Nexus 4 vs Galaxy Nexus

My wife’s 3-year-old phone has been irritating her with its lack of app space, so I gave in and bought a Nexus 4, passing my Galaxy Nexus on to her. I thought I’d write up a quick review comparing the Nexus 4 and Galaxy Nexus, for the benefit of anyone not sure whether to upgrade.

From the front, it’s hard to tell the two phones apart. The Nexus 4 is 0.76mm wider and 1.6mm shorter, with the same basic rounded rectangle shape. Both phones have volume buttons on the left, power on the right. The Nexus 4 has the headphone socket on the top instead of the bottom.

Turn the phones face down, and they’re clearly different. The Galaxy Nexus has a rubberized gray back, whereas the Nexus 4 has a glass back with sparkly pixels underneath and “nexus” inset in silver. Presumably this is for when you’re playing the phone stack restaurant game.

The new Nexus is a fraction of a millimeter wider than the old one. However, it doesn’t taper the way the old one does, so it feels thicker. Curiously, it also feels noticeably heavier, even though the actual weight increase is only 4g. I think that the difference is psychological, and comes down to the build quality, which is the biggest physical difference between the two phones.

The Galaxy Nexus felt plastic. I personally don’t mind my phone feeling like plastic, but a lot of iPhone fans criticized the Nexus on that basis. The Nexus 4 has glass front and back, with a rubberized edge. It feels exceptionally solid. The glass has a rounded bevel on the edges, so the device gleams slightly in the light. (It’s the same effect Nintendo used on the DSi XL.)

When the screens are lit, the difference between the two devices is clearer. The Galaxy Nexus used a Super AMOLED screen, whereas the Nexus 4 is an IPS LCD. The LCD has better color accuracy and brightness, and doesn’t suffer from the papery texture of the AMOLED or its tendency to show color fringes at the edges at low brightness. On the other hand, the IPS doesn’t have the totally black blacks of AMOLED, which you’ll notice at night.

The Nexus 4 screen is slightly wider, 48 pixels more, about an extra 4mm. That tiny difference in aspect ratio is strangely noticeable, making the screen seem ‘fatter’.

The Nexus 4 supports GLONASS as well as GPS, for improved location services. Not much more to say about that.

Sound quality during calls is better on the Nexus 4, both sending and receiving. The Nexus 4 supports T-Mobile’s HD voice, and my colleagues tell me my voice is exceptionally clear.

The software, of course, is almost identical; both run Android 4.2.1. However, the Nexus 4 has a quad core CPU instead of dual core, and double the RAM, which means that everything runs just a little bit more smoothly. In particular, the Google Play store doesn’t lag at all, even when you’re installing and updating apps.

The built-in camera is also a big improvement. Resolution is 8MP rather than 5MP, and it’s an f/2.4 lens rather than f/2.8. It also has a back-illuminated sensor, which combined with the faster lens means that it’s far better at taking photos in low light situations. Finally, there’s an HDR mode built in, plus face detection.

There’s no dock connector. Instead, it can charge wirelessly using a Qi-enabled charging pad. On the whole, I found the Galaxy Nexus dock fiddly, and prefer the pad option, even though both are pretty ridiculously overpriced.

Battery life is about the same, though I don’t have any detailed figures yet.

So overall, a pretty solid upgrade in every respect. However, if I hadn’t needed to upgrade for other reasons, I’d probably have waited to see what the X-phone brings.