Which smartphone?
November 4, 2014 7:54 AM   Subscribe

Which smartphone will serve my needs best: the Samsung Galaxy S4, or the Nexus 4/5?

My LG Optimus V (bought in 2011) is dying in new and exciting ways every day. I'm in the market for a new smartphone, and am experiencing decision paralysis. I'm on Virgin Mobile, so unlocked is necessary. The Galaxy S4 (S5 is a bit pricey still) and the Nexus 4 or 5 seem to be my best choices, so I'm looking for advice and experiences with those phones, as well as other suggestions. Android only, and I'd like to keep the cost down as much as possible while still getting a fully-featured phone.

The phone will mainly be used for apps, photos, and texting, not so much with the voice calls, though that's an important part as well.
posted by altopower to Technology (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I went from an HTC One X to a Nexus 5, and I quite like it. The camera is good and the OS works well. In short, the phone just works, and works well. Great battery time (compared to the One X). I had actually bought a Nexus 7 tablet in hopes of squeezing another year or so out of the One X, but that phone died so I had to get a new quickly. I find that the Nexus 5 has basically replaced my tablet.
posted by Nevin at 8:09 AM on November 4, 2014

I own a Nexus 5 and have a friend who has had the S4. We were both pretty pleased with our phones, but over time he finally admitted he'd rather have had the Nexus 5. I agree with his assessment. I have been a very satisfied Nexus 5 owner.
posted by Lafe at 8:12 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

They both do pretty much the same thing. Get whichever one is cheaper, or that you like the look of more.

That said though, the S4 probably has a better camera. That seems to be where they skimp on the Nexus models.
posted by Ted Maul at 8:17 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Moto G is worth a look. Whatever you get, make sure you get a 16GB model (or one with a microSD card slot) as Android 4 is pretty miserable to use with 8.
posted by Candleman at 8:37 AM on November 4, 2014

i had the s3 that got stolen. Went to an S4 and don't regret the decision. Root it to get Nexus Rom and you have a phone that gets frequent updates (No touchwiz nonsense), microsd card and removable battery.
posted by radsqd at 8:37 AM on November 4, 2014

I don't think Virgin Mobile would let you bring your own device. Unlocked phone probably won't help you.

But between Samsung galaxy s4 vs Nexus 5 I would pick Nexus 5.
posted by Carius at 8:43 AM on November 4, 2014

Response by poster: I don't think Virgin Mobile would let you bring your own device. Unlocked phone probably won't help you.

Oh, you're right. Bastards. And they don't even offer the Nexus OR the S4, from what I can see. S3 or S5 for Galaxy, then some other random things. Grr. Well, thoughts on those options would be appreciated as well.
posted by altopower at 8:53 AM on November 4, 2014

Is there any reason you must stay with Virgin Mobile?

Prepaid cell phone service is a very competitive market.

Virgin Mobile is owned by Sprint, but better alternative to Sprint network is Ting, which is a Sprint reseller.

Ting has awesome customer service. Call their number, you will talk to a human within 10 seconds. If you are not a heavy data user, you could save some serious dough. Ting also has fairly liberal device policy. You could transfer any Sprint device to Ting with no problem. Do check with them though, Sprint prohibits Ting from activating newest device.

If you want a better network, try Cricket. Cricket is owned by ATT in order to compete with aggressive pricing pressure from T-Mobile. Their unlimited text/talk/ and 1 gig data is only $35 included taxes when signed up for auto payment. Data speed is LTE so it's fairly fast. You can bring any ATT branded device or unlocked devices to Cricket.

If you don't need as much data, you could try H2O wireless, which is another ATT reseller. Their unlimited text/talk/ and 500 mb plan is only $27 included taxes when sign up with auto payment. Their data speed is slower than Cricket. They let you bring any ATT branded devices or unlocked devices.

At this point, I can't recommend T-mobile nor Sprint. Their networks still need a lot of work to compete. Verizon is great if you are willing to pay more.

I recommended Nexus 5 earlier for the following reasons.

Pure google experience
No bloatwares
Relative cheap price
Support ATT, Sprint and T-Mobile network ( theoretically could also support Verizon but Verizon doesn't want to play nice.)
High resell value

Poor battery life
Camera not as good as other flagship devices.
posted by Carius at 9:43 AM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Does Virgin Mobile use SIM cards? If that is the case the phone shouldn't need to be activated, you just use the SIM card you already have and pop it in the new phone. Before you buy a phone try this out with a friend who has an unlocked phone by putting the SIM card in it. The one thing to make sure is that the phone can communicate with Virgin's network.

As far as the Nexus is concerned, I have a Nexus 4 and it's great with 2 exceptions, the battery life and camera are pretty poor. If you will be taking photos (as opposed to viewing/sharing them) I would look at a different phone. It doesn't matter so much to me because I take my real camera with me when I expect to take photos.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:52 AM on November 4, 2014

If you are considering the S4 and you post to MetaFilter from your phone, test drive before buying.

