Every time I try and publish this post I discover a new feature and try thoroughly review it. Well enough is enough.
But before I begin let me share a few opinions and observations about all the major OS distros in the mobile market.
Immature operating system. It is somewhat open source and I believe that it will succeed in the market and is here to stay. It has some struggles ahead, however QNX is the only Real Time Operating System (RTOS) out there, that gives it a real advantage over the competition making it the only multi tasking devices out there. It powers vehicles and equipment on the space shuttle, it is robust and reliable. One benefit BB10 has is the fact that porting Android apps to BB10 is very easy for developers and their market place will grow exponentially in the next year. Once the BB10 dev kits are able to port Android OS 4+ application there is no stopping it.
One thing I dislike about BB10 is the menu system, it is very primitive, but hopefully that will change in time. Personally I think this is a good cross between Android and iOS.
Windows Phone 8
I had the chance to play with this OS at a Dell/Microsoft event I attended a while ago. Great OS, very responsive, and should have been a competitor. The fact that they rubbed their developers the wrong way made it suffer. The applications are lacking because when they were switching from version 6 to 7 to 7.5, and 8 the developers had to re-write their applications for each new version of the operating system. Right now Microshaft has two mobile OS versions on the market 7.5 and 8, soon 7.8 and 8. That does not bode well for a company when one version is not compatible with the other and you have 2 user bases. Having said that anyone I know that owns a Windows Phone swears by it. I have to say myself, I was somewhat impressed when I used it, it was easy and a pleasure to use.
Microsoft has money so they might keep throwing it at their Mobile Platform, after all the mobile space is growing rapidly and eating up the laptop space. I don’t use my laptop as often as I did prior to moving to a smart phone. I don’t even have plans to buy a new one.
Apple was first and they innovated, this statement is somewhat not true. Apple was not first and they did not innovate. Palm, Microsoft and Blackberry were there first. What Apple did was they made an fully featured device accessible to the layman and packaged it in a nice shiny wrapper. They took an MP3 device and they added the phone feature. iOS evolved into what it is today. I have to say, it has not evolved much in the last couple years. It is following the route of Google these days adding cloud based services and add ons. It needs to keep doing that in order to stay alive, but they are ignoring their operating system and it is becoming stagnant. They need to overhaul it soon and bring it into the modern era of mobile operating systems, it is almost 6 years old and really not much has changed. iPhone 5 is a perfect example of this problem Apple has. I’m thinking that iOS overhaul is happening soon, considering they are planning to move the OS to the Mac platform it is only logical that some changes will happen. Perhaps the overhaul will happen on the Mac platform first and the changes will trickle down to their mobile devices. We will see, but I think if iOS will move to the desktop platform that will be the end of Apples successful run and they will fade into obscurity where they dwelled prior to their iPod success. I digress and it is only this writers opinion. Apple has a leg up on Android in regards to operating system upgrades, since there is no hardware fragmentation the OS can be pushed to older devices and optimized for them. This is not the case with Samsung. Here is where Apple has the leg up on the competition. They control the hardware and software design completely making them more attractive to the corporate market and for business use. Until recently they were the only kid on the block that could brag about that.
The android OS varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Samsung will have a different interface than HTC, and HTC will have a different interface than LG, Motorolla, Android vanilla… etc.One experience is not like the next, this is however what attracts manufacturers to the OS, they can customize it to their liking and make it their own. The licensing fees are also almost non existent. So there is a cost factor.
Then we get to the service providers, AT&T, Amazon, and Rogers all have their own marketplaces, or are in the midsts or creating them. But that’s not the end of it either, once we get passed the service providers, and manufacturers we have version fragmentation. One device version is not like the next.
My first forte into the Android environment was with the Motorola XT720 on Wind Mobile in Canada. I upgraded from a BlackBerry 8830, a solid device that needed to be rebooted at least once a couple days due to memory leaks in theOS. The XT720, a $400+ device at the time runing version 2.2 of the android OS with the promise of being upgraded to version 2.3.6. That upgrade never happened the manufacturer backtracked on their promise to upgrade. You should have seen the Motorola forums in regards to this upgrade, holy shnikes, I don’t think they could press the delete button fast enough to keep up with the flaming posts. I destroyed that phone, I literally threw it against my bedroom floor and it shattered into a thousand pieces. Let’s just say that my patience ran out. The phone would drop calls, not connect to make calls, randomly reboot, and be completely unreliable. One positive note however, the camera was gorgeous. It took beautiful pictures and amazing quality videos, if anything they got that right. I have not been able to find an Android phone since then that came even close to the quality of pictures and video as the XT720. The construction of the phone was also solid and it had some weight behind it. Here is hoping that Motorola in Google’s hands will come out on top again, because their phones are solid, however their support and device longevity is less than acceptable.
