Google's Android operating system is used on hundreds of smartphones and tablets. But the flagship Android devices, the ones the company calls "the best of Google," are labeled Nexus. They are meant to show the world all that an Android device can be, and are designed and sold directly online by Google. Next week, the company will begin offering the latest phone in this line, the Nexus 4.
This new phone is part of a Google-designed portfolio that now includes two other devices: the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets. The phone, which features a new version of Android, hits the market at a time when Apple has had early success with its iPhone 5, and as Nokia and HTC are bringing out devices with a fresh version of Microsoft's phone software, Windows Phone 8.
The Nexus 4, built for Google by LG of Korea, has a large 4.7-inch screen with high resolution, higher than Apple's 4-inch Retina display on the iPhone 5, though with slightly fewer pixels per inch because it's spread over a larger display. The new Nexus is 20% thicker than the iPhone 5 and 24% heavier. But its curved rear edges made it feel comfortable in my hand.
It's made of plastic, but is clad in relatively sturdy Gorilla Glass 2 on both front and back. There's a 1.3 megapixel camera on the front and an 8 megapixel camera on the back. These cameras took sharp, vivid pictures and videos and you can apply filters to snapshots.
The Nexus 4 lasted a full workday in mixed use, including Web surfing, lots of app use, email, texting, viewing of short videos, occasional music playback and voice calling.
The phone's fast processor, coupled with improvements in the new version of Jelly Bean, called Android 4.2, made the Nexus 4's touch screen fast and fluid. One new feature of the latest operating system is called Gesture Typing, which allows you to compose text by swiping from key to key, rather than tapping them. This worked fine, but is similar to a system called Swype, which has long been available on other Android phones. Another nice feature in Android 4.2 is improved auto-correction. It now tries to anticipate the next word likely to be typed. So, if you type "Monday," it suggests "night" and "morning."
The new version of Android introduced on the Nexus 4 also has an enhanced version of Google search, which yields more answers, rather than just links, and speaks some of the answers back to you when you search by voice rather than typing. But the same new features were just released in a new version of Google search for the iPhone. In my tests, the iPhone version sometimes gave richer answers, such as hourly temperatures on weather searches, missing from the Android version.