Nexus 4 – worth the upgrade?

Nexus 4 is here. Sporting a gorgeous 4.7-inch IPS display, S4 Pro processor, and glass panels, the new flagship Android impresses. But is it worth upgrading from the 2011 Samsung Galaxy Nexus?

Samsung Galaxy Nexus (2011), center, is a stellar Android, especially the unlocked version. Flanked here by the OG Droid (2009) on left, and the Samsung Galaxy S II (2010) on right.

I had high hopes for the Nexus 4. Now that the LG-made flagship Android has landed, and I’ve had a chance to scrub the specs on the Google Play Store I’m left, well, not entirely impressed.

That’s likely because the 2011 Nexus (made by Samsung) — my daily driver since the summer when I ditched Verizon, and went unlocked on T-Mobile —  is still a formidable Android phone. Nexus 4 was supposed to dazzle us, and make the decision to upgrade a slam dunk. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s delivered enough sizzle; the one exception being the display which I’ve heard absolutely astounds (HTC One X or iPhone 5 territory).

Still, there’s one of three things happening here: (1) Nexus 4 has fallen short of earning the flagship “Nexus” moniker; (2) my Galaxy Nexus still has legs, and it will take a quantum leap in specs to make an upgrade interesting; or (3) I’ve overlooked something about the new Nexus that others have not.

Remember this is the “Nexus” brand we’re talking about. Us pure Android fans have come to expect greatness. Ground breaking design. Power. Innovative new features. A Nexus should reflect the best of Google, the ultimate embodiment of all its innovation and tech prowess. Sure, we get slightly ornery when, after 12 months, a new Nexus model ships that appears incremental rather than game-changing. That’s simply because we expect Google to deliver industry best kit. Once again, I suspect this is an industry wide phenomena.

Regardless of whether or not Nexus 4 is a great device (early reviews suggest that it most definitely is), I jotted down some notes as to why the upgrade for ’11 Nexus owners may not make sense (yet):

1. Android 4.2 OTA will also come to the GNex

The great thing about Nexus devices is Google’s upgrade commitment. We get the latest and greatest first. That takes any new features in Android off the table in terms of a reason to upgrade to a new model, such as the Nexus 4.

2. The faster processor may not make a big difference in real use

Yes, the Snapdragon S4 Pro is faster. And, yes, of course, I’m sure we’d all want one in our older Nexus models. But I’ve never (ever) said to myself while using mine, “Geez, this thing is slow,” or “Come on, little brother, load that app already!” I find the A9 plenty fast. With Jelly Bean I find swiping across the home screen incredibly smooth. Launching apps, rendering web sites, playing videos. All fast, fast, fast. Amazingly so, actually, considering this phone is coming up on its 1 year birthday. No doubt I like to hyper-focus on specs like everyone else, but let me suggest it not be a primary reason to consider dumping your Galaxy Nexus.

3. You’ll take an unnecessary hit on the trade-in ($200+ loss)

If you plan to get a Nexus 4, then you’ll likely want to unload your older Nexus. I checked Gazelle, and $137 is what you’ll get for a trade-in. I paid $349 via Google Play for a 16GB unlocked model. That’s a $200+ hit in a short time. Sure, I could wade the scrublands known as Craigslist or eBay and eek out a few dollars more. But I do have better things to do with my time, like create posts like this.

Nexus 4, made by LG: Impressive specs, but is there enough here to warrant an upgrade from the Samsung Galaxy Nexus?

4. Headphone placement on Nexus 4 is not ideal for in-car use

I use the Galaxy Nexus in my car all the time. It’s great for streaming Pandora (and Songza, check it out), navigating with Waze, and checking in on social networks/email, etc. Incredibly I bought a car mount for only $5 including shipping (yep, China). My phone sits in vertical orientation. The nice thing about the Samsung Nexus is that the headphone and micro-USB connectors are both at the bottom. That’s convenient for running wires. On the Nexus 4, they’re split; the headphone is up top, and the micro-USB is at bottom. Not a big deal, but it could make for a spidery look when docked.

