Does the Nexus 4 have what it takes to grab a significant chunk of the iPhone’s market share in 2013? Is the iPhone 5 too good to be challenged by the latest the Nexus line has to offer?
Perhaps one of the most-requested comparisons we’ve received this year is between the Nexus 4 and iPhone 5. Many of our readers are simply looking for a clear answer as to which of these phones is “better.” I’ve been saying for years that better is and forever will be a relative term, but that doesn’t mean we can’t compare the experience between these two devices by examining some of the common elements that users look for in a good smartphone.
The Nexus 4 isn’t the only name in the Android market. In the last completed business quarter, the Samsung Galaxy S III actually surpassed the iPhone in sales during a period when the existing iPhone was becoming stale and the new model only had nine days to generate numbers for the quarter. Regardless of how well the Nexus 4 does in terms of sales, the bottom line is that features and hardware decisions made on upcoming devices will undoubtedly look to the Nexus 4 as a benchmark on which newer phones are measured. If you look at the market as this vs. that (which it really isn’t), then there is no better indicator of what to expect during this quarter than these two devices.
First, let me just say that it would be unfair to weigh these options based on their software alone. Both the iPhone 5 and Nexus 4 are set to receive regular updates from their respective supporting companies. This is where experience can certainly vary depending on improvements and/or bugs that present themselves along the way.
So how does the Nexus 4 measure up to the iPhone 5? Let’s take a look at how these phones compare in terms of experience, and not concentrate on the specs sheet, shall we?
The iPhone 5 is designed to run on iOS, which users know and trust. It isn’t very different from that of the iPhone 4 or 4S, though it is a bit taller and harder to manage in one hand. You can reach from side to side easily enough, but you’d need to have freakishly long thumbs to tap the very top and bottom of the screen.
The Nexus 4 is also difficult to completely manage in one hand. It has a wider screen that makes it more difficult for users with smaller hands to palm and manipulate without using two hands. What I do like about the Nexus 4 is how smooth the Gorilla Glass 2 surface is. My fingers glide across the glass more easily than they do on the iPhone 5, and that’s a very good thing.
I noticed during testing that fingerprints don’t collect on the Nexus 4 quite as quickly as they do on the iPhone 5. This is one feature that doesn’t matter much when the screen is on, but it’s worth noting.
It would be very difficult to say that one design looks better than the other. Both of these phones have a lot to love, and better (as stated before) is always relative. It comes down to personal taste, but neither of these phones have any corners cut in terms of build quality.
The iPhone 5’s camera is a bit clearer and more true-to-life than that of the rear-facing Nexus 4’s camera. The same can be said for the front-facing video conferencing camera on each device. Whether this is due to the hardware design of the iPhone camera, software, or both, it’s hard to see any advantage with the Nexus 4 in terms of camera performance.
Here’s a look at a test shot done in low light from the iPhone 5.
To compare, this shot was taken on the Nexus 4 in the same lighting conditions.
In terms of photo quality, it appears that the iPhone 5 has an edge on clarity and color accuracy. Still, the Nexus 4’s camera is no slouch. It just fell short when compared to the iPhone 5.
I’m not sure why the decision was made to put the speaker on the back of the Nexus 4. When the phone is laying flat on a desk, the speaker is a bit muffled (though still passable). The audio quality, no matter how the Nexus 4 is being held, is a little tinny. It might have been optimized for voice, though this was done at the detriment of music and video audio quality.
The iPhone 5’s speaker sits on the bottom of its body, so it is exposed while laying face down or up. It sounds pretty good by comparison, though it’s still a small speaker on a mobile device. You’re not going to please any audiophiles with speaker quality on either of these phones, but the iPhone 5 does have a bit more low-end presence.
Android 4.2 is a giant leap forward in terms of performance, smoothness, and general responsiveness. A quad-core processor like the one included in the Nexus 4 lends a great deal of butteryness to the user experience. Scrolling and transitioning between pages in numerous applications still suffers from occasional dropped frames, but it isn’t as noticeably jarring as it has been on previous versions of Android and/or devices.
The iPhone is perfectly optimized for iOS. This makes life easier on developers and users alike as it’s easier to optimize software when you know exactly how content will be displayed and what you can expect from the user’s hardware. This creates a responsive environment that keeps up with you in a great many cases. That doesn’t mean it’s better; it just means that Android has a little more work to do in terms of optimization before it can avoid those dropped frames we keep seeing.
When it comes to benchmarks, the iPhone still comes out ahead in most tests. The built-in Safari browser handles most HTML5 benchmarks better than the built-in browser on the Nexus 4. Frame rates are higher during the infamous fishbowl test and Browsermark gave the iPhone a significantly higher score (2451 vs. 1964).
In terms of screen resolution, the two are very hard to tell apart. The iPhone appears (to me) to have slightly better text quality, but that’s not something everyone would agree with. Everyone’s eyes are different.
It’s hard to argue with a phone that costs $300-350 unlocked. The Nexus 4 has a very appealing price, and comes with 8-16 GB of on-board storage out of the box. It’s no slouch in either performance or build quality.
The 16 GB iPhone 5 will run you $649 off-contract. In terms of sheer price for the hardware, the Nexus 4 is at a clear advantage.
In terms of value, it comes down to which ecosystem you feel more comfortable entering into. Every app you purchase carries over to other devices existing on the shared platform. Buying an iPhone when you already have an Android tablet and/or media player means having to buy a whole new set of apps. The same applies if you buy a Nexus 4 when you’ve already invested heavily in apps and accessories for iOS devices. You’re not just buying a device, you’re investing in an entire ecosystem of software.
Why would you want an iPhone 5?
- Looking for a great smartphone camera
- Looking for a great media ecosystem
- You have any other Apple product
- You are looking for LTE support
- You want more than 16 GB storage
- You have friends and family with Apple products
Why would you want a Nexus 4?
- You’re looking for the best Android experience around
- You only have $300 to spend on a smartphone
- You live inside Google’s world
- You love Android
Advantages of iPhone 5 over Nexus 4
- Apple has retail stores
- Apple has better track record for customer service
- You can get to most if not all of Google’s stuff through iOS
Advantages of Nexus 4 over iPhone 5
- Google will push updates to the device
- NFC without additional accessories
- Larger screen size (not the same as resolution)
Have you chosen one over the other for any of the reasons made above, or found reasons we may have missed? Please leave a comment and we’ll talk about it!