Nexus 4 revisited: a cautionary tale

Daniel Bader

November 30, 2012 9:53pm

Despite the title, this is not a redaction of my review. The Nexus 4 wholeheartedly deserves the accolades it has received, and even before we discovered it was LTE-compatible for Canadians. Rather, this article will endeavour to shed light on a couple of issues I’ve experienced with the phone since the review was published, and to serve as a cautionary tale for those looking to purchase a Nexus 4 when it becomes available again in the next few weeks.

First, the good news. On launch day I ordered two 8GB Nexus 4’s, receiving one less than a week later. The other one — the one that Google warned would be delayed by up to three weeks — was delivered today, only 16 days after the device went on sale. While Google certainly underestimated demand for the phone, it speaks volumes that the company was able to mobilize what stock it had and deliver it sooner than expected. That, or they wanted to set extremely low expectations for backordered deliveries so buyers would appreciate an “early late” shipping date.

Now that I’ve had the device in my hands for nearly two weeks, there are a couple of things I’d like to make clear. For starters, I’d hesitate to recommend the 8GB version. Saving $50 is not worth the hassle. With no expandable storage the 8GB Nexus 4 has only 5GB of usable space out of the box. I justified to myself the purchase by saying that I no longer store MP3s on my device, nor do I download massive games or watch offline movies. Nevertheless, I found that after a week or so I was left with under a gigabyte to work with, not from anything in particular but a steady buildup of cruft. Android devices get filled from various app caches, backed-up files, photos, videos and, yes, downloads. Unless you’re going to be vigilant about purging excess and unneeded files, 8GB will not be enough for you. Trust me.

The Nexus 4 also suffers from screen sensitivity issues. More specifically, some devices require users to exert more pressure than normal on the screen to perform common tasks. I immediately noticed this when typing on my 8GB Nexus 4 for the first time. My review unit, which was a 16GB model, experienced no such issues.

I immediately thought this was a hardware defect, so as any diligent tech geek would, I searched XDA Developers. Lo and behold, there are dozens of posts from users citing the same issue; the Nexus 4 screen has a sensitivity problem. But subjective observation is one thing; I wanted empirical evidence. I achieved this by going into Settings/Developer Options and turning on a setting called “Show Pointer Touches” and checking the value at the top of the screen associated with “Prs”. Normal Android devices such as my Galaxy S III register touches as light as 0.12. The minimum I can achieve on the Nexus 4 is 0.48. Sliding my finger across the screen allows it to drop as low as 0.26, but on the Galaxy S III I can register under 0.10.

The issue has already been registered with Android’s Bug Tracker, and I’m surprised it hasn’t received more attention. This is a deal-breaker for me, and will be for many users. The question whether the issue is hardware- or software-related is not yet clear. Because not every Nexus 4 suffers from the issue, nor does the Optimus G from what I’ve gleaned, it would seem that either LG is calibrating some of its Nexus 4’s incorrectly, or the screens themselves vary between devices. A consensus is growing around the watercooler that the problem is, in fact, software-related and will be fixed by Google in an update, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Until then, be wary of the Nexus 4 if you’re a speed typer; you’re going to have to press down a lot harder — or get used to pressing the backspace key — to achieve the same results as before. Update: This is in fact a software issue and has been temporarily corrected by downgrading the touchscreen firmware. Hopefully Google issues an official update sooner than later.

I’ve been asked more times about LTE on the Nexus 4 than I can count, so let’s talk about it. Now, we know that LTE is not officially supported by Google or LG, I suspect someone just didn’t explicitly disable the function when compiling Android 4.2 for the device. What this means is that Google could easily disable the LTE/GSM toggle in the Phone Information menu in a future update, rendering the discovery moot unless you’re willing to stay on an older version. So is it worth using?

Honestly, I wouldn’t bother. Using LTE on the Nexus 4 has been an exercise in frustration. Even on HSPA+ the Nexus 4 does not exhibit great battery life. Indeed, I rarely get to 5pm without having to top up my phone for an hour to ensure it will last until bed time. With LTE enabled, the situation is much, much worse. I have found my phone at under 50% battery less than three hours after taking it off the charger in the morning. If that means I’m out of bed by 7:30 the phone, if used “normally”, will be close to dead by lunch. There are likely a couple reasons for this: first, the Nexus 4 was never meant to run on LTE networks, and the software has not been optimized for it; and the device doesn’t have great antenna performance, so it constantly has to boost its amplifier to the highest levels to maintain a connection to the tower.

