The Nexus 4 doesn't have LTE because, unlike the iPhone 5, it's not a flagship phone, and was never intended to be

There's quite a bit of schadenfreude ricochetting through the Apple community (and grumbling in the Android camp) today after Google's latest phone, the Nexus 4, was announced without support for fast LTE 4G networking. That's because the iPhone 5 has support not only for LTE, but for international LTE, all wrapped up in an incredible thin, decently long-lifed package. And Android certainly is no stranger to LTE. If Apple can add it for its flagship phone, and many an Android manufacturer has LTE (like, all of them), why can't Google? It's actually more a matter of "won't," not "can't." Simply put, the Nexus 4 isn't, was never intended to be, and could never be a flagship phone.

Arguably no Nexus phone has been a "flagship" since the first one, the HTC Nexus One. The Nexus One was an Android phone from the future, with features we wouldn't see in the rest of the line, much less other platforms, for months to come. It was aspirational, as compelling in hardware as software. And Google couldn't sell it. Not to customers via its web store, and not to carriers, which already had to deal with an uncontrollable Apple and weren't about to let Google secure that kind of power.

So, instead of a Nexus Two, Google teamed with Samsung to ship the Nexus S. It wasn't an Android phone from the future by any stretch of the imagination, it was a summation of what had gone on with Android the year before. It still satisfied the demands of geeks and developers for an unlocked phone with the latest, greatest version of the Android software, but it did so safely, leaving plenty of room at the top of the hardware food chain for the next generation of carrier and manufacturer phones.

The also-by-Samsung Galaxy Nexus did likewise. It had the very best and most up-to-date version of Android software, but Its camera sucked, a GSM/LTE version never shipped, and it compromised the very nature of Nexus to get on Verizon.

The point of Nexus, at least to me, at least originally, was Android as Google intended, not only free from carrier and manufacturer shenanigans, but showing those ne'er-do-wells a better, brighter path forward. And the carriers and manufacturers killed it for that very reason.

I don't think there's an Android geek on the planet who wouldn't have rather had a fantastic camera in the Galaxy Nexus, along with every other cutting-edge bell and whistle imaginable, even if it drove up the price to something comparable with flagship phones. I don't think there's anyone reading a Mobile Nations site who wouldn't prefer a Nexus 4 with LTE. Conversely, any developer in charge of a test bed with 37 existing Android phones on it probably prays every night the next one is as cheap and dirty as possible, just to keep costs down and their business in business.

If you're walking into an Apple Store, carrier store, or electronics retailer with your eyes set on an iPhone 5, the Nexus 4 isn't meant to be on your radar. The Nexus 4 isn't aimed at the masses and isn't intended to sell in the tens of millions. It isn't allowed to be, not in scope or in strategy, much as Google might wish it. The Nexus 4, in the current incarnation of the Google Play Store, is aimed at geeks and developers as a non-flagship phone that does its best to meet both their diverging needs, while leaving plenty of room at the top for their carrier and manufacturing partners that do intend to compete with the iPhone 5.

If anyone is looking for an alternative to Apple, for an Android flagship phone with LTE and all sorts of other amenities, Samsung, HTC, LG, and their ilk will more than happily sell them, and everyone else one, by the millions, or tens of millions.

That's what the Samsung Galaxy S 3 and HTC One X and other, carrier flagships are for.