Some of us have serious problems with effectively not being able to edit. You don't have cut-paste as an option, for instance. This doesn't appear to be universal with big Galaxy phones, but it's common.

I use my phone for texting, email, screwing around on the Internet, podcasts, TV & movies, taking stupid pictures to be texted and deleted, and maps. Listed in order of frequency.

Outside of comments on Meta - which is probably a feature for readers of the blue - and seemingly erratic battery use, I am happy with my phone.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:01 AM on November 4, 2014

As others have said you can't get a nexus on Virgin mobile, but virgin sucks anyways.

How much do you call? It might be worth it to look in to the $30 tmobile 5gb plan.

Then you can buy a nexus wherever you want, and just pop the sim in.

Oh, and don't get a nexus 4. The camera is pathetic and the battery life is terrible. TERRIBLE. A friend of mine had the plain lg version that's basically the identical phone, and he pretty much had to keep it plugged in to a car charger all the time because it perpetually near death if more than half a day had gone by. Or less.

If you're willing to go used, id say expand your net to include the htc one m8 and the lg g2(which is basically a nexus 5 with a nicer camera). The one m8 costs about as much as a n5 used, and is regularly available on refurb deals. If you can deal with the meh camera(and hey, you were already considering a n5) it's seriously the nicest feeling non-apple phone I've ever held or used. The build quality is head and shoulders nicer than anything else you can get for android, and up there with Nokia.

You'll notice I didn't mention Samsung. All their phones feel like hollow plastic disposable garbage to me. I realize many people are fine with or even like their stuff, but I feel like you pay way more than you should for their phones that are basically nice specs in the crappiest possible shell.

Oh, 1st gen moto x is also worth a look. Great deals floating around on that and it just feels nice, although it's not as muscular nor does it have as nice of a screen as the rest of the stuff discussed.
posted by emptythought at 12:26 PM on November 4, 2014

First, the good news: the reason it is so hard to decide is both phones are very good and very similar. So you really can't go wrong. Hopefully that helps with the paralysis.

S4 pros: better camera, better battery life.

Nexus 5 pros: cheaper.
-Also, some people prefer stock Android to Samsung's customization, so you might find yourself happier with the phones UI. I'm sure some people feel the opposite, but I've never actually heard anyone say they prefer Samsung's UI.

I am a happy owner of a Nexus 5, but I'm able to keep it plugged in all day long. You may find the battery life limiting unless you, like me, are a desk jockey who will remember to plug it in throughout the day.
posted by Tehhund at 3:18 PM on November 4, 2014

I, like you, had the same phone you had on Virgin. I switched to StraightTalk (the cheap contract-less AT&T vs. the cheap contractless Sprint) because I wanted more phones.

Unlike you, I switch phones a lot. So I have experience with lots of your phone options.

Some vague generalities first:
All the Samsung phones I've had start out fine and end crappy. I don't know what it is, but I never make it more than a year on them. They're great and cool for about 6-7 months, except for their weird Samsung bloatware, and then, bam, crap. Pieces break. Things start to glitch out. It's downright creepy. I've had an S3 and a Note II. What I liked about them? Gimmicks. They're flashy, they have something cool going on for a bit, but they age badly fast. I didn't use the camera on my S3, but my Note II had an awful, awful camera.

My LG phones are durable as heck - as you likely know from your Optimus. They don't have as much bloatware (at least with the unlocked versions). LG makes the Nexus 4 and 5 hardware and they get a straight/one-operating-system-ahead install of Android. My Nexus 5 feels pretty rock solid. Kind of boring shapewise and middle of the road sizewise, but I like it fine. Not something I'm desperately in love with, but it's durable, reliable and solid. The camera on my Nexus is unimpressive, but functional.

I recently splurged on an LG G3 and threw it on Straight Talk and I love it, but I use my Nexus 5 for work and it's not awful switching between the two, which is pretty impressive given the generations of them.

Samsung: Pros: Cool gimmicks, Samsung specific software, inter-connectivity with my Samsung TV; Cons: Will quickly go to crap, lots of bloatware
LG/Nexus 4/5: Workhorsey. Pros: Durable, straight Android install. Cons: Kinda boring. Will impress no one, you get more out of it if you use your Google account for all your stuff

Also you can get the same price for the same plans from StraightTalk if you really want a different phone.
posted by Gucky at 7:25 PM on November 4, 2014

Response by poster: Lots to think about here. I've stayed with Virgin because I'm still grandfathered in to the $25/month unlimited plan. I'd be kicked up to $35 when I replace my phone anyway, though, so I guess switching isn't a bad thought. Coverage is extremely important as we seem to live on the boundary of good service for a lot of companies, but it looks like we're good for voice and 4G with Ting and Cricket. I have no idea how much data I use...it's certainly not much right now because the phone sucks so badly.

I think I'm leaning more toward the Nexus, but the camera is important enough to make me go with the Samsung if the Nexus' isn't good.
posted by altopower at 6:14 AM on November 5, 2014

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