Considering every network in Canada offers excellent HSPA+ service, I’d recommend keeping away from LTE on the Nexus 4 unless you want to play “Where’s the charger?” all day, every day. The other bother related to LTE is that the phone resets itself back to HSPA+ when restarted; app developers can tweak the software to ensure that it sticks to LTE upon reboot, but those running the stock Android 4.2.1 experience will constantly have to re-toggle it. This may seem like a minor inconvenience — and it is — but it’s not worth doing. Not to me, anyway.

Lastly, Android 4.2 has bugs. Google must have made more changes to the framework than we realized, because many apps that ran without issue on Android 4.1 either have performance issues or just won’t run at all. There are some delightful additions to the OS — lockscreen widgets; Photo Sphere; the gliding keyboard; quick settings — but all of them either feel incomplete or superfluous. They’re neat features, but don’t have the same impact as, say, Project Butter, which improved performance across the OS.

I do love the Nexus 4. I think it’s the best Android phone currently available, despite its flaws. But there are a few caveats one must take into account before purchasing the device. At $359, the 16GB version is great value and should not be overlooked. But just because it’s a Nexus doesn’t mean it’s the right phone for you.

  • SAM

    OOHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! OOOHHHHHHHHH SAMMIE!!!!!!!!!
    OHHHHHHH GET THE NOTE!!!!!! FROM SAMMIE!!!!!!!!!!
    OHHHHH SAMMIE MY SAMMIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    OHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • hmmmm

      Already got the Note 2 and it IS the best of the 2!

    • EvanK

      When I see “Hidden due to low comment rating.” under SAM’s comments, I used to tap “Click here to see.” thinking that it may be useful information. Now I just thumb-down it because I know it’s just going to be “OHHH SAMMY OHH NOTE OHHH S3″.

      Don’t get me wrong, I like Samsung’s products, but do us all a favour and shut the f*** up.

    • Rio

      You get what you pay for guys.

    • seroevo

      @EvanK

      I think the joke was that of Android users, they tend to push the S3 and Note 2 obscenely. Regardless what phone you’re discussing or considering, someone will always say “just get the Note 2.”

      It makes for it to be ironic when people mock “iSheep,” but unless you have a Samsung phone you choose poorly.

  • Reardon

    Does the Nexus 4 have that feature you loved in your WP reviews where it disconnects from WiFi every time the screen turns off?

    Maybe if Google added those features, and boosted their marketing blogger relations budget, you’d give them better reviews

    • Treatz

      settings / wifi / advanced / Keep Wifi on during sleep:
      *always
      *only when plugged in
      *never (increases data usage)

      That’s on my S3, Plays out like that on most ‘Droids

  • Reardon

    BTW — The screen isn’t pressure sensitive, unless it’s an old Nokia phone with a resistive type screen.

    The Nexus 4 senses capacitance, not pressure. That’s the first clue to your personal problems.

    The second clue is what nearby electrical fields might be messing with the capacitance of the screen. I’ll bet you were close to some cheap fluorescent light, improperly shielded outlet, or waiting in front of a microwave with a loose door.

    Are you at all qualified to blog?

    • Ron Mexico

      You are a douche

    • isdfoa

      im sure it’s something wrong with the phone/software if there’s been numerous complaints. he’s not the only one experiencing it.

    • philby1985

      You do realise when you press harder more of your finger squashes across the screen which increases the capacitance (bigger finger surface area) so in effect pressing harder will actually result in a different reading.

  • trev

    Think I’m gonna keep my s3 till next year. Hope Google gets over this learning curve and excells at selling devices. Now the wait for jellybean. No I’m not rooting to a get a buggy ROM. Ahhh android. Always waiting

    • Dan

      They are actually quite stable. Especially for the S3 because of the amount of developers.

  • Sad Panda

    These article made me sad. 2 very dissapointing things that are both incredibly important!

