Nexus 5 Review: A Phone For True Android Lovers
Android KitKat, bleeding-edge spec and a killer price tag. The Nexus 5 has them all. But is it the best Droid money can buy?
Whatever you think of Android, Google's Nexus 4 was a runaway success. The idea of an affordable smartphone wasn't anything new, but the idea of giving the user a higher-end experience with good quality, optimised hardware and the latest software build, for not a lot of money, definitely was. And that's what made it a hit with the punters, whether dyed-in-the-wool Android fans or complete smartphone newbs. Consumers have a habit of spotting a bargain, and that's exactly what the Nexus 4 was.
Inevitably then, Google has engineered a follow-up device. In some ways though, the Nexus 5 has leapfrogged its predecessor. Relative to current hardware at time of launch it has a much more competetive and premium-grade set of gear onboard than its predecessor did. As a result, the price went up a bit too, but the crucial thing is that it can still be classed as affordable - relative to what's offered in the overall package, and compared to how much that'd cost you elsewhere, that is.
So, what's it like to live with then? Read on to get our full verdict of the Nexus 5.
Nexus 5: Design & Build
Dull, unassuming and slab-like. These are just some of the words used to describe the Nexus 5 in some of the reviews I’ve come across online, and for the most part I think they’re a tad unfair. The Nexus 5 is not a bold device by any means, nor could it be described as eye-catching, but it is certainly not dull. Tidy is perhaps a better word. Tidy and clean.
The overall design and finish reminds me of Google’s Nexus 7 (2013 edition). The shape, build materials and gait of the handset are very similar, and this of course was most likely deliberate – uniformity across products is attractive. And Google is all about uniformity and everything looking just so. Exact measurements are 137.9 x 69.2 x 8.6 mm and the handset weighs in at 130g, making it 9g lighter than its predecessor despite the Nexus 5’s longer and wider chassis. Impressive stuff.
The Nexus 4 – or the Bobby Dazzler, as it’s known in the KYM offices – featured a glittery sequin pattern on its backpanel that reacts under different light. A lot of people quite liked this touch but there were also the haters. In the spirit of uniformity Google has ditched the jazzy back panel and replaced it with a soft-touch matte backing similar to what you’ll find on the Nexus 10 and 2013 Nexus 7.
It might not look as flashy but the new matte backing aids grip and, importantly, won’t shatter should you drop the handset all of 6-inches as the Nexus 4 did. One downside to the new matte backpanel, however, is its love of fingerprints and smudges – it hoards them like a crazy cat lady hoards feline companions. And once the back panel is smudged, which happens almost as soon as you take the Nexus out of its box, it’s difficult to get it back to its original pristine state. Whether this bothers you is entirely personal. Me? I couldn't care less. But if this is the type of thing that’d irk you then you’ll probably need to invest in a case.
With size and weight though the Nexus 5 is perfectly proportioned. I began using it immediately after testing the iPhone 5s and found the transition not only easy but also rewarding. The display itself is 0.3-inches bigger than the one aboard the Nexus 4 (and a whole inch bigger than the iPhone 5s’) but you’ll hardly notice thanks to its lightweight nature and super-thin bezels. For me it’s the ideal size for a handset – the Goldilocks proportion, if you will.
And if Black and White isn’t your thing then you might just be in look as it looks like Google is readying the launch of a Red version of the handset. Images of the Red Nexus 5 have already leaked online (see below) and sources claim the new addition of the Nexi stable will soon be available inside the UK Play Store.
Google has not officially confirmed whether it’ll be introducing a new colour to its Nexus range yet. The leaked images, which do appear to be legit, show both the new red handset and box it ships in, meaning it is likely already in production.
Three Cases For Your Nexus 5
The Nexus 5’s build quality is really rather nice, and its sharp angles are also eye-catching, but the standard black model might still leave you feeling somewhat uninspired. If you’re after something a little fancier but still want all the perks of Google’s affordable, high-spec, stock Android experience, you can opt for one of these cases.