After I destroyed this phone, the next day I went out and got a Nexus S, the difference between the two devices was night and day. The Galaxy S was reliable quick and just worked. It served me well for about 6 months, until I decided to upgrade to the Galaxy Nexus. I fell in love with the Android Vanilla experience and after being subjected to the XT720 I was completely sold on the Android OS. By this time this was my third android device. I only had my Galaxy Nexus for 3 weeks. I lost it on a Ski hill while Snowboarding, it was angry as I paid for it out right $650, it was a birthday gift to myself. Shit happens, and it happened because of my own stupidity. So I decided to sign a 3 year contract and get a Galaxy Note. I had this device for about a year, two months shy of a year actually. I love the screen size, it is very legible and comfortable. Phablets are nice, but impractical for people on the go, even for someone with my size. I could use it with one hand no problem, and I could fit it into most pockets, but to be honest it was a little too large. I believe the sweet spot is between 4.7” and 5” screen, for me personally. Samsungs Touchwiz on the other hand is a horrid raping of the Android OS. I have no idea why they are the #1 Android hardware manufacturer, I was not impressed, it looked like the dumbing down of the Android OS to make it look like the iPhone. If I wanted an iPhone I would have went out and bought one. On the second day off owning the phone it was rooted, Clockwork Mod was installed and a custom ROM flashed. It stayed like that for a while, until I flashed Cyanogen Mod 10 on it and it started giving me random reboots. Finally I decided, no more! Time to go back to the Nexus brand, where I was happiest with Android. I considered all my options, Android, iOS, WP8, BB10. However none of them had the community and support as Android. I also would lose some of my Nerd functionality if I moved away from Android. Then there are google services, simply amazing. None of the Other OS come close to the online services and how they are intertwined like Google’s. They need to unify some of their online services, for example I don’t like that you can accept a video call either via G+ hangouts or GTalk, again their fragmentation problem. What I’m saying is that Google’s Android is good but far from perfect, a true Nerds mobile operating system, and I will give you a glimpse why.
Nexus 4 and the Nexus program
Design and Feel
The $350 16GB version of the LG Nexus 4 feels like a premium phone. The glass on both sides gives it a very nice tactile feel and one will think they are holding something worth at least $600. Prior to making the plunge I read all these online reviews about how the S3 feels a lot better and nicer in your hands than the N4. I’m sorry but these reviewers are out to lunch, either that or Samsung is paying them off.
In this writers opinion Glass feels more premium to me than cheap plastic. Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note, and Galaxy S3 have all the same thing in common, they sport the same cheap plastic housing. I’ve owned two of those three devices and I have friends that own the S3, the Nexus 4 is a clear winner here in my opinion.
One thing that worries me here is that it is glass, dropping it without a bumper or case might crack it. Mine has the bumper case around it that can be purchased in Google Play.
Since it is glass and prone to smudges this might be a concern for some, but over the one weeks use putting it into and pulling it out of my pocket seems to clean the glass rather nicely.
Definitely not cheap at all.
Nice thing about vanilla Android and the Nexus programs, are the OS upgrades. The Nexus S is almost 2.5 years old. It started out on Android 2.3 and as of writing this it is upgradable to Android 4.1.2. Now I can not see it going any further than that on the old hardware however that is somewhat on par with what Apple has going for them. The iPhone 3GS currently supports iOS 6.1, the 3GS came out in mid 2010 that will mean the 3GS receives support for just over 2 years. Google dropped support for the Nexus S on 4.2.1 which was announced on November 2012.
