Nexus 4 Mini Review

This Nexus 4 has only been with me a short time but I can already see why the guys and gals who got their hands on the original batch of devices have raved so highly about them. Here’s a short run down of my thoughts so far…

The Look

Nexus 4
Nexus 4 (Photo credit: abuakel)

The device is understated for what one expects from flagship devices. By that I mean the Nexus 4 is not meant to draw eyes to it or make you the talk of the cool guy crowd. It’s meant to look like a lot like every other Android device out there. Not exactly like others but close enough that by glancing it wouldn’t stand out. The main thing that does stand out when focusing on the device is the back due to it’s sparkle/glass look. It actually does make the device look special without forcing it’s ‘coolness factor’.

As a side note it’s nice to have fewer brand names thrown all over the back. I’ve had phones which had multiple brands plastered on it followed by reminding me (and everyone around me) the brands ‘involved’ in the device. The Nexus 4 says Nexus and has a smaller LG logo near the bottom. The front is refreshingly brandless. Bootup also avoids yelling about it’s Google and LG makers. I love it!

The Form

Like the look the form isn’t much different than many other current generation Android devices but does have a slightly larger screen than my previous SGS II. To be honest I really like that as I’ve grown accustomed to the general Android device slate. Where it does part ways with most of it’s siblings is in how well the build feels. It’s light without feeling cheap. It’s thin without feeling frail. I’m not totally sure why the back is glass (other than giving it a slightly different look on focused look) but I have to assume that ends up adding to the positive build feel.

General Usage

Blockbuster
Better than the app. (Photo credit: ario_)

Hopefully every Android device manufacturer is taking notice of this device because this thing is exactly how I want to use a phone. First off I didn’t have to spend time hiding a bunch of ‘value added’ applications that I’ll never use. The amount of telco bought devies I’ve had which forced me to keep NASCAR or Blockbuster installed even though I never used either is a sad number.

Next, the device is fast. Really fast. I’ve been on the Tegra everywhere bandwagon and now I’m thinking Snapdragon really may be where it’s at for phone size devices. Then there’s the fact the device is running stock Jelly Bean. This means no Sense, TouchWiz, etc… Just Android the way it was meant to be. No extra value is added which makes it much more valuable.

Most of the applications the one expects are there so I won’t jump into them but Google Now is something I can see using pretty often. Don’t get me wrong, this is not my first Jelly Bean device. I have a Nexus 7 which I’ve been very happy with, but the Google Now software on a device that only has wifi access does not do Google Now justice.

The camera seems quite good so far. To be fair I have not used it much yet but here is a test photo I took in moderate to low light in a coffee shop. For a more in-depth look at the camera look at TechRadar’s review.

Medium/Lower to low light indoor photo. No flash.

Some Downsides

Nothing is perfect but wow does the Nexus 4 come close! Two of the three downsides are minor and only are noticeable one time only.

SIM Size

The first thing I did after charging the new device was to pull the SIM card from my old device for use in my new one. I should have noticed when reading about the Nexus 4 that it uses a Micro-SIM. Not a big deal but it did require a run to the closest telco store to get one.

English: GSM Micro SIM card vs. GSM Mini SIM card
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Initial Usage

There was a decent amount of updates ready to be installed upon first usage. An OS update along with many application updates. It would be nice if Google could use the latest ROM when shipping new batches. Again, not a big deal at all but still would be nice.

Storage

This is what kept me from buying it originally. The storage is capped at 8 or 16g which doesn’t sound like a good deal for those of us who keep our music library with us at all times. There are options that limit this as an issue. Using Google Music, Amazon Cloud Player, Subsonic, Pogoplug, etc.. can keep your music collection within reach as long as you have a data connection but each has it’s own downsides as well. My annoyance is generally with the quality of the music player for the services. It’s not that they are bad players but they are feature poor compared to many of the locally players.

tl;dr

Reign Of The Android
(Photo credit: JD Hancock)

If you are in the market for a new Android phone right now then there is no better option than the Nexus 4. While not perfect it’s downsides are few and are heavily overshadowed by how well the device works both in terms of physical feel and software. A real Jelly Bean experience, great build quality, no telco lock in and really fast. Did I mention you don’t have to put up with apps forced on you by telcos? Assuming that the device is currently available in your region there is not a reason to avoid it. Go get it!

What I Want From a Home Theater PC/Digital Media Receiver

A few years ago I sat down to figure out how much I was paying in cable versus the amount of time I was using it. I found that I really only watched a handful of shows and could probably save money by buying the seasons. In other words I was a normal casual TV watcher. The next course of action was easy because for me it was a no brainer. I cut cable. I haven’t wanted to go back.

