Phil Nickinson

With the year winding down and my plate relatively clear of any review work (mad props to Alex and Anndrew and Andrew and Jerry and everyone else for helping make that happen), I've been spending more time in the forums. That's where any one of us here will tell you the real work happens. Questions come in, questions get answered. Tips are proffered. Sweeping how-to threads are created. It's really incredible stuff, all guided by our awesome moderators and advisers.

And it's been extremely interesting to read reaction to the hottest phones of the second half of the year. First and foremost, however, it's important to keep things in perspective. Forums by definition tend to be a bit of an echo chamber. That's not to say that what's being posted isn't important -- it most certainly is. But you tend to start saying "Everyone says this about that phone!" when it's never "everyone," just as it's never "no one." Some people have problems. Some don't. You look for trends. You get feelings about the way things are going. It's not an exact science, and I'm hardly an expert. (The guys and gals at CrackBerry teach me something new about forums every day.)

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The pleasant surprises lately? There have been a few.

For all the bitching and moaning about the Droid DNA -- this was before anyone had actually gotten to use it, of course -- there is enough talk regarding battery life for me to believe that those fears were mostly just folks looking at specs, seeing a 2020 mAh battery on a 5-inch, 1080p device and jumping to conclusions. Usage varies by user, of course, but neither is the phone depleting itself in two hours. (If it is, you've likely got rogue software at work.) That's good to see.

The other forum I've been living in, of course, belongs to the Nexus 4. Talk has been dominated by the shipping issues Google -- or, more likely, whichever company Google contracted to handle those logistics -- has inflicted upon nearly all of us at some point. From Google Wallet not withstanding the nerd crush, to the UPS Yellow Box of Death (and subsequent Green Box of Jubilation), the Nexus 4 purchase experience has not been a good one. But neither should it be surprising. It was the same for the Nexus 7, though perhaps not so bad for so long. Neither the Galaxy Nexus nor the Nexus S were sold online in this same fashion from the start, so they get passes. I don't recall having issues ordering the Nexus One, but those were very different times for Android. (And getting support after you got the phone could be a nightmare.)

The good news is that for most people, things have gotten better. Phones are shipping, though wait times on new orders are at 6 to 7 weeks for the 16-gigabyte Nexus 4, and the 8GB version is sold out. (Not sure there's much of a difference there.) There's a small but very vocal cadre of folks whose Nov. 13 orders apparently are still in limbo, and that's no good. Google needs to get that sorted out, and it (or, again, whomever it contracted here) needs to get the bugs worked out of the system. On the other hand, if I'd waited this long without proper help from Google, I'm pretty sure I would have canceled things through my credit card company. Vote with your wallet.

But ...

My biggest Nexus 4 disappointment? Miracast. Sort of. That's the wireless screen sharing standard that's the revolutionary feature of the week. Better than DLNA. (Or something like that.) Finally, the one standard that will rule them all.

And it simply doesn't work. Yet. It's not the phone's fault -- I've seen it in action, both on the Nexus 4 and the LG Optimus G (on which the N4 is based), but on a new LG TV. The problem is the Miracast standard is still very, very new. The Netgear PTV3000 adapter I (and others) picked up still doesn't work with the Nexus 4, because the PTV3000 is a "pre-compliaince" device, meaning it's not working with the final standard that's on the N4. Netgear's PR has told me an update is coming eventually. That's a big deal because the vast majority of us aren't going to go out and buy a new TV just for Miracast.

But I keep looking back on the Nexus Q and believe that it's the better model. It still doesn't do a hell of a lot, but it does it well. Practically zero boot time. It does the heavy lifting of playing music or videos, only using your phone as a controller instead of relying on it for the processing and data before spitting it back over to the TV. That takes battery and latency out of the equation. I have a feeling despite the Nexus Q being a little ahead of its time while being overpriced in the process, the principle of it isn't going away anytime soon.

So what's best?

More than a month into the Nexus 4, and I'm still plenty pleased with it. I've avoided cracking the display (knock on wood), and I've avoided any major battery drain issues. It's still my go-to phone, LTE or no LTE.

So is the Nexus 4 the "best" phone of 2012? We're getting into our year-end superlatives, starting with the best international phones. (Our U.S. carrier-by-carrier list is coming up this week.) I've been saying this a lot the past few months, but I think the "best" phone could go a bunch of different ways. We really are in a time where we could recommend any of the top phones from each manufacturer without regret. It comes down to preference over software, and a few features that differ between platforms.

You couldn't have picked a better time to be in the market for a new smartphone.