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A year ago I got a Galaxy Nexus phone. I was really quite happy with it -- particularly the camera, upon which I became increasingly reliant to take impromptu but high-quality photos. (See http://instagram.com/nathankoren/-- not bad, I think!). The plain-Vanilla Android operating system was also a joy to use -- fast, powerful, and elegant. The phone itself was far from perfect -- it was made of cheap plastic and quickly took on a very battered, world-weary appearance -- but overall I had no regrets.

Then the phone's electrical system died, and I needed to get a new one. I'd been reading lots of ecstatic reviews about the new Nexus 4, so I bought that instead.

And I'm terribly sorry to say this, Google -- you've blown it. The Nexus 4 is a dud. After two days of using it, I went back for a refund. It's the first time I've ever been dissatisfied enough with a phone to do this.

Before explaining why I'm so dissatisfied, I should explain a bit about the Nexus Programme: every year Google partners with a mobile phone manufacturer to create a "Nexus" device, which is meant to set a high standard for Android phones, and show what they're capable of. It's their flagship. My model from last year was made by Samsung; this year's Nexus is made by LG.

Google and LG have done a lot right with this phone, for which they've received much justifiable praise. The industrial design is simply gorgeous: clean, slick, and elegant -- but with just enough warm and organic touches to make it a pleasure to hold. It's the first Android phone that can happily go up against the iPhone in the industrial design category.

Also, plain-vanilla Android 4.2 is an absolute joy to use. It's every bit as elegant and refined as the phone itself, and the UX/UI team in particular should be enormously proud of their work.

But aside from the industrial design and the OS, compared to last year's Galaxy Nexus, everything else about the Nexus 4 is worse.

The screen made an immediately poor impression on me. Its colours are dull, desaturated, and muddy-looking. Apparently some people prefer this more "naturalistic" look to the hyper-saturated colour profiles that AMOLED devices like the Galaxy are usually configured for. That's fine -- I have no problem with people who like their colours desaturated. If that's what you want, use a less saturated colour profile for your device. Don't build a device with a screen that's entirely incapable of displaying saturated colours. An emissive display ought to be able to capture the full gamut of human visual perception. The old Nexus Galaxy came closer to this aspiration than the new Nexus 4 does. That's a downgrade.

The next thing to make a poor impression was the data connectivity. Even when the phone had a strong high-speed signal, data only came through in blips and bloops, often timing out or pausing for minutes between data bursts. This made realtime applications such as chat systems unusable. Perhaps this was a problem with the network or a manufacturing error with the phone, but in any case it was thoroughly annoying.

The third thing to make a bad impression was the battery life. After 12 hours of infrequent, unenthusiastic use (due to the irritatingly muddy screen and poor data connectivity), the battery had gone from 100% to 9%. That's much worse battery life than I got with the old Galaxy Nexus. Again, perhaps this was just a bad apple from the manufacturing line, but it rankled.

If these had been the only problems, then I would've simply gotten the phone replaced, thinking that maybe I could learn to live with the poor screen, if the network and battery issues were improved. Then I tested the camera, side-by-side with my old Galaxy Nexus (which had a few minutes of battery life, although it could no longer charge). This turned out to be the straw that broke the camel's back. The camera was definitively worse. In a photo of brick chimneys against the sky, the built-in over-sharpening made the chimneys stand out as though they'd been placed against a greenscreen; meanwhile, the built-in de-noising filters caused the grout lines to smear together with the bricks. The quality of the camera wasn't  abysmal -- I would've been quite pleased to get this from a camera phone, three years ago. But in a world where Apple has been advancing the state of the art for camera phones by a fairly phenomenal degree, it was just absolutely unacceptable to see the camera quality sliding backwards.

So I took the phone back to the shop and exchanged it for a Samsung Galaxy S3, because there weren't any more old Galaxy Nexuses in stock.

In comparison to the Nexus 4, the Galaxy S3 looks ugly and feels like a cheap chit of plastic. It's Samsung-ified OS is an absolute horror: every single they have done to "improve" the user experience makes it uglier and more confusing to use. (I understand why they do this: they want to enhance the distinctiveness of their brand. This is the exact same thought process that causes perfectly good dogs to try to enhance the distinctiveness of their brand by rolling around in shit. Seriously: Samsung needs to fire everyone who customises their flavours of Android, and just use the off-the-shelf latest OS. The corporate fat-cats who presumably run Samsung need to understand that this is one of the few times when they cut a bunch of jobs, buy themselves a yacht or three, and the world will thank them for it.) I'll be rooting it and installing stock Android 4.2 at the first opportunity I get.

But these complaints aside: the data connectivity is better, the battery life is at least twice as good as the Nexus 4, the screen is fantastic, and the camera is great. And those functional things ultimately matter much more than nice industrial design.

