Nexus 4 Replacement
My wife’s Nexus 4 is gradually dying and we’re looking for a replacement device.
Over the past week or two, we’ve contemplated all facets of the problem: how much we’re willing to pay, what she wants in a device, all that good stuff. We looked around for deals, tried to pin down a few good options, just see what’s out there.
She isn’t picky, but there are a few things she wants in a device. First, she doesn’t want a device much bigger than the 4.7” she’s used to. This seems to be the biggest (sorta pun there) problem, since almost all devices released in the past year or two have been 5.0” or larger. There have been a few “mini” versions of big name devices, but those are typically more expensive than what they’re worth or just generally mediocre phones. Having played with my 5.0” Moto G 2014 from time to time, she’s willing to use something up to that big if she has to.
We pondered getting her a Moto G like mine. It’s not great, there are plenty of things about it I wish were better, but it’s super cheap at $180. It’s not too big for her, it has a MicroSD slot for expandable storage, and the Motorola flavor of Android isn’t too far from stock. Scouring through forums for budget Android phones, it came to my attention that the 2015 edition of the Moto E is not a bad device. The hardware is about comparable to my Moto G, the screen is slightly smaller, cost is lower, and it has 4G. Seemed like a perfect option until I noticed that it doesn’t have a camera flash. Ironically, isn’t isn’t an issue as much for the camera as it is for the fact that we frequently use our phones as flashlights.
Looking through some previous generations of flagship devices, I found that the LG G2 is currently around $250 from certain vendors ($190 on eBay for now). Decent specs (much better than the low end Moto devices) and not a bad price. The issue is that my wife isn’t fond of the rear buttons. Furthermore, LG’s dense version of Android and the bloat that would come on the phone is annoying. The increase in specs may offset the decline in software, but the rear buttons are a deal breaker.
Were Google still manufacturing the Nexus 5, it would be a perfect option. Similar specs to the LG G2, stock Android, no bloatware, and only slightly more expensive. However, the phone is no longer available from Google and most other vendors only have refurbished Nexus 5 devices available. If rumors about a sequel to the Nexus 5 are true, there would be no contest. However, with a dying phone, we’ll probably need to make a purchase before those rumors come to fruition.
The HTC One M8 was met with great reviews when it came out, and is available in several place, with some really good deals on refurb devices. Perhaps a better option than the LG G2, especially with the standard button configuration, but more expensive. Not only that, neither of us has had any experience with HTC software so we don’t know how it compares to stock. An option to consider, for sure, but it doesn’t stand out as THE phone to get by any means.
Opening up to the idea of buying a new phone for me and giving her my old Moto G, we were able to expand our requirements a bit. I’d be willing to use a bigger phone, I don’t mind rear buttons, and father’s day is coming up anyway. Exploring devices to fit more what I want, I came across what I was completely obsessed with a few months ago: the OnePlus One. Back when the OPO came out (calling it such to avoid confusion with the HTC One), I followed details about this device obsessively. The specs were phenomenal, but the price was easily half that of comparable devices. The exclusive invitation system earned this phone the unicorn nickname, since nobody seemed to be able to get their hands on one.
Deciding that our best course of action was for her to get my phone and I get the new one, I tried to pin down exactly what I wanted. Going to the experts on the matter, I posed a poll to the Android community on Google+. Most polls I’ve created in the past got something under 50 votes. I figured it probably won’t be a ton of feedback, but it’s good to get the opinions of other people. I was blown away by the volume and quantity of feedback. Upon writing this, the poll has 1,850 votes and 93 comments. You can see the original post here.
This first poll gave me a lot of food for thought on the matter. Clearly, the Moto E 2015 was a terrible choice, getting 4% of the votes. The Moto G, LG G2, and HTC One M8 all got vote percentages in the teens. Winning by a landslide with a full half of the votes was the OnePlus One. People LOVE that phone. Not only were there a ton of votes, the comments were dense with discussion on the benefits of one device over another, as well as recommendations for a few devices I hadn’t thought of before.
