Mobile

Nexus 4 and Nexus 10: Android finally gets its luxury models — with caveats

With the latest round of Nexus devices, including the first 10-inch Nexus tablet, polish seems to be the goal.

Both the Nexus 4 smartphone, built by LG, and Samsung’s Nexus 10 tablet have a level of fit and finish that’s been surprisingly rare among Android devices. Google’s mobile OS now accounts for 75 percent of the smartphone market, according to IDC, primarily because it’s free and can run on cheap hardware. A few companies have managed to bring Android hardware to new heights in the past year, in particular Samsung and HTC, but they still feel like the outliers in the Android ecosystem.

I’ve only had a short time with these new devices — a harried courier trekked out of Manhattan last night just to deliver them — but so far I’ve been surprised by how much they’ve impressed me. They simply feel nice. They evoke the same warm feeling I get with the iPhone 5 or the best Windows Phones.

The Nexus 4 (starting at $299 unlocked, or $199 with a T-Mobile contract) at first glance looks like a slightly revamped version of last year’s Galaxy Nexus. They share the same shape, but in your hand the Nexus 4 feels lightyears beyond the Galaxy. Instead of flimsy plastic, the Nexus 4 features a glass rear (similar to the iPhone 4’s design). It’s connected to the front of the phone with a curved band that feels soft to the touch. Thanks to the rear glass, the Nexus 4 feels solid and weighty in your hand — heavier than the Galaxy Nexus, but not in a bad way.

But despite its many improvements, the Nexus 4’s lack of LTE could be a dealbreaker for some. The phone supports HSPA+ networks like AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s, but Google purposefully left out LTE 4G support. T-Mobile customers might not mind much, but for everyone that has tasted the glory of LTE speeds, there’s no way they’ll go back to anything less.

I was readily prepared to be bored by the Nexus 10 ($399), but it still managed to impress me. Samsung was the first company to build a mainstream Android tablet with the 7-inch Galaxy Tab, and since then it’s explored all sorts of tablet ideas (most recently, with the disappointing Galaxy Note 10″).

With the Nexus 10, Samsung is firing on all cylinders. The tablet’s curved design makes it surprisingly comfortable to hold, and the soft back case material feels simply luxurious. The Nexus 10 is so well designed that you’ll be tempted to fondle it even when it’s turned off. And this is coming from someone who generally hates large Android tablets. (Though it’s probably not too surprisingly, since the Nexus 7 was the first Android tablet I’d actually recommend to people.)

Both the Nexus 4 and Nexus 10 run Android 4.2, which brings with it some new features for the Google Now virtual assistant, as well as an improved camera interface. They also see the benefits from Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean” — which had an entire initiative behind it to make Android perform “buttery smooth.”

Check back for my full reviews next week. For now, check out our first-look gallery below.

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