It's not, nor was it ever intended to be, what the Nexus 4 is for.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Did Phil put you up to this? Regardless of intent, the Nexus has been, is, and will continue to be perceived as the flagship, cutting edge, crown jewel among Android devices. There is no acceptable excuse for Google omitting LTE just because it would be too difficult. We heard nothing but crap when the 4S came out without LTE, yet it's ok for Google?
  • The Nexus line are not Googles flagship models?
    That would be news to Google since they constantly say they are.
    Really surpassed at how wrong you got this.
  • Then maybe I didn't get it wrong? Remove the word flagship and look at the price it's sold at, and the way it's sold, then tell me what it is?
  • Remove the fact that besides LTE, the nexus 4 has specs that are far and away better than iPhone 5. So saying the iPhone 5 is a flagship device and the nexus 4 is not is sort of slapping like slapping yourself in the face. Just because they made it at a reasonable price unlocked doesn't make it not a flagship device. So the long and short of this is you are trying to dog a really good product and the only item you can scrutinize is the fact it doesn't have LTE. Well played
  • To Joe Consumer, specs that geeks drool over mean squat. However, speed is what the average person craves. So with that, I would say not including LTE is a huge fail..........and it was when Apple released the 4S.
  • I dont think price has much to do about wether or not it is a flagship. I do agree, however, that the way it is sold clearly shows it isnt a flagship. It's sold on the Google Play Store instead of on carrier shelves where the masses will see it and play with it. I agree on that, not so much the price thing though. I guess they could have sold it more to make a profit, but does a device have to have a really high profit margin to be considered a flagship?
  • The masses will see and play with it. It's being sold by T-Mobile USA in its stores as well as online for $199 with a two year agreement. It is definitely supposed to be a flagship phone. You can't ignore that.
  • You can't go by price since Google isn't selling these to make money.
  • so just because its cheap it means its not a top of the range phone..lets compare the spec of the n4 and iphone 5 now barring lte it tops it in every way and its almost half the i understand if your in an area where lte is everywhere then it probably sucks but for many i would bet that buying a unlocked device with those specs at that price is worth using 3g hell 3g or h+ you still get fast speed more than good if you are in places where there is no lte and there are many countries that dont have it and the uk just has one network which just started its roll out for a few cities for those countries the nexus 4 is a bargain...honestly there is no better bargain for this anywhere. no one can argue for the price the spec is just amazing and with 4.2 this phones is amazing...i have the s3 and would have gotteen this phone IF it had a sd slot as that is paramount to me but sadly it doesnt so i will not uk the nexus 4 is £280, the iphone 5 is £530 and the 4s is £450 and the iphone 4 is £320...this either shows how much apple over charge cause there 2 year old phone with single core etc is more expensive than a new nexus flagship that comes with all the bells and whistle minus lte which most people here in the uk wont care about for a while
  • Google never said they omitted LTE cause it was hard or couldn't do it. They omitted it cause they didn't want it. The cost and loss of control wasn't worth it. And I applaud them for it. Lets take a look... Take any other phone in this category, 16GB storage, top of the line 720p screen, top of the line SoC...and look at an unlocked, no contract much is it? I guarantee you it's a far cry from the $350 that this phone is retailing at. Google knows it's not going to sell truckloads of this phone. So why add cost to a phone and get less return? Makes no sense. And the main driving point though...the majority of the world and cell phone users do not have access to LTE, nor do they care. So why raise cost on both ends to sell to a portion when they could make it more affordable and still have it work on almost every carrier in the known world.
  • Apple is selling unlocked LTE iPhone 5 in almost every LTE market. Google is one of the smartest, most powerful companies in the world and LG has world class engineers. If they wanted to sell a flagship phone with LTE, they would have. Just like they would have sold a GNex with a decent camera if they'd wanted to.
  • And that is correct. But as we all know, or at least I hope we know, this phone isn't going to be on iPhone, GS3, or even Boost Mobile numbers. So why add cost, which it still will be cost, to make a phone that would take more time, more models, and having to deal with carriers again (cause we saw the suckfest with Verizon) and get them a lower return. And from Rubin's words, it's more so because of what happened with Verizon that they didn't want to deal with LTE again. Which if they have to deal with that to get LTE...then hell, I wouldn't want to deal with it either. Cause lets not fool ourselves, Apple has the clout to keep control. Google...with their less than stellar selling Nexus line...not so much. So it's either having another Verizon mess and include LTE. Or foregoing and maintaining their control and vision.