You might be looking enviously at all the metallic designs emerging in the smartphone space right now from the likes of LG, HTC and Apple, to name but a few. If you’re missing a bit of bling in your life the Spigen Ultra Fit Case comes in a rather fetching and tasteful shade of Champagne Gold that’s currently all the rage.
Maybe you bought your Nexus a while ago and when Google launched its fiery red variant you’ve been thinking, “damn, I wish I’d waited.”
Well fear not, Google’s official bumper case means you can change the colour of your Nexus 5 with a choice of black, grey, bright red, or bright yellow.
If you don’t care about the looks so much but want to improve the Nexus 5’s somewhat mediocre battery life then this Mugen case could be ideal. As the name suggests, it houses a 3000mAh battery cell to boost your phone’s longevity and even sports an integrated kickstand to prop the device up.
At £60 it’s not exactly cheap, as cases go, but more than doubling your phone’s life on a single charge could be worth the cost.
Google Updates Nexus 5 Hardware (Ever So Slightly)
It might have only just launched but Google and LG have already altered the hardware and build of the Nexus 5
Google and LG have slightly altered the build of the Nexus 5, adding in different speakers and new hardware keys for the power/unlock button and volume rocker.
Images posted to XDA-Developers show the changes, as you can see below. At the time of writing it is unclear why Google has updated these elements of the handset’s chassis. The search giant has yet to comment on the decision officially.
Nexus 5 Display
The display aboard the Nexus 5 is stunning. It’s a 4.95-inch True HD+ IPS panel (1080 x 1920 pixels) setup with a pixel density of 445ppi. It beats Apple’s iPhone 5s (326ppi) hands down, and is perfectly proportioned for gaming, video and one-handed use.
Google could have gone big but instead it was clever and kept things manageable, a wise move given the fact it is now increasingly difficult to pick up a decent Android blower that isn’t gigantic. If you’re coming from an iPhone, the Nexus 5 might feel large but compared to handsets like the Galaxy Note 3 and Sony Xperia Z Ultra it’s a decidedly friendlier iOS-to-Android conduit.
Viewing angles are excellent and 3D games look gorgeous on its expansive – but perfectly manageable – 1080p display. The IPS panel is also very bright when turned up full whack, although for the sake of your battery, you should probably use it with caution – it uses up plenty of juice, especially if you do a lot of gaming or media on the move.
I played A LOT of Dead Trigger 2 while testing the Nexus 5. And by a lot, I mean hours and hours and hours. I also did a fair bit of Asphalt 8, and the more I played the more I became convinced that 4.99-inches is the perfect size for a smartphone. It just feels ideally suited to gaming, for consuming media, browsing the web, and making calls as well as other more traditional phone functions like texting and carrying around in your trouser pocket.
Android 4.4 KitKat
One of the massive USPs of the Nexus 5 is that it runs Google’s latest build of Android – version 4.4, better known as KitKat – straight out of the box. No other Droid handsets in the UK will get 4.4 for quite sometime, some even as late as next year. So if you have to have Android 4.4 you’re only option is a Nexus from Google.
It’s also worth noting that once you’re a Nexus owner, you’re also first in line for updates from Google. The Nexus 4 has just been updated to 4.4, for instance. The Nexus 5 is a pure Google phone and is the one that is used by Google execs and engineers. There’s no bloatware aboard it and everything inside is just as Google intended.
So what’s new? Quite a bit as it goes. Although the most immediate change for me was the icons – they are now massive. Google has also refined the general look and feel of Android’s UI by removing or revamping certain elements (the white line separating core apps from homescreen apps, for instance) and tightening up everything else. It’s not jarringly different; the changes are subtle (aside from the massive icons) but there is enough going on visually to let you know you’re looking at something new, and it's much cleaner to boot.
You also now have the all-new Google Now launcher, which is accessed via the homescreen – just swipe left – for all your location-based needs. You can access Google Now without touching the handset itself. Just say, “Okay, Google” and Google Now will magically appear before your eyes – just make sure your Google Now language settings are set to US and you’re on either the Now launcher or your Homescreen. Unlike the Moto X, the Nexus 5 cannot be awoken with the command – the screen has to be active.
