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Nexus 5 REVIEW: A Perfect Marriage of Solid Specs and Optimized Android

by Roy Choi | November 5, 2013November 5, 2013 2:54 pm PDT

We’ve patiently waited for the newest Nexus smartphone, through countless rumors and leaks (intentional or not), and it dropped unceremoniously last week, which is unconventional in an era where each new device gets its own press event at some elaborate venue. Interestingly, though, the Nexus 5 leaks seemingly popped-up regularly, almost intentionally, through the past few months. Enough so that our own Todd Haselton wrote a piece about how the Nexus 5 leaks may have been part of a larger Google conspiracy to hype up the product.

The Nexus line of phones is easily the best option for a pure Android (sans skins or bloatware) experience. Not to say all customized user interfaces are bad, in fact I enjoy Motorola’s experience on the Moto X (then again Motorola Mobility is owned by our friends at Google) and most skins like Samsung’s TouchWiz and HTC’s Sense add more features to a device’s camera. However, with Nexus, Android device updates are pushed out as soon as they are available to the public and you have the comfort of knowing your device should receive the next version of Android without worrying whether your manufacturer and/or carrier will push a variant to your phone.

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Nexus 5 Video Review

Hardware

The Nexus 5 is Google’s latest flagship Android phone and certainly has specs to be worthy of being labeled a flagship device. Seeing as it is manufactured by LG, just as the Nexus 4 was, so it is easy to make comparison to LG’s other devices. A tidal wave of leaks and rumors appeared long before the Nexus 5 was actually released, and many followers began culling the G2 as a benchmark for a forthcoming Nexus device.

It has a 4.9-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel (445ppi) Full HD IPS display featuring Gorilla Glass 3, a 2.3 GHz Snapdragon 800, 2GB of RAM, an 8-megapixel rear camera anda  1.3 MP front camera. That’s all in addition to Android 4.4 KitKat. On paper and in real life usage, this phone is a beast.  We did not experience any lag, crashing apps, or any other issues whatsoever. The Nexus 5 is a perfect balance of solid hardware and an optimized operating system.

Google Nexus 5-Home screen

Though the Nexus 5 sports a 4.9inch HD IPS display with 445 pixels per inch, which sounds phenomenal, we surprisingly found it to be just a tad less stellar than the LG G2’s gorgeous display, especially when you consider the G2 sports a 5.2-inch display with 424 ppi. That being said there is nothing wrong with the display and it looks gorgeous. LG makes some of the best screens on the market and you will not be disappointed with this one. Direct sunlight view is pretty decent as well.

Google Nexus 5-Back

LG makes many solid devices and the Nexus 5 certainly lives up to the company’s expectations.  The device feels solid in our hands and the soft touch back (though a fingerprint magnet) gives it a nice feel. One complaint of the Nexus 4, or really any device with a glass back, is the tendency for shattering when dropped.  No such worries with the polycarbonate shell on the Nexus 5.  The unit we reviewed was a black unit, but it’s also available in white.

nexus-5-indicator-led

A nice touch the Nexus 5 has is the hidden LED notification light. (Hint: If you’re searching for it, it is located below the display).One odd physical point is the SIM tray, which on quick glance you may misinterpret as a volume rocker.  The rear camera also protrudes slightly on the device, though it doesn’t feel clumsy or obstructive.

Wireless charging is a great addition, and is built-in to the device unlike some phones that require rear panels or cases to enable the feature.  Google will likely release a wireless charging a Nexus dock later this year however any Qi compliant charging dock should suffice.

Software

Google Nexus 5-Android 4.4 KitKat

The Nexus 5 launched with Android 4.4 KitKat and it certainly is an improvement over the previous version.  Most of the changes aren’t significantly different, in fact most changes appear to be on the back-end and are focused on the overall Android experience. KitKat still adds a handful of features that should get Android users excited. We have a post and video that covers this subject so I recommend checking it out.

Google Nexus 5-App Switcher

Certainly Google Now becomes easier to use with the integration of verbal “OK Google” commands, which launches Google Now, voice searches, the SMS app, or the media player. Android 4.4 KitKat also features a built-in pedometer, infrared blaster (remote control, though the Nexus 5 doesn’t feature this option), HDR+ photo mode, closed captioning/subtitles, Chromecast support, Emojis!, integrated messages and hangouts

Google Nexus 5-Quick Settings

Users of TouchWiz, Sense, or any other skinned version of Android may be familiar with some of these improvements (e.g., prioritized contact lists, HDR photo, IR blaster).