Google, I'm rooting for you, I really am. I think Android is a great OS, and I understand what you're trying to do with the Nexus program. But please: don't let a Nexus from one year be a regression from previous years -- not by ANY metric. The screen gamut should be larger while consuming fewer watts per lumen. The camera should be better in terms of TRUE resolution -- there are very good ways to quantify this, which have nothing to do with megapixels, by the way -- noise, light sensitivity, colour accuracy, etc. The battery should last longer. The data latency should be lower. If you allow yourselves to compromise on any of these points, then you will NOT be successfully competing with Apple.

So this year's Nexus is a near-miss -- but a miss nonetheless. I look forward to seeing what you come up next year. Don't screw it up again!
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24 comments
 
The Nexus program should consist of at least 2 devices. One that everyone can afford and one for persons who don't mind having all the best technologies in a single device without compromise. The Android vanilla base should be mandatory on all handsets. Allowing the hardware vendors theme on top of the base OS like ADW Launcher EX. My Nexus One (used as a glorified alarm clock) by far is the best Android phone I've held. Having an HTC Rezound for the past 1.5 years, I will never ever use an HTC device again unless it's a Nexus with the same build quality as the Nexus One.
 
Do you mean "upon which I became increasingly reliant to take impromptu but high-quality photos?"
 
+Rob Lopes agreed. I was hoping they'd do this too now. Release a flagship that is as good as it can possibly be, regardless of how much it costs. Just release the best damn phone on the planet. And then also release one that is say $250 at most (unlocked) - a phone that is for everyone else besides us the tech enthusiasts, and that can be sold for free on contract in US and other countries.

These days I only recommend Android phones to family and friends (as opposed to getting dumbphones), but there's no Nexus that they can get for that price (especially outside US), and I wish there was one cheap enough, with the latest stock Android, that I could recommend, but in the same time, buy the best Nexus for myself. 

At the very least Google should do this. However, I think they should even go a step further, and try to release multiple Nexus devices in the same time, from different manufacturers. Make the Nexus program be almost identical to Microsoft's whole WP launches. Give them strict guidelines, but in the same time try to release as many as possible in the market, at many price ranges, and release them in the same day you're releasing your new software.

That way we won't have to wait months and months before manufacturers release another phone with the new version of Android which is only going to be 1-2 months before Google releases yet another version anyway), and it would make all Android enthusiasts happy about getting multiple choices with great hardware, and different price ranges, and all with stock Android, the moment the new version is released, while the rest of the market who don't really care about this stuff, can still buy skinned Android devices.

These devices would also need their upgrades to be handled by Google, and Google alone. While Google missed the opportunity to create a proper upgrade system for Android devices from the beginning, like Microsoft did for desktop Windows, and even for WP now, they should at the very least take this opportunity to manage the upgrades of dozens and dozens of Nexus devices during their life cycle.

As for this specific Nexus 4 device, I don't agree that they should;ve used Super AMOLED. I'm starting to move away from wanting AMOLED devices, but they need to do proper calibration of their screens. Even Anandtech criticized them for this, saying that they probably didn't employ anyone to calibrate it, compared to HTC and Apple who always try to calibrate their screens for maximum color reproduction.So the problem is not that it's not an AMOLED (which by the way can't distinguish between deep color levels, and puts a blue tint on top of white colors), but that it's not well calibrated, and it does make the colors look dull. Try a non-AMOLED HTC One X, and see how much better it is.

The second mistake was using glass. I never liked the idea of glass on the iPhone 4. They should've used either aluminum or polycarbonate, or vapormg, or something else. Something that feels solid and premium in hand. It didn't need to be glass.

And third, I wish they focused a whole lot more on the camera. People want great cameras - the best cameras. And in both Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4 they seem to have compromised on camera, as if it was just an afterthought. I really hope they won't treat it like that in future Nexuses (if they don't create that multiple Nexus program).
 
Rob: My experience with and opinion about HTC is identical to yours.

Dan: Yes, thanks. That's what I get for writing too quickly!

Cristian: The Galaxy Nexus wasn't great for low light, true. But I tested it against the Nexus 4 under low-light conditions too, and it still came out tops. The images in the Nexus 4 look less grainy, but that's because of an over-agressive de-noising algorithm which absolutely kills all detail.

Note that my standards for camera phones are high. I'm a co-owner and co-founder of Imatest (http://www.imatest.com/), which is the standard software used by the industry to quantify the quality of digital imaging. I'm not actively involved in the company anymore, however, so haven't had the test to put the GNex and the N4 through rigorous side-by-side testing. I've developed a good eye for these things over the years, however, and can say with considerable assurance that the latter is subtly but definitively worse.

At this point, the iPhone has the best camera in the industry, by a considerable margin. I'd love to see an Android phone that can challenge it. Won't be the Nexus 4, however!
 
My  Galaxy Nexus has a battery live of around 12 hours MAX. Most of the time it is empty within 8 hours. But i use it a lot and i got lots of email. Probably the data connectivity was an issue with the phone, which causes more battery problems. And the screen, well just try the phone before you buy it. 

All in all the LG Nexus is not a dud, it is just a phone that is not made for you specificly.

You prefer a better camera and a better screen.
 