Performance inside Android post Jelly Bean has always been pretty good thanks to Google’s Project Butter. Google put its Android on a diet when developing KitKat, and the result is pretty damn impressive. Android 4.4 will run on dual-core processors and 512MB of RAM. That’s good news for everybody [OEMs, consumers and the Android ecosystem as a whole] and should go some way to addressing Google’s ongoing struggle with fragmentation.
Android L Announced As 4.4.4 KitKat Lands
Google has announced Android L at its Google I/O conference, meaning we now have some indication of what to expect for the next Nexus 5 update.
More on that in a moment though, because the Nexus 5 has just started receiving Android 4.4.4 KitKat - it's rolling out over-the-air internationally and we've got it on the Nexus 5 handset in our office (UK).
Primarily, 4.4.4 is another performance and bugfix update which addresses a few key security issues. It wieghs in at 2.5MB and brings the phone up to version KTU84P. The main bug that's been zapped is an OpenSSL bug and some vulnerabilities relating to Heartbleed, but there are also updates to the Chrome web browser and Webview. For a full list of changes, check this out.
So, back to Android L. This is a far more substantial update than 4.4.4 KitKat. Android L is a massive change for Google because it's effectively taking Android from simply being a phone and tablet platform and expands it into the world of computers, TVs, wearables and much more besides.
Google's developed a new UI which unifies the look, feel, and operation of Android L across devices and makes it easier for developers to unify their apps this way as well. The new interface design is dubbed "Material Design" and was inspired by real-world materials such as paper and ink, it's intended to replicate the physicality of actual objects. That's because Google's design chief Matias Duarte wants Android's UI to link up with that part of your brain that instinctively knows how something can be manipulated based on its perceivable phyiscal properties - you know how you can move a piece of paper around, for exmmple.
Android L features real-time lighting sources and depth layers to enable on-screen elements to stand out in particular ways, hinting at how you might be able to move them with swipes and taps.
Aside from the design overhaul, Android L also features a new ART architecture with support for 64-bit architecture and a range of next-gen hardware from key partners Google has teamed up with, including ARM, Intel, Nvidia, and Qualcomm, to name but a few. This also unlocks plenty of new graphics potential for next-gen, console style gaming and applications.
Google's added an intereting feature called "Personal Unlocking", which allows you to tune your device to a specific set of circumstances, and if certain criteria are met it will not require your usual security unlock (pin, password, pattern, face). You can, for example, say that if the phone detects via GPS that you are in your house, you can set this as a "safe" place where unlocking isn't needed. Likewise, you could say that as long as a paired smartwatch is within range (ie: on your wrist) the phone also overrides the need for a lock code.
These are just some of the new features in Android L, we don't yet know when to expect it to arrive on the Nexus 5, but it's definitely on the way. For more information check out the following links:
Hangouts: It’s the new SMS
The new Hangouts app is Google’s attempt at marrying traditional SMS with its IM chat client from Google+ and Gmail. Inside you get SMS and IM messages, side-by-side, and for the most part Google has left the design of its Hangouts app untouched from Android 4.3. You get support for calls, video-calls, Emoji and group chats. Google has also included plenty of enterprise features for its growing number of business users too.
Hangouts will not replace Whatsapp, Viber or BBM, however. Not yet, anyway. And the reason for this is because it feels messy and unfinished. Google has quite a bit of work to do in this regard, with the two most obvious changes being a redesign and better –– read: smarter –– management of chat threads. Google’s a smart company and its Hangouts app should be able to recognise who is who and adapt threads inside the app accordingly.
Apple’s iMessage doesn’t care whether you’re using traditional SMS or sending words over data. If you’re having a conversation with one person everything is consolidated into one chat thread. The Hangouts app does not do this, preferring instead to have two separate threads – one for SMS and one for IM chats – and the end result is a bit of a mess. Also, if you don’t use Google+ or Google’s rebranded IM client – previously known as Chat – then the inclusion of it inside your core SMS app does feel a bit invasive as you can’t switch it off.
