Monday, December 24, 2012

Nexus 4 Review

I have to admit, when I heard the news that the next Nexus branded phone was going to be be coming from LG I was pretty quick to dismiss it. The last LG phone I had was an old horrible plastic flip phone from Telstra with little to no functionality. Even taking calls was a stretch for it at times! However, I can admit when I'm wrong and boy did LG wipe that nasty little smirk of my grubby little face. They've really done a wonderful job with the Nexus 4. The phone feels amazingly solid in the hand, with the cold touch of the back glass panel adding to that high quality feel. From the front you could be excused for for confusing the Nexus 4 with the Galaxy Nexus, however on closer inspection it becomes immediately clear that they are two very different beasts. The most noticeable difference is that the Nexus 4 has shrugged of that plastic throw away feeling by replacing the flexible back battery cover with a black glass back. The glass back has undergone a Crystal Reflective Process which adds a glitter like effect when the light hits it from the right angle. The glitter effect is quite subtle and is really only seen when you're in direct sun sun or trying to angle the phone the right way to show some body. One issue I have noticed is that the back is quite susceptible to scratching, within my first couple of days I noticed small surface scratches. Not a big deal I suppose but an annoyance none the less.

The screen on the Nexus 4 is a IPS LCD panel, which is a bit of a change compared to the AMOLED based screens found in all previous versions of the Nexus phone line. Like others I found the screen to be a little washed out, however this is more to do with the average calibration and less with the screen quality itself. After rooting my device and installing FauxClock I was able to calibrate the screen to a point where it's comparable in color depth and contrast to that of the iPHone 5. It's a bit of a shame that LG didn't take the time to calibrate the screen a bit better during the manufacturing process. Aside from the calibration issues the screen is really very good. Text is sharp, and blacks are very black for an LCD display. The other thing I really like about the screen is the bevels on the left and right of the screen are small and curved giving the impression that the screen is above the glass and not below it.

The performance is a great improvement over it's older sibling. As much as I love the Galaxy Nexus every so often I would experience UI stutters, particularly if I was installing or updating an app in the background. With the Nexus 4 I haven't noticed this at all, UI animations are fluid and apps that include animations now run extremely well. Even Commonwealth Bank's Kaching app now "almost" preforms at an acceptable level. Saying that I think Kaching would need a quantum processor to function at any reasonable speed, but that's getting off topic.

The camera has also has a much needed bump in quality, it's still not top of the line but it's reasonable a marked improvement on the Galaxy Nexus, and by far the best seen on a Nexus device. Hardware HDR is also a welcome inclusion and performs extremely well. My favorite new feature, while not strictly limited to the Nexus 4, is Photoshere. Photosphere is a 720 degree panorama which is taken by moving the camera to specific places around you. All the different photos taken are then stitched together to form a 3D sphere in which you can move around in using a special Photoshere viewer. Photoshere photos can be shared between other Android devices and in Google Plus which has the ability to display them in 3D. The thing I love the most about Photoshere is the memory emersion, it feels in a small way that you're back in the place the Photoshere was taken all over again. Just a bit of a heads up on Photosheres, while taking them is fairly easy, getting a perfectly stitched Photoshere is a little more difficult, particularly if you're taking it in an environment where things are closer to you. Most of the stitching issues I get is because I've tilted the phone to the side a little and things no longer match up correctly.

The Nexus 4 has a non-removable Battery and while the battery life gets me through the on most days, I do feel a little uncomfortable with being able to carry around a spare battery if I get into a tight spot. This might not be a problem for most, but I'm a fairly heavy user and have been known to drain a full Galaxy Nexus in as little as two and a half hours. For the average user though, I think the battery would see them through the day with a little to spare.

The Good
  • Looks and feels great
  • Top quality screen
  • Fast
  • Good Camera
  • Access to early updates

  • The Bad
  • Non-removable battery
  • Stock screen calibration appears washed out
  • Back panel is prone to scratching

  • Although the Nexus 4 has its niggles, it's an amazing phone that not only looks great but has the performance to match. This phone does justice to the Nexus name and I personally congratulate LG for proving to the doubters that it has the quality to mix it with the best.

