I bought my first mobile cell phone back in 1998 when prepay phones, or 'Pay as You Go' tariffs were introduced. I did my research first and identified a Nokia as the best phone I could afford and took myself off to town. I'd waited months to save up and was childishly excited. Unfortunately, it turned out I wasn't the only one and the phone had sold out. Rather than be patient, I snapped and randomly bought a Sagem that I instantly hated. Not only was it not a stylish phone, looking like a home cordless that I'd accidentally taken out with me, but it also was painful to use, even with the relatively limited expectations I had from a phone back then. Store my numbers, make calls and send texts. It was crap at all of them.
However, I did learn from that experience and have generally gotten on well with my phone choices ever since. Back in those days, Nokia led the pack and it was easy to see why. There was little discussion over what was under the hood, they were simply stylish phones that had excellent, easy to use software and were superb at what people wanted, calls and texts (oh and Snake, remember that?).
The last few years have seen the rise of the smartphone, which have not only become far more powerful, but also more affordable. At every point in the market, from the £7 per month contract up to the scary £40+ contracts, it's now possible to choose a 'free' smartphone. It's no longer Nokia at the head of the pack though, it's Apple, but for exactly the same reasons that Nokia dominated back in the 'dumb' phone days. Apple phones are very stylish and, even with the incredible myriad functionality we expect now, they're easy to use. They're not quite as affordable though, not really. For affordability, generally you need to look toward Android phones.
Apple still don't spend much time talking up the tech, although their iPhone 5 is a powerful match for any other smartphone - notice that their adverts always focus on what you can do with the phone, rather than how its processor compares to that of a competitor?
Although I haven't been prepared to pay the Apple premium (well, not for their phones), this is exactly what excites me about technology - it's an enabler and it can make life better if made and used well, regardless of how fast the processor etc is.
Back in the days of Nokia and Snake, phones needed to be small to be cool. In fact we all thought they'd end up in our watches or something, but it all turned in a completely different direction when the internet went mobile. Now the top of the range phones sport large, pocket-filling 5" high-definition screens matching the resolution of your living room TV with processors and memory equalling a top of the line PC of only a few years back. Yes, smartphone reviews are now awash with details of quad-core processors, 'gigs' of storage and high PPI (pixels per inch) screens, leaving me to question whether all this power is actually needed?
This is an important question. Given that a typical contract for one of these 'super-phones' is often in the league of £40 per month on a two year commitment, is it really worth shelling out thousands just to look at Facebook on a slightly bigger screen?
From the comfort of my £27 per month HTC Desire S I thought that people were wasting their money. But now I have a Nexus 4 and I finally understand. Even better, I'm now spending only £20 per month, so perhaps the best of both worlds is finally here!
If you usually get your phones 'free' on contract, it's time to start looking at the SIM only deals and buy your phone upfront. You see the Nexus 4, which is a rival for more famous top of the range phones like the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy SIII is only £239 for the 8GB version, or £279 for the 16GB on Google Play. This represents insane value and it has all the power under the hood and the incredible high-definition screen that the geeks love to rave about. The big difference is, over two years you could be looking at under £20 per month, in my case £7 per month (That's the cost of Netflix covered!) less than I was paying for my mid-range (and now very dated) HTC Desire S.
Now I've had a couple of months with my super-phone, it's clear to me why it's worth having all that processing power.
Every smartphone, from the entry level, like the HTC Wildfire S (which can be had on contracts around £10pm) up to the range topping iPhone 5's and Galaxy Note II's can handle email and will usually connect to your office email system so you can keep up on the go. My job requires quite intensive use of email and calendar, so the HTC would be in constant use checking my emails and agenda.
The first big difference is that with the Nexus 4, I'm actually managing my Inbox as opposed to just reviewing. The screen is fantastic for reading back emails of any length, reviewing attachments and also responding. This is something I could do with the HTC, but usually waited until I was back at my desk and the comfort of a laptop.
The HTC was never suitable for looking at documents, not only were they slow to open, but the small screen and jerky pan and zoom were off-putting and I would only do so if there were no other device (or time) available. The Nexus is quick. Word documents and PDFs look great and the keyboard for input is the best I've ever encountered. Not only is the keyboard large enough, but the latest version has you able to swipe between keys rather than hunt and peck. It takes a little practice, but you can get really fast and it remains comfortable, putting little strain on your wrists and fingers. I'm able to manage my whole Outlook mailbox from the phone now without ever feeling compromised. One thing I never did on the HTC was make decisions on calendar invitations, but they too are easy here.
Other productivity tools work similarly well. I use Dropbox and Evernote daily to manage my files and annotations. Again, on the HTC I would always defer to another device where possible (which would generally mean waiting until I got back to my desk) but the Nexus with its big sharp screen and unflappable performance, I can open and read large documents or take notes from wherever I happen to be. It's even more convenient than the iPad in some cases, as I could be pulling files and reviewing whilst standing up or on the move.
Another happy discovery was made recently when I was reaching a deadline on a document when I found (sitting as a passenger in a bad traffic jam) that the phone would talk to my bluetooth keyboard originally purchased for my iPad. I was able to start up Google Drive (an excellent app) and write the document from scratch then and there and send it into the office for review! Yes, it was a compromise over a tablet or PC - but it's the first device I've ever had in my pocket where this was even a possibility!
