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Review: LG Nexus 4 — a world class smartphone for $300

Honestly, when I heard the Nexus 4, the long-rumored LG entrant into the Google-phone legacy, was going to come sans LTE, I almost threw in the towel. After all, the last version, the Galaxy Nexus, is equipped with LTE in its Verizon and Sprint incarnations. Is this a step back?

In my experience, not at all. This is the best Android phone ever made. And, for many purposes, it is the best phone I’ve ever used. It is almost a no-brainer to hit the buy button once you add that it only costs $299 for 8GB or $349 for 16GB.

But, before you do, let’s talk hardware:

From the front, the LG Nexus 4 looks a lot like its predecessor the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (how’s it feel to be on the other side of that Samsung? ;). However, the screen is slightly wider 768px versus 720px on Galaxy Nexus). Android 4.2 takes advantage by throwing in another column of icons to make this screen similar to the Galaxy Note lines in terms of functionality.

While the front may look the same, the phone feels more solid due in no small part to the Gorilla Glass 2 non-removable back. You can’t update the storage via Micro SD card, so that might be a turnoff for some users, but Google’s recent move to match your library in the Cloud may help alleviate that downside.

The curved glass of the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus is also gone. I found that the previous curve was mostly psychological, as it actually weakened the glass, which in turn caused more cracks.

LG did chamfer the glass on either side of the screen so that finger gestures off the screen weren’t met by hitting edges. While this is mostly a subtle change, I found it elegant both in function and in appearance. On that topic, I also love the glass dot design on the back—though my wife tells me I now have a bedazzled phone. Your mileage will vary both in wives and in phones.

The Nexus 4 is also 4.90 oz (139 g) light. Due to its solid feel, it feels much lighter than it should even with a battery that lasts a long time. The battery and electronics savings from not having LTE comes in handy. The Galaxy Nexus LTE weighs slightly more than this phone, while the GSM version is slightly lighter.

The 2100mAh battery is a significant boost over the Galaxy Nexus. I haven’t even come close to using the full battery in a day – even with using the hotspot feature.

The screen on this phone is an IPS LCD vs. Samsung’s Pentile Super AMOLED on the Galaxy Nexus. Besides being wider, it is also better (consider LG makes the iPhone’s Retina displays). This is a Retina display (at 318PPI) but stretched to 4.7 inches and 1,280-by-768. I challenge you to find a better display on any phone.

Size-wise, it isn’t much bigger than an iPhone 5 and it uses that space to add a lot more screen

The 8-megapixel camera is also a step up from the 5-megapixel Samsung Camera in the Galaxy Nexus. I got beautiful images and videos, and the new Android 4.2 panorama tiling and camera controls are a pleasure to use.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this phone is the internals. With 2GB of RAM and a Qualcomm S4 Krait processor, this thing absolutely flies. FLIES!

Moving on to software:

I’ve played with just about every high-end Android phone and can say unequivocally that this is the fastest phone I’ve ever used: most apps start immediately, Web pages often come up instantly, and moving between apps and scrolling are as fluid as you would find on an iPhone 5.

As with every Nexus device, this one doesn’t include any manufacturer or carrier bloatware or overlays that may add to its speed and certainly adds to the experience.

It comes only with Google Apps with Google Voice notably absent. It has Google Wallet, though, which doesn’t come on any other devices that T-Mobile or AT&T will sell you because of the ISIS collusion consortium.

The downside: No LTE

As noted above, the lack of LTE is a drag. In fact, no CDMA either means that Verizon and Sprint are out of the picture in the United States. That’s not great news for customers.

Google said it figured that since only AT&T, T-Mobile, and some regional GSM carriers would carry this phone, it wouldn’t make sense to add LTE. AT&T is early in its LTE rollout, and T-Mobile’s HSPA+ speeds rival LTE in many areas. I can vouch for that. In my Sandy-striken neighborhood, T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 4G speed was well over 10MB on average and made this a very capable tethering device.

The real differentiator:

While the Nexus 4 is a first-class Android smartphone, the biggest game-changer is its starting price. At $299 for 8GB and $349 for 16GB, it matches the months-old Galaxy Nexus. This is a launch-starting price for a flagship phone, though—a phone worthy of being a flagship device without compromises (except LTE).

This means you can pick up this phone for $299 on Google Play, and then pick up a T-Mobile unlimited 4G plan for $30 a month ($10 for the SIM), and your total price over a normal two-year contract will only be $730:

So, $299 + ($30/month*24 +$10)= $1029. That’s your total cost for two friggen years so long as you can handle 100/minutes/month of talk. I encourage you to try. Also, note that T-Mobile will throttle you for after 3GB of data use. It will also charge an extra $15 a month to tether, but you are still way below the competitors.

This is an absurdly low two-year price for a phone. Even a free iPhone costs this much after a year or so on a bargain subsidized plan.

I looked at AT&T prices, but I couldn’t find anything for less than double that price. So, if T-Mobile works in your area, grab it. If T-Mobile doesn’t work but AT&T does, its plans start at $60 a month and have some mobile share options.

If LTE is a deal breaker, LG makes this phone with LTE and calls it the “LG Optimus G.” But, it comes with all of the carrier/manufacturer bloatware mentioned above. On Sprint, however, it includes an improved camera and lower subsidized prices.

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