Since its inception, I have really wanted to like Google’s Nexus phone. I really like the idea of an affordable smartphone purchased independent of my cellular service provider. This would allow consumers to buy a phone on the merit of its features and subscribe to a cellular service provider based solely on its coverage, service and price. $299 for a top tier smartphone should be awesome but, as always, the devil is in the details.
The Nexus 4 is really a very nice phone. The hardware is made by LG. Hardware geeks can check the specs here. The Google Nexus line of products comes with the latest version of Android unadulterated, exactly as Google intended. The Nexus line is always first up to get the latest Android OS up date. Perfect. Sounds great. Buy a Nexus 4, dump the contract with the cell provider and jump on whoever is offering the best pay as you go service.
The Nexus 4 is effectively limited to two cellular networks; AT&T and T-Mobile. This is due to the transceiver used in the hardware and some peculiarities of one cellular technology. The Nexus 4 supports GSM and HSPA+ (the chip in the phone can do 4G LTE but Google disabled it). Those are the technologies used by T-Mobile and AT&T. Verizon and Sprint use CDMA. Because the Nexus 4 does not support CDMA, it is currently a non-starter on Verizon networks. If Google were to add CDMA support to a future Nexus phone, it would still not be as simple to move it onto the Verizon network.
GSM networks use a SIM card. Insert the SIM card into a GSM phone that supports the appropriate frequencies and the phone joins the network. CDMA requires that the cell provider activate your phone on their network and link it to a phone number. Verizon has a sordid history of disabling hardware and software features that devalue for fee services Verizon provides. Verizon’s trustworthiness notwithstanding, switching an unlocked phone onto their network is not hassle free.
The purchase a Nexus 4 gives me the option T-Mobile or AT&T. T-Mobile coverage is pervasive east of the Mississippi but more restricted to metro areas in the West. This makes T-Mobile pretty unattractive to anyone who does any rural traveling west of the Mississippi. Which leaves AT&T. Which means I will probably stick with iPhone for another rev and AT&T for another two years.