  • This is the most logical and lucid comment in the whole thread (and article BTW).
  • Yes, it's okay for Google and not Apple. Why? Because unlike Google and their Nexus phones, Apple actually works with the carriers when they release their devices. There is no way of having LTE on this phone without working with or through a carrier (Not yet. Once LTE is more popular and whatnot, I'm sure it will be). It was downright pitiful to not have LTE on the iPhone 4S, especially on Sprint and Verizon since people were forced to use their slow 3G network (AT&T had the benefit of having HSPA+). Maybe when the Nexus is actually perceived as a Flagship (like when it sells a fraction of what the Galaxy S3 sells) it'll have the fastest connection speed available.
  • "Flagship" is an oft-misused term, especially when it comes to Nexus devices.
  • Oh Phil, what are you doing so far away from android central :)
    And I just had to add my two cents to this:
    The Nexus is meant to be a global device. A device that can be used in the continental America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Very few markets have LTE up and running, other than the USA, and even there, every carrier has their own LTE band.
    The argument that the iPhone 5 has LTE so the Nexus must have LTE is invalid, since the iPhone sells best where? Yes, the US market.
    Oh God, am gonna be late for work, see you guys later
  • Like LTE in Melbourne Australia. CBD (5km radius) and the airport for ages. HSDPA+ will do for me 99.9% of the time I wouldn't get LTE anyway. The rest of the specs rock out and even if LTE becomes available my available data plans are so limited that faster speeds will just help me exceed my cap. Gimme ram and my biggest gripe with the N4, a bigger internal storage (or SD expansion storage but i understand why Android team dont go with external storage even if I do not 100% agree) My opinion is I want to see secure NFC payments (locally) and 16,32,64gb variants of the devices with 8gb if they really NEED that low cost version to say that the device starts at $xx dollars for marketing bs. Thats my 2c
  • Rene all well and good what you said. But from Google's perspective HSPA+ as it is right now will sell the most devices without having to do one off's for each carriers LTE flavor. Granted it doesn't have every bell and whistle they can cram in there. That doesn't mean this isn't a top tier device. For the time being Google is letting the OEM's go after LTE. If LTE was a whole order of magnitude higher than HSPA42+ then your argument would be more valid. It isn't right now. So when at the moment you can get a high performance smartphone for 349.99 as opposed to a comparable iPhone5 w/LTE for 649.99. You just got pwned.
  • Actually i think it's the other way around. If you can sell them as fast as you can make them for 649? Who exactly is getting pwned here? Google isn't exactly raking in the dough on these if any.
  • I agree with Rene in that they're intended as dev phones. It's why they're cheaply made, off contract prices. LTE wouldn't work here because Google would have to team up with carriers which defeats the whole purpose of a directly updated google phone as the carriers wouldn't let that happen. Although I doubt Google is trying very hard. But then again, let's be consistent with the Nexus brand. The Nexus 7 and 10 tablets are seen as flagships. Let's give amazon excuses too because obviously they are not flagship android tablets and never intended to be. Just cheap media gateway appliances sold at cost meant to foster Amazon's primary store sales. Should we keep seeing "spec shootouts" between devices with such different intentions? Shouldn't these intentions matter more to the enduser and influence their decision making more than simply seeing specs?
  • I disagree about the Nexus 7. It's a cheap tablet, more like a big iPod touch. It's plastic. Nothing about that says "flagship" to me. It's just that the rest of the small tablets were worse.
  • Then there's no flagship android tablet to speak of? That's as good they can get given the state of android. Yet these non flagship devices along with the nonflagship Kindles make the "specs shootout" chart along with the nonflagship Nexus smartphone. Why is that? The Nexus brand is about the google experience. Apparently that experience doesn't involve LTE.
  • The Samsung Galaxy S3 is also plastic isnt it? My HTC Evo 4G LTE also has plastic on it. I'm pretty sure the HTC One X is made of some form of plastic. Who cares if it's plastic? Also, just a thought, but is the iPhone really a "Flagship" phone? There is only one iPhone after all (unless you count the older generations). I never heard anyone call the iPhone Apple's flagship phone (maybe device, because it makes the most money). I dont get why all of us (even me in y above comments) are throwing the word flagship around like it means something. I dont think it does.
  • The most highly reviewed Android tablet to date is NOT a flagship device...? Maybe we all need to look at what the definition of flagship means....
