November 07, 2012, 3:21 PM — Google's Nexus devices are meant to be the Holy Grail of Android technology -- pure representations of the platform that show just how good its user experience can be. With its new Nexus 4 phone, available November 13, Google offers its best effort to date and its most aggressive attempt to upend the U.S. smartphone market.
The Nexus 4's most noteworthy feature may well be the phone's pricing and sales model: The device will be sold unlocked and contract-free directly from Google: $299 for an 8GB version or $349 for a 16GB phone.
This may sound like a normal price, but it's actually extremely low. While most comparable smartphones are sold for $200 to $300, that's only because they're subsidized by carriers -- in other words, the carriers cut the price in exchange for a guarantee that you'll subscribe to their services for a full two years. Most phones of this caliber would cost between $600 and $800 if bought in a similar unlocked and unsubsidized manner.
Buying the phone outright means you wholly own the device and are under no obligation to anyone. As a result, you can choose to use the phone with any compatible provider -- including prepaid service providers, which often offer the same basic service you're used to at a fraction of the cost -- and can switch providers at any time with no penalties or fees.
(The Nexus 4 will be offered through a more traditional sales model as well -- T-Mobile will sell the device for $200 after a $50 mail-in rebate and with a new two-year contract -- but most consumers would fare better in the long run by choosing the unlocked model.)
So pricing aside, what's the Nexus 4 actually like to use? I've spent the past week using the phone in place of my own personal device. Here's what I've found.
Body and display