Nexus 5 Performance
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 CPU is all but ubiquitous inside top-flight handsets nowadays, and the Nexus 5 is no different. Inside you’ll find a 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 330 GPU. Beastly specs usually mean high prices but the Nexus 5 retails from £299, making it one of the most affordable high-end smartphones ever produced.
In years gone by Android was something of a stutterer. It was prone to crashing and could at times be downright buggy. Nowadays – depending on what iteration of Android you’re running – these are problems of the past. Ice Cream Sandwich tidied up the visual elements of Android and Jelly Bean refined its guts, making it smoother and more stable.
Couple these software refinements with a ridiculous dollop of hardware and processing power, not to mention na ultra-low price tag, and you’re left with one hell of a proposition that is the equal of any smartphone on market. So whether you’re gaming with ultra-high-end titles like Dead Trigger 2 or Asphalt 8: Airborne, or editing photos and video, you’re fully catered for – the Nexus 5 can handle anything you throw it at. And best of all there’s no hang, no lag and no stutter. Performance is just off the charts.
For additional evidence of performance see our Nexus 5 benchmark tests below:
If you’ve been paying attention of late, you’ll know there’s a new big dog in the Android kingdom – a handset with insane specs and an ultra-low price tag. It’s called the OnePlus One and will be available for either £229 or £269, depending on whether you opt for the 16GB or 64GB version, inside of Q2 2014. Is it better than the Nexus 5 though?
Interesting question. We haven’t had any hands-on time with the handset as yet; our handset is hopefully on its way as you read this. Still, plenty of other people have and the initial reactions seem to be very positive. But that’s not really surprising: the OnePlus One features Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 chipset, 2GB or RAM and runs on a CyanogenMod-customized version of Android KitKat.
Here’s a video of the OnePlus One in action next to the Google Nexus 5. Enjoy.
Nexus 5 Camera
On paper the Nexus 5’s imaging setup looks decent. It uses an 8-megapixel sensor, features optical image stabilisation (OIS) and has auto focus as well as an LED flash, making it about par for the course in today’s mid-to-high-end smartphone bracket. We’ve already seen some very impressive imaging prowess from handsets rocking similar setups, notably the iPhone 5s, however, the same quality results cannot, unfortunately, be found with the Nexus 5, which is fraught with issues –– issues Google has now officially commented on is apparently working around the clock to fix.
So what exactly is wrong? For starters auto-focus is shot to hell, and by that we mean it either doesn’t work at all or it takes so long to focus on the object you’re attempting to shoot that you’ll either a) give up or b) have nothing left to shoot because the subject wit have either biodegraded or walked off in desperation. This is obviously very frustrating. Worse still is that when you do manage to capture an image the colours appear drab, almost lifeless, and contrast is noticeably squiffy which is obviously not an attribute anyone looks for in a phone’s camera capabilities.
In perfect conditions – good lighting, minimal movement – the camera isn’t too bad at all (see below image samples), and can produce results ideal for sharing on Facebook and Twitter. Take it outside its comfort zone, however, and it’s a very different story. Imaging is important nowadays and what’s frustrating about the Nexus 5 is that, on paper, is should be good – it’s got all the right hardware. And that’s definitely a good thing because it means it can be fixed, or at least improved. Also, if it is just a software issue – as Google says it is – then why wasn’t it addressed prior to launch?
Android 4.4.1 Fixes Lacklustre Camera
Google promised a fix for the Nexus 5’s sub-par imaging capabilities, and now it is here. Android 4.1.1 has begun rolling out Nexus 5 handsets around the globe, bringing with bug fixes, improved stability and that all-important software patch for the Nexus 5’s camera.
Once downloaded, the patch with fix issues with auto focus, white balance and HDR+, as well as other smaller camera issues. A lot of users have apparently already got the update – and the patch appears to have worked. Image clarity is said to be better, less grainy, and auto-focus has been vastly improved.
The only way to be sure is through image comparisons and our friends at Android Beat have done exactly that.
First up is an image of a painting, there are two examples here, first is shot without the flash on. The left hand side image is before the update and the right is after. These are shot at 1m away.