Very well said +Lucian Armasu I think at some point, Google will be in the position to force carriers to push OTA more frequently because if they don't, the Google eco system will break because people with older smartphones won't be able to leverage Google services, like Google Now, and likewise, Google won't be able to leverage geo location based ad's. Perhaps Google will partner with a cellular carrier, I really wish Google would purchase TMO and push MOT Nexus smartphones as exclusive. This would force all other carriers to be competitive rather than unspoken collusion by simply mimicking price point strategies.
 
Looking at your pictures, it's clear that you deserve to have a better quality camera on your phone. I bought a Galaxy S III myself recently and I can confirm that it has one of the best cameras on the market. 
 
The GS3 is pretty awesome, I would have to agree. Had the Nexus 4 for ... only a few hours and could not get over the lackluster screen. It is the primary interface upon which you interact with the phone. Having the GS3's somewhat oversaturated AMOLED screen and great camera I would take along with the silly TouchWiz over stock Android and a muted screen any day.
 
Even the GS 3's display is a regression from the 2's as it uses a PenTile subpixel matrix instead of RGB stripe.
 
I'm on my way to verizon store to return galaxy note 2, touchwiz is killing me. Switching back to my old galaxy nexus.
 
I think the critque of Touchwhiz is uncalled for. I get we all want different things from our experience, but I find TW superior to stock Android. These blown out rants about it are silly. Google is never going to win corp types like me over with that low tech stock look.

I liked my gs3 so much, I moved up to the big brother Note2. Now I don't need a phone and tablet on me all the time.

I hope you find a phone you really like, you have some unique feelings about Nexus :)
 
The poor battery life is probably caused by the bad connectivity. Mobiles will turn up the broadcast strength when it notices a signal degrade. If you are still with the same carrier the antena design is a place the look. Most mobiles have very similar internal electrical components. 
 
Looks like connectivity and battery issues are things of JB 4.2. I've read numerous similar reports with upgraded Nexus 7 (including mine)
 
I think you're mistaken to imply that the nexus line is the flagship for android and google, the nexus line has always been google's opportunity to influence the market and hopefully push change. This time the priority wasn't making the best phone, but a good enough phone at realistic prices, something that is a major issue in the industry right now.
 
I would like to point out that I've not had any battery issues of any kind -- I'm over 24 hours with moderate use and I still have 35% left. I would agree the screen isn't quite as good but I for one, knew what I was in for when I got it. I read reviews and first impressions before I decided to get a phone that "was for me" and not something full of surprises because I didn't do the homework. It's just not for you, it's that simple really.
 
The latest Nexus makes no sense, it's just a G3 l like device running stock with no LTE. Locally its 199 like most phones and it doesn't push the Android experience.

My Note 2 is large, but it feels like it's pushing the platform to me. It's my single goto device now. 
 
Nexus 4 is a PHONE with camera not vice versa , If the need is camera with phone you can go for Nokia 808 pureview.
 
I think the point of the latest Nexus is that it pushes down the unlocked price of a flagship smartphone.
 
How about sharing some of the pictures of the N3 and N4 side by side so we can see what you are talking about. Words cannot do this justice alone.
 
+Greg Miernicki Yeah, that would've been a nice idea. Unfortunately I didn't have time to do that testing and documentation in detail, as my old N3 died, and I had to exchange my new N4 for something better in very short order, as I was about to leave for some international travel. So I wrote this post in a very off-the-cuff fashion, not expecting it to go as viral as it did.

Nonetheless, I'm quite confident in my assessment of the cameras, and would encourage somebody to to do such side-by-side testing. Since posting my little rant, I've since learned the reason for the downgrade in camera quality. All else being equal, the two key factors in image quality are the sensor element size and the quality of the optical elements (lenses etc). I have no information about the latter, but as far as the former goes, the N3 used a sensor with a 1.37 µm element pitch (ref: http://www.camerafv5.com/database/device.php?name=samsung_galaxy_nexus), while the N4 uses a sensor with a 1.12 µm pitch (ref: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showpost.php?p=33484621&postcount=1).

This means is that the N4 has 33% less light-gathering capability per sensor element, resulting in fundamentally noisier images being captured. There's really no way to make up for a deficit like that: either you accept grainier images, or you apply a bevy of de-noising and edge-sharpening algorithms to the image deconvolution process, which can make the images look superficially okay, but is in fact a very lossy process which badly degrades image quality. The N4 opts for the latter strategy, and is a good deal poorer for it.
 
I have the galaxy nexus and I have to say, the camera on this thing rocks! Its very dependable and it always exceeds my expectations when I take a shot and in my mind I'm going: "this isn't going to come out good". I go back to the filmstrip and it baffles me every time! Always better than expected. The iPhone 4s camera might be better but not to the point where I would sacrifice openness to get one instead. Not by a long shot. The galaxy nexus, in my mind achieved the best convergence of great software and above average hardware in a VERY affordable package! The people involved in the planning and design of this device were thinking on a level of professional enlightenment!
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