Today I use a PS3 to watch Netflix and Amazon while relaxing at home. On the go its Android devices to watch Google Play and Netflix. These are great services and, overall, I’m happy with the content they provide (though Netflix seems to go up and down in terms of stability..).

I just read about the newer BoxeeTV after hearing about it in some podcasts. I like it’s idea but, for me, it still isn’t what I really want out of an entertainment device. I like the idea it uses cloud storage because it should make it easier to stream the content to other devices as well (at least in theory). It’s nice on general functionality now, but I can’t see it as a long term solution. I still have two issue with the designs of Boxee and the like that keep me waiting to put down money on a dedicated HTPC/DMR.

When I want to watch something that I will be paying for I want to feel like the customer. I want to feel like I’m getting the best price for the item I’m purchasing. Simple concept. So far I’ve yet to see a device which makes me feel this way. Instead, I feel like I get access to one or more video services where I can pay their price if I choose to buy/rent/subscribe. Most of the time I know what I want to watch and what I really want the device to do is search across all the services I have accounts on for the best price. Am I a Netflix member and it’s there? Great! Take me there! Is it, $0.50 cheaper on Google Play than Amazon VOD? Let’s buy it from Google then. In the end I don’t much care who is providing the content so much that it’s legal, I am getting it at the best price and am able to access it when I want to watch it. As a bonus it would be nice to tell the difference between watching it because it’s in a subscription and owning a watch it forever license.

The other item is not something a HTPC/DMR company can really influence directly in my opnion. I believe that when I purchase a video online I’m actually purchasing a license to stream the content. Not all services are available on all devices (as I eluded to before with Amazon not being on my tablet). Why can’t I import my licenses from provider A to provider B? At the very least why can’t I do it if provider A changes its business to something else (or goes out of business)? The quick argument against license import/export would probably be about how a customer could move away to another service but, honestly, that wouldn’t be a major problem. In fact, it could be a benefit  Someone who moves  is likely moving over to make the other service the sole provider of their content due to price/convenience/access for their specific situation. This would mean future revenue from the person. The original seller wouldn’t lose the money already made by selling the license and would gain back bandwidth by not needing to stream the content to the user. The also consumer wins here as well as they can gain the best access and use the service(s) they wish to use at any time. It’s not remotely like this today and I’ve been burnt in the past by companies deciding to change direction and cut access to purchased content. For this reason I can’t see any of the devices (or services) today as a long term buy nor a replacement for buying a blue ray or dvd.

The closest option seems to be XMBC but it also seems to be more channel focused instead of content focused and the issues around future access still exist from the big players. Things do seem to be moving in the right directions but, for now buying content in a physical media format is the safest bet for watching later.

Simplicity Over Beauty. Functionality Over Features.

I’m a fan of many of the services that allow the legal purchase of music online. One service that I’ve come to enjoy over the years is emusic which, for quite some time, didn’t provide a way to download music other than through their website and desktop downloader.

As seems common, a developer decided to scratch his own itch and release a mobile downloader application. If it wasn’t for his application I could have easily moved over to Amazon MP3 or Google Music just based on the ease of purchase and growing selections. Fast forward a year and emusic figured out people wanted a mobile downloader. A beta was released.

And it was buggy and had features that, as a user, I really don’t care about while having oddly implemented features that seemed core to the downloader experience. Let me explain: I wanted to search, purchase and download music. I think that those three actions are nearly universal for a music purchase and download app. Here is the list of features for the official emusic application:

  • Listen to any MP3 files stored on your phone through the music player
  • Get song recommendations based on your listening habits
  • Create playlists tailored to your every mood
  • Browse an artist’s dossier (discographies, biographies, photos, features, and related artists) while you listen to music
  • Access eMusic’s unique charts
  • Search eMusic’s catalog and listen to track samples
  • Download music
  • Listen to eMusic Radio (available to U.S. members only)
  • Save for Later
  • Access account details

(Source)

This is how I ended up feeling about the emusic application: it searched, purchased (or crashed), downloaded in a weird filename format (or crashed), wanted to search my existing library to give recommendations (sort of weird) and listen to samples (or crash). When the application crashed there was a possibility that emusic would think I downloaded the song when I didn’t receive it meaning I would need to contact to support and ask for a redownload.

The ‘weird format’ may sound, well, weird but it’s true. I’m someone who likes to listen to music in many settings. The two most common ways I listen to music are from a laptop or via my phone. Obviously this means I’m at least using two different music players (right now it’s Nightingale and Player Pro) and the need to organize music is important. When I download via the emusic website or via the indie developers app I get a nice directory structure with artist and songs named in a way that makes sense to me. When I download from the emusic mobile application, well, see for yourself:

In fairness many of the crashing bugs have been fixed and it’s a better client than it was but I still buy and download using the third party app developers application. It’s simpler, stable and let’s me do the three tasks I need out of a downloader.