They then shot the same image at 1m away but with the flash on, you can see the dramatic difference between the before and after shots.
Last up is a photo of a paint tube, don't ask us why, but we think this image shows the updates benefits properly.
Here we see the fantastic light handling abilities of the latest update. The original camera shows the image as dull and dark whilst the lighting of the update is a lot sharper and brighter. Google really stepped up the Nexus 5 camera with this latest update.
Nexus 5 Connectivity
Android handsets are some of the best connected devices on the planet, offering NFC, Bluetooth, DLNA, Miracast – the works, basically – and Google’s Nexus 5 is no exception. Bluetooth, NFC, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, DLNA and wireless charging are all included out the box, meaning you can pretty much connect the handset to any peripheral on the market.
So that’s great. But what’s even better is that Google’s Nexus 5 now supports LTE (bands: LTE 800 / 850 / 900 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600), which was something sorely missing from its predecessor. And because 4G is now here in the UK and the Nexus 5 is so cheap, getting an LTE handset with top-end spec up and running has never been cheaper. O2, Vodafone and EE all offer very decent SIM-only rolling LTE packages, and because they’re rolling agreements you’re not tied to a contract and can switch and change your plan depending on which network has the best offer.
Nexus 5 Battery
The battery on the Nexus 4 wasn’t great. It started out life as average and then six months down the line took a turn for the worse and became irritably bad, requiring constant charging and attention throughout the day. I’d like to say the Nexus 5 is different. I hoped and prayed it would be different. But after spending around a month with the handset, using it every day, I can now say it’s not all that different – something I find infinitely worse than its sub-par camera.
It wasn’t always bad; the Nexus 5 took a while to show its true colours, but now that it has, I can safely say battery performance isn’t great – not compared to handsets like the Galaxy Note 3 and Lumia 1020 anyway. You cannot game, make calls, IM, send and receive email and text and expect it to survive much past 7pm. The Nexus 5 can do a full working day (9 till 6pm), but it’ll be on its last legs post 7pm, so if you’re off out after work you’ll need to remember to charge it prior to leaving or else you’ll end up high and dry – something that’s happened to me way too frequently during testing.
Chief offenders are the Nexus 5’s display, Spotify and IM apps like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. You can squeeze some more juice out of the battery by ensuring auto-brightness is on (or just keeping the brightness at 50%) and turning off things like data, Wi-Fi and NFC when you’re not using them. Do this and the Nexus 5 does go for a little longer. Thing is… I don’t want to have to do this: what’s the point of having all these awesome features, if you can’t use them? It’s got a full HD 1080p display, for one, and I want to see that display in all its glory, not 50% of its glory.
Can Android L Fix Nexus 5's Poor Battery Life?
As somebody that has used the Nexus 5 since it launched, I know the dual-nature of living with one of the best and yet most frustrating handsets of 2013. On the one hand you have a perfectly proportioned device, free from bloatware, which runs the latest and greatest build of Android. But ever since day one there has been this “issue” with the Nexus 5’s battery life –– and for many it was a very grave issue, indeed.
Google initially pointed the finger at Skype, but since then it has become clear the problem was actually caused by the Nexus 5’s camera –– specifically, the mm-qcamera-daemon process. Google attempted a fix, which, in some cases, proved successful. Just not all –– and the net result was plenty of Nexus 5 users (myself included) left with well below standard (read: utterly rubbish) battery performance.
But there is some light at the end of the tunnel for those affected by this bug, and it’s coming very soon in the form of Android L, as Phone Arena notes: “The issue is now listed in the AOSP Tracker as a future release, which means that when Android L is ready for public consumption, the problem will finally disappear.”
There aren’t many handsets that have “good” battery life, most are in the same boat as the Nexus 5 – they’ll do a day at a push, but that’s about it. Things are getting better, but that’s usually just from having a huge battery cell inside the handset – see the Galaxy Note 3 as a great example. Smaller handsets with a smaller chassis and non-removable battery cells are always going to suffer, and the Nexus 5, unfortunately, is one of these devices. It’s not alone though and is joined by some of the market’s brightest stars – Apple’s iPhone 5s, the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z1 to name but a few.