  • cobwiggy

    Got my 16 GB version today,love iy

  • captain obvious

    is it worth mentioning the rush of negativity and hatred for that apple touch screen issue when you swiped diagonally at warp speed.. this seems much more likely to be an issue as far as average everyday use is concerned. Once again.. another case of things that are wrong with android being ok but things wrong with apple being unacceptable. The worst part is now that ive pointed it out we have to get ready for all the android nerds to remind us WHY they are acceptable and point out their skewed logic about why apples isnt. 3..2..1.. go.

    • youknowitall

      wow. now be a good ‘lil worm and craw back into your apple

    • jax

      my good sir, I do believe you’re doing it right!
      Bloody hypocrites, this lot!

    • Chris

      Android vs iOS is the equivalent of women vs men, double standard. It’s ok for the touch screen to not be perfect in androids, but for apple that’s a sin!!

    • some guy

      You Apple guys sure are butt-hurt.
      Sounds like you got your feelings hurt.

  • Kenjuta

    Where do you get those background image in this post?

    • spanky

      @Kenjuta …Costco, bamboo table placemats :)

    • kiryen

      The second image (with the circles) comes stock. I honestly don’t know what the first one is. I’ve looked up “milky way” and river/lake/landscape and nothing’s turned up.

      I’m curious as to what it is as well.

    • saone

      Yeah that second picture is AWESOME!
      I want that one. where can I find it ???

  • erick cantona

    Other than the battery live I have no complaints about this phone. I have not had any sensitivity issues what so ever. But yeah you do need to charge it a couple times a day, or maybe I play with it to much.

  • yazzie

    I just received my nexus phone today 16 GB. So far I am in love with the phone . I haven’t experience any bugs or so forth.

  • dbareis

    Since upgrading my Samsung Galaxy Nexus to 4.2 I’m having some screen sensitivity issues or at least I have to press and hold for longer before it registers, for example in the keyboard it is very hard to choose a word from the choices it supplies.

  • J

    Just got mine today as well, but I haven’t experienced any of these issues. I got an 8gb b/c that’s all I could get, I really wanted the 16gb, but I’ll have to live with it for now.

    There have been no issues with the screen for me! Loving it 100%

  • Brian

    Note II ftw

  • Scott

    Another thing not mentioned, but most people are aware of anyway…. do not, I repeat, DO NOT, drop this phone. Gorilla Glass 2 or not, the screen on this thing will shatter if it hits a hard surface. I have a picture to prove it.

    • Chris

      That goes for nearly ALL phones. Of course the screen will shatter if it’s glass when dropped. No nokia/samsung/apple phone with a glass screen is shatter proof.

    • John

      News flash…glass breaks when dropped…

    • Ralph

      Solution: Screen protector

  • Fartknocker

    If this was an iPhone it would be front page news and every fandroid within 1000km would be making it out to be the biggest problem the world has ever seen. Good to see you guys aren’t hypocrites.

    • spanky

      lots of sheep in this android post tonight, hmmm, future converts or just bored with their iphones? ;)

  • MaX

    Could it be an LG issue? They don’t exactly have a great track record.

    • EvanK

      I honestly haven’t had too many problems with LG’s hardware in the past, my gripes with them have all been software realted. However, with the N4 having the same type of display as the iP5 (display and touch sensor bonded together) which also had similar issues, makes me think that this may be a hardware issue.

  • Nexus4kid

    So true you have to like the phone to love it.

  • zbyte

    future converts im sure, seeing it more every day coming from bb and apple to android

  • Nexus4kid

    I have the nexus 4 and I have not seen any of these problems . He’s right about the 8 gig that’s a no brainier but all that other stuff mush just be your phone man.

    • Tom

      I was going to get the 8GB. I looked at the storage on my Nexus 7 and concluded that I could get by fine with just 8GB.

      But now I’m starting to waver…

  • zbyte

    order the n4 16gb but based on all reviews seems to be better to go with an unlocked lg optimus with a custom ad free rom

  • captain obvious

    @fartknocker thats the truth. I think the problem is that the android commenters here cant understand that anytime anyone post a comment that goes against their camp its not an attack on android but an attack on their fanaticism. If they were open minded.. or at least not hypocrites it might be worth reading what they have to say. Instead they shrug off the numerous issues in their universe acting like they havent their own problems and blow everything else out of perspective.

