I have come across that doesn’t include a headset in the box, but considering its price tag, this is something that can easily be overlooked.

Battery Life

Battery life on the Nexus 4 seems to be a fairly solid deal. With my bluetooth headset (MW600) connected to the phone all day, WiFi turned off and the phone connected to the 3G network, I can easily get by my entire day on a single charge, with a couple of hours of calls, 20-30 texts, a 100 or so emails, 30 minutes of web browsing and about an hour of using business apps. I do have auto brightness turned off and have the brightness set to about 30%. The Nexus 4’s Battery life certainly a big jump from the battery life on the Xperia Arc, and I only expect it would get better with future software updates.

Issues

A rather annoying and unnerving issue with the Nexus is a faint but weird electronic buzz that emanates from the front of the headset. It is unclear where exactly in the phone the noise originates from, but seems to be audible the most around the mid-region of the handset.
nexus4_hissing_noise_max_region

Contrary to what others believe, the noise does not seem to originate from the earpiece, but rather seems to originate from a much larger component such as the display or the battery, considering it can be heard by placing the ear anywhere on the front screen. The hissing can be heard irrespective of if the screen is turned on or not. It does seem to change from a high-pitched hissing (like the sound of an electric discharge) when the screen is off to a crackling when it is turned on. The noise is also present during calls, although it does not seem to interfere with the call quality. Luckily, the noise is completely absent during calls when a bluetooth headset is used.

At first I believed I might have a defective handset, but judging from the number of replies to this bug report, it appears to be a more widespread problem. Hopefully, this isn’t another antennagate and Google will be able to resolve the issue with a simple software patch.

Software

Android 4.2 JellyBean
JellyBean on the Nexus 4

Stock Android on the Nexus 4 rocks. Project Butter really shines through in this latest iteration of JellyBean. In all the time that I have used the phone, I can safely say that not once did I experience any sort of lag or stutter whatsoever. It appears that all the Android bashers will finally have to come up with a better reason than ‘its laggy’ on why not to choose Android over the competition.

New Features

New and noteworthy is the photosphere feature in the camera that let’s you easily snap together a spherical panaroma picture. The developer options have now been hidden away to keep the average user from accidentally making changes. To enable it, you have to go to Settings-> About Phone and tap the Build Number 7 times. After the last tap, you get a toast that says “Congratulations, you are now a developer!” and the option becomes available in settings.

Stock Apps

The clock app has been completely redesigned with a brand new interface and revamped input controls for entering dates and times. Swiping to the right brings the timer and swiping to the left brings the stopwatch.

JellyBean Clock
The Clock App
The SMS app now appears almost identical to the GoogleTalk app, and displays a counter on the main page beside each thread on the number of messages in that thread. Other Google apps such as Gmail and Calendar have a few minor enhancements but no radical changes. The default launcher still has no way of ordering or sorting the app drawer, but this is easily taken care of by the numerous custom launchers in the app store.

Lock Screen Widgets
Lock Screen Widgets
Lock Screen Widgets

JellyBean also adds support for lock screen widgets. Widgets of certain apps such as calendar, Google+, Currents and Gmail can be added and arranged here. These then allow for quickly viewing information at a glance without having to unlock the phone. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of support for this feature from existing apps out there, but that is to be expected given this feature is relatively new.

Swiping to the right on the lock screen also allows to quickly access the camera without unlocking the phone. If you have a pass code set, the camera app will restrict you to only viewing the pictures you have taken since the last time the phone was locked.

Daydream
Daydream Apps
Daydream Apps

Another neat little feature is daydream under Settings -> Display, that let’s you pick a supported application to display on the screen when the phone is docked or charging. This is similar to screensavers on desktops, but comes with an API that apps can use to publish information. Flipboard is the most recent app to add support for this feature.

Security Enhancements

Settings -> Security has an encrypt storage option which encrypts everything in the entire phone. You will have to enter your password every time you boot your phone to decrypt storage. One caveat is that this pin/password is the same as the one used to unlock the screen, and changing one also changes the other. If you get the password wrong about 30 times in a row, the phone automatically reboots and wipes the entire phone.

WiFi Issues

Getting WiFi to work reliably on the phone has been a challenge. The phone will connect initially, but after a period of sleep/inactivity, will fail to connect to the network again. The WiFi icon turns grey and never turns blue. Turning WiFi off and back on gets it stuck at ‘Authenticating’ or ‘Obtaining IP Address’, then eventually dropping out to ‘Not in Range’. The only way to get WiFi working again seems to be by toggling airplane mode or rebooting the phone.

The issue is absent in the Nexus 7 running the same version of Android, so this seems like a hardware or a driver issue. There is a bug report here, with several ‘me too’ posts, so the problem seems fairly widespread. Google have remained mum on the issue so far. Android Central however seems to believe the issue is also present in handsets from other manufacturers, although the author’s own Nexus 4 did not exibit these problems, almost validating that this is a hardware problem.

Final Thoughts

The Nexus 4 might be the hottest phone on the block right now, but that doesn’t make it exempt from its share of issues. Now don’t get me wrong, the Nexus 4 is one of the best phones out there today, if not the very best considering its wallet-friendly price tag and cutting edge specs, but some of these issues it is experiencing right now can be really frustrating during day-to-day usage. Here is hoping that Google work diligently to iron out these glitches and make this phone the best it can be. In the end it appears that the stock issues the Nexus 4 is experiencing might actually be a blessing in disguise for Google, as it might give them more time to work on these problems. Now that the holiday shopping frenzy is over, if you haven’t managed to get your hands on one yet, your best bet might be to hold off your purchase until Google get their act together and fix the issues that currently plague this otherwise amazing phone.

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