Happy birthday: Google Nexus 4 is 10 years old

About a month after the release of the Google Pixel 7 Pro and its smaller siblings, one of our oldest favorite Android phones is celebrating its first double-digit anniversary. The Google Nexus 4 was released to the public 10 years ago, after the October 29 launch was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy. While the Galaxy Nexus before it followed the big leap from Android 2 to Android 4, the Nexus 4 is the phone that proved Android phones and software can be pretty, too.


The Road to Nexus 4

Google has come a long way in the last 15 years since it first launched Android. Unlike Apple, Google followed Microsoft’s path when it comes to its operating system. The company didn’t make Android just for its hardware. Instead, Google made Android a versatile platform for others to build on, both in terms of software and hardware.

Despite the approach to software distribution, Google was interested from the start in showing developers how they envision their software. The first Android phone, the HTC Dream, was co-developed with Google and was meant to show consumers and manufacturers what they could do with the then-new operating system. As Android phones became more ubiquitous, Google continued to partner with other manufacturers to create test and showcase devices under the Nexus brand, first introduced in 2010.


Early phones such as the HTC-made Nexus One and Samsung Nexus S were marketed towards developers, with Google only offering them in limited quantities and making them quite complicated to purchase, with limited availability and no carrier purchase options. Still, the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus after that managed to find a small but loyal following from enthusiasts who wanted to enjoy Android as it was meant to be, without any add-ons from manufacturers.

The Nexus 4 was the first truly fashionable Android phone

Google’s LG-built Nexus 4 was still a phone meant for developers first and foremost, but it was also more than that. It was one of the first Android phones built with a heavy emphasis on design, clad in glass front and back, interrupted by a grippy rubber bezel. The phone was not like most other Android phones of the past, made of high-end materials rather than plastic. The glittering back with its holographic pattern that changes depending on how the light hits it was without a match at the time as well.

Its understated appearance in hardware and software made it feel more like an iPhone than the equally well-built HTC One X from the same era. In a sense, it was ahead of its time, with high-end phones these days following the same basic design scheme of adding glass front and back. This idea was not without its critics. Unlike the Galaxy Nexus before it, the Nexus 4 didn’t have a removable battery, forcing many people to invest in some great battery packs amid concerns about battery life.

On the software side, Google also made it clear that it was finally taking interface design more seriously. The Nexus 4 was the second Nexus phone launched in the Android 4.x era, showing off all the work it did with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and Project Butter. Android historically had a reputation for choppy animations and poor performance in the system’s user interface, and Google used the Nexus 4 and Android 4.2 to show that they are taking steps to mitigate this.


The Nexus 4 was also one of the phones to experience Google’s big jump to Android 5 Lollipop in 2014 and the then brand new Material Design language, which replaced 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 Android skins, helping you instantly recognize Android app design and – more importantly – Google app design. This trend has only continued since then, with Android 12’s Material Design 3 and the uber-personal Material You look taking design to the next level.

Last but not least, the Nexus 4 offered great value for money for those lucky enough to get one of the chronically sold-out devices. At $350 (about $450 today, adjusted for inflation), it offered a 1.5GHz, flagship-level Snapdragon S4 Pro and 2GB of RAM, paired with 16GB of built-in storage. Its 8GB version cost just $300. While these specs may seem laughable today, they still represent what Google stayed true to for most of its Nexus and then Pixel lineup: good-to-great hardware at a slightly more affordable price than the competition.

The only major problem that has come up over the years is the rubberized frame. While you could get around the fact that the Nexus 4 didn’t get any software updates beyond Android 5 by installing a custom ROM, the rubber wore off over time, leaving you with a sticky, icky feeling when using the phone without a case. However, this is just an issue that arose several years after regular software support ended, so it probably didn’t affect real-world usage much.

The Nexus 4 paved the way for the Pixel series

While the Nexus lineup never moved big numbers, either for Google or its hardware partners, it’s clear that Nexus phones became an increasingly important part of the company’s strategy. The Nexus 4 proved that Google could sell a well-designed phone and use it to show off its latest features and design ideas, like a new Google Now shortcut and a redesigned clock widget.

From the Nexus 4 onwards, Google’s phones became more capable. The Nexus 5 may have ditched the glass back for a rubberized plastic option. Still, it stayed true to the understated design of the Nexus 4 and, to some extent, the Galaxy Nexus before it was introduced. However, the Nexus series never achieved an overarching hardware design scheme. The Nexus 6 was quite the departure, given its size and shape, and with the simultaneously introduced Nexus 5X and 6P following it, you’d be hard-pressed to identify them as part of the same series.

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That only changed when Google took matters into its own hands and launched the Pixel series in 2016. With a new hardware division of its own, the company was finally able to pursue the design it wanted to offer, merging and coordinating its hardware and software efforts better than ever before. 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 the Google Pixel 7 and 7 Pro its most refined and flawless products yet.

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