For this reason we can’t be too harsh on the Nexus 5. Yes, battery life could be better and, yes, Google could have popped in a bigger cell, but that would have affected the overall design and gait of the handset. And most people, myself included, will take a hit in the battery stakes for a similar, better-looking handset. You can’t have both at present, so for now you’re just going to have to get used to charging your handset at work. Or just get a Galaxy Note 3.
Battery isn’t great and neither is the camera but aside from these two things the Nexus 5 is a true force to be reckoned with. Android 4.4 is a massive update, adding in tons of new features, tweaks and refinements, which when combined with the Nexus 5’s astounding hardware makes for one of the best Android experiences money can buy.
If you love Android and want to experience it as Google intended, free from bloatware and custom skins, then this is certainly the handset for you. It’s not perfect by any means, but one of its downsides – the camera – can be fixed, which just leaves the battery, but as we all already know: poor battery life isn’t exclusive to the Nexus 5 – it affects almost all top-flight handsets (excluding a very select few devices).
… And Here’s What Everybody Else Said
"The Nexus 5 is a superb smartphone: we like the design; it's as powerful as they come; the screen is great; it runs the latest version of Android; and the camera – although a weak point – is capable of producing good snaps and video if you're patient" – PC Pro
“The Nexus 5 is a fantastic phone for the money. We love Android 4.4, the Full HD screen is excellent, the phone is seriously fast and, if 16GB of storage from the £299 version isn’t enough, the 32GB edition is a reasonable £40 more” – Expert Reviews
"The Nexus 5 is the pound-for-pound the best value handset available on the market. It delivers excellent performance and has a vibrant full HD display but is not perfect. LG has understandable had to cut costs in the camera department and there's no way to expand physical storage" – IT Pro
"The Nexus 5 is a great choice for those looking for a clean Android experience and who want a great display and plenty of power for the money. There is, however, still plenty of merit in other flagship devices; the choice now, is just that little bit harder" – Pocket-Lint
Nexus 5 Tips & Tricks
We love the Nexus 5. But like everything we love, there are also some things about it we wish we could change. For example, making the speaker just that little bit louder.
Sadly we can't change that, but here are some other tips and tricks to enjoy the Nexus 5 just that little bit more.
Want your own version of a fingerprint scanner? On a Nexus you can unlock your phone using your FACE. Take that, Apple. Go to Settings>Security>Screen lock and click 'faceunlock'. Happy days
Unmarry hangouts and SMS
Is it time your text messages got divorced from your hangouts? This Android 4.4 trick is one that just won't be to everyone's taste.
We recommend opening hangouts and going to settings, then tapping 'default SMS app'. You then have to download and choose a new SMS app - try Handscent.
Annoying, but maybe not as annoying as having your hangouts and texts grouped together.
Lots of people have issues with the Nexus 5 camera. If you're one of those people, we recommend downloading a camera app - take Camera360 Ultimate for a spin.
We also recommend backing up your data - before it's too late. Go to Settings > Backup and reset and tick 'back up my data'. It's that easy. You can thank us later.
Want to know what's draining your battery? Go to Quick Settings and tap the battery file, which gives you a rundown of what apps are using the most battery.
You can take a screenshot on a Nexus 5 by holding the volume down and power buttons at the same time. Beautiful!
|Screen Size||True HD IPS+ 4.95 inch (1080 x 1920 pixels) with a pixel density of 445ppi|
|Operating System||Android 4.4|
|Processor||Qualcomm MSM8974 Snapdragon 800 (CPU: Quad-core 2.3 GHz Krait 400) + (GPU: Adreno 330)|
|Built-in Memory||16GB or 32GB|
|High-speed Data||DC-HSDPA, 42 Mbps; HSDPA, 21 Mbps; HSUPA, 5.76 Mbps; LTE, Cat3, 50 Mbps UL, 100 Mbps DL|
|Battery Standby||2300 mAh battery|
|Designer Lens||8-MP with OSI, auto-focus and LED flash|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth, NFC, DLNA, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi hotspot|