    The ship in a fleet that carries the commanding admiral.
    The best or most important thing owned or produced by a particular organization Yes I think this is GOOGLES flagship device.....
  • Oh hell no.
    The Nexus 7 is not just "a big ipod touch". It out specs everything in its class AND is comparable to 10" tablets at the merely price of 200~250$ while the Ipod is only capable of out specking itself in its OWN class. So next time you want to call an amazing tablet "cheap", learn your facts before you even THINK about posting this garbage.
  • lol so just because its plastiv it means its not a flagship then that means the 3g,3gs were never apples flagship device or the gs2 and gs3 were never samsungs flagship device...just cause something is plastic does not mean its not flagship...
  • Pretty sure Mattias refers to it as a flagship phone directly in his video on the verge.
  • He also took the blame for Honeycomb when it had nothing to do with him.
  • Your point is what exactly with this line...?
  • I really have never cared about LTE, i'm mainly on WiFi during the day and if out and about 3g is just fine. I think other than not having LTE this phone looks fantastic and the advantage of having this phone over the S3 and 1X is it is stock android and if you really want to experience Android and always have the latest OS then i think this phone is fantastic and will be my next phone when my iPhone 4s contract runs out shortly.
  • All I ask, before you comment, is to please read the post =)
  • I can't believe this article was written as 'fact' and not as an opinion based article. You should have written 'in my eyes' or something, because what you have just written is just plainly NOT true. LTE is NOT necessary for a flagship device. Of course Google wants to sell their devices with LTE if possible, but it just isn't possible. To get LTE, Google would have had to work with carriers. Working with carriers means that Google will have to listen to their rules, which would make the whole idea of a Nexus device pointless (just look at the Verizon Galaxy Nexus). And even if you disagree with me on this point you can't argue with the fact that the US isn't the only market out there in the world. I live in Europe (the Netherlands to be precisely) and you can literarily not buy a SINGLE LTE device here, even for a thousand euros. So no, LTE isn't going to be a deal breaker for everyone looking for a flagship device, and I'm very disappointed that the chief editor of some of the biggest technology sites not only think that is the case, but also present it as a fact.
  • Can I go back in time and have you write that about the iPhone 4S? Pretty please? =)
  • I honestly think the only people complaining about the previous iPhones not having LTE were people who never touched one, Sprint customers, and pure haters. I don't even use an iPhone, but I never saw the iPhone as being "weakened" by not having LTE. As the poster above said, the truth is that the majority of the world isn't on it. It's not a make or break feature for people outside of the US. Not even the main case for people inside the US. I'm still surprised Apple even put it on the iPhone 5...I was considering buying an iPhone this year, and even if it didn't have LTE...I still would've bought it.
  • Does this mean the iPhone 4s was not a flagship device....? Because it still sold millions...
  • Doesn't matter. The Pre was Palm's flagship but didn't exactly sell all that great. It's your premier product. The Nexus is Google's flagship because it's the only brand they make. It's the google experience as they put it.
  • Agreed.
  • I must respectfully disagree, Rene. The point of the Nexus, in the past, was to provide a development platform which contains all of the latest, greatest technology. But even Google says the current Nexus is a consumer line and Google's flagship branding now so to claim it's not a flagship device seems contrary to Google's own concepts.
  • You've got to remmember though that that was to keep the price down it probably maufactures for 250< compare that to the iphone. You have to think a little deeper.
  • I'll remind you that when Apple released the original iPhone it was with Edge only service even though 3G was pretty wide spread by that point (it was at least in most major cities), and most of AT&T's other phones supported 3G service. Steve Jobs even said "Edge is enough." And everyone considered it a "strategic choice." And they later announced the iPhone 3G to huge applause the next year. But for some reason when Google says "the cost/benefit ratio makes it not worth it this year" everyone says it's a "huge mistake" or "it's because it's not a flagship device." This was simply a strategic choice on Google's part. Some are going to disagree with it (I do, and I plan on getting a Nexus 4) but for a large majority it'll work just fine. You can buy the Nexus 4 and it WILL work in most places in the world where there is cell service. It's one production model. The iPhone has several production models to cover that LTE & international LTE, which means there's more potential points of failure.
  • Unless you're with a CDMA carrier....
