The Nexus 4’s glass back cover puts form before function, and isn’t what I expect from Google

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When I first got my Nexus 4, I was at best mildly annoyed by the glass back (which can’t really be called a battery cover since you can’t remove it to access the battery). Yes, it was a different design decision, but many devices were already getting rid of removable batteries and microSD card slots, so what was wrong with putting in a piece of glass as the back panel instead of cheap feeling plastic? Well, as it turns out there is at least one problem with the decision: The only benefits are cosmetic, while the drawbacks are functional.

While fairly trivial, drawbacks to the glass back cover are clearly evident. Primarily, it is a durability issue. I wasn’t too concerned with my ability to keep my gadgets from breaking, but then my Nexus 7 broke without any unexpected circumstances. I’m fairly careful with all of my technology, and it wouldn’t be a functional problem if the back cover of the Nexus 4 breaks, but I still don’t want to have a broken device.

I also hate scratches on my devices, whether on the front or back glass surface. As a result, when I noticed how fragile the back glass on the Nexus 4 really was, I began to be hesitant about setting down my phone on any surface, lest the back cover be marred. Of course, it is ridiculous to be worried about putting down a device, but the Nexus 4’s glass back still gives me pause whenever I set down the smartphone.

The second issue is less the result of the glass back cover, and more a market trend, but the glass casing certainly doesn’t make it easier for a device to have a removable battery or microSD card slot. While glass may look nice, I’d much rather have a solid plastic battery cover that allows for battery replacement and expanded storage. On a high end device I’d prefer it not to be as obvious as on the Nokia Lumia 810, but trading a unibody casing for a removable battery and SD card slot  would almost always be a good decision.

These complaints may all be fairly minor, but what bothers me is that the durability and features were given up for cosmetic reasons. Back in the earlier days of Android, it was heavily criticized for being less intuitive and generally uglier than iOS. My defense for that was always that Google was putting function before form, and that features were more important than cosmetic polish at the time.

Now, however, some of Google’s design decisions with the Nexus 4 and even the rest of the Android OS have me wondering if they haven’t changed their minds slightly. In trying to make Android more appealing to the masses, they seem to be trending away from their original fan base – the geeks who don’t care so much about appearance as long as everything functions correctly.

In short, there’s a good reason even the design focused Apple didn’t continue the rear glass trend with the iPhone 5, and Google or LG should have learned from their experience.

 

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Aaron Orquia

Aaron Orquia is an associate editor at Pocketables. He has been using Android and Linux since he bought his first computer years ago, and his interest in technology, software, and tweaking both to work just right has only grown stronger since then. His current gadgets include a OnePlus One, a Pebble smartwatch, and an Acer C720 Chromebook.

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6 thoughts on “The Nexus 4’s glass back cover puts form before function, and isn’t what I expect from Google

  • Avatar of matus201
    March 12, 2013 at 12:45 am
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    Hmm I see your point. For me, personally, the look of the phone is worth the lack of durability. I just love how the glass back looks like!

    Also, I completely understand why microSD cards are not the best idea – esp. for a normal user. Imagine the frustration when half of your apps suddenly don’t work just because you transferred your phone pics to computer, and formatted the microSD card to make more space. An average user will not realize what’s going on, and probably just go back to iPhone – cuz there apps don’t stop working after transferring pictures.

    What I HATE about this phone, though, is the lack of 32 and 64GB option for storage. Come on google, I (and for sure others as well) are fine paying more for extra storage!

    Reply
  • Avatar of Me
    March 12, 2013 at 5:23 am
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    Not having a removable back cover hasn’t affected whether the device supports removable media. I doubt any Nexus from now on will; Google have been rather vocal about that.

    Reply
  • Avatar of JohnnyL
    March 12, 2013 at 5:46 am
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    Having everything look nice and function correctly are not mutually exclusive. An attractive UI can enhance usability. In my experience when it comes to very usable UI’s, geeks generally fall short in the design area. I for one am glad that Google appears to have taken a lot of the design decisions away from geeks and giving them the importance they deserve.

    Reply
  • Avatar of John Freml
    March 12, 2013 at 7:26 am
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    Some valid points, but you have to remember that if it is truly glass – and not some polycarbonate/plastic glass wannabe – then it’s one of the most scratch-resistant materials out there. It’s REALLY hard to scratch real glass.

    Reply
    • Avatar of Aaron Orquia
      April 1, 2013 at 7:27 pm
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      It may be really difficult, but somehow my Nexus 4 has a plethora of scratches on the back, and I’m pretty careful with it. A few are pretty deep as well. Glass also shows scratches quite a bit, which matte plastic or polycarbonate doesn’t seem to do as much.

      Reply
  • Avatar of hamish
    March 17, 2013 at 12:20 pm
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    Trust me the glass back is fragile! A shattered “gliterball” effect back is not a good look though it appears to be very fashionable as the damage spreads. Give me the “geeks” solution over the posers any day!

    Reply

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