  • Graham

    This got a lot of vitriol. Some people don’t seem to understand that it’s possible to be critical of something without being a rabid shill for another product.

    Thanks for the sober second thought. The early sell-out may be a blessing in disguise; I only have so much patience for annoying quirks on my phone.

  • get out

    “Unless you’re going to be vigilant about purging excess and unneeded files, 8GB will not be enough for you. Trust me.”

    bullsh!t

    i downloaded a ton of apps, stream music and movies, and browse the internet on it all the time and have never run into storage problems.

    • COBwiggy

      That’s because STREAMING and browsing do not take up space, hence why it is called streaming. Not downloading..

  • RyanOver

    OHHHH Guys !!! calm down… and get an HTC One X+
    Samsung is offering killer specs, but packed in a cheap plastic. you don’t feel the money you’ve just spent in the built quality.
    just like Americans cars the ride is smooth like a Beamer, but the interior design is rubbish

  • biasedReview

    Truly a flawed biased review. “…it’s the best Android phone currently available, despite its flaws”

    bullshit

  • Vengefulspirit99

    so basically LG skimped on the hardware and now some of the problems are showing

  • CluelessCompanion

    I hope Google learns the reality when working with LG. LG is good, but Samsung already has experience in the Nexus line and with sAMOLED, you can’t go wrong.

  • Dan

    Also, get the Galaxy Note 2.

  • ARocketScientist

    It is the buildup of static electricity on the glass back causing the raised noise floor of the capacitive sensor.

    It is not a software issue, it’s a design issue. You need to empty the excess charge into a ground sink — think of any surface that you might get a static shock from touching.

    The problem was probably overlooked because the phone was not tested in a cold&dry environment, without a case, while being carried by someone shuffling around in fleece or wool, on a carpet. It can only be mitigated in software.

  • Tom

    The unit with the screen issue should be sent back. Seriously, returning units is the best way to pressure them to minimize glitches like this (which sounds like a hardware issue to me).

  • 2dfx

    What’s wrong with half of you?

    FANTASTIC article. Thank you for the insight Dan.

    • Toy lover

      Some people like to shoot the messenger.

    • Jim Shorts

      I second that. Very well written Dan. Thank you and please keep them coming.

  • Thrasher

    @Tom> Why send it back? Just sell it on Kijiji for $550. :D

  • Thrasher

    Yes, great article. But somehow I don’t believe him when he says he has no music, videos or downloads on his phone and he used up 4GB in one week….

  • Andy c

    So… We’ll be able to order again “in a few weeks…..” Is this a guess or do you have mir info you would like to share with us

  • montrealer

    LG

  • screamer

    Nexus or iPhone you’re not good phones. Why? No micro sd card and that’s it. 16 gig haha. (IPhone has more but 800$) I love my S3 and I only would change it for an galaxy note! Even 700$ is a good price because you getting something

  • Drew B

    Well worth reading and taking into account that not only was it a soloid review but the revisit was even that much more refreshing in adding to the time spent with the device kudos !

  • kakarot

    blah blah blag, yes… I can see how a $309 phone with brand new software can issues…much like it’s 800$ competitors…. but whining about storage when you knew this in advance, complaining about lte battery life when the phone doesn’t support it, and pressure issues, dozens but if 100s oh thousand devices .10 vs .26
    grow a sack

    • Tom

      Shoppers should be informed of the issues – that’s Daniel’s job. He didn’t say that we shouldn’t buy it – he’s just keeping us informed.

      More reviewers should write follow-up articles like this once they have more time with the phone.

      I’m a fan of Google and will probably buy this phone but I want to see them held to account when they release something that isn’t ready.

  • kakarot

    ps: I had the same issues with my galaxy note 2 phone, my 8&16gb have no issues…. aside from a non removable battery…at a fraction of the cost of the note 2 and gs3, this is the best android device

    • Ron Mexico

      You’re full of ****, I have a Note 2. Stop spreading false info. You’ve never owned a Note 2 if you say it has the same issues. Now go away and stop posting here.

  • Jenny S.

    A friend of mine has had his for <24 hours and the backplate has already cracked from bumping into his keys in his pocket. <3 android and google but at $300 it sounds like you get the quality you pay for.

