Google's Nexus 4 Android smartphone officially goes on sale in Australia next week. How does it compare to the Apple iPhone 5?
The first thing you'll notice about the Nexus 4 is how it feels in your hand. It's weighty (139g to be exact) without being too heavy and it immediately feels very solid. It also has impressive ergonomics considering its size. The phone itself is only slightly smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S III, but it feels more comfortable to hold single-handedly. The bezel around the screen is thin, so Google has maximised the screen without compromising on sheer size. The power/lock key and volume buttons are well positioned and comfortable to access.
We haven't spent long enough with the Nexus 4 to make a definitive call on its durability, so it remains to be seen how the glass back will hold up. LG has confirmed it uses Corning's latest Gorilla Glass 2 protective cover. One of Google's distinctive touches is the glass back of the Nexus 4, which has a holographic like pattern when viewed in certain light. It appears black most of the time and when the pattern does appear it certainly isn't distasteful.
Although it has a low $349 price tag, the Google Nexus 4 feels like a far more expensive phone. Given the hardware is essentially based on the LG Optimus G, a phone that will more than likely sell for double that when it launches next year, you're essentially getting a $700-800 phone for under $400. There's no doubting that the Nexus 4 offers excellent value for money.
The Nexus 4's design is somewhat different to the iPhone 5. Its feather light 112g weight is one of the best features of the device. Apple certainly deserves a huge amount of credit for managing to make the phone significantly lighter than its predecessor while increasing its overall footprint. At just 7.6mm, the iPhone 5 is also one of the thinnest smartphones on the market bettering the Nexus 7's 9.1mm thickness.
Overall, there's an extraordinary attention to detail in the construction of the iPhone 5 and it's something that most competitors lack. However, the anodised aluminium used on the back and the edges of the iPhone 5 seems to be easily scratched and marked, particularly on the black model we reviewed.
The Google Nexus 4 has a 4.7in true HD IPS display that promises better battery efficiency and better whites than competing super AMOLED screens. The screen has a resolution of 1280x768, which gives it a pixel density of 318ppi, only a touch below the iPhone 5's 326ppi.
In our brief hands-on with the Nexus 4, it displayed extremely crisp and clear text even when zoomed out, while whites were impressively bright. We did notice, however, that colours aren't as vibrant as we might have hoped, sometimes appearing washed out. To users with a keen eye, however, this more natural colour reproduction may be a positive.
The Nexus 4 certainly has its work cut out in competing with the iPhone 5's display, which is one of the best on the market. It's larger than previous iPhone's at 4in, but it's the same width as the screen on every other iPhone, only taller. Apple says the decision to keep the phone at the same width ensures that the span of a user's thumb can reach all the way across the display when using the phone single-handedly.
In a side-by-side comparison with the previous iPhone 4S, the iPhone 5's screen is slightly brighter at the full brightness setting. It also displays deeper blacks, most notably when watching video content.
The Google Nexus 4 will be the first Android phone to ship with the latest 4.2 version of Google's mobile operating system, which is still called 'Jelly Bean'. The new version is more of a refinement than a complete overhaul, so much of the focus has centered around improving existing features and adding a few new ones that enhance the overall user experience.
Highlights of Android 4.2 include a new gesture typing feature on the keyboard that replicates Swype, the ability to add widgets to the lock screen, expandable notifications that can be actioned and a new quick settings menu that can be accessed by swiping down the notifications panel with two fingers instead of one.
There's also been some enhancements to the Google Now personal assistant, which now uses your Gmail account as a data source for new cards. In our brief hands-on with a pre-production version of the Nexus 4, the software was slick and fast with no apparent issues, so this bodes well for the final release.
The iPhone 5 runs Apple's latest iOS 6 operating system but using the device is a very similar experience to previous iPhone's. Apple says iOS 6 has added over 200 new features to the platform.
The most significant change is the abolishment of Google's Maps application, which has been replaced with Apple's own Maps app. This is a change for the worse as the Maps app is a half-baked, unfinished solution that lacks both the detail and the accuracy of the Google Maps app it replaced. Google Maps, which comes standard on the Nexus 4, is one area where Android phones can now claim to hold an advantage over the iPhone 5. Google Maps for Android offers free, turn-by-turn navigation in Australia (this feature is coming soon to the iPhone 5 but not available now) and offers integrated public transport directions, unlike Apple Maps.
The Google Nexus 4 has a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera for video calls and a rear-facing 8-megapixel camera for photos and video capture but most of the highlights appear to be software based. First, there's a 360 degree panorama mode that Google is calling photo sphere, allowing users to capture a scene in multiple directions including above and below. The photos can then be published to Google maps or shared through Google+.
There's also a new circular menu in the camera app that allows users to tap and hold anywhere on the screen to bring up a settings menu, while a HDR mode and more photo editing options are other new additions to the camera application.
The Nexus 4 will certainly need these impressive features to impress in order to better the camera on the iPhone 5, which is one of the best we've used on a smartphone. It remains at 8-megapixels but captures excellent photos with great detail. Many of the shots produced are comparable to some dedicated point-and-shoot digital cameras.
During testing, we found that the iPhone 5's camera consistently produced more accurate colours than the previous iPhone 4S. Macro performance is excellent, and the lens is quick to focus on close range subjects — an issue we found on the 4S. The biggest improvement on the camera is the ability to take better quality photos in low light conditions, though these images are still noisier than most good point-and-shoot cameras.
Google's Nexus devices usually focus on software innovation, but the Nexus 4 certainly boasts impressive specifications. It's powered by a quad-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro processor that Google says is the fastest on the market, has 2GB RAM and comes with 8GB or 16GB of internal memory. In a move that may disappoint current Android users, however, the Nexus 4 lacks a microSD card slot so the on-board memory isn't expandable.
The other big omission is LTE connectivity, which means the Nexus 4 won't work on the Australian 4G networks operated by Telstra and Optus. The lack of 4G capabilities means data speeds will be slower on the Nexus 4 than competing devices like the iPhone 5, the Samsung Galaxy S III 4G, the Motorola RAZR HD and the HTC One XL. If you live or work in an area where you're not serviced by Telstra or Optus 4G coverage then you won't be too fussed, but those who are desperate for the fastest mobile data connection will be left disappointed.
One interesting feature that the iPhone 5 can't boast is built-in wireless charging using the Qi wireless power standard. Google will sell a wireless charger called the Wireless Charging Orb as an optional accessory, but there's been no word on Australian availability or pricing for this accessory yet. The Nexus 4 also comes with NFC connectivity.
The iPhone 5 is powered by an updated A6 processor, has 1GB of RAM and comes with 16, 32 or 64GB of internal memory depending on the model you choose. Apple says the A6 processor is two times faster than the A5 chip used on the iPhone 4S and has two times faster graphics. There's no NFC capability but the iPhone 5 is 4G compatible in Australia. The iPhone 5 also uses a new SIM card standard called Nano-SIM. It's a smaller SIM card than the Micro-SIM Apple used on the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S.
The Apple iPhone 5 is available now through all major Australian telcos. The Google Nexus 4 will initially sell outright through Google's Play Store from Tuesday 13 November, when orders will open. The 8GB model will sell for $349 and the 16GB model will retail for $399. At this stage there are no plans for Australian carriers to sell the phone, but LG says that the 16GB model will sell through retailers at a later date, though there's no word yet on which retailers.