Despite a list of features that reads like it was pulled from a smartphone buyer’s wet dream, there is a glaring absence from the LG Nexus 4 spec sheet. While its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, launched with 4G LTE connectivity, the latest member of Google’s pure Android line is a 3G-only device. In an interview with The Verge, Google’s Andy Rubin explained that the Galaxy Nexus came off as more of a failed experiment and example of why LTE is not quite consumer-ready, but it seems like a poor excuse for a feature that was touted as a prime selling point when that handset launched.
Yes, there are some real reasons why sticking with HSPA+ speeds and a 3G GSM radio makes sense. A single cellular radio drives down the upfront device cost and proven 3G technology will cut down on some of the excessive battery drain that Galaxy Nexus users experienced, but plenty of manufacturers have put out 4G devices in the past year and have managed to address these issues. Pricing might still be a factor, but it’s nothing that couldn’t be solved by working with carrier partners.
Google, however, has a bit of an apprehension about working with carriers due to the delays involved with providing updates to Nexus devices. They also have an apprehension to the supposedly tiny market size of LTE subscribers. Did they miss the memo that nary a major handset release is announced these days without LTE as a prime feature? LTE is quickly becoming the standard, not some future-proof feature, but Google is content to insist that the technology has not matured enough at this point.
Bluntly, Google’s explanation for no LTE in the Nexus 4 comes across as a cop out more than anything else. It’s a step back for a company that has prided itself on taking on new and untested technologies, and it comes just days after I lauded Google’s work to become a market trend setter. This was the company that forced Apple’s hand with the Nexus 7, making the iPad Mini a necessity. Now the iPhone 5 has LTE support and timely updates to boot while Google has scaled back for the sake of volume.
It’s a mixed message. Let’s develop a set of futuristic eyeglasses with a computer interface built in, but let’s not release a flagship smartphone with LTE. A flagship smartphone that follows our last flagship smartphone that did launch with LTE.
Google is banking on enticing customers with a low-cost, off-contract smartphone, but in doing so they have violated what I feel has been a core tenant of the Nexus brand. Nexus has always meant cutting-edge, developer friendly devices that push the boundaries of smartphone technology. And while Google successfully demonstrated with the Nexus 7 that proper pricing can equal huge gains, the Nexus 4 misses the mark.