A couple of weeks back the internet went crazy when some intrepid folks in Canada discovered that the Nexus 4 does in fact support a particular flavor of LTE connectivity.
In case you need a refresher, here’s the gist of it – because LG built the Nexus 4 on the same platform as the Optimus G, the Google device is equipped with an LTE chipset, which allows it to connect to LTE networks that operate on Band 4, also known as AWS. Band 4 is used extensively in Canada; in the US, AT&T owns spectrum in Band 4, but the consensus is that the carrier hasn’t deployed Band 4 LTE in any market yet. T-Mobile is set to deploy its LTE network in Band 4, but the rollout is scheduled for next year.
Here’s one of the videos that have been making the rounds:
For some users, the news that the Nexus 4 sort of works on LTE came as an early Christmas gift. Nevertheless, the device wasn’t tuned to work on Long Term Evolution networks, so there have to be some tradeoffs, especially related to battery consumption.
In his Nexus 4 revisited: a cautionary tale piece, Daniel Bader from the Canadian tech site Mobile Syrup is offering his impressions of Google’s latest smartphones after a few weeks of use. Bader sheds some light on the LTE issue – he is disappointed with the battery consumption when LTE is switched on. The Nexus 4 isn’t breaking any records for battery life even when it runs on the “normal” HSPA+ network. On LTE, battery life is abysmal – Bader reports that his device munched through 50 percent of its battery life in just three hours. On HSPA+ the Nexus 4 lasts till the late afternoon, while on LTE the phone requires a full recharge by noon.
Why is the Nexus 4 on LTE so hungry for energy? Because it wasn’t designed for LTE in the first place; it lacks the optimized firmware and the physical components (such as amplifiers) to make proper use of the high speed connection. As a result, the phone has to constantly work to secure a decent signal lock, eating precious battery life in the process.
What about the speed? Our Joshua Vergara tackles the question in his excellent Nexus 4 review. He says that, while LTE is (naturally) faster than HSPA+, the latter standard delivers perfectly adequate speeds for everyday use. Yes, sites and streaming media will load just a bit faster on LTE, but overall, the difference is not dramatic. Plus, up in Canada the Nexus 4 wouldn’t run on LTE at full speed anyway, for the reasons we’ve outlined already.
To wrap up, LTE on the Nexus 4 could prove useful when you need to download something quickly, but, in the long term, the tradeoffs are just too big. And don’t forget that LG and Google might patch the firmware of the Nexus 4 to make it impossible to connect to LTE. In fact, such an outcome is likely, given the legal implications of selling an unlicensed LTE-capable device.