If you've read my Android coverage before, you know I can't stand that Google and its hardware and carrier partners still haven't figured out a way to provide timely updates on phones after you buy them. In many cases, Android users never get to try the latest and greatest versions of Android because the operating system has become so fragmented over the years.
That's why I love Google's Nexus program, which makes sure devices always have the newest Android features without having to jump through any hoops from carriers or third-party manufacturers. And even though Nexus phones have never been blockbuster devices with consumers, each new generation has consistently been better than the last. They easily hold their own against the most popular smartphones out there.
That holds true with this year's flagship phone from Google, the Nexus 4, which was built by LG and will go on sale November 13 for a very reasonable $299 for the unlocked version. (T-Mobile will also sell the Nexus 4 for $199.99 with a two-year contract.)
Save for one glaring flaw that can affect many users, the Nexus 4 might be one of the best Android phones you can buy.
The Nexus 4 runs the latest version of Android called Jelly Bean. Since its debut in July, Jelly Bean has been tweaked with a few clever and useful new features that add a nice overall polish to the operating system.
The most noticeable new feature in Jelly Bean is a drop-down settings menu that lets you adjust basic functions like airplane mode, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. Many third-party manufacturers have already added similar control panels to their Android phones, but it's nice to see it in the clean version of Android. Plus, Google's layout is a lot better and more functional than anything I've seen Samsung, HTC, or the rest come up with.
It's also worth mentioning the new camera modes. The Nexus 4 hardware takes great photos, even in dim light, but I'm really impressed with what Google did on the software side. The camera app's interface is much easier to use now, with a wheel of shooting options (image size, flash, HDR, etc.) that hovers in front of the image you're about to take. My favorite option is the new panoramic mode that lets you take a spherical 360-degree shot of your surroundings.
Hardware and design.
At first, the Nexus 4 looks and feels thick and blocky, but when placed on a flat surface next to the iPhone 5, it's only a hair thicker. That's because LG opted to design the phone with sharp angles on the sides instead of smooth curves. It's as if the Nexus 4 was chiseled out of a larger piece of metal or glass.
The result is a sturdy and well-designed phone. Unlike Samsung's attempt at a Nexus phone last year, LG's Nexus 4 isn't covered in low-quality plastic. It's solid as a brick, yet light as a feather. My only complaint with the design is the glass cover on the back. LG added an odd glittery finish to it, so the phone sparkles in the light as if someone took a bedazzler to it. Also, the back cover scratches easily.
The big problem.
As good as the Nexus 4 might be, it can't connect to LTE data networks, the fastest wireless standard available.
There's no polite way to say this: Google screwed up here. Instead of working with carriers and making a phone that best serves its customers, Google took the easy way out and skipped LTE in the Nexus 4 so it could sell it unlocked from its own website.
Today, LTE is standard in top-tier smartphones, making it difficult to mention the Nexus 4 in the same breath as the iPhone 5 or Galaxy S III. LTE isn't available in a lot of places, but for those who care about getting the best data connection possible, this is going to be a deal-breaker.
Should you buy it?
If you're a T-Mobile customer, the Nexus 4 is probably the best phone you can buy on the carrier at the moment. Everyone else will have to consider the unlocked version, which will only run on GSM networks like AT&T.
But the lack of LTE support really puts a damper on an otherwise incredible device. If you think you can live without the fastest possible data speeds, then the Nexus 4 is a great deal at $299. Otherwise, you're going to be really annoyed paying for a phone that can't keep up with the competition.