The battle for your cash in the smartphone market has never been fiercer. Google just released its latest Nexus device, the LG-manufactured Nexus 4, and Apple’s iPhone 5 is still fairly fresh on the scene. They go up against established Android heavyweights like the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the HTC One X. In the background we have Microsoft’s newly launched Windows Phone 8 and what’s that coming over the hill? It’s BlackBerry 10.
We all know the real fight right now is down to Android and iOS. There are two big bouts in the tablet market, iPad mini vs Nexus 7, and iPad vs Nexus 10, but the main event sees Google’s flagship smartphone up against Apple’s. It’s the Nexus 4 vs the iPhone 5, and there can be only one winner.
The display is the first thing you notice about any phone and the trend in high-end smartphones has been drifting towards “bigger is better” for a while now. The Nexus 4 has a 4.7-inch True HD IPS Plus display with a resolution of 1280 x 768 pixels, which is 318ppi (pixels per inch). The iPhone 5 has a 4-inch backlit LED IPS display with a resolution of 1136 x 640 pixels, which is 326ppi.
The Nexus 4 offers full HD resolution, but the iPhone 5 offers an imperceptibly greater pixel density. The Nexus 4 is supposed to have more natural color reproduction, but it can look a little washed out next to some displays. Visibility in sunlight and viewing angles are good, but the iPhone 5 display is brighter and features richer colors. Both have Gorilla Glass 2 protection.
The Nexus 4, even with onscreen virtual buttons, offers a lot more screen real estate, but the iPhone 5’s display is slightly better quality.
Design and feel
The iPhone 5 is smaller and lighter than the Nexus 4. The Nexus 4 weighs in at 139g versus the iPhone 5 at 112g. In terms of measurements the Nexus 4 is 133.9mm x 68.7mm x 9.1mm and the iPhone 5 is 123.8mm x 58.6mm x 7.6mm. Apple made a big deal about the fact that the iPhone 5 is exactly the same width as the iPhone 4S so you can comfortably hold it and use the touchscreen one-handed. The iPhone 5 is just taller than its predecessor. The comfort factor depends on the size of your hands really.
The Nexus 4 feels more solid and the extra weight is something that some people find reassuring. That solid feel was often cited as a reason that the old iPhone felt high quality and reassuringly expensive. The Nexus 4 features glass on the back and when the light catches it you’ll see a holographic pattern. The body of the phone is plastic and the edges are curved like previous Nexus devices. There are no physical buttons on the front and you’ll find the power button on the right edge and the volume controls on the left edge, just like the Galaxy S3. It’s comfortable to hold, but it is fatter and heavier than the S3 which makes it way bigger than the iPhone 5.
Apple switched to aluminum for the iPhone 5 body to reduce the weight and the back glass panel from the iPhone 4S is gone. It is a svelte device and it does feel extremely light. One of the drawbacks of the new anodized aluminum body is that it scuffs and chips easily which leads to the silver aluminum showing through.
If you have small hands or you really want a lightweight device then the iPhone 5 wins out, but the Nexus 4 has a stylish design and it feels more solid.
User interface and platform
Here we have the latest and greatest version of Android, 4.2 Jelly Bean, up against Apple’s iOS 6. Android wins hands down. It looks better, there are more customization options, it’s very intuitive to use, it’s fast and smooth….the list goes on. Go ahead and take a look at the name of the site. That’s right, we like Android round here.
Without going into a big iOS vs Android battle (that’s a whole other article) we can give the nod to iOS for having more high quality premium apps and games (Android is catching up, but there is no getting away from the fact that iOS boasts more high-end polished apps and games right now). On the other hand, Android’s Google apps are second to none, so whether you want to watch a YouTube video, continue your desktop browsing on Chrome on your phone, or get directions to a destination, an Android phone is the better choice.
Processor and RAM
Is the Nexus 4 faster than the iPhone 5? That’s all you really want to know in this section so we’ll dig a little deeper. The Nexus 4 has a 1.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2GB of RAM. The iPhone 5 has a 1GHz dual-core A6 processor and 1GB of RAM. Despite the big number gap Apple’s internal architecture design is very strong and it always squeezes impressive performance from lower spec hardware.