San Francisco Bay Area Food and WineNexus 4 Specs

$299 / 8GB
$349 / 16GB


4.7″ diagonal
1280 x 768 pixel resolution (320 ppi)
Corning(R) Gorilla(R) Glass 2


Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro


133.9 x 68.7 x 9.1 mm




8 MP (main)
1.3 MP (front)


GSM/EDGE/GPRS (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
3G (850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100 MHz)
HSPA+ 42


16 GB internal storage (actual formatted capacity will be less)


Micro USB
SlimPort HDMI
3.5mm headphone jack


Wireless charging
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
NFC (Android Beam)


2,100 mAh Lithium polymer


Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean)


Ambient light

 5. Nexus 4 doesn’t have a removable battery

Shame that. For those who are away from power outlets for extended periods, this could be problematic. The ability to carry a spare battery, or to pop in an uber extended one, is a real plus on the current Nexus.

On the up side…

There are definite pluses with Nexus 4. They include: wireless charging (thumbs up – and Google’s wireless charging orb looks sweet), a better camera (8MP), much improved screen (IPS 320ppi), and an HDMI port (meaningless to me). One or many of these features may tip your decision in favor of a Nexus 4 upgrade. But not so for me – well, not unless someone offers me $250 for my Nexus that is.

… but I’m not upgrading (yet)

For now I’m holding the line, and going to ride the Galaxy Nexus for another few months and see what comes down the pipe. I was hoping we would see unlocked offerings from Sony and/or Motorola. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking. Despite the gorgeous looking glass with the Matrix-like sparkle, I’ve never been a fan of LG smartphone design.

Still, it could make sense if you want to break free from AT&T or Verizon

For those of you on an older pre-2011 Nexus, or for those of you on an older Android looking to break free of carrier contracts, then the Nexus 4 could be a tantalizing option. I’d take it over a contract-based Samsung Galaxy S III or iPhone 5 any day of the week.

But the story doesn’t end there…

UPDATE 11.04.2012

I admit it: I’m clearly a geeky early early adopter (especially when it comes to Android and as I’m discovering possibly Windows RT too). Of course I couldn’t resist the calling of a new, faster phone.

I sold my GNex on eBay, where it fetched $289 (I bought it new from Google in July); far more than I was anticipating. So I’ll be among the many hitting up the Google Play Store next week, ready to place an order for a $349 LG Android.

Stay tuned, I’ll weigh in on the Nexus 4 and whether it’s as great (or bad?) as some are suggesting. Keep in mind, I’m on T-Mobile so the lack of LTE is a non-factor for me. One downside: no more Pogo pins… which means my bedside dock will also be listed on eBay shortly. Tell me, is there a cure for this?

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  • I agree completely. I like the Nexus 4 but I’m not going to break my contract with me Verizon Galaxy Nexus for it. I’d also like my electronics to at least last two years.
    If I had a Nexus S though I’d be all over the 4. Just like when I didn’t really see a point in upgrading from my Nexus One to the Nexus S or how many don’t see a point in upgrading from an iPhone 4S to an iPhone 5.

  • I was curious to read your thoughts on the earphone jack placement. I am a Galaxy Nexus… happy apart from a broken screen (my fault), the low sound levels, and the earphone jack. On the last point, it totally frustrates me when I am at the gym and I cannot rest the phone upright in the holder. So I guess each to their own. I personally am going to get an N4 as lowest quote is 200 dollars to fix my screen… robbery!

    • Good point re jack placement and not being able to place it in holder at the gym. Never thought of that. If only my GNex screen would break, then I’d have great excuse to get a N4 too.

