About a month after the launch of the Google Pixel 7 Pro and its younger sibling, one of our favorite older Android phones is celebrating its double-digit anniversary. Google Nexus 4 was launched to the public 10 years ago, after its launch event on October 29 was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy. While the Galaxy Nexus before it accompanied the big leap from Android 2 to Android 4, the Nexus 4 is the phone that proved that Android phones and software can also be beautiful.
Road to Nexus 4
Google has come a long way over the past 15 years when it first launched Android. Unlike Apple, Google has gone the way of Microsoft when it comes to its operating system. The company did not make Android exclusively for its devices. Instead, Google has made Android a versatile platform for others to build on, both when it comes to software and hardware.
Despite the software distribution approach, Google was interested in showing developers how they envision their software from the start. The first Android phone, the HTC Dream, was developed jointly with Google and was meant to show consumers and manufacturers what they could do with the new operating system at the time. Once Android phones became more widespread, Google continued to collaborate with other manufacturers to create test and display devices under the Nexus brand, which was first introduced in 2010.
Old phones like HTC’s Nexus One and Samsung Nexus S were marketed to developers, with Google only offering them in limited quantities and making them somewhat complicated, with limited availability and buying options through carriers. However, the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus then managed to find a small but loyal following of enthusiasts who wanted to enjoy Android the way it was meant to be, without any add-ons from the manufacturers.
The Nexus 4 was the first truly trendy Android phone
The Nexus 4 made by Google is still a phone for developers first and foremost, but it was also more than that. It was one of the first Android phones to be built with a big focus on design, it’s glass front and back, and cut by a sturdy rubber frame. The phone was not like most other Android phones of the day, it is made of high quality materials instead of plastic. It appeared glossy with its holographic pattern that changes depending on how the light reached it without a match at the time as well.
Its minimalist appearance in hardware and software made it look more like an iPhone than the well-built HTC One X of the same era. In a sense, this was ahead of its time, with high-end phones these days following the same basic design scheme to add front and back glass. This idea was not without its critics. Unlike the Galaxy Nexus before it, the Nexus 4 didn’t come with a removable battery, which forced many people to invest in some great battery packs amid concerns about battery longevity.
On the software side, Google has also made it clear that it’s finally taking interface design more seriously. The Nexus 4 was the second Nexus phone to launch in the Android 4.x era, showing off all the work he did with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and Project Butter. Android has historically been notorious for choppy animations and poor system UI performance, and Google has used Nexus 4 and Android 4.2 to show they are taking steps to mitigate this.
The Nexus 4 was also one of the phones that experienced Google’s big leap to Android 5 Lollipop in 2014 and an all-new Material Design Language, replacing the old dark Holo interface. This new overarching design idea was the culmination of Google’s efforts to create a visual language across ecosystems and other forms of Android, helping you instantly learn about Android app design—and most importantly—Google app design. This trend has only continued since then, with Material Design 3 for Android 12 and Personal Materials seeming to take design to the next level.
Last but not least, the Nexus 4 made quite a bang for the buck for those lucky enough to get one of the chronically sold out units. At $350 (about $450 today, adjusted for inflation), it offered a 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and 2GB of RAM, paired with 16GB of internal storage. The 8GB version costs only $300. While these specs may sound laughable today, they still represent what Google has stayed true to on most of its Nexus and then Pixel devices: good to great hardware at a slightly lower price than the competition.
The only big issue that has come up over the years is the rubber tire. While you can get around the fact that the Nexus 4 didn’t get any software updates beyond Android 5 by installing a custom ROM, the rubber has worn off over time, leaving you with a sticky and disgusting feeling when using a phone without a case. This is an issue that came up years after regular software support ended, so it probably wasn’t anything that affected real world use that much.
The Nexus 4 paved the way for the Pixel lineup
While the Nexus group has never reported big numbers, neither to Google nor its hardware partners, it’s clear that Nexus phones are becoming an increasingly important part of the company’s strategy. The Nexus 4 proves that Google can sell a well-designed phone and use it to showcase its latest features and design ideas, like a new Google Now shortcut and a redesigned clock widget.
From the Nexus 4 onwards, Google phones became more capable. The Nexus 5 would probably avoid the glass back for a rubbery plastic alternative. However, it has stayed true to the minimalist design introduced by the Nexus 4 and, to some extent, the Galaxy Nexus was introduced before it. The Nexus series has never achieved an overall hardware design blueprint. The Nexus 6 was quite a departure, given its size and shape, and with the Nexus 5X and 6P simultaneously introduced after it, you’d be hard-pressed to identify them as part of the same series.
That only changed when Google took matters into its own hands, launching the Pixel series in 2016. With its new hardware division, the company was finally able to follow through on the design it wanted to deliver, integrating and coordinating its hardware and software efforts better than ever. The Nexus 4 proved that hardware design is an important part of the equation, and Google is now finally starting to take this seriously, with its most refined and flawless Google Pixel 7 and 7 Pro products yet.