  • Comparably speaking. There are more people on GSM worldwide than on CDMA.
  • I didn't say there weren't. However, there are a significant number of CDMA users out there, especially given that two of the nations biggest four carriers are both CDMA. And we just get bent over. I guess I was spoiled by the last two making it to Sprint. I guess I won't be a Nexus owner once I replace my GNex.
  • I agree with many of the commenters here. I don't think LTE is going to be a deal breaker. Don't get me wrong, I do love the LTE speeds on my iPhone 5 but for the price and the specs on the phone I'd be willing to give up LTE. Having the freedom to choose any carrier without breaking the bank is a good trade off for LTE. Plus, is not like every town is on LTE. I was used to getting 7-10 MBPS on HSPA+ on my 4S. The 4S released without LTE while many manufacturers offered it yet it sold like hot cakes an people do love it still. Last year, we were finding excuses for apple not including LTE. This year, we're criticizing others for not having it. In my opinion, that's a fanboy comment. I love my iPhone 5, it's beautiful, fast in every way and has everything I need except for a dull, dated, boring home screen that's due for a refresh. I also love android a lot and for the price, I think I'm going to give the phone a try. JB is beautiful as is and it's fast, not a mess like touch wiz on the GS3 which I hate.
  • I don't think LTE is a dealbreaker either, I think many of us just had misaligned expectations for the Nexus line.
  • I'm currently on contract with Verizon with an LTE Rezound. The LTE is nice to have but not a big deal to me. I'm thinking of buying a Nexus 4 and using it with a Straight Talk sim. I would pay about $150 in an ETF but I could recoup that selling my phone. Then I would save $40 a month, in 9 months I would make up the difference in buying the Nexus 4 for $350. For me that's a win. I save money, ditch Verizon and their control freak ways and get an off contract phone. This could end up being awesome for me.
  • I thought I was on the wrong blog at first :)
    You are right, the Galaxy line is not, and has not been the flagship Android phone. It's a reference phone for developers first and foremost. Their appeal comes with having stock Android running the latest OS features, not necessarily the top phone features. As for the LTE missing, where I live it's hit or miss if I even get LTE in my town. It exists in pockets and where it doesn't it drains the battery as it switches back and forth. I've read reports that people are getting 42 Mbps on HSPA+ (T-Mobile) so that is much faster than what I get on Verion's LTE network....when I do get it. Both are pretty fast when compared to 3G. I'd rather have great coverage at the sacrifice of speed anyday.
  • I look at it as the only true android phone. The only one I'd want to own if I switched to android. That said, I'd want all the other things like LTE, solid cameras, etc as well. But if i had to make a choice? I'd take no LTE over butchered android phones filled with bloatware like the S3. Not calling it a flagship is splitting hairs. I think Apple did something similar lately when they mentioned they don't make 7" tablets. The others are for the masses (and carriers to screw with). But because it's direct from Google, it'll get that status by most just like the Surface is getting the attention because it's direct from MS.
  • Google's trying to hit as many potential customers as possible without a lot of different SKUs. LG and Google don't have the clout that Apple has to make the carriers accept their terms. I think it's a smart play for where Google is at right now. I'll take no LTE for a pure Android experience and faster updates.
  • Yep, for where google is at right now. They're one of those up and comers. It's not like they lead the market or anything.
  • A pure Google phone doesn't lead the market. Android-flavored Touchwiz devices (Samsung) plus those by HTC and Motorola and others lead the market. In order for Google to get more market penetration with a Nexus device, they had to price it aggressively and cut out as much cost as possible, i.e., only one version of the phone manufactured and sold.
  • I agree with what you are saying, in principle, Rene, but there are also some flaws in the argument. Take for example LTE. Yes, the iPhone may have it, but it will not be compatible with the LTE many countries have, take e.g. Spain where I live. Secondly, whether the Nexus 4 is a flag ship or not is debateable. I agree that it will not see the same marketing push as Samsung or HTC do with their phones, but for 349 €/$ you have a phone that can take on just about any of the phones out there. That is a ridiculously low price. Sure, it probably won't be sold through carriers like other phones are, and all that will hurt the sales numbers, but if you are looking today for the best Android phone on the market, my first suggestion would be for you to check out the Nexus 4.
  • Wow Rene, you're one of my favorite writers and really the only reason I come to this site...but you are so completely wrong with this article. I'm still a dedicated iOS fanboy, but you should take this article down.
  • Well look at what h