These changes aren’t exclusive to just the Nexus 5, but it is the first device to receive the update.  We’ve actually got a separate post and video about this matter so check it out to get the full story.  The bottom line is, the combination of awesome hardware and clean, efficient Android 4.4 KitKat creates the ultimate Android experience.

Otherwise Android 4.4 KitKat will have a lot more improvements to the OS that won’t be advertised as revolutionary, but still be a pleasant upgrade. Some of the upgrades are:

  • Email app.
  • Downloads app.
  • Faster multitasking.
  • Touchscreen improvements.
  • Secure app sandboxes.
  • Music/movie seeking in lock screen.
  • Low-power audio playback.
  • Better balancing with locating systems vs. battery life.
  • Easier home screen switching.
  • Device manager built-in.
  • Chrome web view.
  • Bluetooth MAP support.
  • Redesigned Quickoffice.
  • Smarter caller ID (pulls business numbers via Google Maps).
  • Prioritized contacts list.

Camera

Google Nexus 5-Camera App

Check out the how the camera performs in our Nexus 5 photo and video example post.  While we wont claim this camera to be the best, it certainly does a more than capable job for most users. One drawback, I feel, of stock Android is that it lacks some of the neat camera features that Samsung and HTC have built-in to those respective devices. In stock Android 4.4 KitKat, you’re not going to find any fun filters, effects, or features found on TouchWiz or Sense for example. Thankfully, however, the recent improvements to Google+ Photos allow you to apply these after the fact.

Google Nexus 5-Camera App Settigns

That being said, if you’re confused by all those virtual buttons on fancier camera apps (and in turn never use the bevy of camera features) you will find the simple interface easy to use.  The auto-focus feature is quick and very dynamic; you can also force the focal point by tapping on the display to select it.

Data and Call Quality

Google Nexus 5-Phone Dialer

We tried out the Nexus 5 on the AT&T network and it worked just fine without any dropped calls or any data issues.  The speakers and microphones performed quite well and no issues were noted.  The speakers in fact does a great job projecting phone calls well when used over speakerphone.

nexus-5-speedtest

When it comes to data, we tested the device on AT&T’s LTE network primarily in Orange County, Calif. Our AT&T data speeds are not known to be supremely fast, but we did find the Nexus 5 to perform on par with other devices we’ve tested (e.g., iPhone 5C, iPhone 5S, LG G2, Galaxy S4, Note 3).

Google Nexus 5-Bottom

Battery

Google Nexus 5-Google Now Voice Prompt

The battery is relatively small (2,300 mAh) compared to other flagship devices, like the Galaxy S4 (2,600 mAh) and LG G2 (3,000 mAh).  Our regular usage brought our remaining battery life down to about 30 percent remaining after a full day of use.  For comparison sake we saw around 40 percent for the S4 and G2 in similar tests.  Usage will obviously vary depending on the usage scenario.  We like to gauge whether or not a full day’s worth of use can be pulled from a standard battery. In the Nexus 5’s case we felt it stood up to that standard, especially with LTE and a large Full HD display, we had no complaints.

Google Nexus 5-Front Camera

Buy

Nexus 5 is the best Nexus device to date and it has rocking specs, display all for a great price.

Nexus 5 is the best Nexus device to date and it has rocking specs, hardware and display all for a great price.  Unlike the Nexus 4, this version features LTE connectivity, something users have been clamoring for for a while now.  The Nexus phone, which used to be a developer-only device, has become a consumer brand upon itself. The Nexus 5 a fine device that is worthy of the buzz we have witnessed in the last few months. As Google intends for it to be, the Nexus 5, sets the bar for other Android devices to follow.

Jon R. used the device as his daily driver for 3 days on AT&T in Southern California. Google provided this device on loan to us for the purpose of this review. 


Roy Choi

Roy Choi is a Southern California native. He has been infatuated with technology reviews ever since he bought his first crummy laptop in the summer...

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