I wish I could say the same about Samsung devices, the truth is they might get one version update and that is it. For example take my Galaxy Note, I had it less than a year and it was upgraded from Android 2.3.6 to 4.0.4, but that was it. The life span of this device in regards to the OS was barely 9 months. This is very common for Android outside of the Nexus program, and one of the main reasons I switched back to a Nexus device. The operating system will be current and up to date a year or two down the road. I will have the latest and greatest flavour of Android for a while to come. Some other manufacturers are even worse when it comes to operating system longevity on their hardware and should be avoided like the plague.
Vanilla Android as seen on the Nexus devices is my personal choice. It simply just works, it works how it’s meant to and that’s that. On the touchwiz interface I have had some applications fail to initialize and launch. More often than not manufacturers mess with the operating system, try and tweak it and fail to realize that their custom interface might impede the standard operation for some applications. I’m not saying all manufacturers are the same, I’m saying that my experience with Samsung was such that I could not get all application to work that work on my Nexus device. This might also not be the case for all Samsung devices, I know that the Note had some bugs and some fixes were issued to the companies phones. This also leads me to believe that Samsung is not prioritizing development, they tout fancy specs at users and confuse them with metrics. Truth is when you overlay an interface on your phone that takes up resources such as clock cycles and memory and consumes a lot of it, your metrics mean squat.
The Android operating system performs rather well when you don’t have a custom UI hanging over it. I find that the touchwiz is rather a slow performer and sluggish. Stock Android is quick responsive and works like a charm. The new application drawer has two sides to it, application notifications and a quick settings drawer where you can turn WiFi, Bluetooth and other settings on and off.
All other features are pretty much standard since Android 4, the new Google search which is accessible by holding the home button and swiping up. Once in the new Google search you can initiate a voice search or a command by saying “google” and following up with a command such as “search for….” or “text <insert name>….”. Pretty much standard stuff across Android and iOS as far as functionality goes. The voice recognition works rather well and is very accurate
Another new feature is the swype style keyboard that Google introduced with their new version of the OS. It takes a little getting used to but typing with one hand has never been as easy as this. A definite winner, and having used swype for the last 2-3 years it is nice to get it as a default with the OS.
Samsung bundles Swype with their UI, it’s a nice bonus and if you can get your hands on Swype I highly recommend it. http://www.swype.com/ Swype definitively comes out on top of the stock android keyboard.
To add $0.02 about the other UIs, touchwiz on Samsung phones is terrible, slow, and sometimes non responsive. Samsung needs to work on this big time. This is why when I got a Note the first thing I did was root it and install Cyanogen Mod. An alternative to rooting and installing a custom ROM is Nova Launcher from Google Play, it gives your phone the ICS/Jelly Bean feel everyone likes. I’ve also seen the HTC Sense interface and how it handles. it is nice and a lot of developers out there like to mimic it because it is light and very intuitive. I’m not sure how far LG and Motorola have come, I haven’t had the experience nor the pleasure to play around with their modern devices.
Custom ROMs are also a nice added bonus of the OS being open source. There is a huge community of developers constantly tweaking and porting features and they are doing a great job doing it. Cyanogenmod is a perfect example of a fully featured and tweaked ROM for the Android devices, it has been ported to a lot of hardware. All you need to do is root your device and install a custom recovery, then the world of Android opens up for you. For more info visit http://www.cyanogenmod.org/
One particular thing I am excited about is Ubuntu on the Nexus devices. This is a feature or rather operating system that will only be available on the Nexus devices, perhaps in the future it might be ported to other hardware but for now it will only be available for Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4. When you dock the ubuntu phones with a monitor and keyboard you will have a full functioning Ubuntu desktop environment. Phone and a full computer in one package welcome to the future of computing.
Check it out here: http://www.ubuntu.com/devices/android and here: http://www.techradar.com/news/software/operating-systems/ubuntu-dev-preview-for-galaxy-nexus-nexus-4-coming-next-week-1131567
Another cool little feature I discovered was the ability of the Netflix application on my phone and my LG Smart TV to communicate. This happened on my home Wi-Fi, I downloaded the Netflix app for my Nexus 4, I clicked on a movie and it prompted me weather I wanted to watch it on my phone or on my LG TV. Personally I thought that was pretty slick, it acts like a remote for Netflix on the Smart TV.