    • hoo dat

      You came expect to read more complaints about the glass back in the next few weeks/months, Jenny. When the iPhone4 was first launched they found the back would shatter after rubbing up against a small piece of grit in the sleeve or a pocket. The size of grit didn’t have to be very big at all but would finely scratch the glass causing it to shatter. This is the same glass they’re using on the N4. The same would happen with keys or change or even everyday use. The first thing that jumped out at me when I was checking out the specs a few weeks ago was the glass back, an instant turn off. Add in the lack of expandable memory and a non-removable battery and the phone’s completely useless to me.

  • Village

    Still, for the issues some people experience with this phone. Nothing comes close to this phone at $309/$359 price point off contract. Unless the market drastically changes, one is in my future.

  • Is this a secret..?

    Finally we have some sense on this terrible website. The owners/operators are hardcore android fans and they rush s**t to appease the mass trolls that read the site. This website is nothing but some massive Fandroid jerk circle thanks to Bader. I want Canadian mobile NEWS. Not android fanboy s**t followed by posts upon posts of irrational trolling.

  • hoo dat

    So NOT having an expandable memory or removable battery turned out to be detrimental after all. Who knew??

  • Josh

    Anyone know where to get that “starry night” background photo in the lead image? (Assuming it’s not a personal photo). I love it!

  • Nathalie Lavoie

    Well got tired of waiting and my frustration got the best of me and got the LG Optimus G from Rogers … very happy so far LTE speed between 50-100mbs and battery life is excellent
    so i am glad i didn’t wait!

  • David

    Google avoided going back to Samsung for the nexus 4 because they push support for their phones way too slow. And for the battery issue it shouldn’t be a surprise. Using lte on a phone not meant to use it will obviously kill the battery.

    P.s I have 4.2 on my gnex and no problems reported 100% and even more buttery. I think some people just don’t know how to use technology properly.

  • massiv

    Agreed on the N4 issues. Recently picked up the One X+ from Telus after getting tired of waiting for nexus availability (and not quite wanting it as much either – just liked the price) and I couldn’t be happier! Coming from an already quick Amaze 4G (hspa+ / 42mbps) it’s unreal how much faster the LTE is on this phone (speedtesting at 20mbps down 15mbps up). Amazing screen and no fear of issues like this one affecting the n4! Add in the 64gb of storage and it’s a compelling choice

  • killa

    all apple fans are soppy wankers

  • etc

    I sold mine after a week , only problem I had was rhetoric battery charged slower compared to iPhoneaiPhone s3.

  • Dylan K

    Glad I got my S3 when I did, I suppose. Loving this phone, and the expandable memory is a lifesaver. The N4 is amazing on paper but I could never trust LG I am building said phone. Maybe HTC next time?

  • Zax

    I new that LG will suck in making next nexus.. that’s why I bought s3 after play store fiasco..

  • Zax

    if nokia make next nexus phone I’m rady to pay 800 outright for it!

  • Steve

    got my nexus 4 8gb yesterday…

    i only ever used 2 gb on my gnex and my screen is responding to the lightest i can actually touch it.

    there is no question that the battery lasts shorter than the gnex, but i also have been using the new phone a lot which i think is only natural.

    sw and screen issues aside which seem to be isolated, complaining about the storage that you chose and the battery life in. mode it was never made to sustain seems a bit silly. i think anyone with lte should only activate when they need it regardless of the device.

  • kakarot

    I think it is a close minded and pointless post… cautionary tale? WTF is that…. he mentions “dozens” of people having minor issues with a brand new device that has new software…. out of the millions or 100,000s of thousands… I am sure they have sold. Imagine if every tech site posted this crap, each time they had a personal hiccup/issue on a dozen or so devices… while the rest of us have no issues… heck, at $400… return it, get a new device and quite your sky is falling crap

  • gezaim

    Loving the nexus 4. 8GB is more than enough for me as I like to delete things if I’m not using them. Right now I still have 4.65 available. No sensitivity issue with mine, I can see how that would be annoying however the new swipe keyboard is incredible. Used LTE for a day or 2. Couldn’t really tell a difference comparing it to hspa+. If there are bugs in 4.2 I haven’t noticed them. Since nexus devices get upgrades first this would actually make it the best device to buy as other phones would have to live with bugs for longer if they ever even get 4.2.