Benchmark tests on various sites show clearly that the Nexus 4 is the fastest Android smartphone on the market right now. What’s less clear is whether it nails the iPhone 5 on real-world performance. The tests show that the Nexus 4 outperforms the iPhone 5 on CPU and GPU performance some of the time, but they also show the iPhone 5 winning some of the time. The Nexus 4 seems to edge the win overall, but it’s not as clear cut as expected.
It looks like both companies are aiming to make a little cash on storage. Neither phone has a microSD card slot. You are limited to the internal storage that ships. The Nexus 4 is either 8GB or 16GB and the iPhone 5 is 16GB, 32GB or 64GB. You can buy a 16GB microSD card for a little over $10, but Google is charging $50 for 8GB and Apple is charging $100 for 16GB and then another $100 for the extra 32GB.
You can always use cloud services to boost that amount, but for people who like to store their whole music collection or TV shows and movies on their smartphones the Nexus 4 looks limited and the iPhone 5 looks expensive.
On paper we have an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera on both devices and the list of options and features is virtually identical. Both support 1080p video recording as well. The front-facing camera on the Nexus 4 is rated slightly higher at 1.3-megapixels compared to 1.2-megapixels, but as camera experts will tell you there’s a lot more to camera performance than the megapixel count.
The good news is that both cameras are fast, they perform well in low-light conditions, and they’ll satisfy most smartphone owners. The iPhone 5 has the Panorama feature, but the Nexus 4 has Photo Sphere.
This one is straightforward for a change, or so you would think. The Nexus 4 has a much bigger battery at 2100mAh compared to the 1440mAh battery in the iPhone 5. It does also have a bigger display, but with no LTE to drain it you’d still expect better battery life from the Nexus 4. On paper it should offer 15 hours of talk time to the iPhone 5’s 8 hours and 390 hours of standby to the iPhone 5’s 225 hours.
In practice things are always different and battery life will depend on exactly how you use your phone. We’ve already seen claims that the iPhone 5 outlasts the Nexus 4 for web browsing. Realistically both phones should last you at least a day between charges on normal use and the Nexus 4 should generally outlast the iPhone 5.
This section is all about what’s missing. The Nexus 4 does not support LTE and the iPhone 5 does not support NFC.
LTE looks to be the bigger omission. In simple terms the LTE networks that are rolling out are potentially the fastest around. In practice the HSPA+ that the Nexus 4 does support offers good speeds that are comparable in many places. As LTE expands this could become more of an issue. Google has claimed the lack of LTE is about battery life and cost. The Verge makes a pretty convincing argument that it has more to do with carriers and Google’s desire to maintain control and not compromise the device.
We think NFC has a lot of potential, but adoption is slow right now and the fact that the iPhone 5 doesn’t support it will not speed things along. If NFC does take off in the next year then you can bet Apple will add it into the next iPhone release.
Everything else in terms of connectivity is pretty neck and neck except for Apple’s new proprietary Lightning connector. That renders all those old iOS accessories with the old connector dock useless unless customers buy an adapter for $30 or $40. This is typical Apple, finding another way to rake in those profits.
Value for money
On contract you’ll get an iPhone 5 or a Nexus 4 for $199. Google is really all about selling unlocked smartphones and the company is offering the 8GB Nexus 4 for a shockingly low $299. If you want the 16GB version then you’ll need to spend $349. If you wanted to buy an unlocked 16GB iPhone 5 you’d need to shell out $649. For the 32GB model you’ll pay $749 and the 64GB model is a whopping $849.
The Nexus 4 is obviously better value for money.
….and the winner is
The Nexus 4 has to take the title. It offers freedom to choose the exact setup you want in terms of customizing the phone and buying an unlocked device with a plan of your choice. Most people will also want to take advantage of that bigger screen and let’s not forget that it is super-fast.
If you want to get a contract deal and the LTE support is important to you then the iPhone 5 is probably going to look more attractive. When we think about the way people buy phones and the importance of carrier relations it’s clear that Google has some work to do. How many people buy unlocked smartphones on the Internet? Apple will obviously sell more iPhone 5 units, but early sales of the Nexus 4 look good if the selling out is anything to go by. Of course, sales aren’t really a good measure of what the best phone is. You always have to weigh up budget and features and choose the best phone for you.
To be honest if I was offered an iPhone 5 or a Nexus 4 right now I’d take the iPhone 5, but then I’d sell it, buy a Nexus 4 and keep the change. How about you?