In order to get a second opinion and account for the new info, I created another poll. With the lack of support for the Moto E and the fact that I wasn’t keen on getting a refurb HTC One, those were stricken from the list. In their place were the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 and the Xiaomi Mi3. Both devices seemed like pretty solid options, especially the Idol 3. This new poll didn’t get quite the same feedback as the first, but 500 votes is nothing to turn your nose up at. Here is the second poll.
Surprisingly, neither of the new devices on the list gained much attention. Unsurprisingly, the OnePlus One was the most popular choice again. This time earning 58% of the votes, it was clear that this is the phone people thought best for my circumstance. Admittedly, I was leaning toward that conclusion from the beginning. Though highest in price of all the options I listed, the value for the specs seems to be far above everything else. You really can’t beat $300 for flagship quality.
I went ahead and ordered the 16GB White OnePlus One. Though it doesn’t have expandable storage and 64GB is a huge jump, I figured I probably don’t need more than 16GB. My original Nexus 4 was the 16GB version and I didn’t ever have trouble with that storage limit. Besides, most of my stuff is cloud-based anyway. In addition to the device, I ordered a first party screen protector and case. OnePlus was having a sale on accessories, so both were cheaper to buy direct than going through Amazon or any other retailer. Everything was scheduled to ship on Monday, including a new case for the Moto G since my wife doesn’t like the case I have.
As I wait for the phone to come in, I am forced to consider my choice of operating system. The OnePlus One ships with CyanogenMod, which I’m not a huge fan of. I tried it on my Nexus 4, it seemed a lot more buggy and dense than stock AOSP. The customization is cool and all, but I kinda like the way plain Lollipop looks. People who aren’t so heavily invested in Google may like that it doesn’t rely on Google apps, but I like those. Gmail, Hangouts, Google Camera… I already use those out of choice. Besides, the Cyanogen plan to “put a bullet through Google’s head” annoys me, and I don’t want to support a company so determined to make a name for themselves in such an aggressive way.
Luckily for me, OnePlus has quite recently released their OxygenOS ROM. Basically, it’s a slightly customized version of stock AOSP. No fancy themes, no unnecessary fluff, all those beautiful Gapps baked in… it’s perfect for me. My only gripe is that there isn’t yet a dedicated installer. If I want Oxygen on my phone, I’m going to be installing it myself.
My track record with unlocking Android phones is 50/50 right now, and I really don’t want to brick a new phone as soon as I get it. There are utilities available such as the Bacon Root Toolkit from WugFresh, but those aren’t necessarily guaranteed. If I do something wrong, it’s my fault. The likelihood of me breaking the phone beyond repair is highly unlikely: the OnePlus One is made for tinkering, and WugFresh has done a fantastic job of making his tools nearly idiot proof (I used the Nexus Root Toolkit on my N4). Even still, something in the back of my head makes me terrified I’ll screw it up.
I’m at a crossroads now. I can either go nuts with the BRT and install Oxygen myself, or I can try to hold off until OnePlus releases an installer. With the former, I get OxygenOS sooner AND it allows me to avoid having to wipe my device after I’ve already set everything up. Unlocking it now means I won’t have to do it later. That runs the risk of me bricking the phone. On the other hand, I can wait until the installer comes out (if it even does) in order to get an official solution from OnePlus. Such an option is more guaranteed to work, but it isn’t even suggested yet as far as I’m aware. Not only that, but it forces me to deal with CyanogenMod until then and I’ll have to wipe the device once it finally does come out. Decisions, decisions.
My gut tells me to go ahead and unlock the device as soon as I get it. I’ve got BRT and the OxygenOS zip already downloaded to my home desktop. OnePlus seems to fully promote unlocking the device, especially since they made OxygenOS themselves. There are forums full of people willing to help if I do screw something up, and BRT should take care of all the grunt work for me. The risk is minimal, and the reward is worth it in my opinion.
Since I won’t be getting the device before Tuesday on my lunch break, I’d be pushed for time to get any details on this week’s post. Instead, I’ll just do a pretty thorough discussion for next week. Fingers crossed, I’ll have OxygenOS on it and be raving about how awesome the phone is. Here’s to Android and the freedom of installing custom ROMs.
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