  • J Shampton

    I don’t think this phone was designed to be the next phone for current Nexus owners. It was designed to be the next phone for the rest of us. Rather than complaining, you should be happy that your nexus was designed in such a way as to make it hold up and remain current for so long.

  • Southrncomfortjm

    Software is as important as hardware for a phone, and the nice thing about owning a Nexus is that you’ll have fast access to the best Android software for a long time. I’m a GNEX owner too and I’m really excited about the Nexus 4, but have tempered my drive to get it since I know that the biggest tangible upgrade is the software. Shoot, they’ve already ported two 4.2 features for rooted GNEX owners (keyboard and photosphere), so I’m halfway there already.
    My next phone will probably be the next Nexus (Nexus 5?) when my VZW contract is up in Feb. 2015 so I can painlessly switch to T-Mobile.

  • Klesk Antonus

    I think the pricing revolution that the Nexus 4 brings can’t be emphasised enough. I’ve never been able to justify purchasing a handset outright, there was just too little light between the total cost of a typically £400-£500 handset with sim-only contract and the total cost of an 18 or 24 month contract.

    Along comes the Nexus 4, and even the 16GB version will save me £100 within 12 months, and I get a better deal on my plan!

    I agree that dumping the Galaxy Nexus is unnecessary, but as you say at the end of the article, anyone at the end or coming to the end of a contract is in for an absolute treat. The specs are excellent, and there are some things that could be improved, but the impact that the pricing of the Nexus 4 has on the shake-up of pricing structures in general can’t be overstated.

  • Scott Nutting

    No one should feel compelled to upgrade their mobile device after a year. I would question your financial judgement if you concluded anything else. But nearly everything about the Galaxy 4 is improved over the Galaxy Nexus, and the introductory price is dramatically lower. This phone is a home run, and your article makes it sound disappointing.

    • fred

      The ‘Galaxy’ branding is used for Samsung’s line of Android devices. This phone is just the LG Nexus 4, not Galaxy 4.

  • MountainK1ng

    Keep in mind you can get the 16GB version for only $199 through T-mobile on a 2 year contract. If you’re sticking with T-mo anyway, wouldn’t be a bad way to go.

  • DirkBelig

    Wow. How does someone who knows NOTHING about tech get gifted a free Nexus 4 two weeks ahead of the masses? How wrong are you, let’s count the ways:

    1. “Android 4.2 OTA will also come to the Nexus 3” – The Galaxy Nexus is not “Nexus 3” and if you’re one of the poor chumps who bought a GNex from Verizon, you may be waiting a while for the upgrade and features may be removed.

    2. “The faster processor may not make a big difference in real use” – By all means, rationalize that more is not better if it allows you to sleep better.

    3. “You’ll take an unnecessary hit on the trade-in ($200+ loss)” – Um, every gadget loses value over time, especially tech, so what’s different about this other than you’re stretching for reasons to bash?

    4. “Headphone placement on Nexus 4 is not ideal for in-car use” – Talk about your first-world problems. Who uses the headphone jack in the car? Bluetooth to Sync, BAYBEE!!!

    “Still, it could make sense if you want to break free from AT&T or Verizon” – The thing that’s making the Android nerds stiff in their Boba Fett Underoos is the fact you can buy an unlocked 16GB model for $350 from Google Play and then use contract-free pay-as-you-go plans like SimpleTalk or SimpleMobile which use AT&T or T-Mobile networks for as little as $30 and around $45-60 for most plans.

    Sick to death of the slow-ass slow speeds that Trudge delivers in my area with no expectation of getting LTE anytime, well, ever, I was planning on getting a Galaxy S3 on AT&T with my company’s 20% discount. Now I’ll be able to get good HSPA+ speeds and be free of a contract and save about $900 over a contact phone.

    If someone has a GNex and is happy with it, perhaps there’s not much need to upgrade. But anyone rocking a phone older than a year should definitely investigate the Nexus 4.

