The Nexus 4 packs pure unadulterated Android into a quad-core powered black slab of sexy. It’s a great device at an unbelievable price. Problem? It’s gone mainstream. Not in the way hipsters refer to any semi-successful musician either. Google’s deliberate attempts to make the Nexus brand much more grandma-friendly has, in some respects, been a message to its most ardent “root first and ask questions later” fans. I can almost hear Andy Rubin say, we’re going mainstream now, you tech-heads can come along for the ride if you want but you’re not riding shotgun anymore. The “pure Android experience” is no longer being designed or marketed for the power user.
I really wanted the Nexus 4 but after much deliberation I’ve had to conclude that I am not entirely drunk on Nexus Kool-Aid. The lure of a $299 (8GB version) price for a top tier unlocked phone was certainly tempting. So too was the appeal of receiving timely and undiluted updates. For many, the updates alone may be reason enough to buy this phone. When I examined the compromises Google made to court the mainstream customer I realized the Nexus 4 can not fulfill my needs. I suspect this may be the case for other tech-savvy Android users.
Matias Duarte has brought a lot of great design tweaks and polish to Android. His recent statements regarding omitting expandable storage, however, sound like a vote in favor of the casual user rather than the hard-core enthusiast. Few would argue that making Android more user friendly is a bad idea but improving that UI at the cost of functionality just doesn’t sit well with me. Yes, a microSD card does add another element of ambiguity regarding media storage. If that’s the trade off then I would gladly make finding where I saved a file just a tad more difficult in exchange for the option of cheap expandable storage. A 16GB device runs out of space in a hurry when it doubles as a media player.
Developer settings in Android 4.2: Like Dumbledore’s sister, the menu was deemed unfit for public consumption and was hidden from view. The menu can be called back from the dead without the use of a Ouija board, but its discreet placement is a not so subtle hint: this isn’t your hacker’s Nexus anymore. Or at least you aren’t its primary target anymore.
Android top dog, Andy Rubin shared another example of function trumped by user experience. Rubin cited battery concerns and a less than spectacular user experience as the reason the Nexus 4 is missing an LTE radio. Again, I would much rather be allowed the option to possibly sacrifice some battery life in exchange for access to an LTE network.
Speaking of the battery, it’s now enclosed. What has long been an Android advantage over iOS is no longer on the Nexus Quatro. The battery is easy to get to but Google and/or LG chose to, like the Optimus G, keep it internal. We can only speculate as to the reason but I’d wager it is a simple decision of design over function. Carrying a spare battery is not a major concern to some but it can be a godsend when traveling abroad or cross-country.
Samsung, the biggest Android manufacturer at present, is far from perfect but seems to be coming a lot closer to the mark than Google itself. They’ve clearly been killing it with the Galaxy SIII, but TouchWiz, even with fairly recent tweaks, leaves a lot to be desired. Of course if you’re the CyanogenMod nightly flasher-type we’ve been talking about, a crummy Android skin is not too big an obstacle to overcome.
Comparing the latest Samsung offering, the Galaxy Note II, to the Nexus 4 shows us why our hopes may rest with the manufacturers and not the pure Android experience. LTE is not available in a lot of markets but you can buy an LTE version of the Note II from 3 of the top 4 US carriers. The ginormous 3100 mAh battery is removable. The Note II can be purchased with up to 64GB of internal storage and you can still add to that with a MicroSD card. The only thing really missing from the Note II’s hardware is what it has too much of (no, not the S Pen or massive screen): The buttons. I much prefer the on screen buttons on the current batch of Nexus devices to the Note II’s hardware buttons.
I’m happy Google is continuing to develop Android into a more well rounded OS. I’m also happy Android provides us options even when Google wouldn’t choose those options for us. The election may be over but I’ll still vote (with my dollar) and support the Android I want to see. That’s not an Android that sacrifices functionality for ease of use. I think some fruit company is already doing that and I’m not interested in something that “JUST works.”