Nexus 5 Review: A Phone For True Android Lovers
Android Lollipop, decent spec and a KILLER price tag. The Nexus 5 has them all...
The advent of the Nexus 6 means those that want the purest form of Android on offer have two choices: do you go for the brand new, phablet-sized Nexus 6 or last year’s excellent (and significantly cheaper) Nexus 5? And the Nexus 5 really is a GREAT handset and the last of its kind from Google, which really is a shame because the whole Nexus ethos (low-cost, high-value) seems to have gone by the wayside in favour of network subsidies, superfluous specs and a seemingly new desire within Google’s ranks to pander to market trends; whereas before it was about creating a decent phone at a decent price that did everything top flight handsets did just without the huge price tag.
Don’t wait too long, though, because the Nexus 5 will cease to be made later this quarter, and when it’s gone your only option will be a second hand unit on eBay or, if you’re lucky, finding a retailer with surplus inventory. The latter is an interesting scenario because now that Google has ceased production of the Nexus 5, demand, as we move through Q1 will inevitably spike, and those still selling Nexus 5 units will almost certainly hike their prices up. So, if you fancy picking yourself up a Nexus 5, NOW is the time to do it. Even more so if you A) don't like the idea of a Nexus with a 6in display or B) paying £499 for the latest model. You can read more about the two handsets and how they compare inside our Nexus 5 vs Nexus 6 comparison.
Now that's out of the way, it's time to get on with our review 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.
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.
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).
|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|