  • Android 2.3Rocks

    what is the big deal about Android 4.2 and that people must have the latest Android version! People Best Android I believe is 2.3. It is fast and responsive and not bloated compared to the rest. 6 months from now, I bet Android 4.2 will be out. Does that mean 4.2 is garbage?

    People, you don’t have to get the latest. These days, the latest is not the greatest. I bet a lot of you still use Windows XP and didn’t want to upgrade to Windows 7, or if you have Windows 7 you don’t want to upgrade to Windows 8.

    I have a galaxy tab running Android 2.3.3 and I love it. It is fast and response enough for me. I got a GSII running ICS and it is slow

  • Chuck

    I think I’d be more interested in these Nexus 4 posts if I COULD ACTUALLY ORDER THE DAMN PHONE. lol

  • gtp20

    I’m shocked that Google ‘underestimated demand’. With the ridiculous cost of phones these days $309 for the 8gb is an amazing price. I looked at the Nokia 920 this weeks as I would like a Windows Phone 8 device. At $599 outright I just couldn’t do it.

    I love me Galaxy Nexus so I’ve been checking often for the Nexus 4 to become available again for order.

    Also; I was extremely disappointed with 4.2, I received the update to 4.2.1 less than a week later and most of my issues seem to have be resolved. Everything seems to be working well now with 4.2.1.

  • Alex

    OH my god I got NOTE 2 and ever since I can’t stop smiling.

    I am so glad I need both of my hands to operate this gigantic phone.

    I don’t even use my ipad anymore because I can’t hold it with my other hand. It is so much better now.

    SAMMY OHHHHHHHHH YEAHHHHHH

  • HighClassFrenchCricket

    Mobile Syrup deleted my comments, this site is a joke.

  • Rob

    Someone posted (cynically or not) that the shortage of phones may have been intentional. Let the early adopters beta test the unit, then release a rev.B that resolves those issues. The 6-8 week lead time could suggest a retooling is taking place. I’m disappointed I don’t have a new phone right now but I’m still shackled to my Robellus contract anyhow. Maybe in January we will be able to order a properly working rev.B N4 and have it delivered in three days like civilized people.

  • Aman

    I think screen sensitivity is a software issue. I read a reddit post about a user solving this probloem by flashin AOKP rom.

    I have no comment on LTE. I think its best to get that wireless charger asap.

  • cathcartt

    Held off on replacing my brilliant Nexus S after Galaxy Nexus battery/camera issues came to light. Was wary of Nexus 4 as soon as specs (glass back, no LTE, no expansion) were confirmed. This article (and others) seals the 4’s fate as far as I’m concerned. My opting for the massive-batteried, drop-proof, expandable, LTE’d, easily unlockable RAZR HD is looking better every day. BTW, I was running CM10 nightlies in the Nexus S for 3 months…JB is not that special beyond Butter, don’t miss it at all. KLP will hopefully focus on further UI quality more than gimicks.

  • Piotr

    Hmm another sub par phone by LG. why am i not surprised, has anyone had an LG phone with no issues… LG is junk plain and simple, the only reason the other nexus phones where very successful is because they were made by HTC and Samsung.

  • Robbers

    Google should have just stuck with Samsung for this device…. I would have had an AMOLED display with that beast processor, better QC and the ability to meet this huge demand…. Bad on you Google

  • Gunnar

    Samsung: “You’re pressing it wrong.”

  • John

    “Android devices get filled from various app caches, backed-up files, photos, videos and, yes, downloads.”

    This was exactly my experience with Android…kept getting filled with crap and even when I uninstalled stuff my phone was full of remnants. I thought this was supposed to be an efficient OS?!?!

  • Noah

    I don’t think this is a biased review just because of it criticizes some of the design or hardware flaws. I believe this is a honest review based on the personal experience.

    Not all the nexus phones are identical. Just because you don’t experience any problem doesn’t mean the others would have no issues as well. I think they really rush so hard to produce enough in order to keep up with the demand. Hence, there might be a good number of defected devices out on the market. Battery life is the biggest concern of mine. I will wait and check out more reviews related to it before I made my move. Plus, I am very comfortable with my S3.