The improvement in the quality of these apps on the Nexus 4 has definitely seen a similar improvement in my general productivity. That PC might start to gather dust!
The other reason we all like our smartphones these days is because they can entertain us anywhere we happen to be. The commute, however you travel, a quiet lunch hour or that dull post office queue can now be an exciting escape into books, movies, TV, video games and music - and you can still be old fashioned and use it to talk to or text someone too!
Again, most smartphones can do most of these things, but the Nexus 4 does them seemingly without compromise. I use Google Music and OneCast to listen to my music and podcasts over a bluetooth connection in my car on the way to work. The HTC could do this too, but the small screen meant that it wasn't easy to interact with whilst driving. The big playback buttons on a Nexus screen make it as easy to use as the car stereo and a spiderpodium keeps mine within reach. Some might find that the 16GB of memory, which cannot be upgraded on the Nexus 4 is too limited and this is a barrier if you have masses of movies and music that you want to take everywhere with you. Google Music allows you to upload 20,000 songs to its service and manage your collection from there (my review here), streaming the songs to your phone on demand. This is great over WIFI, but could get costly over your mobile data connection, which could also be patchy on the daily commute. Happily you can make some of the playlists available offline (cached to the phone's storage) and this suits me fine.
Games and movies are just amazing on the Nexus 4. Titles like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City were state of the art 10 years ago, but can now be enjoyed on a slim device that fits in your pocket. I just find this incredible. I was so disappointed that it wouldn't even run on my HTC, but the Nexus 4 will play these games without breaking a sweat. Actually, that last bit wasn't quite true, as I have noticed the more powerful 3D games do cause the Nexus 4 to get quite warm. It shouldn't be a problem, in fact it's quite nice as I write this in Winter!
Some will argue that touchscreen phones do not make ideal gaming devices, and yes games like the afforementioned Grand Theft Auto can be a little fiddly as they were designed to be played on home games consoles, but other games that are just as impressive play beautifully. I'm currently glued to Reckless Racing 2, an excellent racing game where the camera looks down from above; Temple Run 2 which has you running away from monsters across an infinite path, dodging cliff edges and jumping rivers whilst collecting coins and points and finally 'World of Goo', an excellent physics based puzzle game that has you building structures to allow your little GooBalls out of the level actually benefits from the touchscreen.
These games have production values that rival modern home console games, yet cost at most only a few pounds and are always there in your pocket and on a Nexus screen, they really shine. This will make the likes of Nintendo very nervous I think.
Movies have a similar impact. I subscribe to Netflix, which has a couple of advantages. Firstly if you start a movie or programme on your phone, when you get home you can pick up from where you left off on your TV or computer. Secondly, the Nexus 4's big high-definition screen makes portable viewing a joy. I can easily sit through an entire film on the Nexus and, especially if I have headphones, be totally immersed. Again, with Netflix, so long as you have access to a suitable internet connection, storage is not a problem as the movies are streamed on demand. If you have your own movie files to watch, better have a think, as 16GB will fill up fast.
I also make some use of the Nexus 4 as an e-reader via the Amazon Kindle app. I now have about 40 books in my Kindle library and a Kindle 'Keyboard' e-reader by the bed. This is still my favourite reading device, but the phone is definitely good enough for spontaneous reading and, as I don't have a light on my Kindle, I can use the phone when I don't want to disturb my wife from sleeping. I do find the brightness, even on its lowest setting to be just a nudge too high in complete darkness though.
So, you might be able to tell that I'm very pleased with this phone. It's definitely very easy to live with and is night and day better than anything I've ever had before, in spite of the fact that it is going to cost me marginally less. But are there any issues? Yes, there are a couple to consider.
Firstly, the camera. The Nexus has a brilliant feature which allows you to take lots of photos, say of the room you're in and then stitch them all together to make a 360 shot that you can pan around with your finger. It's not perfect, but take your time and you get a good result (My attempt here at Google+: http://tinyurl.com/bjklzzg) It also takes a perfectly good shot outdoors in good light. It's when something is moving in the shot, or the light is low that things get disappointing. It's not a bad camera by phone standards, but it's not in the same league as other 'top' smartphones, the focus is just too slow. That said, I did find that direct photo editing was perfectly possible and some disappointing shots could be turned around using apps like SnapSeed, which is happily a free download away.
Secondly, the battery. Those of you that are happy to spend money on a wireless docking charger (a natty but not exactly essential trick) may never notice, but the Nexus 4 does rather eat its non-removable battery. Android does let you look at some stats and see what's responsible for the most power drain and it does look like the mapping tools are having more than their fair share, which may be something that can be resolved (many apps use the maps for location-aware features) but given how much use I could get out of this phone through the day, I do often need to plug it in for a boost if I don't want to risk running out. I tend to plug it into the car on the way home - but I can see issues arising on days when this isn't an option.
That aside, these super-phones are fantastic devices that work and play alongside us so well as to become indispensable and with the Nexus 4, you can escape those expensive 2 year contracts and still have one of the best phones on the market. Hey, some of you may decide you don't even need a tablet after this, so that's even more cash back in your pocket!
If you decide to grab a Nexus 4, take a look at my essential apps that have stood the test of time and come with me from the HTC to the Nexus here.
Nexus 4 & Galaxy SIII - My mate Aidan