Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Review: Nexus 4

I'm an Android fan. I bought the first Android phone, the G1 with a slide-out keyboard, when it came out years ago. Then when upgrade time came, I bought an HTC One and that was miles ahead of the G1. A few weeks ago, I purchased an unlocked Nexus 4 from Google Play. I've been playing with it now for more than a week and compared to my old HTC One phone, this new phone is a blast.

The Nexus 4 is quick and nimble on its feet. It responds quickly to gesture commands and loads programs just as quickly. It's a miser when it comes to battery use and it has some new apps I did not expect to find on the phone.

When I got the phone, I tried to transfer the SIM card from the old phone to the new one, but the old SIM card was much too big. I trudged on down to the local T-Mobile shop and got a new SIM. With the new SIM in place, I was ready to roll.

I ran through the setup on the phone and logged into my Gmail account. Soon enough, my email and my contacts were loading. I headed home from the T-Mobile shop and when I got home, I found that an update was waiting and ready to run. This update would upgrade my phone to Android 4.3, Jelly Bean.

The update was quick and clean. On reboot, I had a slightly newer operating system, so there didn't appear to be much more to see. The boot times were much better than my old phone, too. On the old phone, I waited about 3-4 minutes for everything to load. On the new phone, I was up and running in much less than a minute. This was a very welcome change.

I enjoy playing a little game called Bejeweled Blitz. On the old phone, this took quite some time to load and often, it would hang while loading. On the new phone, it loads quick and is ready to run in a couple of seconds.

The larger screen provides ample real estate to work with. Icons on the home and other screens are easy to customize and locate as I want them to be. There is a bottom row of icons that appear on every screen so that I can get easy access to the programs I want from any screen.

There is the usual assortment of wallpapers, where you can use pictures, animations and the like. The new themes are very pretty, too.

The most significant new feature on the Nexus 4 is Google Now. Google Now is an intelligent personal assistant that uses your searches and email data to find information that is timely and relevant to your day. Just tap the Google search bar at the top of the home screen and Google Now appears. Google Now organizes items as a series of cards that appear on the screen. There's a card for the weather, a card for your appointments, news and other events around town.

With Google Now, I get the weather, my stock quotes to see where I'm at, and a few other things I didn't expect. For example, I ordered an item from Amazon and received a confirmation email. When I opened Google Now, I get the status on the latest package and within that card, I get a link to track the package. This is something that I wasn't expecting at all, but found it to be a very useful feature. When I was done with the card, i could just swipe it to the right to remove it.

My mom came out to visit us last weekend. A couple weeks prior to visiting us, she sent us her itinerary by email. On the day of the flight, Google Now used the information in that email to create a new card that provided me with the flight status, departure and landing times, gate and terminal number and a link to the original source email. This card made it easy for me to track the status of the flight without having to go to a website to look it up. When I was done with the card, I could just swipe it to the right to discard it. On the day that my mom was departing, a new card appeared for the flight home.

There are some minor and major advances with the Nexus 4 over my old phone. The biggest advance to me is the software update schedule. With phones that are sold by a carrier, the updates are often held back by the carrier. That means many phones are vulnerable to security problems that have been fixed in newer releases, but don't get fixed because the phone company refuses to let the updates through.

Not so with the Nexus line of devices, including the Nexus 4. With the Nexus phone, Google handles all updates independent of the carrier's desires. One question in my mind about this setup is whether or not a Nexus phone sold by the carrier has the same freedom as an unlocked phone from Google. I don't know but I will check that out, too.

Here's a little side note about photos on the phone. With the old HTC One phone, I could just plug in the phone and the file system in the phone would be mounted by my computer. I could select three different options for connecting to a computer: Charging Only, Disk Drive and Tethering. I've never tried tethering, but my Ubuntu Linux machine had no problem recognizing the disk in the HTC One.

But with the new phone, things get a bit tricky. I did some research and found that Jelly Bean exposes the photo directory for mounting, but to set that up, the USB cable must be connected to the phone. I found this rather confusing. Upon connecting the phone to the USB cable I had somewhat confusing choices to make regarding the settings.

I could connect to my computer as a media device using the Media Transfer Protocol (MTP), but that is for Windows and Mac. Or I could use Photo Transfer Protocol (PTP) to connect to my computer as a camera, this is for computers that don't support MTP. My Linux computer falls into this category. This option doesn't show up until I connect the phone to the computer with a USB cable.

Once connected though, Shotwell, a Linux photo catalog program, recognizes the camera and will sync the photos to the disk. This was a concern for me before I bought the phone, so I'm glad it worked out.

I'm really enjoying my new phone. It's quick, efficient and fun to use. If you're in the market for a phone, the Nexus 4 is a great option to consider at $300, a price much lower than you'd pay for Samsung, LG or Motorola from the carrier. For me, it was money well spent.
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