“The Nexus 4.” “The Nexus G.” “The New Nexus.” “The phone that kind of looks like the Galaxy Nexus, except built by aliens.” Whatever special name you have for it, it’s finally been confirmed that this year’s headlining Google smartphone bearing the “pure Android experience” is coming from the company that we’ve reluctantly gotten used to calling the perennial also-ran, LG. At first, we weren’t exactly bowled over by the news.
The device’s spec sheet is respectable: it offers a boost over the current Galaxy Nexus, trading that device’s poor PenTile-hobbled AMOLED display for a rumored 4.7-inch panel with better image quality, upping the Android version to 4.2, and dumping the previous generation’s dual-core processor for the new Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro‘s quad-core goodness.
But where it excels in some areas, it falters in others: the rumored 8MP camera is a step up in resolution from the lackluster 5MP shooter on the Galaxy Nexus, but falls short of the 13MP module LG has already deployed on other models. And while we’re admittedly lacking in hands-on exposure of our own, the physical characteristics of the device aren’t exactly earth-shattering. Our own Stephen Schenck pointed out that the unit appears practically indistinguishable from its Galaxy Nexus forebear when viewed from the front, and it seems to be lacking the curved glass and teardrop body shape that helped that model stand out.
In short, the Nexus 4/Nexus G at first looked to us a bit like a knockoff device– a good one, to be sure, but still an imitation unworthy of the Nexus name. Coming from a company with LG’s reputation for post-launch support, we weren’t at all sure we were going to like what this device had in store for us– “pure Android experience” notwithstanding.
But then something surprising happened: we reviewed LG’s new Optimus G flagship, and ended up really liking what we saw. The Optimus G renewed our faith in LG as a maker of both hardware and software, and showed us that the spectre of a Nexus phone from the company wasn’t necessarily doomed to be a spotty, lame-duck affair.
While speculating on vaporware might be part of the job, pre-judging isn’t something we like to do around here. So we’ll reserve official judgement until we get the device in our hands. In the meantime, though, here’s the two biggest reasons our time with the Optimus G gives us hope for the Nexus 4.
LG Remembers How To Make Things Pretty
We didn’t skimp on praise for LG’s newly-recovered design prowess in our Optimus G review, saying:
Overall, the Optimus G’s hardware marks a welcome return to a good balance of form with function for LG. While it’s a little heavy on the “form” part of the equation, the aesthetic triumph achieved in the trade-off is well worth it. For the first time in a while, LG has built a spec-packed smartphone for the masses that we don’t hesitate to call beautiful. [...] The effect is … not too flashy for a boardroom, but certainly not subtle enough to go unnoticed for long.
One of the unfortunate realities of what subtlety is there in the Optimus G’s design is photogenic: the device’s beauty is incredibly hard to capture on film. That’s possibly a feather in the Nexus 4′s cap; its external similarity to the “G” might mean the more understated aspects of its aesthetics aren’t coming through in the leaked shots we’ve seen so far. After all, how many times do reviews include some variation on the line “it’s tough to see in the pictures; you really need to handle it yourself”?
That might be stretching hope too far if we were talking about another manufacturer, but look what LG has done with the ornamentation on the back panel of the device. It looks a lot like the diamond-weave pattern on the back of the Optimus G, except with the carbon pyramids replaced by reflective silvery dots. It seems very sci-fi, and by extension very cool: a bold design choice that stands out without being too flashy. We have little doubt it looks better in person than in these spy shots, and we’re excited to see whether we’re right.
LG’s “First!” Obsession Has Finally Paid Off
We also took some time in our Optimus G review to mention LG’s longstanding preoccupation with being first-to-market with new innovations. The company was the first to launch a glasses-free 3D smartphone, the first to launch an Android smartphone with a dual-core processor, and it’s continued that trend with the Optimus G, one of the first devices available in America to offer a quad-core SoC alongside LTE capability. While we found the first two accomplishments rather milquetoast, and had low expectations for the latter one, we were blown away by the Optimus G’s performance. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 Pro delivered excellent results in our testing, both from a benchmark and a real-world usage standpoint. Even with LG’s fairly heavy Optimus UI 3.0 running on top of yesterday’s-news Android 4.0.4, the device screamed.
Imagine the performance that processor could be capable of on a device running pure Android -pure Android Jelly Bean, no less, with its Project Butter enhancements unmolested by any manufacturer skin. The notion already has our hair aflame. Barring some major design flaw, the Nexus 4 is likely to offer a very fluid user experience once final software is loaded onto the retail units.
As mentioned before, this is all speculation. It’s entirely possible that the device which greets us on October 29th proves an unremarkably designed slab of gray, offering a forgettable software experience. But while we might’ve leaned that way before our exposure to the Optimus G and “the new LG,” the future doesn’t seem as easy to predict now. LG surprised us with its new offering -something not many companies manage these days- and the surprise was a pleasant one. The Nexus 4 might well be another step in that direction; we’re tentatively hopeful that’s the case.