Nexus and Galaxy. The two brands represent opposing ends of the Android spectrum. Nexus devices have always been Google’s pure, untarnished vision of its platform. Samsung’s wildly-successful Galaxy devices, meanwhile, still use Android, but also threaten to overshadow it. What happens when you put the best of each side-by-side? Read on, as we compare the specs and features of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and LG Nexus 4.
The Nexus 4 is a bit shorter, narrower, and thicker. But – when you look at smaller rivals like the iPhone 5, or phablets like the Galaxy Note II – you realize that the size differences here are pretty minor.
It’s easy to poo-poo on Samsung’s use of plastic, but you could also argue that it allows the company to focus more of its expenses on things like 1080p displays and octa-core processors.
The front and back of the Nexus 4, meanwhile, are made of Gorilla Glass. LG helpfully placed a rubbery band around the phone’s edges, allowing for an easier and more comfortable grip.
That extra grip is a good thing, considering that – no matter how strong Gorilla Glass is – it’s going to be more prone than plastic to cracks and scratches.
Both sets of materials have their pros and cons, and this is probably one of the first big areas you’ll want to think about when deciding between these two handsets.
It’s impressive that LG managed to make the glass Nexus 4 only 9 g (0.32 oz.) heavier than the plastic Galaxy S4. We suspect the GS4’s larger battery (see below) has something to do with that.
The Galaxy S4’s display is both larger and sharper than the Nexus 4’s screen.
Once you get to a certain level of sharpness (probably around 300 pixels per inch), cramming in more pixels ceases to play as big of a part. Both of these screens are razor sharp, and your eyes won’t likely see any individual pixels on either one.
That means the display technology will play a bigger part. The Galaxy S4’s Super AMOLED has blacker blacks (technically no light comes through black pixels) but hyper-saturated colors. The Nexus 4’s IPS display, meanwhile, leads to better viewing angles and more accurate color reproduction.
The Nexus 4’s Snapdragon S4 Pro chip is a beast. Ditto for both versions of the Galaxy S4: the North American version’s quad core Snapdragon 600 and the international version’s octa core Exynos chip.
In terms of benchmarks, the Galaxy S4 is going to beat the Nexus 4. In terms of experience, though, you probably won’t see much of a difference. All three processors should blaze through just about any app you throw at them.
Our two entrants are tied up, each with 2 GB of RAM.
This is a big-time advantage for the Galaxy S4. The 8 GB offered for the entry-level Nexus 4 isn’t a lot. Add to that the Nexus 4’s lack of an SD card slot, and you could find yourself cramped for free space.
Fortunately, the 16 GB edition of the Nexus 4 only costs US$50 more than the 8GB version.
There’s also the matter of off-contract pricing. Namely, the Nexus 4 was built for it, and the Galaxy S4 wasn’t. Carriers haven’t yet announced pricing for the GS4, but you can bank on around US$200 or so on-contract. The Nexus 4 starts at $300 off-contract.
Here’s another tough call, as there’s no LTE for the Nexus 4. It does support HPSA+, which offers faster than 3G speeds ... but LTE it is not. You’ll also need to sign up with a GSM carrier for the Nexus 4, as CDMA (that's Verizon and Sprint in the U.S.) networks aren’t supported.
Megapixels make for an easy-to-read metric for these graphics, but they make for a far-from-perfect representation of camera quality.
We’ve yet to put the Galaxy S4 through the paces, but you don’t have to worry about the Nexus 4’s shooter. It takes great shots, and can easily replace a point-and-shoot.
Here’s another stat that isn’t an absolute indicator of experience, as many other factors determine actual battery life.
The Nexus 4 offers solid battery life: under typical use, it will easily last a full day. Does that mean the Galaxy S4 – with more capacity – will get better uptime? Maybe, maybe not. When you consider that it has LTE and a display with over a million extra pixels, it may need that extra capacity to match the Nexus 4’s uptime.
One of the most surprising things about the Galaxy S4 is that it will ship with the latest version of Android, 4.2.2.
But you’d be forgiven for thinking the Galaxy S4 runs its own operating system. Samsung is increasingly hiding its Android roots under a heavy layer of “TouchWiz” – complete with a bevy of crazy features (facial-recogntion scrolling, fitness tracking, photos with accompanying audio clips ...).
Meanwhile, the Nexus 4 – like all Nexus devices – runs “pure Google,” or stock Android. What you see is exactly what Android’s creators and designers intended - and nothing more.
Though the two phones run the same version of Android right now, that may not last long. Without manufacturer skins or carrier crapware, the Nexus 4 will be first to receive future Android updates. Samsung has improved its support for updates, but GS4 owners will have to wait much longer for Key Lime Pie (or whatever the next major version is called) than Nexus 4 owners will.
Most smartphone rivalries are framed around iOS vs. Android, Apple vs. Samsung, or iPhone vs. Galaxy. But there’s a new division growing within Android: Samsung’s Android vs. Google's Android.
Samsung has made the platform as commercially appealling as possible. Some of TouchWiz’s features are gimmicky, but it’s hard to argue with Samsung’s results at the cash register.
Google, meanwhile, has made great strides in improving the platform’s core performance, enhancing its surface aesthetic, and adding useful features like Google Now.
So how do you choose? Do you go with the pure, vanilla version of that platform? Or do you prefer a glitzy coat of Samsung paint layered on top of it? Throw in the questions of LTE vs. HSPA+ and off-contract vs. on-contract pricing, and you have a tough decision. We can’t make it for you, but we hope we've set the table for you to find the best answer for yourself.