    Thursday, August 23, 2012

    Google+ Events - Lets get into Party Mode

    After hearing about Google Plus Events at Google IO and then seeing one in action at the after party I couldn’t to take it for a road test. Every year my partner in crime Maz and I hold a large dinner party in honor of Bastille day. It’s an expensive, stressful, but grand affair that provides the eating of some of the best French food I’ve had the privilege of seeing on a plate. Everybody walks away full, slightly drunk, and unfortunately with all the pictures they’ve taken. And there in lies the problem for which I thought Google Plus Events could fix.
    Google Plus Events is an interesting feature of Google Plus which makes events much more social and fun. Events cover the full lifecycle of an event by firstly making it extremely easy to send out invites, and Google Calendar syncing makes guest list management a breeze. Both of these have features have merit on their own however, where Google Plus Events really shines is when users enable party mode. Party mode enables guests to upload any photos taken to the events timeline automatically which combines with social chatter and photo comments to provide a in depth and sometimes hilarious trip down memory lane.

    All of this is great in theory but how did Google Events perform when put to the test in an environment where technical support was at a minimum? Well honestly as much as I wanted it all to just work, it wasn’t without issues. Party mode only worked on two out of the five Android devices at the event, and only after completely disabling party mode on the other devices were they able to upload any photos at all. To this day I’m not exactly sure why as one of the devices not working was identical to mine. Then there were those pesky iPhones who didn’t have party mode at all, and had to manually upload images. Which to be honest was less troublesome than Party mode. Luckily the guests were very understanding, in fact it became the highlight of the evening. However, even with all those issues and me running technical support in between mouthfuls of food the end results were great. The social chatter and comments on the photos we actually managed to upload were hilarious and I still laugh whenever I flick through the events timeline.
    I think that it is important to mention that at the time of the dinner party Google Events was only just released, and I did expect it to have some issues. Since my this event the Google Plus client has undergone various updates and  improvements, and I’d expect now that things will work more smoothly. I think the bottom line here is that even with all the running around and extra effort the end result was more than worth it.

    Sunday, August 19, 2012

    Nexus 7 Review

    The new tablet from Google isn’t an iPad killer, and it’s not meant to be. It’s priced much lower and aimed at a different market. No, this one’s going directly after Amazon and their closed version of Android. Competing against the Kindle Fire is no easy task, it’s extremely low priced and doesn’t have the reputation of the Nexus branding to uphold. Thankfully apart from a few missing features like rear facing camera and expandable storage, Google haven’t sacrificed much to make the price bracket. In fact with the $25 credit on the Google Play Store, I find it hard to imagine Google isn’t taking a hit to the bottom line. Not that taking a hit on the device is a bad idea. The more devices in people’s hands, the larger the boost to the Google Play store purchases. A strategy which game console makers have been using for a long time.

    The build quality on the version I have great given the price point. All seams are seated well, the screen is really very good (for the price point), and it feels solid and sturdy. The back has a slight texture which feels rather grippy so having the device slip from your hand shouldn’t be an problem. The one issue I have notices, which may be limited to the Google IO version, is that the back stains quite easy and once it does stain it’s very hard to remove. With the darker backing of the retail version this might not be as big an issue but for me with the white backing it’s plain annoying.
    The Nexus 7’s screen, as I said, is pretty damn good. It has a great viewing angle thanks to the IPS screen, the colors are vibrant, and it’s leagues better than any of the first gen Android tablets. There has been a lot of talk on forums of washed out colors and pixelization at some brightness levels. I suspect these are thanks to some poor manufacturing calibration rather than the screens themselves. It’s important to note that I haven’t experienced any of these issues myself but that could be me overlooking small imperfections subconsciously based on the device’s pricing point, and that’s the important aspect here, the price point. It’s unfair to compare the screen of a $250 tablet against that of $500 + tablets, and even when unfairly compared it does admirably well.

    The 4325mAh battery paired with the Nexus 7 provides more than enough power to get through a day of heavy usage, and with plenty of standby time this isn’t a device that will need nightly charging for the average user. The best part about this power plant is that it can be easily charged through the same MicroUSB cable we all know and love. No longer do you have to lug around a separate power adapter just for the tablet.
    As you can probably tell I’m impressed by Google’s 7 inch offering. It’s a great form factor that is large enough to view most content without a lot of zooming yet small enough to fit easily in one hand. Granted there are a few issues here and there being reported, and some features are missing like expandable memory and a backwards facing camera, but for the price it’s a solid offering with direct Google updates, and performance to spare.