    • ratnok

      1. That’s true, but it’s only a few months more for Verizon and Sprint users. It’s worth the wait. It’s no slower than the speed at which iPhone users get updates, and is still faster than Windows Phone, Blackberry, and pretty much every other Android phone except the GSM Nexus.

      2. I agree. The greater speed will not only come in handy now, but also help keep the phone up to speed for years to come.

      3. Trade in costs are still very important for people who bought the GNex from the Play Store. Smart people don’t like to waste their money.

      4. Who uses the headphone jack in the car? A LOT of people. I own a 2006 Lexus GS 300. It has Bluetooth for phone only. This has been an issue that I’ve been concerned about as well.

      Lastly, I’m buying one too, but Stark still provides strong reasons to wait until the Nexus 5 if you are a current Nexus owner.

  • So, while it may not be worth upgrading from an existing Nexus, looks like a nice upgrade to my HTC Sensation which is not a great phone. One question I can’t find an answer to is if the phone has a micro SD card slot to expand physical storage.

    • Justin W

      Since its a nexus, the automatic answer to this is a no. Google’s focus is on cloud storage (Drive, Box, Drop box, etc.). This is why I’m opting for the 16gb Nexus 4.

  • ratnok

    You also forgot to mention that the data speeds are twice as fast. The Galaxy Nexus is HSPA+ (21) Where the Nexus 4 is HSPA+ (42). Overall, I agree that this is not worth the upgrade from the Galaxy Nexus. If you have a Nexus S (or pretty much any phone that’s not a Nexus because of the upgrade process), then absolutely this is worth it. I’m getting one so I can give my wife my GNex and she can get rid of her old MyTouch 4G. Then we are going to cut the cable internet and use T-Mobile’s BYOD unlimited plan and the Nexii’s wifi hotspot to save $80 a month on our telecom bill.

  • David Cram

    I will be getting Nexus 4, but I will also be keeping my Gnex as a backup. My Gnex is only a few months old, but $350 for an unlocked Nexus phone I can’t resist. It will be worth the extra money to get it direct from Google instead of T-mobile. No contract even though I plan on staying with T-mobile. I travel to Europe and having an unlocked phone makes things a lot simpler. I don’t have a land line so when I had to send my Gnex to Samsung for repair I was screwed. I had to get a loaner from T-mobile it was a cheap flip phone that I could only use to make calls. Having these two phones I will be set until the Nexus 5.

  • Tim W

    This was a very interesting write up. I’m still trying to personally figure out whether or not I’ll ultimately make the upgrade from the GNex to the N4, especially considering the rumors that I am seeing about the new S surfacing daily.

    I’m NOT a big fan of LG devices. (I bought a 2011 LG Smart TV back in Aug 11′) and while I enjoy the tv for the most part, I truly regret not just waiting a bit longer & buying a Samsung Smart TV. This has sort of turned out to be a big mistake, one that I don’t want to repeat now with a device like a phone, which will be carried & looked at many times, daily.

    One Caveat: I am concerned about the potential loss that I may experience though by not selling my GNex soon! What also makes this tough, is that I just got my GNex a couple of months ago (as your aware Clint in our brief discussions as of late).

    Boy this is a tough call but I think that I’m going to wait this one out & see what Q1 2013 has in store for us.

    • Tim, let me assure you as a guy that’s gone from GNex to Nexus 4 that you’re not missing much by waiting for Q1 2013. I think that’s a good call. Yes, N4 is pretty good, but I’ve realized the GNex is a stellar handset. I don’t like the glass backing on the N4 at all – already have scratches! And this from a guy that is meticulous about keeping handsets pristine (for resale). Plus, the screen is definitely washed out in comparison to other devices. I’ve put the N4 next to the iPhone, GNex, and even the Galaxy S II and all of them have better contrast. BTW – quad-core processor is sweet, but not a game changer. So I say wait it out… you’ve come this far, I’m sure a great 2013 upgrade awaits :)