The LG Google Nexus 4 shouldn't be this great.
For one thing, it's a cheap piece of kit. You can pick up an unlocked Nexus 4 (at least theoretically - they are currently sold out online) for just £239, which is less than you'll pay for an iPhone 5 on many contract deals. It's a suspiciously good price, and it doesn't inspire confidence in the phone's quality.
Then there's the fact that from a certain angle, the Nexus 4 is also pretty... ugly.
From the front it's a black void of a phone, with only the smallest hint of silver bezel. The back has a shimmery 3D graphic design which is both hypnotic and also quite unsettling - it's actually hard to look at, like an eclipse.
Even in the hardware, there are problems. It's not a 4G phone, for one thing (nope, this doesn't count). Also the Nexus 4 is a bit heavier than the iPhone - 139g compared to 112g - and has relatively little storage (8GB or 16GB), a camera which we found tends to blur too easily, and a glass back which is prone to scratches and cracks.
But... I love it -- and I think I may be about to switch to it from an iPhone 5.
Yes, the Nexus 4 is fairly sub-standard in looks. But in feel? Now that's something else. The phone is oddly wonderful to hold. The Gorrila Glass 2 screen is silky and seems to wrap around the edge of the device with no sharp edges. It's smooth and gently curved and very pleasing to use.
Once on, it's got a crisp and bright 1280x768 pixels IPS+ display, with "Zerogap" technology which means the images feel as if they're painted onto the glass, not behind it. It's 4.7-inches are just a bit bigger than my personal sweet spot, but I got used to it and never found it uncomfortable to use.
The Nexus 4 is also incredibly fast. It runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset, and with 2GB of RAM is one of the fastest phones we've ever tested. Games play like a dream, and pretty much everything we threw at it ran like butter.
But it's software where the Nexus 4 really shines. As a Nexus device it runs the full, stock version of Android Jelly Bean 4.2, and it's now more obvious than ever that Google has conclusively closed the gap on iOS.
It's a fast, clever OS which in several respects its easier to use and more adaptable to the real world. Settings are accessible with a two-finger down swipe, and are neatly ordered unlike iOS's sprawling settings menus. Android's built-in widgets are better designed and cleaner than ever, and little touches like the 3D 'raised' effect when you swipe to the edge of your fifth home screen are very well done.
Meanwhile, Google Now - the search giant's increasingly useful assistant and proactive search guide which shows dynamic information like weather, travel directions and sports scores without you needing to ask - is better than ever. Apple's Siri is more useful and more entertaining, but the need to actually use your voice is off-putting in the real world. Google Now is silent - and is more useful.
Elsewhere, Google maintains its big edge on maps over both Apple and Nokia, and the built-in turn-by-turn is excellent, as ever. Gmail is improved, with easy swipe-to-archive gestures and other small fixes. And the Nexus 4 also has a neat 'Photo Sphere' feature in its camera, which actually doesn't always work that well -- but is fun to use.
The Nexus, like all Android phones, does suffer from a continuing lack of truly stand-out apps, and there are also surprisingly few really interesting games on Google's Play store. But other than that - and what we found to be slightly eccentric WiFi performance - 4.2 stock Android is a clean, efficient operating system. There is nothing than any third-party Android manufacturer has shown to date that could improve this verison of the OS. They won't be able to resist, of course. But the Nexus 4 shows how good their phones might be if they did.
The result is that the Nexus 4 itself is an incredibly beguiling device.
No, it's not as bold as the Lumia 920, and it's nowhere near as beatiful to use or hold as the iPhone 5. It has a fairly average high-end camera, and a severe lack of personality. And the stock Android experience is not as polished as elements of iOS. But all together this a wonderfully solid, tactile, useful phone that feels less like a statement and more like a tool to get 'life' done.
And for the price - which is ridiculous - it's almost a must buy -- even if you have an iPhone too.
Get one. (If you can find one.)
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