So why didn’t emusic decide to license/buy the downloader that the developer released? I’m not totally sure but I have a an inkling that they wanted to show they could outdo the simple app. Pretty interface, more features, samples, etc. As a user I care less about how it looks and much more about how functional the application is.

Today I still use the indie developers emusic downloader instead of the official app and I recommend it’s use over emusics official app. I want an application that let’s me get the music I want and delivers a consistent user experience (read: simple flow and doesn’t crash). If it’s not pretty or doesn’t have every single cool feature under the sun, well, I’m ok with that.

Nexus 7: The Tablet I Didn’t Know I Wanted

When it became obvious I was going to be getting a tablet a number of years ago I knew exactly what I wanted. It had to be 10-ish”, Android based and have a keyboard dock. My reasoning for the dock was so I could get some “real work done” in a pinch and that would require some decently fast typing I wasn’t sure I could do with my thumbs. At the time I went with the Asus Transformer and, I have to admit, liked the device a lot. I also learned that what I thought I wanted in a tablet was not totally accurate.

Break it down

10 > 7

There was a few reasons I thought that a 10″ tablet would be much better than a 7″. The first being that there would be more screen to view. That means more widgets, bigger videos, more room to enjoy games, etc.. While I get most of my comics in physical form the thought of reading a comic on a 7″ screen seemed unnecessarily frustrating. The next reason was due to what, at the time, was a sizable screen on a phone. I had this thought that a 7″ wasn’t a drastic enough difference from my phones screen size. Lastly, I had the mindset that the 7″ tablets are the 10″ tablets cheaper versions. It sort of makes sense. In other areas of tech the smaller version has less space/power/upgrades/something.

Android!

I wanted an Android based device. I had just mourned a move from WebOS to an Android phone. I liked the Android phone quite a bit and figured it would do well in tablet form. The more open nature of Android was a big factor as I much rather use open of Free. Add to that I could use the same apps and it was a no brainer. Of course having many of my other friends walking around with Android devices didn’t hurt either.

Get things done

When I said “get real work done” what I really mean is not simple nor short. “Real work” constituted things that I didn’t see as being very easy to do with a soft keyboard. Not impossible, but not an enjoyable experience. For instance writing a blog post or going through some code would be work while responding to an email or reading a book wouldn’t.

Where I went wrong

10 != 7

10″ and 7″ really are in different categories as Ava from HeelsAndTech points out. What I slowly started to figure out was that portability was a huge want for me when it comes to tablet usage. Of course a 10″ is portable but a 7″ is easier to keep with you day after day. Keeping a 10″ tablet with me day after day was like keeping a very light textbook along. A 7″ tablet is similar to carrying a light paperback.

Android?

Nope, spot on with this one.

Work

But way off here. I usually don’t think of myself as a consumer but somewhere in between producer and consumer. I’m creating code, writing documents, editing images, recording music, etc… My faulty assumption was that I would want to do most of these things from my tablet. In reality I grabbed the tablet when I wanted to read the feeds without being tied to a desk or watch a movie on a treadmill (probably not the safest thing…). These were times when I was done creating for the moment and ready to walk away from the desk.

But I wasn’t unhappy

My Transformer didn’t cause any problems. It had great battery life. It’s screen was nice. But something happened that inched me over the line: seemingly no official word on the original Transformer getting Jelly Bean, the newest version of Android. It is true I could root the device and throw another ROM on there but when it comes to my tablet I want to keep it simple. It got me thinking more about if it was already time to replace my Transformer with another device which had a better chance for a longer life span.

Nexus 7

I waited a little bit and it wasn’t long that I started to see friends slowly getting their hands on Nexus 7‘s and still liking them weeks after purchase. It got me thinking about if an official Google device would likely get better lifespan than 3rd party devices which rebuild, add on and push their own ROM’s out. After a coworker brought Nexus 7 over so I could test out the tablet I was pretty much sold.

So far it hasn’t been perfect but total perfection is not what I was expecting. The issues have been minor and I believe are more on the server side than client side. For instance I was looking at Google Play Magazines and it was stuck trying to log in.

In general it’s a solid and speedy device with a good feel. I’m glad I picked one up when I did.

Update

The issue I had with Google Play Magazines I also had with Google Currents. This seems to happen if you accidentally hit the account you want to use twice on first run. Here is how I fixed it on my tablet (using paraphrased wording):

  • go to Settings->Applications
  • find Google Magazines/Google Currents
  • View the application information
  • Touch Force Stop and the warning that pops up after about the application possibly misbehaving
  • Touch Clear Data
  • Touch Home and reopen the app.

You should no be back to the original “select the account to use” screen. Be careful to only click your account once. The Nexus screen is very sensitive!