This is a gem. I was flying out to Montreal and google now started displaying my flight info… wait a minute how the hell did google now get my flight info?!? Apparently it fetched the information from my email account, not only that it had a direct hyperlink in the email to said email. Some people might find this a bit intrusive, however personally I really don’t care especially when a feature like that makes travelling so convenient. This info popped up about 12 hours before my flight I did’t have to search my email for it, it was just right there. Obviously there is more to google now than that, public transit notifications, stocks, weather, search.. etc. It’s an all in one hub for your day to day information.
One word, responsive. The 4 core Snapdragon processor and 2GB or RAM make this device a very good contender on the market. It is a modern ARM processor from Qualcomm and it is the fastest out there at the time of writing. The GPU has some impressive performance as well, not the top tier but definitely up there and a contender.
The front facing camera is ok, the resolution is acceptable and performs rather well when video chatting in GTalk or on G+. The main camera is decent, the shutter speed is not one like the Galaxy Nexus but it takes good pictures nonetheless. Here is a low light comparison between the Note and the Nexus 4.
HSPA+ only? I do not see this as being a problem. The speeds between HSPA+ and LTE are negligible. Having used the Galaxy Note in HSPA+ only mode, I did not notice and performace drops between the two. There is a little trick one can perform to enable LTE however. Apparently the N4 comes with the hardware for LTE.
In your dialer enter *#*#4636#*#* then tap on “Phone information”, open “Set prefered network type:”, and select “LTE/GSM auto (PRL)”. Apparently this only works in Android 4.2.1 and as of 4.2.2 google disabled this. Also to note when you reboot the phone it reverts back to HSPA+. Again the HSPA+ only should not be a deal breaker.
4 cores can suck the juice out of this device rather quickly. I was playing the Simpsons game on the Nexus 4 and my battery dropped from 70% to 30% in just a little over 30 min. My first week of use was mostly all play with the phone, now that the novelty subsided the usage is more dady to day. I went for a run today and listened to an hours worth of music, sent a few SMS messages and the battery dropped only 10%. That’s not bad. To note I also bought an application called tasker on Google Play http://goo.gl/UsUgw. Tasker is probably your best bet when it comes to battery conservation. I have my Tasker application setup so when I leave the immediate area of my home it turns off the WiFi, when I arrive at work Tasker turns my WiFi back on and my phone connects to the WiFi there. It also turns my volumes off at night and turns them back on in the morning right before the Alarm goes of. When my phone drops below 30% Tasker turns the screen brightness all the way down, turns off all data services, and turns off WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, etc. The level of customization is amazing with this application, very powerful. It is very low on the power and resource consumption, I highly recommend it. Just be aware Tasker can be a complex application, if you understand programing logic it will help. http://tasker.dinglisch.net/
Another good practice is to only enable updates, uploads and other data intensive services on WiFi. Whenever possible use WiFi it consumes less power than 3G or 4G.
LTE vs HSPA+, some say LTE can be a battery drainer. I have not found it to be the case. On my Galaxy Note I worked with it having LTE disabled for a week and only worked off HSPA+. Battery usage was the same or close between the two radios.
One of the biggest complaints I hear about the Nexus 4 is the storage capacity. I would like to provide a different perspective. 16 GB is ample.
Music storage is not a problem, being a Nerd I have a Linux media server setup at home. On this server I have a Subsonic server setup, coupled with the Android application DSub or Subsonic I am able to stream music from my server to my phone. You don’t have a data connection you say, well when you’re at home and on WiFi you can download albums and take them on the go. The application works in offline mode as well. You can even listen to the downloaded songs in other applications if you wish. The application is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux distros. For a small donation you can get a license for the software too. The mobile apps are available for iPhone, Android and WP7. http://www.subsonic.org/pages/index.jsp
Picture and Video storage. I have my phone setup so when I get to a WiFi connection it will automatically start to upload all my pictures and videos to the cloud. Google Photo has an instant upload over WiFi function. If you run out of storage on your phone just delete the files and keep taking pictures.
This is why storage is not a problem, there are enough cloud services out there to help this problem out. More than likely the Nexus 4 came with little storage to promote Gooogle’s cloud storage and services.
You can not beat this phone for the price, under $400 you get a modern mobile device, with modern hardware and software.
Performance is amazing and the build quality is very good. The community such as XDA Developers is a nice bonus, any questions you may have that need to be answered that forum would be a good start.